Embodied Worship

A brother recently posed a question as to whether or not postures such as kneeling are acceptable in corporate worship in light of the Regulative Principle of Worship. Though my view of the RPW is somewhat modified, I think that my response is in keeping with the overall spirit.


 

I think that there is a tendency among modern Reformed folk to think of congregants as merely “brains on feet.” Our experience is largely cerebral to the sad neglect of our bodies—the very bodies which we are called to present as sacrificial offerings in acts of spiritual worship. In reality, our bodies are not simply vehicles that convey our minds hither and yon. They are part of who we are. We are not whole without them. This is one reason that the resurrection of the dead is crucial to our eternal felicity.

We acknowledge this to one degree or another when we congregate for worship. We understand that physically gathering is different than watching a live stream. We acknowledge this further when we speak, sing, and listen in worship services. Hearing the Word is different from reading it, just as speaking it together is different from reading it in private. Such acts don’t just point to the unity of the Church, they embody the very unity which they signify. We eat and drink in the presence of God because our bodies matter. We eat and drink with one another because our bodies matter in the Body.

It seems to me that biblical postures (and bodily actions) in worship function in a very similar fashion. Standing does what it signifies—it shows respect and reverence. Kneeling effects what it signifies as well—humility and obeisance. To be sure, it is possible for a man to remain proud at heart and still kneel but that does not diminish the fact that his position on his knees is still very much an act of humility.

People are transformed from the outside in. Faith comes to us as we hear the Word. We receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the flesh and thus have tangible promises—promises that we can touch and taste. We greet one another with hugs and handshakes, and in some parts of the world, holy kisses. Each of these activities is “doing” something inwardly. No one asks whether a kiss is a symbol or not. Of course it is a symbol! But it is a symbol that actually demonstrates what it signifies. No one who has watched a teen roll her eyes or a boy slouching in his seat disputes the potency of such bodily gestures. Practicing biblical postures in worship is one way of training the entire self in the disciplines of devotion.

As far as the RPW is concerned, there seems to be warrant for all of the above in the Scriptures. Our brother has cited Psalm 95. That is a reasonable text to consider. I think that we see this manifested in the NT also. Consider the book of Revelation. Allowing the Apocalypse to inform our worship should not be thought of as a theological leap since we already use it when we consider the day of worship. But move further from the day of worship to how worship was embodied on that day. Among other things, John fell on his face before his risen Lord. There is a case to be made for Revelation as a liturgical guide that I won’t take the time to develop here, suffice it to say that the worship of which heaven approves on the earth will not be radically different from the very worship which we have seen displayed before us in the heavenlies already.

So I say, Come, let us worship. Let us bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Let us stand in his presence. Let us sit at his feet. Let us lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting. Let us eat, drink, and be merry because today he lives.

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