By David Tulis
The people of Thailand treat their king worshipfully. So revered is King Bhumibol Adulyadej that to say anything negative is frowned upon. Formally, he is referred to as Phrabat Somdej Phra Chao Yu Hua. Reverence for him starts in his palace and flows outward into the arteries of Bankok and through the hearts of his people into the poorest of villages.
A joke about him can be a criminal offense. At a cinema, if there is a short film in which the king appears, everyone in the theater stands up. If you drop a banknote on the sidewalk, you cannot step on it to rescue it from a swirl-away breeze; the king’s face is upon it and it would dishonor him to scuff your sole on it. When the king’s sister died in January 2008, the first state funeral in 12 years provoked such an ecstasy of mourning that the rites took six days. To guide the people in their service, the government published a 127-page book on protocol.
If you were to visit to the king of Thailand on ordinary business, you would obtain from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a book of protocol describing all one’s duties before his majesty, the proper means of address, the correct formulation of any petition and the accepted way to dress, greet, speak and say goodbye.
Majesty of God
You would let him dictate terms of the visit, and you would think nothing of it. But many Christians are less than careful in the worship of God who, like Bhumibol Adulyadej, dictates the terms of your approach to Him. This view is one I have been taught much of my life, and might be summarized something like this: What God requires you must do; what He does not command in worship is forbidden.
In other words, in this regulatory framework, worship in His presence on His day in His house is strictly on his terms and by His command. He doesn’t invite human ingenuity.
God has reserved for himself one day of the week for his worship, the first day, commonly called Sunday. What’s more, God has deigned to accept the worship of his people in what Christians call a worship “service.” Every Christian, no matter how loose his theology, calls his labor in the Lord’s house on Sunday a “service.”
The word expresses that which a slave or servant gives to his master in obedience. The servant gives it not in a context of oppression and loathing, but in a context of reverence. The giver of “service” is a slave who recognizes his poverty of spirit, serving a God who pours upon him blessings of salvation, comfort, hope and home. The acceptance of his person is accounted for by the doctrine of adoption, which describes how God takes enemies and by forgiveness and grace elevates them to the high status of sons and daughters.
Corrupted worship angers God
The prophet Malachi had many alarming things to say about the Old Testament church under old Israel. In the book’s first chapter God says that “My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering” (Malachi 1:11). They offer injured and maimed animals for sacrifice, animals of such poor quality they would never dream of offering such to a human governor.
God is angry at the worship of His people, whom He wants to spew from his mouth. “But you profane it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; and its fruit, its food is contemptible.’ You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it.” God is angry that in sacrifices His people bring defective, even stolen, animals. He directs his anger to the ministers, warning that if they do not repent He will judge. “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings” (2:2). It disturbs people to consider God’s taking their blessings, and cursing them for it. How can that be?
In Part 2 of this exploration, I’ll look at the antic-driven Christian worship and wonder aloud if some of the societal evils in our day come from a poverty of service to God.