“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Worship is Due to God Alone
The distinction between “service” and “worship” is useless. Paul speaks of the Galatians being enslaved to serve false gods (Galatians 4:8). Because Paul does not explicitly use the term “worship,” are the Galatians then excused of their former idolatry? Certainly not! He condemns “service” to idols as much as worship of them. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'” (Matthew 4:10), he was responding to Satan’s request for reverential respect. Thus, Christ saw respect, service, and worship all tied together.
In a similar way, when the angel rebukes John for falling down to worship him (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), we should not assume that John lost his mind and intended to give worship to an angel rather than God. Because religious always seeks after the divine, John could not reverential respect to the angel without denigrating the worship of God. It is true that we read in the Bible that men were “worshipped.” But that was speaking about civil honor. It is different when religious honor is given. Whenever religious respect is given, it is joined to worship and has the potential to profane God’s name if not done correctly. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25). Cornelius had made a lot of progress in how he worships God; he still falls down at Peter’s feet. Surely, in context, it was a sign of Cornelius’ respect for Peter. Yet Peter forbids him to do so because it is easy to “cross a line” in worship and defame God’s glory.
Therefore, if we have one God, let’s remember that we cannot hold on to the smallest part of His glory without depriving Him of it. Remember Zechariah. When he spoke of the restoration of the Church, he says that there would not only be one God but also one name (Zechariah 14:9). Why? So God would have nothing to do with idols. The way we should worship God is treated elsewhere (Book 2, chapters 7-8). But we can say this: God proscribed in the Law the right way to worship so that people would think of their own ways to worship. Since it’s helpful to be exposed to wide-variety of topics, I won’t dwell on this issue right now.
Remember: whenever you worship something else, you are committing idolatry. First, pagan religion assigned honor to the sun and the moon and to idols. Then ambition came in. Ambition to profane all that was sacred. Although in principle the worship of a supreme God was practiced, other worship practices such as making sacrifices to lesser “gods” or departed ancestors were prominent. We are so prone to idolatry!