Like my two earlier posts (here and here), this post will continue to build the case that we should re-conceptualize our educational institutions in terms of worship. But this post will extend the argument by answering the following question: is there a biblical justification for prioritizing the concept of worship and re-evaluating our institutions in terms of worship? The answer is an overwhelming yes.
A good guide to help us reach this answer is Greg Beale’s illuminating book We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. In it, Beale argues that, what we revere we resemble, either for ruin or for restoration. Although Beale draws on numerous parts of scripture to substantiate this thesis, he primarily emphasizes Isaiah 6:9-10, and its inter-textual echo of Psalm 115:2-6. By telling Israel that it has “dull eyes” and “dim ears” in Isaiah 6, God is obviously judging Israel, but God is doing so by comparing Israel to the actual, physical idols that really do not have physical hears or physical eyes, as described in Psalm 115. But why this comparison? Because God is judging Israel for its idolatry (a problem emphasized in Isaiah chapters 1-5, see, e.g., Isaiah 2:8). And so how does God judge Israel for idolatry? By turning Israel into the idols that they worship. Just like its idols that have no physical eyes to hear and no physical ears to see, Israel (says God in Isaiah 6) will no longer have spiritual eyes or spiritual ears to perceive God’s word! From examples like this, Beale biblically supports the principle that God turns us into what we revere, i.e. what we worship.
Now, if this principle is true, the practical import of worship becomes much more apparent since worship determines what we become. For this reason, we desperately need to unearth the hidden forms of our worship to make sure we aren’t being transformed into idols. For example, on a micro-level, must I not now ask what am I worshiping and how is my current behavior merely reflecting the worship some idol? How am I being transformed subtly into the iPhone I spend all day on or the vacation I yearn for? And on the marco-level, must we not now ask what particular thing(s) is our society revering and how is our society revering these things? In what way(s) is our present culture the reflection of some idol it has worshiped or continues to worship?
But in asking these questions, what are really doing? We are merely perceiving ourselves and our institutions in terms of worship. We are recognizing that worship goes on all around us, that worship determines our character, our values, and our goals, and that we therefore need to think in terms of worship and evaluate things in terms of worship. And could there be any more important place to start this analysis than our educational institutions? The very institutions explicitly committed to shaping citizens’ values and minds? And could our freedoms in these educational institutions serve any more important purpose than to allow for and even model worship of the one true God? This last point is no mere ancillary one. Rather, this point explains why we should expansively protect the freedom to worship in the educational context. It explains why, for example, we should protect the right of Christian student groups to set religious qualifications for their leaders, contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling in CLS v. Martinez. But that is the subject of my next and final post in this series on worship in the educational context.