If you work for a large corporate company you will have probably started work with an induction session on your first day. You sit there getting told lots of things that you will forget a few hours later. Where the company is headquartered, who the CEO is, how the company grew to its current size…lots of great information but much of it of little use to your daily work. You sit there as a group of strangers wondering who among you will be still here in 5 years, who will leave first, and who will be promoted.
For many of us our first day marks the start of our sink or swim aquathon – our daily challenge to keep our head above water while we swim against the tide of work. Some of us find that swim easier than we expected as we discover that work can be interesting and fulfilling. For many of us however the current of repetitive mundane work threatens to emotionally drown us.
At what feels like annual intervals the busyness of work pauses momentarily and we ask ourselves some deep probing questions: is there a deeper purpose to my work? Am I a meaningless cog in a giant monolithic machine? Should I quit my city job in order to do something more meaningful?
If you have found yourself asking these deeper questions about life, the universe and the mysteries of excel macros then we would love you to join us as we unpack God’s big picture for our workplace. The Thrive Conference is designed to help you explore these issues through a reinvigorating training session containing great teaching, personal reflection and the encouragement of fellow swimmers. We look forward to having you join the Thrive swim lane!
For more details head to your favourite platform:
Linkedin: The Business Connection Aberdeen
If you are anything like me you will have started work with an induction session on your first day. You sit there getting told lots of things that you will forget a few hours later. Where the company is headquartered, who the CEO is, what the values are, lots of great information but much of it of little use to your daily work.
For Christians entering the workplace there is likely to be no Christian version of such an induction into the world of work. We are expected to jump in and swim, pick it up as we go, and enjoy the benefits of earning some money…at last. If we were to have an induction for every Christian starting their first day in the workplace, what would we say? How would we counsel them? We know God wants us to be good employees, but what does that look like practically?
I have been in the workplace for 15 years, and realise looking back that I was unprepared for the long hard slog that makes up the majority of my time in the workplace. In my new job no one was interested in my beliefs, my clever apologetic arguments or my lively church filled with young people. Well, almost no one, it certainly felt like that in the early days. Thankfully back then there was a ministry that organised lunchtime Business Alpha courses that was run by business people for business people. A number of my friends came along to this over the years, opening the way to a number of conversations about faith. So that is why I was there, to befriend people and help them see a relatively “normal” Christian in the world of Apprentice-like consultants?
If I could put on this induction for every Christian entering the workplace I wouldn’t start where I started. I would start with God. Strange as it may seem God invented work, and this was before mankind messed everything up. Work is not a result of the curse. Read Genesis and you will see that God made work a harder ministry after the fall, but the origins of why we work are wrapped up in the creative acts of God. We work because God works…that would be the first point.
The second is a natural follow on; work is good. Sure, there are jobs that harm people, destroy society or the environment, but on the whole work is a great benefit. We have warm houses, fast cars and healthy children largely because someone somewhere invented something and lots of people maintain the fabric of work. For one person in one job it is hard sometimes to see the big picture, but pull out enough of these jobs and eventually society grinds to a halt. Who knew we would have a milk-and-margarine malaise after three days of snow. Did we not appreciate lorry drivers that little bit more afterwards?
My third point on my induction (probably after a coffee break by this time) would be do your best. Simple as it may sound there are many people at work not doing their best. Over the years complacency, cynicism and apathy grow in many people and they mentally detach from their work. They turn up and do the job, but their heart is not in it. For the Christian this can never be an option. Colossians 3.23 calls us to do our best no matter what our job is or who our boss is. I have discovered that any credibility or respect that you may want as a Christian for the way you work will be totally destroyed if you are not competent. First be excellent, then everything else will flow from that.
My next point would be you are not alone. For many Christians in Scotland they will be the only Christian in their immediate workplace and the isolation can be debilitating. When I started working in my current role I was the only Christian I knew of amongst 400 people. I was wrong to think I was alone. But even if you are alone in your company, there are many fellow Christians facing similar challenges in similar companies. I have learnt that one person can make a difference…who knows, perhaps God’s purpose for your 30-year career was all because God wanted to reach one solitary soul? Would that be enough for you? Which brings me to my final points for the induction session.
Those of us in the business world will probably be familiar with the concept of mind-sets. People you meet have certain beliefs that shape the way they recruit and train staff and sell their products. Sometimes a mind-set reset is required due to vague or misguided thinking. We face a similar challenge today. For reasons folded within history Christians in the workplace sometimes feel that the primary value of their work is to evangelise the lost. I certainly started from this perspective. If I was having good conversations I was fulfilling my purpose, if I wasn’t I was treading water. It seems that we need to regain our understanding of how our work contributes to God’s kingdom work. While gospel witness is the most vital task the church faces, our daily work fulfils a much more subtle, broader role in the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
Playing our part in God’s Common Grace to society is a great thing. Using our gifts and abilities to help, protect and nurture others is a beautiful outworking of God’s provision to his creation. I would use my last 10 minutes to remind them that Joseph and Daniel are as much a worthy example to follow as Paul and Peter. Will they become the role models so desperately needed of Christians who have moved beyond the sacred / secular divide to work out what it means to seek for whole life discipleship in their job, family, church and community?
I would close with saying “Go out there and do you best, seek to enjoy what you do, do it with all your heart and see what God will do with years of faithful service. Some of it will be dull, mundane, repetitive and exhausting, but that too is part of the discipline of bringing every act under submission to Christ. Some of you will be led to take what you have learned into full time paid Christian ministry. For those that don’t, remember that work is no second best, if it is God’s plan for you. All of life is ministry, if done with the ultimate aim of bringing glory to God.”
If you never had an induction like that, a group of us are working on bringing a conference to Aberdeen in March 2019 providing an inspiring time of teaching and ministry to explore some of these areas further. We would love you to be a part of it. The event comes out of the passion of four Christian businessmen in Aberdeen who believe God is moving across the workplaces of our city. We have joined with a number of partners to put on an event that we believe will be challenging and stimulating and may well just be the best induction you never had!
How do we disciple the next generation of Christians in an increasingly anti-Christian society? How does a marginalised church thrive and not just survive at the grassroots level? Are our discipleship practices still relevant for the 21st century, if not how do they need to change?
In answer to some of these questions I give the following four suggestions:
1. Discipleship must start with the heart. For those with a family the first priority for discipleship is the home. Someone once said “As goes the husband, so goes the marriage, as goes the marriage so goes the family, as goes the family so goes society”. We live in a broken society; much of this is down to the destruction of families and the decay of men as stable husbands and fathers. Are we willing to take the challenge to strive to be men of purity, faithfulness, courage, discipline, kindness and generosity? If we are fathers then our number one discipleship priority is our children and our wife – if we neglect these, all else will ultimately be futile and our discipleship of others ultimately unsuccessful. How much time and effort do we invest discipling our children? How is our inner life?
2. Rediscover whole-life discipleship. Inadvertently we have come to believe that the Great Commission is primarily fulfilled by Christian missionaries and pastors. We have divided the secular and the sacred and said that the secular has little purpose or significance in God’s redemptive plan. However, the Great Commission can only be fulfilled when the 99% of us who are not in full-time Christian work step up to the task and take our responsibility for discipleship seriously. We must once again see that all of our lives, in every part, is a response to God’s calling and mission. Our discipleship must embrace the footy team, the golf course, the office, the university halls and the school canteen. We must realise that a life lived out in service to the common good of society is pleasing to God. Our discipleship must grow beyond only being about spiritual truisms and become intensely practical. The best way to glorify God at your work is firstly to be excellent at your job.
3. Seek to embed discipleship in community. Through the fracturing of society and the marginalisation of the church we have ended up compartmentalising our lives. We have our work, our home, our church and our friends – all distinct and separate. The power of the gospel increases dramatically as we close the circle between our family, school, church and social lives. How is the community to see the unity and love we have for each other, if we are always leaving that community to drive to a distant church? We hide the power of grace-filled lives behind the walls of our buildings when we create preaching stations divorced from the communities we live in.
4. Discipleship for all. When did Jesus start discipling his Disciples? Before they were Christians or after? Before of course. Why then do we think discipleship only applies to our fellow Christians? It is very easy for many of us to become so busy with church work that we have very few friends who are not Christians. This is a tragedy. How many non-Christians are you discipling? You may well be doing this without even realising. When we think of evangelism we start to get sweaty palms and dry mouths and feel pressured to get the message right. If we start to see our words and actions together as discipling non-Christians then it takes the pressure off us. As we live alongside them, providing the level of interaction is high enough, our conversation will naturally challenge and encourage them.
I used to think discipleship was what I did when I met up with a Christian friend for coffee and bible study once a fortnight. I now see that my discipleship starts as soon as I get home at night, or get into work, or head out for a drink. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set aside planned time for one to one discussions. Not at all, these times are precious, if we have that time to invest. However, if we are intentional and natural then it will liberate us to see all of life as our discipleship arena.
Father, may you give us the wisdom to hear your voice, the strength to follow and the determination to remain faithful to your call to disciple others. May we be among those faithful men who are able to train and disciple other faithful men. And to you be all the glory. Amen
Those of you who know the family will know that we received some tough news this past week. I wrote this poem this morning to describe how I feel at the moment. If you don’t know the Lord you might find it a bit morbid, but if you have walked with the Lord through fiery trials then I hope you will understand where I’m coming from:
Naked I stand
All is laid bare
No protection from you
I see you approach
Nearer you come
With love in your eyes
You reach for the knife
Raising it up
So plunge in the knife, a little deeper, a little deeper
So plunge in the knife, a little deeper, a little deeper
Its blade pierces deep
Cutting my flesh
I stagger and fall
All my strength gone
You reach out and catch me
Pulling me close
Mouth on mouth
You breathe in your life
So plunge in the knife, a little deeper, a little deeper
Feeling your touch, a little nearer, a little nearer
Weary I stagger
Feeling your strength
No longer afraid
There is nothing to fear
The pain is a friend
Drawing me near
It burns me inside
Washing me clean
So plunge in the knife, a little deeper, a little deeper
Filling my eyes, a little weaker, a little weaker
Making me live
Helping me feel
Nothing between us
You and I here
So plunge in the knife, a little deeper, a little deeper
Feeling your touch, a little nearer, a little nearer
Filling my eyes, a little weaker, a little weaker
Feeling your love, a little dearer, a little dearer
Thank you to all of you across Scotland and beyond for your prayers, encouragement and most of all love. We truly appreciate you and are humbled by your love and concern.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12.10
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” Job 13.15
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8.32
The results of the 2011 census were released this week for England and Wales, they revealed that 59.3% of the population claim Christianity as their religion. Although this has decreased since 2001 when it was 71.7%, it still represents a clear majority. The next largest religion was Muslims at 4.8% (up from 3.0% in 2001), representing a huge gap between the first and second most prominent religions. The number of people saying they have no religion has increased from 14.8% to 25.2% during the last 10 years. Clearly the nations’ beliefs are changing and the causes, implications and (Christian) response remain the subject of much discussion. Some have concluded that the data represents a pluralisation, more than a secularisation of the nation. It is also important not to look at the data in isolation and to differentiate between people’s behaviour, their sense of belonging, as well as their beliefs.
Whatever the reason for the change, in this post I want to suggest a model to understand the shift that has taken place and propose a model for re-engagement.
In broad terms, the UK in the mid 20th century was a country with the following characteristics:
- Largely biblical foundations even if not everyone went to church
- Generally accepted moral standards and ethics
- These standards were largely uniform across society
- They were strengthened by a strong nuclear family bond and community structures
- Both private and public messages were largely pointing in the same (predominantly biblical) direction, thus, mutually reinforcing each other
- The minister, surrounded by his church, were at the centre of the community
When we turn to 2012, the picture is completely different:
- The church is largely ignored and the minister is often perceived as irrelevant
A disengaged society continues to push the church further away (especially in the media and political spheres)
- Apart from a few exceptions, our voice in the public square has effectively been removed and whatever contact remains often becomes confrontational
- The policies and laws are changing to reflect modern secular and pluralistic beliefs
- The church struggles to engage and either focuses internally (and becomes a ghetto) or overcompensates and loses distinctiveness
- Church members struggle to live in two opposing worlds, resulting in them sometimes compromising their beliefs, or separating their private beliefs and public lives
- Nevertheless, at the grassroots some individuals and churches are re-engaging the community – whether that be in the urban or rural environment and/or within the family, workplace & church
Within this new societal order there is a line of engagement where Christianity and culture contact each other and interact – positively or negatively. As Christians in an increasingly anti-Christian society, we may ask ourselves the question “Are we persecuted?” No, not directly. But if we ask “Are we marginalised?” Yes! Definitely. The easy response is to resort to unthinking jibes and insults that only act to reinforce the polar extremes.
The urgent question of the day is “How should we approach our increasingly anti-Christian culture?” Do we see our role (as the church and individuals) to be mainly against what is bad in culture? Is there anything we can affirm? How do we gain an opportunity to have our voice heard if we do want to affirm something? Do church leaders have a different role within society to their congregations? (I’ll specifically explore this in my next post).
So the question is: How will we respond? Is there anything those of us who spend 90% of our time amongst non-Christians in the workplace can do to influence our culture? As Bill Graham once said: “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace”.
A Model for Re-engagement
Against this backdrop, Christians are responding in a number of ways to re-engage with those on the edges of their family, community, work and church circles. For some this is natural and easy, for others it is harder, and new mechanisms are sometimes needed to enable relationships to be built. For those in the business community the pressure to conform can be very high and the opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation are often few and far between. I believe the challenge to equip believers with a deep theology of work; teach them how to be exemplary employees; and know how to share their faith in the marketplace has largely been neglected by our churches. Nevertheless, some new structures have emerged and there are some examples of best practice in creating new organisational structures to allow gospel conversations to flourish. They are generally following a pattern of:
Affirm >> Connect >> Challenge
- Celebrate the good things in creation & culture (affirm the good, contribute to arts, professions, community life)
- Seek the good of society & culture (contribute something tangible)
- Build others up in areas of shared interest
- Be good at what we do – excellence in our professions
- Establish connections within culture (find our contact points)
- Being purposefully & intentionally holistic in our serving – both helping and heralding
- Loving and serving people holistically – word and action, not seeing them as a spiritual project or notching up conversions. Can we do both / and rather than either / or when it comes to word and action?
- Not limiting our engagement to the purely spiritual arena – we will never engage with them by throwing verses over the chasm or through the silos.
- Aim is to take the church to the people
- Where can we affirm culture and where must we challenge our culture?
- How do we hold these both in tension?
- Have we figured out our theology and response in areas we are challenging or do we react?
The goal is a rediscovery of a holistic faith, sometimes this will lead to new structures / models of church and para-church organisations in order to re-engage our society. The challenge we face is to create a generation of aware, engaged, holistic disciples in the workplace.
Some questions to consider:
- Do you find this model helpful? Do you agree that this is the shift that has happened, or at least that it describes where we are heading?
- What examples of good cultural engagement have you seen or been part of?
- Where would you place yourself on the model?
- If you spend most of your time within the circle of society, do you feel you are equipped to thrive in this environment? How could your church help you in the challenges and opportunities you face?
- If you spend most of your time within the circle of church, what steps can you take to begin to connect with those around you, outside of the church? What changes might you need to make in order to affirm the culture around you? How can you better understand the challenges faced by those in your church within the society circle?
Let me know what you think…
In our last post we considered how the way society thinks is changing. However, when we come to investigate why Christians have lost their voice and influence in society then the picture becomes even more stark. In the past the UK used to be a country that listened to, and even respected, Christian leaders as a voice of moral authority. This is no longer the case. The structures within society do not lend themselves to helping us discuss the important issues of life and faith. Thus, this leaves us without a platform to defend or explain our position.
I see three main areas where these changes have occurred which mean that rather than being a city on a hill, we are now a city in a valley. We are hidden from society and our light is not shining as brightly because our platform, confidence and practice have been eroded. For each area I propose some ideas for how we can break out of our silos.
1. Erosion of Christian Structures
Many years ago Christianity was at the heart of the community. Everything happened either at the church, or through the church. Everyone knew the minister and the church had a dominant role in the life of individuals. There were also strong community bonds that held influence over the behaviour and attitudes of the church and wider society. While not everyone liked the church or its leaders, they at least knew who they were and their opinion mattered within the local parish. However, there was undoubtably a nominalism and deadness to some of church life that sometimes put more importance on respectability and appearances than genuine faith and true piety.
In the past, we used to think we could just open the doors and people would come in, this is no longer the case. Secularisation has been one of the major causes of this change – diminishing the influence of the church as a public voice and removing it from the market place. Our place in the centre of society has gone, we are now on the periphery. New ways of establishing a presence in a secular nation and our communities must be found if we are to engage with our culture.
Breaking down the Silo: The only way we can break out of our silo is to establish living connections with those around us. We will have to balance the desire to share our faith, with the need to first listen to others. We need to first learn how to serve and love our community as an end in itself – to love it as God loves us, with no thought of what we will receive in return. For too long we have separated the word and deed – swinging to either extreme. Fortunately many churches are re-engaging in their community in various ways and many individuals are seeing the importance of establishing strong community connections. In the business community and the arts, I see a vision among many for affirming what is good in society and building bridges. The task is to contribute something positive to society.
The challenge we must ask ourselves is: “Do we find ourselves only ever complaining or moaning about society? Do we find most of our time is spent with other Christians?” We need to learn how to affirm what is good; seek new ways to build connections with the community we live / work in and look to serve people holistically. If we do this, getting opportunities to share what is so important to us won’t be a problem.
2. Privitisation of Faith
We are constantly told that “It’s ok to believe what you want in the privacy of your own home, just don’t go forcing anyone else to believe in the tooth fairy”. Our lack of confidence means we retreat from engaging in public debates; we internalise our faith and it becomes private – not to be shared in public. A misrepresented view of science is used to support this pressure with prominent secularists claiming that “you cannot be logical, rational and have a faith”. This is made worse by the wide disagreement between Christians of how to understand scientific evidence and how this relates to biblical inspiration. We are divided and confused, so we stay silent.
Breaking down the Silo: I sometimes wonder if we have gone down a wrong alley by creating a space between apologetics and the gospel? Perhaps we see the gospel as the message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and apologetics about defending biblical inspiration, creation or explaining why there is suffering etc. This gives the impression they are two separate things, the former being essential, the latter optional. When our apologetics is weak or under threat we are tempted to retreat to focussing on the gospel. We then stick to communicating only these core themes, but they are detached from a broader meaning and context in society.
But does this fit with biblical patterns? In Acts 18 (in Athens) and 26 (before Agrippa) Paul takes the eternal truths of God’s saving plan and interweaves them with contemporary issues, values and culture through the backdrop of God’s redemption of mankind. There is no distinction between where apologetics starts and ends and the message about Jesus as Saviour and Judge starts and ends. We need to reclaim the pattern of communicating the gospel as: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return >> within God’s redemptive plan >> within the broader Christian worldview. Our message needs to touch on each of these three areas every time we communicate. This is how the new testament authors explained the eternal truth that they were communicating. In Acts 26.1 Paul uses the Greek word apologeomai when describing the act of declaring his message – not the content of the message itself.
3. Compartmentalising our Lives
Because of the pressure we feel from #2, we make our lives fit into various boxes of work; home; social; church. We create a spiritual / secular divide and have in our minds a view of what constitutes a spiritual activity (i.e. things done at church or supporting the work of the church) and social / secular activities (that have little, if any, spiritual value). We see the value of activities as they relate to our ability to either fund or directly engage in spiritual activities (as defined previously). The impact of this is that we live in different worlds, adapting to the expected behaviours and norms within each box. The increasing pressure to keep faith out of the workplace means that while we may try our best to live out our Christian principles in our workplace, we struggle to articulate our faith. It will also mean that we become desperate to spend our time in activities which we deem to be the best use of our limited time. Time spent in secular activity will become simply waiting time until we can “do something of eternal value”.
Breaking down the Silo: I was fascinated by this interview with Tim Keller, particularly the fourth question. I think many of us are guilty of saying we believe all callings are equally valid (that’s not to say they are all equal), while at the same time we still act as though some callings are more God-honouring than others. In a mark of true humility and honesty, Keller admits that he feels this tension. The only way to break out of this silo is to reclaim a biblical view of work, where whatever we do can and should be done for the Lord – an incredibly liberating and affirming position.
So the question is: “Are we constantly feeling that our time is being wasted, because we are not doing more spiritual work?” (that’s not to say we shouldn’t prioritise our time or set aside individuals to be devoted to preaching and prayer). And: “Are we intentionally cross-fertilising our boxes, at the right time, so that people see us in a different context?” Social media is a perfect tool to do this cross-fertilisation – “Are we using social media intentionally; who is listening or following you? Is it only people who think the same way as you do?”
Let me know your thoughts on these and other silos and how we can break out of them.
Cultural Distance in the UK
When I had more spare time, I used to lead many Alpha and Christianity Explored courses. The first talk on the Alpha course is always: ”Christianity: Boring, Untrue & Irrelevant?” In order to engage we need to first understand where people are. This talk seeks to engage the pre-conceptions and misunderstandings that people have in order to re-engage them with Christianity.
I believe Alpha’s first talk was true to the questions people were asking a few years ago, but now, I believe, UK society has moved further away. Let me say that I’m a big fan of both Alpha and CE and I have used them both many times in the past. However, I believe we have underestimated both the size of the gap between us and society and the depth of the problem.
As I watch UK culture, I believe that religion is no longer seen as something misguided but benign, but rather something that is actually harmful to an enlightened society. The case is being made by prominent secular humanists, parts of the media and some political figures that religion is actually a source of corruption and a dumbing down of our natural intellect. It is explained as a vestigial coping mechanism that might have had a use in giving us a misguided comfort before science removed our need for false hope in gods and superstitious fear of ghouls. It is now redundant and primitive.
As I was thinking about these things, I was studying Acts 26 for a message and it hit me the difference between Paul standing before Agrippa and us standing before our society today. Standing before Agrippa Paul could rely on three levels of common ground – general revelation (nature / creation), special revelation (biblical revelation) and shared cultural values (those of the Jewish nation).
My proposition was that all these three have been removed in our day, so I titled my talk: “A Reasonable Faith: Christianity: Unscientific, Corrupt & Intolerant?” I believe these three areas describe the areas where society is questioning the integrity of the Christian faith. I recognise that it is a spectrum of views – not everyone is thinking like this, but many are and they are asking questions that we, on the whole are not answering.
- Unscientific? We now face a credibility gap where science is seen to have provided the answers and we are holding onto out-dated ideas. It has removed the shared ground of General Revelation – a common understanding in our origins.
- Corrupt? With the increasing confidence of authors such as Dan Brown and the decreasing biblical literacy, false information and inaccurate historical claims can easily sway public opinion. We now face a reliability gap when the historical reliability of the New Testament is assumed to be a matter of personal opinion. The church is thought to have re-interpreted or even edited earlier versions to suit their own political purposes. This has removed any remaining Special Revelation common ground, so that biblical authority is an oxymoron.
- Intolerant? As the faithful believers continue to hold onto biblical truth and society’s moral standards diverge from these truths, our stance is seen as being intolerant of other positions. We now face a compassion gap, where we are seen as intolerant bigots for not allowing everyone a right to have their views accepted. This has eroded our common ground of Shared Cultural Values so that we can no longer assume or expect others to share or even understand our ethical views.
Do you agree that this is a fair assessment of where our society is at, or perhaps at least, the direction it is heading? If so, then the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are bridging the chasms in our cultural engagement or throwing well-intentioned homilies into the abyss? If people really are thinking this way, how do we leap across the chasms to speak something meaningful to them?
Paul himself explained that God was the creator, sustainer and saviour of the world to the mainly Greek audience in Athens is a way that would engage their cultural antenna – referring to their poets and influential thinkers of the time (see Acts 17.22 and following). He explained the good news of Jesus using the language and concepts of the Athenians – sometimes seeking to build common ground, at other times directly challenging it. But the important thing is that he had clearly thought through the challenges and adapted his style to his different audiences. Have we thought through the challenges these chasms present and come to a position that we can articulate? Are we prepared to think the hard thoughts that possibly our current ways of communicating are simply lost across the chasm because we are assuming a common ground that no longer exists? These are the challenges that face us in engaging with our culture. Tools such as CE and Alpha are still vital as we live in a heterogeneous society with the remnants of a Christian heritage, but we cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all approach.
Or perhaps you are on the other side as you read this – an atheist, agnostic or you prefer not to label yourself. How do you see things from the other side of the chasm? Reach out and let me know. I’m listening.
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.