Sunday, 13 March 2016

Worshipping Christ and God the Father, Philippians 2:11 bringing correction in paradoxical places

Charismatic and evangelicals are typically very excited about worshipping Jesus: and that's great! That is precisely what the Bible teaches explicitly that Christians should do. In this post we shall see, however, how both Charismatics and Unitarian expressions of worship can miss one of the most important nuances of early Christianity (and for once I am not dividing first and fourth century beliefs, despite the huge developments in this period).

To the right of this post there are a bunch of keywords: if you click on the keyword "worship", you will realise that this topic is of real interest and concern to me, partly because, I helped lead worship in my local church for about 10 years. These posts, which one day should be integrated into a separate website flagging up the dangerous expressions of modalism in church (I am an antimodalist!), combine worship lyrics, videos and theological analysis of a few of the more recent "offerings". They range from inoffensive to shocking, the worst of which has incredibly even been hailed as the "grandfather" of modern Trinitarian worship (Chris Tomlin's "How Great is our God", see the post here). The problem is that with some of these songs, the notion of worshipping Christ to the glory of his Father is absent. It is like we want to adopt just part of the famous Philippian's poem, or pay lip-service alone to the final lines.

How do non-Trinitarians (or as I am now preferring, non-Triune God advocates, I should post on this soon) respond to the idea that worship is supposed to be for God alone? First it is stated that the word for worship in Greek (proskuneo) has a wider range of meaning than in English, and is applied and expected in the company of human royalty as well as before a god. One Old Testament passage is frequently cited where both Yahweh and the king (David) receive worship from the people (1 Chronicles 29:20  Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the LORD your God.” So they all praised the LORD, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the LORD and the king). Because the Hebrew and Greek words also mean physically prostrating, most translations are careful in that instance to use the prostrating option (you can see the proskuneo choices at play in Matthew 2 in the birth of Jesus). Secondly, it is stated that in the book of Revelation in particular, worship for Jesus the lamb of God is actually spiritual, religious or even "divine", but that even in that context, God and Jesus are still carefully distinguished (perhaps in a vein similar to Ephesians 1, where even exalted and enthroned with authority over all creation, Jesus is still distinguished from Jesus' father, who is also Jesus' God. Twice). But is this worship of Christ of the same order as that which was required toward the Old Testament kings of Israel alongside Yahweh?


Paradoxically, like some charismatic songwriters, Non-triune God advocates may also fail to chew sufficiently on the end of the christological poem in Philippians:

T O   T H E   G L O R Y   O F   G O D   T H E   F A T H E R

Agency is a very well documented second-temple Jewish dynamic, including in the inter-testament period, and this continues into the New Testament (e.g. have you ever noticed that in Hebrews Jesus is referred to as God's apostle? Another post needed...) . The point is that sometimes in a desire to stress the distinctions between Jesus and God, non-Triune God advocates can perhaps lose focus of the fact that agency (mediation) works two ways. Jesus does not only mediate God's salvation to mankind, but he mediates worship back to the Father. I don't think the Philippians model is totally representative or normative, in part because you do have the Chronicles model (Christ and God the Father receiving worship alongside) renewed in Revelation.

How odd that both these interpretive lenses might stumble on Philippians 2:11, when they disagree so fiercely on what the rest of it means.

Oh yes, one final thing. A rather arrogant site here (Canadian - not usually known for being arrogant, but there you go) defending the doctrine of the Triune God points out that antiTrinitarians (God help them) are silly, blind etc to miss that the poem Paul cites clearly paraphrases a passage in Isaiah 43:23-24, where it is to Yahweh that everyone must bow and every tongue confess allegiance. Not only that, but Paul himself brings that passage back up again in Romans 14:9-12 and applies it to the Father. So this OT passage for Paul, it is claimed, is applied to both the Father and the Son. That is correct, but it can still fail to integrate fully Jesus' two-way mediation and inherited name (Hebrews 1). The Father is always in the picture.

Happy trinitarian worshipping!

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