You shall have no other gods before me . . . You shall not make for yourself a carved image . . . You shall not bow down to them or serve them . . . (Exodus 20:3-6).
The first commandment in the Decalogue concerns worship, forbidding the worship of anything apart from God alone. Its corollary? “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (1 Chr 16:29; Ps 29:2; 96:9).
Anglicans have always been centrally concerned with worship. One might even make the case that worship informs Anglican theology, for traditionally Anglican doctrine is derived, not firstly from the 39 Articles, but from the Prayer Book and the creeds contained therein. The recognition of the centrality and indispensability of worship, and the care with which the Anglican Church has attended to the forms of worship, is one of the great blessings of Anglicanism.
And yet, with all the appropriate attention to the forms of worship, it is possible to forget that the Lord does not delight in those forms for their own sake. Rather, faithful worship depends upon attention to the vulnerable:
When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isa 1:12-17).
In language strong and visceral, the Lord calls worship an abomination if offered without attention to justice, and particularly to the fatherless and the widow. The Lord’s disgust is likewise echoed in Amos: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. . . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24). Or in Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matt 23:23-24)
In these Scriptures above, it is noteworthy that the Lord does not reject the worship of His people based only upon what they have done but principally by what they have left undone. Sins of omission are particularly deceptive because they are often hidden from us. Like the rich man stepping over Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), too often we see what we want to see and fail to see what we ought.
Who then are the fatherless, and who are the widows? Is there a more fatherless population
than unborn children at risk of abortion, at risk largely because the fathers are not being fathers?
And who are widows, but those left without husbands and the fathers of their children, and the
support that those husbands and fathers provide? Might not mothers left alone to carry children
without the support of fathers be among the widows for which God is concerned?
To obey is better than sacrifice. If the fatherless include the unborn and the widows include unsupported (and often unwed) mothers, then the implication is plain: if we neglect abortion, our
worship, for all the depth and beauty of our forms, becomes an abomination.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).