The Politics of Worship
By Nicholas Zork Adventists have a long history of advocating for religious liberty and a specific theological framework within which it is understood to be so important. The traditional overarching narrative of Adventist theology is a conflict over the character of God. Key tensions propel the story forward: Is God actually good and loving? Does God truly have our best interest in mind? Will our faithfulness to God be met with trials and disappointments? More importantly, will God’s faithfulness to us win out in the end? And despite the sufficiency of God’s redemptive work, do we retain the freedom to offer or withhold our allegiance to or from God in return? For Adventists, the answer to all these questions is “yes.”
At the time of this writing, we do not yet know who will win the United States’ presidential election or the fallout thereafter. We also do not yet know the ramifications of current political maneuvering within the Adventist Church. There is a great possibility of turbulent times ahead. And although the Adventist commitment to religious freedom—to liberty of conscience—is not wedded to partisan politics or political policy, it is an explicitly political commitment. In Adventist eschatology, the matter of allegiance to God is envisioned not merely as a matter of the heart but something that will ultimately require a tangible confrontation with the powers that be—a willingness to stand up for religious freedom. For Adventists, the Bible’s concluding book specifically depicts ultimate devotion to God as a blatantly political act with potentially severe political consequences.
So as we bring our political worries and fears—civic and ecclesial—to worship on Sabbath, may God remind us that wherever the path ahead may lead, we are squarely within God’s narrative of redemption. Although we hear many appeals to human authority, may we be reminded that God alone has true authority and is worthy of our worship and allegiance. Although we hear many promises of human solutions to our challenges, may we be reminded that God alone truly can and has saved humanity. And although we may feel powerless to resist political forces around us that view freedom and diversity as threats to their power and security, may we be reminded that we worship “the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12) We worship a God—in the person of Jesus Christ—who knows what it means to lose the battle but win the war.
Participation in civic and church political processes are an important and essential way to put our love for God and love for our neighbors into practice. But when we inevitably face challenges and discouragement, may we remember that we worship a God who can empathize with our suffering. Jesus defied the religious and imperial authorities of his day, siding instead with the outcasts, the hurting and the oppressed. Jesus chose human beings—you and me—over human institutional powers, and he paid for that choice with his life. When we offer our allegiance to Christ in return, we very well may also suffer for it. But that allegiance to God is the fullest and deepest expression of our religious liberty—ultimate freedom from the constraints of human power.
God alone is worthy of our worship because God alone has true authority—moral authority. For although God is the one perfectly loving, omniscient and omnipotent Being in the Universe, God does not compel our allegiance, worship or even compliance. For God knows that a compelled “faith” is not worthy of the word. God offers us, instead, true freedom—true religious liberty, as it were—desiring only the worship of the willing. Whatever human authorities might be causing you concern today, may you celebrate your ultimate freedom in Christ every day and this coming Sabbath, as you worship the God whose character is truly love.