Monday, March 01, 2021

Austere worship

Preaching on the Second and Third Commandments yesterday - no to idols, no to taking the Lord's name in vain - I'm struck by the austerity of Israelite worship.  It must have been striking to the pagans as well.  No images of gods, no gorgeous statues.  Beauty, of course, and craftsmanship on display at the temple.  But no gorgeous shrines scattered throughout the land.  No imaginative myths, no constant development of the cultus.  It is a narrow way, the way of Israelite worship: a way defined by what God has revealed of himself and his will, not open to human interpretation or tweaking or addition.

In our culture of 'I like to think of God as...' there is a need to stress this again.  God has shown us himself.  We have his image - the one and only authorised image - in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are baptised into his name, the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and our whole lives are to be lived as conscious bearers of that name.  Worship is not an imaginative exercise in that sense, but an exercise in following in the path the Lord has laid out for us.

I don't think this austerity means no beauty.  I am in favour of beautiful church buildings, beautiful liturgies, beautiful hymns.  In fact, I think those things are required, since God has revealed himself to us as beautiful!  But there is always going to be a necessary strain of iconoclasm to Christian worship: as we receive God's word, we are involved in demolishing whatever idols, whatever false conceptions of God, have gained a foothold in our minds and purifying our thoughts of him.  The same should be true in our worship: constantly reforming, to guard us against accretions and idolatries and blasphemies which will always be a threat and to some extent a presence.

It is a narrow way, but it is the way that leads to (because it first leads from) the true God.  If we want a god of our imagining, we can afford to be creative in how we think of him and how we worship him; if we want God, the true self-existent God, we follow his way and ruthlessly reject any paths to left and right.

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