Book I Chapter XII Section 1-3
What is worship? How does it differ from respect or reverence? How does serving God differ from how we are to serve people? This is the issue Calvin addresses in Chapter 12. While the scriptures teach that all honour and worship should be given to God alone, Calvin recognises that mankind instead “gives Him the highest place, but at the same time surrounds Him with a tribe of minor deities”.
After this Calvin goes on to consider the false worship of dead saints through a discussion on the difference between latria and dulia. These are two Latin words that have been used to distinguish between the worship (latria) due to God alone, and the service (dulia) given by some to revered saints. Calvin states that the words are sometimes used indiscriminately in scripture, pointing to Galatians 4.8 as an example of the term “service” being used in reference to the worship of idols. But even if the distinction is allowed, he asks whether to serve something is any lesser than to worship it, “for it were often a hard thing to serve him whom you would not refuse to reverence” i.e. you can more easily pay reverence to someone that to serve them.
Calvin then looks at a number of examples in scripture of inappropriate worship (Matthew 8.10, Revelation 19.10, 22.8-9 & Acts 10.25) and concludes that “we can never appropriate the minutest portion of his glory without retaining what is His due”.
We should remember and have respect for all those who have walked the path ahead of us – that great cloud of witnesses. Moreover, we are commanded to honour our parents and respect those leaders who oversee us in the church. This is the proper attitude towards created beings, anything more is beyond the scriptures for they are clear that there is only one class of people in the world. All have sinned and fallen short, none have sought God, everyone has turned away. God and God alone should receive our prayer, adoration, confession, supplication, thankfulness and praise. It is Jesus and Him alone who interceeds on behalf of His people at the right hand of the Father. Supplicating dead saints is something King Saul tried, and while it worked, I don’t think Samuel appreciated it, or God approved of it (1 Samuel 28.7-24).
When we look at worship in the bible the more important distinction is not between latria and dulia, but between light and darkness, between God and mammon and between Jesus and Satan. There are the two choices when it comes to worship and service. We either worship and serve Jesus or we serve ourselves, and unwittingly we serve the Prince of this world. Bob Dylan got it right when he said:
“You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Father, give us an undivided heart to worship and serve You only, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perfect in purity, majestic in power, we worship and adore You today. Amen.