Worship can never replace reality. It can foreshadow or represent it, but it is not itself the reality it represents.

Why is this an important distinction to keep in mind?

Because Roman and Eastern approaches to worship, where this distinction sometimes seems to blur, may result in a too sharp a divide between the spiritual and the material.

The icon or statue is said to participate in a greater reality, but the kingdom of God is not something out there, but right here, right now. Our worship needs to reinforce that reality.

We do not go to worship to participate in a reality greater than the one we already live in, having been adopted as God’s children by His grace. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

It is said that the icon or the statue points to, through, and beyond itself, such that what it signifies is very nearly what it is. Likewise, with liturgy. Anamnesis, the literal remembering of the atonement, is said to signify the atonement so closely that it participates in the very atonement itself. Through worship (it is said) one can even “enter into” the paschal mystery.

This is the language of pagan philosophy, not biblical commandment. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Ex. 20:4).

It is true that worship in the Jerusalem temple used images of the Cherubim, but these were not replacements for the Cherubim, nor was it said that they participated in some postulated greater cherubic essence or reality. No. Instead, Hebrews tells us they were “copies of heavenly things” and that their purification only foreshadowed the purifying work of the Christ, a work now finished (Heb. 9:23-27, 10:12).

In what ways might evangelicals use worship as an escape to a supposedly more spiritual reality? In what ways does our worship prevent us from working out the implications of Emmanuel, God-with-us?

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