Sunday, June 20, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole

In 1865 Lewis Carroll wrote a novel about a seven-year old English girl named Alice who, bored with a book her sister was reading, chased a large white rabbit with pink eyes down a rabbit hole “into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.”1 The literary nonsense genre “is a broad categorization of literature that balances elements that make sense with some that do not with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.”2 It strikes me that the definition of literary nonsense literature in many ways is an apt description of the biblical world when compared to the world in the 21st century. Nonsense literature “has a kind of internal lunatic logic of its own, and often comprises enigmatic variations on the absurd.”3 The absurd in contemporary literature and literary criticism is a term reflecting “[e]xtreme forms of illogic, inconsistency, and nightmarish fantasy.”4

The Earth and the cosmos, as we currently learn about them in public schools and the universities of Western culture, are quite different from the worlds reflected in nonsense literature. The world today operates on the basis of the observations and principles of modern science. This includes the physiological and psychological make up of human beings, and the animal and plant kingdoms, which evolve on the basis of natural selection.

Reading the Bible, entering its world, is much like going down Alice’s rabbit hole. One finds in its pages a world that operates with a logic all its own yet illogically from the perspective of modern science. In the Bible one finds talking snakes (Gen 3:1-13) and donkeys (Num 22:5); that the laws of physics can be suspended so that the earth can be paused in its journey around the sun (Josh 10:6-14); that a Judean Holy man can feed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:32-44); that the dead can walk after an earthquake opens their graves (Matt 27:52-54); that magic cloth has the “magical” capability to heal disease (Acts 19:11-12); that ax-heads can float (2 Kgs 6:1-7); and that the bones of a dead holy man, like a talisman, possess the power to raise the dead (2 Kgs 13:20-21).5 The “logic” that enables these fantasies to work is the presence in the universe of invisible spirit forces.

The biblical world is the scene of a great cosmic struggle between the invisible forces of Good and Evil (Eph 6:10-12). Demonic forces cause sickness (Luke 11:14), insanity (Mark 5:1-20), epilepsy (Matt 17:14-21), paralysis and other diseases (Matt 4:24). They can demonize the human body (Matt 12:43-45) and cause deafness and muteness (Mark 9:25). On the other hand, there are emissaries (Matt 25:41) of an invisible power stronger than the demons but this power sometimes helps (Acts 12:11) or sometimes harms (Acts 12:23) people.6

Many continue to view the cosmos from this religious and superstitious perspective. Nevertheless, in the modern Western world, the strength of the biblical worldview has been rendered ineffective because of the advances of modern medicine. In the ancient world what was attributed to unseen invisible forces has been successfully explained by science as due to natural causes. For example, organisms (germs and viruses), unseen by the naked eye but visible under magnification, cause disease; evil spirits do not. Medical practitioners have virtually replaced the religious shaman as the first to consult in the case of illness. The physician’s advice and treatment, rather than prayer or exorcism, is now sought first to combat what in the ancient past were understood to be disease-causing spirits.

The texts that comprise the Bible are flawed by their antiquity and hence the collection is only marginally reliable as a basis for contemporary life. Those anti-intellectual institutions that continue to measure the world and human life by the Bible’s flawed views will only succeed in marginalizing themselves further from the mainstream in the 21st century. Figuring out what century one lives in is a primary responsibility of living in the present.

Here is the main point of this mini-essay: The Bible does not depict a world that actually was but rather a world as it was perceived to be.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University



3J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (revised by C.E. Preston; 4th ed.; London: Basil Blackwell, 1999), 551.

4C. H. Holman and W. Harmon, A Handbook to Literature (6th ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2.

5Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.

6Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 20-22.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Worship in the Ancient Christian Tradition

It has been common for Baptists to describe what the church does on Sunday mornings at the customary hour of eleven as "worship." The gathering of the church at this hour is referred to as the "morning worship service." Baptists regard this ritual as one hour in the week that the church formally and corporately revers or pays homage to the deity,1 or as Gaines S. Dobbins, the imminent Baptist educator, said it is an hour the church recognizes the "worth-ship" of God. Be that as it may, whatever else this gathering is, it is clearly a Baptist ritual or rite. Ritual is defined as "any formal and customarily repeated act or series of acts." A rite is defined as "a prescribed form or manner governing the words or actions for a ceremony."2 The word that describes such rituals in the New Testament is sebomai, which means the expressing in gestures, rites, or ceremonies an allegiance or devotion to deity; that is to say worship in a corporate sense.3

            In my experience virtually all protestant and catholic churches follow similar rituals (Quaker services, I have read, are more spontaneous4). Until recently the Baptist Church that I currently attend follows, in general, a basic ritual for Sunday morning worship that varies a bit depending on emphasis or the season. The following elements seem regularly standard, however:

Welcome; Call to worship; Hymn/Praise song; Opening prayer; Hymn/Praise song(s); Prayers of and for the people followed by the Lord's Prayer; Reading of the text for the day; Special Music; Preaching/Sermon/Lecture; Prayer; Song of Commitment/Dedication; Benediction, Postlude.

Ritualistic language introduces aspects of the various parts, particularly in the benediction. A short meditative video is generally used in various parts of the service.

Describing this Sunday morning ritual as "worship" led me to ponder two questions: (1) how does what Baptists do on Sunday morning compare to the earliest gatherings of Jesus followers? (2) how is it that corporate ritual can be construed as worship?

The early Jesus followers (not yet Christians) did gather together (1 Cor 11:17-33) for encouragement (Heb 10:25), to gather contributions for mission work (1 Cor 16:1-4) on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-4; Acts 20:7). They also gathered to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:17-22). Music, teaching, admonishing one another, and giving thanks to the Lord were also a part of their gatherings (Eph 5:19-20; Col 3:16). The only extended passage I know, describing a gathering of Jesus followers, is 1 Cor 14:1-40. This passage is unlike gatherings in the mainstream churches that emerged from the Protestant Reformation (Anabaptist, Anglicanism, Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox). It focuses on speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophesying. None of which, in my experience, have been a part of Baptist gatherings for worship. Paul tried to order the confusion in the gathering with this comment: "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor 14:26). Yet he concedes that prophecy and tongues should continue to be a part of the Corinthians' gatherings (1 Cor 14:39-40). But I do not find in any of the passages I mentioned that these early followers of Jesus described their gatherings as worship.5 The word worship is derived from Old English and Middle English rather than from Greek. In the writings of the earliest New Testament writer (Paul) five words have been translated as worship in modern translations: proskuneō (1 Cor 14:25); latreuō (has the sense of carrying out of religious duties of a cultic nature; Rom 1:9, 25; Phil 3:3); sēbazomai (Rom 1:25); latreia (Rom 12:1; 9:4); leitourgeia (2 Cor 9:12; Phil 2:17, 30). The lexicon Danker-Bauer translates only three of these words using the English word worship: proskuneō, sebazomai, and latreia. It appears to me that Paul uses two of these words to describe individual worshippers (1 Cor 14:25; Rom 12:1; 9:4). He uses latreia once (Rom 9:4) describing worship in a corporate sense when writing of the worship of the ancient Israelites (as does Heb 9:1).6 In Romans 12:1 he appears to address my question when he describes worship as an individual act rather than a corporate act:

I therefore appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship (logikēn latreian).

            The heart of the issue seems to lie in the following question: are cultic acts to be considered worship or is worship only characterized by an inner attitude of awe? No doubt many Baptists on a Sunday morning only formally carry out cultic acts of a ritual nature, for who never dozes or finds their minds wandering during prayers or sermons. And if that is the case how can a corporate act be worship if all are not completely engaged?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The deity that is the focus of the service is increasingly changing from God to Christ under the influence of the Trinitarian dogma, which is not reflected per se in the New Testament.

2Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, s. v., ritual, rite.

3F. C. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago and London: University of Chicago, 2000).


5Except, perhaps, for Eph 5:19.

6It is worth mentioning that at least two of the prophets report that Yahweh was repulsed by the corporate worship of the ancient Israelites: Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.