Reading Nephi – 11:24-25

068-068-the-liahona-fullChrist goes forth among the people, some of whom worship him. I wonder about this, because I wonder about worship. We tend to assume a monotheistic notion of worship—that there is only one Being that is Almighty, and that Being is the only thing that could justify worship. We tend to get dogmatic about who worships whom and what’s appropriate. I remember it being a real issue of confusion for me when I went on my mission—both at the MTC and again in the Bible Belt where I served—is Jesus was a being we worship, or do we only worship Heavenly Father as Jesus did, and instead hold Jesus in some other attitude of reverence?

While I can remember the ways in which I settled the question in my mind then, my mind is far from settled now. The charitable side of me suspects that there is perhaps a good, a kind of attitude and its attendant grace that arises out of what I’m calling monotheistic worship. But since I don’t believe in that kind of God, and don’t hold to that sort of worship, it seems exotic to me. My less charitable side thinks it’s merely a fabrication of hyperbole—heap all hyperbole upon God and upon the appropriate attitude one might take toward God, until there is no hyperbole left, and then call that thing God and that attitude worship. It holds no grip on me.

I’m genuinely open to learning more about worship, to being led in my worship. Presently, I feel it to be an attitude of reverence (literally revering) and devotion; a grateful acknowledgment of an individual and the gifts they’ve given that pertain to salvation and exaltation; a love and adoration; an intense desire toward expressing these things; and ultimately, an intense desire toward emulation. This understanding makes worship necessarily rare (one cannot be profligate in one’s worshipping), but also quite poly-valent. I’ve no more problem worshipping Joseph Smith (which the anti-Mormons are wont to ridicule), than I do Mary (which the Protestants ridicule), than I do Jesus (which my younger self felt quite ambivalent about), than I do my Heavenly Parents—who nonetheless do hold a unique place in my heart and devotion, though on account of our relationship rather than their metaphysically sui generis status.

The rod of iron is the word of God. And it leads to the two symbols in the vision that represent the love of God. A rod is concrete, and parallels a strait path that I assume is also straight (I haven’t checked the wording this time round—does it say both?). There is one specific trajectory—toward the tree. And yet the field itself represents the world, and there are regions hither and thither, some seen, some alluded to and acknowledged as unseen. It all seems quite clear that this is one narrative, one historical trajectory. That is, for certain of our family in the world, there will be a rod, a set down, canonized, conspicuous word. I acknowledged earlier, however, that this singular rod is not necessary—Lehi needed no rod. I have to believe that others too, perhaps coming from other regions, were able to be guided by non-rods to the tree and fountain. That said, I am tremendously grateful for the words that have been given to me in my tradition—I have a reinforced rod via Restoration scripture.

The most powerful connection for me in all of this, however, is the striking fact that the point of the word of God is to lead to the love of God. This is surely the chief constraint on any scriptural hermeneutics.

16 comments for “Reading Nephi – 11:24-25

  1. Artimus
    May 10, 2016 at 4:13 am

    I’ve always enjoyed How to Worship by Elder McConkie on BYU speeches. It’s a great approach to worship based on discipleship.

  2. May 10, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Interesting dilemma, James. While the Church obviously does not endorse the traditional Christian Trinity, it still spells out a form of monotheistic tri-theism. From 2 Nephi 21:31: “And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.” So even in Mormonism, if you are worshipping Jesus Christ you are worshipping the One God. Certainly traditional Christianity sees the risen and glorified Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of God, as worthy and deserving of worship.

    It should be noted that Elder McConkie took a different view. From his Seven Heresies talk: “We worship the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost; and Adam is their foremost servant, by whom the peopling of our planet was commenced.” So he saw the Godhead as three Persons, only one of whom is properly worshipped. He was even more emphatic on this point in his 1982 BYU talk, “Our Relationship With the Lord“: “We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost.”

  3. Clark Goble
    May 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

    James, I confess I’m constantly confused by the semantics of “worship” and how it applies in both scripture and practical life. I guess much of what I do would be judged to be worship. But it’s definitely a term that I just can’t quite latch onto theologically.

    Artimus, thanks for the link. McConkie does address worship better than most IMO. I’m at work so I can’t listen to the talk and but fortunately it’s reprinted in the Ensign. Sadly he seems to take for granted the meaning of worship although towards the bottom he seems to tie it to devotion. He also quotes D&C 93 which is supposed to “give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship…” Yet it’s hard to figure out how to take that though. At least I can’t tell “how to worship” from that chapter.

  4. Clark Goble
    May 10, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I should note that in a few places worship and prayer are used interchangeably. e.g. Alma 33-34 in various places. That I can understand, although again there’s a certain level of ambiguity. Even if the two words uses overlap somewhat I think at least in English the terms aren’t quite the same thing. They at minimum have very different connotations. I get prayer. I just don’t get worship.

  5. ji
    May 10, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    With all due respect to Elder McConkie, r.i.p., I think he over-emphasizes the separateness of the Father and the Son, while all scripture, including our own Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants combine to teach us that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. President Hinckley correctly taught that we worship Jesus Christ.

  6. Artimus
    May 10, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    The ensign reprint is not the same. The mp3 is much more in depth. If I remember correctly, it actually connects back to the lectures on faith, the doctrine of exaltation, and ties in exactly with becoming like God and becoming one. One God. Anyway, when I clicked back on the link it was either removed or it’s down. Hah, so that might make it all the more interesting to listen to!

  7. Artimus
    May 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    In the exact talk I linked to Elder McConkie says, “we worship God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Testator” clearly referring to the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. So while you quote the words of Elder McConkie, it doesn’t feel like the spirit of his teaching.

    The subject of worship in the talk I linked is one he builds up to and comes back around do so I really think it pertains well to the post. The lds ensign article doesn’t convey it nearly as well.

    I think we often try too hard to make Elder McConkie into something he’s not. Have a listen to that talk if the link works now, as it’s not from the bogeyman the bloggernacle makes it seem to be if you ask me. His speaking style isn’t very soft spoken, but I don’t have an issue harmonizing it with virtually anything being taught.

  8. CJ Armga
    May 10, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve been known to protest the phrase that we go to the temple ‘to worship’. I always think of it as ‘work’, not because it is hard/laborious and not because it makes me sweat, but because it is referred to as ‘temple work’. Perhaps it is splitting hairs. Perhaps the temple is a high form of worship. We don’t go to Sacrament meeting to do ‘church work’ although for some, it would be work. And both are centered around covenant making/renewal and instruction. But for me, it is in Sacrament meeting that we worship.

  9. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 6:13 am

    CJ Armga: As noted above, my current working definition of worship would certainly make temple work a form of worship, and for just the reason that you mention. In both temple and sacrament covenantal settings the work I do involves reverence and devotion, acknowledgment, love, expression, and ultimately, an active commitment to emulate–to become as God is.

  10. JKC
    May 11, 2016 at 9:07 am

    In terms of defining worship, Clark is right that it is in some places tied up with prayer. I wonder if this, combined with the fact that we are now pretty clear in the church that we pray only to the father, is perhaps part of what was behind Elder McConkie’s seemingly unscriptural statement that we only worship the father. But there are, of course, multiple examples from the Book of Mormon of people praying to Jesus. Worship also seems to be tied up with doctrinal concepts of the godhead. That is, the more you emphasize the separateness of the father, son, and holy spirit, over their unity, the more you have to decide which one is the real object of worship (unless of course, you are willing to just throw out the idea that there is only one God we worship), which also seems to be perhaps in part what was behind Elder McConkie’s statements. On the other hand, if you are prepared to accept at face value the unity of the Godhead as one God (note that this does not mean denying the unique individual identity of each member of the godhead), then you don’t need to decide which one is the proper sole object of worship. This seems to be more how Nephi approaches things. He pretty heavily emphasizes that the father, son, and holy ghost are one god, and so he has no problem saying that we must fall down and worship Jesus. For what it’s worth, I think Elder McConkie was wrong and Nephi was right, but I also am not sure that it’s fair to assume that these few statements are really representative of Elder McConkie’s entire life of teachings. At most he was inconsistent on this point.

    In terms of James’ speculation that certain forms of worship may not be all that bad directed to someone other than God, it may be enlightening to borrow from the Catholics the distinction between adoration, which is properly directed only to God, and veneration, which can be directed to others, like Mary and the saints. Both are sometimes called “worship” in English. As I understand it, the difference is basically that adoration includes an implicit acknowledgment that God is God. On the other hand, the point of the reformers that protested such veneration is that regardless of what theoretical distinctions might be made, in practice they end up being basically the same thing.

    I’m not aware of any detailed discussion from church leaders of what constitutes worshipping God, but there are a number of statements by general authorities about idol worship, to the effect that whatever we devote our time/attention/devotion to is the thing we worship. In that sense, maybe worship is tied up with consecration (which would, to some extent explain in part why we call temple attendance “worship”).

    In some contexts, worship seems to be closely tied up with an acknowledgment of sovereignty/expression of loyalty/obedience. This might be why some, such as Jehovah’s witnesses, won’t formally recognize the sovereignty of worldly nations such as by saluting the flag or pledging allegience.

    In the old testament, worship seems to be tied up closely in sacrifice. Connect that to Jesus’ statement in 3 Nephi that the only sacrifice he will accept is that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and it seems that worship is perhaps closely tied to repentance and an acknowledgement of Jesus’ sovereignty/power to save. Perhaps related to that is the idea of worship as participation in the sacrament. We sometimes refer to the sacrament as the replacement of the old sacrifices. If so, then perhaps worship means a willingness to recognize Jesus’ sovereignty over us (that we are willing to take his name upon us), a declaration of loyalty/allegience/obedience/repentance (that we are willing to keep his commandments), and a declaration of devotion (that we always remember him).

    So what does worship mean? It’s not clear, but it seems to have a lot to do with sacrifice, devotion, acknowledgment of sovereignty, and loyalty/obedience/consecration, with perhaps some recognition of divinity thrown into the mix (maybe that’s the same thing as an acknowledgment of sovereignty). If so, then I would think that both the temple and the sacrament are properly called worship, because they are so closely connected with those concepts.

  11. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 9:15 am

    JKC: Really appreciate your thinking through these aspects. I think the Protestants as portrayed here were practically right, but substantively wrong (i.e., wrong to therefore condemn adoration/veneration of Mary). And I can’t think of any way in which your description of worshipping Jesus in the sacrament (second to last paragraph) wouldn’t also apply to my wife (who is salvifically necessary, and to whom I’m uncompromisingly loyal). Rather than an argument against this notion of worship, however, I take that fact as an argument in its favor.

  12. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    This sort of gets at what I was saying. Worship seems really ill defined. People make distinctions based not really upon semantics than more the language game recognizing it can’t use the term relative to some figures. So worship becomes a broader world similar to veneration and tied to rituals to a deity. However worship is reserved just for the head. So the debate about when the word is appropriate becomes really a question of ritual and it’s “directedness” and a debate over who are the head deities. (Sorry for going all Wittgenstein – but it’s the only way I can make any sense of the word)

    This then causes problems for Mormons because while we’re more like the Trinity than some portray, it’s also clear we have more of a divide among the persons than Augustine would permit. Throw in our doctrine of deificiation without creation ex nihilo forming a divide the way it does for eastern Christianity and the word suddenly carries more danger than it does for Trinitarians.

    It’s interesting looking how similar words were used in paganism for pretty similar behaviors that we wouldn’t call worship. And why don’t we (or the Catholics who adopted as a practical matter a lot of pagan culture during conversions of regions) call it worship? Because of the theological need to keep God distinguished from paganism. As I said it’s a game and the game is making sure just the top figure gets to have the word applied.

  13. Terry H
    May 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    These comments about the definition of worship brought to mind a book (as usual). This one is “For The Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship”, Daniel I. Block, Baker 2014. (Clark, this one is available electronically). Block is an Old Testament scholar from the evangelical tradition. His NICOT volumes on Ezekiel are excellent and there are essay collections about Moses and Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. The chapters in the book include such topics as “Toward a Holistic, Biblical Understanding of Worship”, “The Object of Worship” “The Subject of Worship” “Daily Life as Worship” “Family Life and Work as Worship” “The Ordinances as Worship” “Hearing and Proclaiming the scriptures in Worship” “Prayer as Worship” “Music as Worship” “Sacrifice and Offering as Worship” “The Drama of Worship” “The Design and Theology of Sacred Space” “Leaders In Worship”.

    In the introduction, Block says that, “In a recent book on worship, Edith Humphrey correctly identifies five maladies that plague worship in the North American church: (1) trivializing worship by a precoccupation with atmospherics/mood (it’s all about how worship makes me feel); (2) misdirecting worship by having a human-centered rather than God-centered focus (it’s all about me, the worshiper); (3) deadening worship by substituting stones for bread (the loss of the Word of God); (4) perverting worship with emotional, self-indulgent experiences at the expense of true liturgy; and (5) exploiting worship with market-driven values.” Block goes on to say, “After observing trends in worship for a half century, I agree with Humphrey completely.” (xii)

    Until I picked it up again when this chain brought it to mind, I’d forgotten how I appreciated and agreed with so much of it. Some of our own comments in the Bloggernacle could be applied here, both positively and negatively.

  14. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    Terry, I think those all are true. And of course a dedicated life is often taken as worship.

  15. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    I’ve no idea what #3 means but otherwise quite like the list. That said, I also believe in goods associated with passionate worship– this is a point I think either a Humphrey or a Nibley miss in defense of merely liturgical worship. Regardless, I’m not sure it touches on the theological questions of who or how we worship, except as a cautionary check that we not make our own gut the sole arbiter. With which I certainly agree.

  16. Terry H
    May 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    James. Number 3 means ignoring the Word of God itself, substituting it for sentimental tripe.

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