Meta-Worship

Photo by James Xue

Photo by James Xue

Kant’s philosophy of metaphysics and thinking about reasoning is one that many sophomores here at Columbia will be exposed to in their spring semester. “Thinking about thinking,” and thinking about morals really prompted me to question the big things in life–my faith and the method in which I devote myself to God. We are all given the ability to make choices based on evidence, and to rationalize. The most important choices we can make in our lives are those regarding our beliefs in God, and the ways in which we seek truth about Him.

Reading Kant forced me to ask myself, “Why do I believe what I believe about God? Why do I do what I do to worship Him?”

The latter question embodies a term I invented: meta-worship. We need to constantly think about how we decide to worship God, and whether those processes are sound.

Ultimately, as Christians, God’s instruction should be the only authority for our worship to Him. In Colossians we read, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 1 Would I honor my mom by giving her a $10,000 necklace, when she doesn’t like jewelry? The process we go through to determine the tenets of our faith are similarly directed by the subject of our actions–God.

Unfortunately, as humans, there are so many factors which intervene in our meta-religion processes and warp our ultimate decisions with good intentions. Through scripture, God shows us the way our ideas about worship can be misguided:

  1. We decide our worship through a process based on tradition
    In other words, familial or habitual actions are simply done without thought to the reasoning or whether they dangerously add to the instructions given to us in the Bible. We are not divinely inspired, nor do we know the recesses of God’s mind. “The entirety of [His] word is truth,” 2 and no one remains on this earth who has authority to write biblical truths. Although family ties are precious and form strong bonds, our relationship with our true Father must always be held superior. If the decision had to be made of following our familial authorities or following God, God must be the answer every time. 3 Tradition and close-minded worship places us in the same plane as the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time, who did not grasp simple concepts Jesus came to deliver because they were caught up with tradition. 4 This bias prevented them from obtaining the precious gift of Christ. I think of the Israelites, who upon rebuilding the temple and the city, wondered if they should continue fasting in remembrance of their destruction. In response, the Lord asked them, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” 5 The well-intended fasting meant nothing to God without a holy purpose and full awareness. Everything we do in life, especially worshipping God, needs to be motivated by and carried out with a sincere desire to please Him, and thus worship needs to be rooted only in his Word, not our own fallible traditions.
  2. We decide our worship based primarily on emotion
    This occurs when our process of pleasing God is directed towards making us as individuals “feel good.” This may be the most luring type of worship for our high-energy, entertainment-loving generation. We may fall into the trap that whatever gets our hearts pumping and adrenaline flowing must signify excited, sincere worship towards God. However, several examples from the Old Testament can give us insight into God’s position towards unauthorized actions. For example, the Israelites waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain proceeded to “feast for the Lord” and had an outrageous golden-calf themed party with drinking, playing, and dancing. 6 These people were most likely simply embracing their passion and thankfulness towards God. However, our Lord called them corrupt and stiff-necked. They were no longer worshipping Him, but worshipping the calf they made, and worshipping their own clever idea of innovating a new way to praise God. Another example is found in Nadab and Abihu, whose offering of strange fire brought death, because it was unauthorized. 7 They didn’t disobey or contradict an existing commandment from God; they simply added their own twist to an authorized ritual. Thus, it is clear we must be silent where the bible is silent. In forsaking His command and instruction, we nullify attempts we make to honor our Creator. No matter our good intentions, anything certainly does not go.
  3. We decide on our worship based off the majority
    It’s often tempting to attend a church based on the people who go there, especially in a new town, with new friends, and few familiar faces. Or, we may feel that a church is reputable because a friend or a popular figure endorses it, or it is historically popular. However, we must keep in mind that the way of life is difficult and narrow. 8 Following the majority will not guarantee truth, but carefully studying and correcting yourself with the Word will. Use this careful studying to compare your worship against. And keep in mind this verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 9

Everything we do to worship God needs to align with what God himself has directed us to do. When we use our own interpretations and wisdom to decide how to worship in a way that contradicts a direct statement of the Bible, we are basically saying, “My wisdom is more solid than God’s.” We are telling Him we know how to fully worship Him better than He does. In Proverbs we read, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” 10

So much of the Bible is dedicated to correcting religious error, so we must not neglect the fact that God wants us to constantly reflect and decide if our worship is being done with full consciousness of why we do it (“meta-worship”) and who we are doing it for. Interpreting the Bible can definitely be a difficult task, because it is not simply a list of things to do and think. However, when we interpret different passages, we must remember that it is a holistic and harmonious text, and one’s interpretation of a difficult passage must coincide with all explicit statements. Also, God doesn’t give a comprehensive list of what To Do and what Not To Do. For example, God didn’t say to Noah, “Make the ark with gopher wood, not pine, nor oak, mahogany, cedar,” etc. Thus, though God may not “ban” something explicitly, to disregard or add to a stated command is disobedience (see Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10). He’s given us the Bible as a representation of Himself, and it should act as a guide to everything we do for Him. If we are adding to the Word to frame our worship, most likely, our worship is not for God. Continue to worship God in spirit and in truth, 11 constantly reflecting on what you do and why you do it. Following his Word is the least we can do for the hope and grace He bestows on us daily.

Notes:

  1. Colossians 3:7.
  2. Psalm 119:160.
  3. Luke 14:26.
  4. Matt 12:9-14/
  5. Zechariah 7:1-7.
  6. Exodus 32.
  7. Leviticus 10.
  8. Matthew 7:13-14.
  9. Galatians 1:9-10.
  10. Proverbs 26:12.
  11. John 4:24.