One time I was speaking with a young woman who was an advocate of praise and worship (P&W). In fact, she was on a P&W team for her church. When I told her that I objected to P&W, she asked why. I told her, among other things, that it was irreverent. She wondered how I had any way of making such a claim.
You hear this sort of thing all the time. Reverence is rendered by many these days to be completely relative, or undefinable. I say relative or undefinable because one works off the other these days. Because one wants to see so many different expressions of “reverence,” they will either say that they are all acceptable (relative), or, because they do not want to admit that reverence is relative, they will insist that one cannot with any real certainty call something either “reverent” or “irreverent” (undefinable).
To concede the relativist or agnostic posture, however, creates major problems for a Christian. If we are unable to say what is reverent, how are we able to articulate any meaning to any other abstract idea found in Scripture?
For example, consider the idea of justice. Perhaps many conservative evangelicals are unaware that many “relativize” this idea today through pragmatism or radical post-modern skepticism. If it is not relativized, contemporary culture often despairs of giving any meaning to the word, perhaps even denying that justice even exists. They see divergent concepts of justice or just society, different ideas of “just war” or radically opposing judicial philosophies, and throw up their hands at the possibility of arriving at a true meaning of justice. Soon one is left with a pragmatic view of justice as seen in John Stuart Mill or Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Breyer’s theory of “active liberty.” Should a Christian take an agnostic or relativistic view of justice? Without question, justice can be at times difficult to determine, and multiple theories have been proposed dating back to Plato and beyond of what true justice looks like. Should this prevent us from struggling to articulate what justice is, or should it be a cause for despair at the possibility of knowing what justice is?
I could give other examples, such as holiness, modesty, joy, sobriety, or piety. Even ideas directly connected with Christian theology such as love, sin, faith, and orthodoxy could be in jeopardy were this relativism or agnosticism be allowed to take its full affect. Even the nature of God himself could become an open question with the kind of mindset that chafes at understanding something like reverence. We are putting ourselves in the position of making the entire Bible meaningless.
I want to be as clear as possible; I am not saying this is easy. In fact, I believe that in our current state it is quite difficult. I believe we have let too much erode for us to offer a definition of reverence with any ease. Nor do I believe that everyone has an innate sense of what entails reverence. If we want to begin to understand what the Bible means when it refers to reverence (e.g. in Heb 12:28 where it tells us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe”), we should make a careful inquiry into passages that speak of this topic. We should moreover seek to understand human nature and the way certain cultures invest particular gestures and mannerisms with meaning, paying careful attention to similarities and differences between varying cultures. We should also make careful scrutiny into our own culture and what how what we do carries with it meaning. All of this investigation should be bathed in a keen desire for piety and a concern that we without hesitation follow the teachings of our Lord in the holy scriptures.
My main point has been that the position held by some that reverence is relative or even undefinable is one inconsistent with the Christian faith. Although there may be some difficulties with defining certain abstract terms important to our religion, it is necessary for us to do so if we believe in truth and desire a meaningful Christianity in any way similar to what the apostles preached.