In the last post, we defined some context. In summary, a lot of people have a lot of differing opinions, often strong opinions, on what worship is and what reverence looks like in worship. Where do we go from here? The first thing is to see what the Bible says about this topic.
First, the Bible is not going to have a section labeled: reverence. The Bible uses many words for reverence, and it will often depict reverence in action. Or, we can read a song or poem of the OT and see that the whole piece is a form of reverent worship. So, in that light, how does the Bible teach about reverence?
Reverence is all over the place:
God is holy. God is awesome. The created order is to esteem Him as such. So, from Genesis 1 on we have a theology that the creation is meant to give God reverent glory (Psalm 19). We see this in particular is stories like Moses at the burning bush. Moses is commanded to take his shoes off because he is on holy ground. That is reverence. Or, we have the throne room of God in Isaiah 6, where angels and august glory are shrouding the scene. The prophet Isaiah is in awe. That is reverence. Angelic messengers show up all over the OT, and they are not even God himself, but just that they are his heavenly messengers with the aroma and glory of God around them make them creatures to fall down before…in reverence. We have reverence before God’s word in Nehemiah 8. The word of God is brought back to God’s people, so they stand all day to listen and hear it explained in their language. By the way, that is a text that shapes why I have my people stand at the reading of God’s word. Then, we have Psalm after Psalm, which exhibit a reverent heart and overall posture before God, whether in suffering, heartache, joy, doubt, conviction, or jubilation.
Reverence is essential:
In these Biblical portraits, it does not seem like reverence is an option. Often, reverence is commanded. The Bible pretty clearly teaches us that God deserves and requires reverence, otherwise we fail to magnify and reflect God as He is in our worship, and overall life.
Reverence is not alone:
Reverence is essential, but reverence is not the only affection, posture, and value when it comes to worshiping and knowing God. Throughout the Bible we have many other thoughts, affections, and choices that accompany the presence of God, like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control (hmmm…those seem familiar). We have fear, repentance, satisfaction, knowledge, hope, laughter, tears. We also have a lot of different physical responses: bowing, hands lifted high, dancing, stillness, cowering, wrestling, submission, walking beside, you name it. Then, there are lots of different physical surroundings where God’s presence is: bright, dim, loud, quiet, earthquakes, gentle breezes. Again, there are lots of different settings, and often all with the common thread of reverence, in the Bible.
The whole picture of reverence informs gathered worship:
Well, these are not restricted to gathered worship, are they? So, am I really making a good argument for what gathered worship looks like? Apart from descriptions of the sacrificial system of the OT, and what the Psalms teach us about Israel’s liturgy, and then some clear principles we see in both the OT and NT, we don’t have a detailed explanation of what a Christian worship gathering should look like. There is a lot of flexibility. What we do see seems to suggest that how we worship in all of life is to inform our gathered worship, and vice versa. So, I take it that the breadth of reverence options, and the other priorities of being in the presence of God, should inform how we worship as a local church. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14, we have a priority to make gathered worship God-centered and also explicable to non-believers. That is true for all of life. I think reverence works the same way.
So, what does this all mean? It means that reverence is a principle, not a policy. Put another way, reverence can truly be expressed in different ways, and there are many other things that should accompany reverence as we think about how to participate in and how to design a gathered worship experience. We’ll talk about that next time.