Sshhhh! Be reverent in church! I’m not sure how many times I heard that as a child. I still hear variations of it today, sometimes in church board meetings where concerns are raised about the noise level during worship services.
To focus on external appearances is to miss the point. Reverence is not a behaviour. It’s an attitude.
But I’ve often wondered: is “reverence” really just a churchy synonym for “quiet” as many people seem to assume? Time for some research . . .
My favourite Bible search website, BibleGateway.com, lists 15 occurrences of “reverence” in the NIV, and five occurrences of “reverent”. A quick scan down the list reveals that reverence is associated with bowing, falling prostrate on the ground, standing, serving, purifying, submitting, worshipping and, surprisingly, treating people fairly (Nehemiah 5:15).
There are certainly references to reverence during worship but it appears reverence can also be expressed by the way we live. And the context doesn’t seem to suggest that this means living by tiptoeing and whispering all the time.
Hmmm . . . time for a concordance. What exactly does “reverence” mean in biblical Hebrew and Greek? Cue BibleStudyTools.com:
In the Old Testament, “reverence” occurs as the translation of two Hebrew words, yare’ and shachah. The root idea of the former is “fear”. It’s used to express the attitude toward God Himself, as in Psalms 89:7 (KJV); or toward His sanctuary, as in Leviticus 19:30; 26:2. So the group of ideas there would be “fear”, “awe” “reverence”. The root idea of the second is “falling down”, as prostration of the body . . .
In the New Testament “reverence” occurs as the translation of three Greek words, aidos, phobeomai, and entrepomai. In the first, the idea is “modesty” (Hebrews 12:28; compare 1 Timothy 2:9). In the second, “fear” (Ephesians 5:33). In the third, the idea is that of the “self-valuation of inferiority”, and so sets forth an attitude toward another of doing him honour (Matthew 21:37; Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13; Hebrews 12:9).
OK, so humility, submission and being generally awestruck are fairly key ideas here. But, strangely enough, nothing about quietness.
So does that mean you can be both reverent and loud?!
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).
Other translations render “fervent cries” as “strong crying” or “loud cries”. Another concordance check reveals that the Greek word used here, krauge, can also be translated “outcry” or “clamour”.
Yes, reverence can be loud. But in the end, it’s not important whether reverence is soft or loud. Really, it’s neither. To focus on external appearances is to miss the point. Reverence is not a behaviour. It’s an attitude.
So who was irreverent when the priests and teachers of the law complained about the children shouting “Hosanna” in the temple courts (Matthew 21:15)? Was it the noisy kids, forgetting where they were and jumping up and down in excitement for seeing Jesus? Or was it the religious leaders, grinding their teeth in smouldering indignation?
Yes, there are times for quiet, or even total silence, in worship. It’s distracting when someone makes noise during these moments. I get it. And not everyone appreciates boisterous praise music. But judging the noisemakers as “irreverent” fails the test of good theology. It may also fail the test of loving Christianity.
Kent Kingston is an assistant editor of RECORD.