The kingdom of God is spiritual. This fact is set forth clearly by Jesus in two conversations: with Pilate (John 18:36) and with the Pharisees (Luke 17:20-21). To Pilate He said, "My kingdom is not of this world," which emphasizes (1) that God is the Originator, not man, and (2) that the kingdom of God is not patterned after the kingdoms of men, but created distinctly by the wisdom of God. To the Pharisees Jesus declared, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation...the kingdom of God is within you." Thus, He identified the spiritual nature of the kingdom.
Everything about the kingdom of God is spiritual and yet through the centuries and up to this present day, men have tried to give it a material, physical, and social meaning. This distortion usually is not a conscious, deliberate act. It happens when people believe they have been taught "the truth" on all matters, and have stopped studying and thinking about such things, since they "settled these issues in their minds a long time ago."
Sometimes teachers and preachers, trying to make a distinction between the errors of men and the truth of God, end up forging a new concept of a Bible subject entirely foreign to New Testament usage. It is so easy, while applying our great wisdom and logic, to go "beyond that which is written" and to conclude that which God never intended for us in the first place.
The whole concept of "worshipping God," I believe, is one of those areas where we have led people to a distorted view. In our attempt to persuade those in religious error that God is not pleased with vain and ignorant worship, and that all "worship" must be authorized by God, we have left the impression that the worship of God can be reduced to "five acts of worship." The teaching is that these "five acts of worship" are confined to an official meeting, usually in a "church-building," and that, somehow, they don't count unless done in that official place!
Further, we have left in the minds of people that there is one hour a week, known as "The Worship Service," when we "go through these five acts," and that if we put in our one hour, doing these "five acts of worship," that constitutes our worship of God for the week, and God is most pleased. I have heard people say, "All God expects of me relative to assembling is to attend Worship Service, while Bible Study on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening are not required." Though the statement contains some truth, it reflects the point I am making. As long as one goes through these "five acts of worship" on Sunday, he is doing all that is necessary. "Bible Study is not that important, but I dare not miss worshipping God!" Is the worship of God relegated to one hour a week? Is the worship of God simply doing "five acts of worship" during one hour on Sunday? Is that all there is to worshipping God? Those are the questions I am raising for our consideration in this article. Let us see what the scriptures teach.
Jesus Liberalized the Worship of God
In the fourth chapter of his gospel, John records a significant conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. Having been shown her life to be promiscuous, the woman changed the subject to worship. "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (verse 20). The Samaritan understood that under the Mosaic Law the Jews were obligated to meet certain requirements at the temple in Jerusalem, while the Samaritans offered their own rendition of obedience at Mt. Gerazim, having broken with the Jewish tradition. These were CENTRAL PLACES OF WORSHIP in the minds of Jews and Samaritans.
Notice Jesus' response in verse 21: "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father." The significance of Jesus' statement is often overlooked. What is He saying? It is this, that under the New Covenant, God's people will not be required to worship Him at any particular place as the official worship station, like the Holy Temple, but they will be able to worship Him anywhere and anytime. In this teaching, Jesus anticipates that each baptized believer will be a priest with a direct line to God through his High Priest, Jesus Christ, and will offer his body "a living sacrifice...a spiritual service" (Romans 12:1, I Peter 2:5-9). The worship of God, offered by each priest, does not depend on where he is, but is predicated upon sincerity and truthfulness of service.
Jesus' statement that "true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth" was not something new, reserved for God's people under the New Covenant. God had always required His people to worship (serve) Him sincerely and according to truth (God's Will). Joshua understood this when he admonished the Israelites, "Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth" (Joshua 24:14). The new facets of Jesus' teaching was that the worshippers under the New Covenant would not be tied down to any certain official place. As priests they would serve (worship) God anytime, anywhere, but not in any way.
Assembling Ourselves Together
Does the teaching of Jesus rule out assembling ourselves together? Absolutely not! The New Testament abounds in examples of the disciples doing so (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:18; et al). The principle of "not forsaking the assembling" is found in Hebrews 10:25, but "assembling" for what purpose? "To worship God," is the usual answer. Not so! At least, this is not the primary reason. THERE IS NO SCRIPTURE UNDER THE NEW COVENANT COMMANDING GOD'S PEOPLE TO ASSEMBLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF WORSHIPPING HIM! Please read that sentence again; let the thought soak in, then follow my next statement very carefully. God wanted His people to come together for the purpose of INSTRUCTION and mutual EDIFICATION. The verse preceding Hebrews 10:25 says "...and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together," etc.
Why are we commanded to sing? To teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Why are we to commune around the loaf and the fruit of the vine? To proclaim to others our faith in the resurrected Christ until He returns (1 Cor. 11:26). Why do we pray? To edify one another (1 Cor. 14:14-17). Certainly, we do all these things for other legitimate reasons, but God in His wisdom knew we needed each other for encouragement and so He told us to come together for this purpose.
Now, please understand this: WHILE GOD HAS NOT COMMANDED US TO ASSEMBLE FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF WORSHIPPING HIM, HE HAS COMMANDED US TO DO THINGS WHILE ASSEMBLED THAT WHEN DONE CONSTITUTE A SERVICE (WORSHIP) TO HIM! In the assembly, when I encourage another to be faithful, when I sing, when I partake of the Lord's Supper, when I do anything permitted by the Will of God to instruct and to edify others, I am worshipping (serving) Him. But beloved, not all things constituting service (worship), commanded of us by God, are to be done in an assembly. In fact, I should view the assembly as the place and opportunity where I may be builded up and encouraged to go into the world to serve (worship) God!
What Constitutes Worship?
There are five Greek verbs that are related to the idea of "worship" or "worshipping," two of which are used repeatedly in the New Testament, PROSKUNEO and LATRUEO. The other three carry the meaning of "revering," "honoring religiously," and "acting piously towards," hence, "worshipping." PROSKUENO, used 60 times in the New Testament and translated "worship," means literally, "to kiss toward." In this Mid-Eastern custom, one bowed down in the presence of a ruler, lord or nobleman, and with a sweeping gesture of the right hand from chest to lips, kissed toward him, thus showing with this act of homage complete subjection. Sometimes, the worshipper would accompany this action by saying, "I am your obedient servant." Proskuneo is used to describe the specific act of bowing toward, but the word also implies a general state of subjection when apart from the object of the worship. One would be in subjection to his lord whether in his presence or away from him. In this way he worshipped (served) him.
The word LATREUO appears 21 times and is translated "serve" 16 times, "worship" 3 times, "worshipper" once, and "do the service" once. The main idea is to serve or render religious homage. It is used in a broader sense than PROSKUNEO, and would indicate serving God everyday.
Paul said, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship (latreuo) I the God of my fathers..." (Acts 24:14 - KJV). This word is translated "serve" in the American Standard Version, which expresses Paul's general attitude of serving God rather than pointing toward any specific act of worship.
A careful study of these key words enables us to conclude that "worship" and "service" are most often used interchangeably, whether we are looking at specific activities or considering them to be a general state of subjection. Even when PROSKUNEO is used, signifying the literal "bowing down" (Matt. 4:9-10, 18:26, et al), the idea of serving is inherent in the word.
I am fearful too many among us have the idea that "worshipping God" only takes place on Sunday morning at the "Worship Service," when we meet to go through "the five acts of worship;" that "worshipping God" could not possibly take place at any other time nor at any other place but a specially designated meeting house of the church of Christ; that at a precise time, when we announce, "It's time to begin our worship service," that worship begins, and at approximately an hour later worship ends, as if controlled like a faucet. That when we spend that hour of "worship," we have done our duty and now the rest of the week belongs to us to do what we can to promote our own material welfare.
May I suggest at this time that the expression "Worship Service" is redundant? Worshipping God is serving God, and vice versa. Certainly there are specific things we are commanded to do by God that constitute worshipping or serving God. But these are things (with the exception of the Lord's Supper) we should be doing every day of our lives, not just during one hour on the first day of the week; Therefore, let us broaden our concept of "worship" to this extent.
Misconception of Worship is Part of a Larger Problem
It is my opinion that too many Christians perceive the church and its worship of God strictly from an institutional viewpoint. For instance, there are those who believe that the church is something more than just the disciples of Christ, that it is an "organized, functional, institutional entity (body corporate), formed under God's direction, that every disciple of Christ is required to join to perform certain works which cannot be done otherwise and please God." Central to this unscriptural explanation of the "local church" is the idea that people have formed themselves into a "thing" that is something more than simply the saints of God, which they are willing to call an "institutional entity," and in some way that makes this "local church" THE OFFICIAL MEETING PLACE WHERE THE FIVE ACTS OF WORSHIP ARE TO TAKE PLACE IF ONE IS TO BE PLEASING IN THE SIGHT OF GOD!
Permit me to give you a personal example of this kind of thinking which shall drive home my point. Several years ago about 135 business associates decided to hold a business seminar on board a cruise ship. Since the cruise lasted from Friday to Monday, some 60 of us who were Christians planned to assemble on the first day of the week to break bread, sing and pray, and listen to a brother preach the word. We invited our business friends to join us and about 50 of them did. As a result, many of them heard the pure gospel of Christ for the first time in their lives. Later, some of our preaching brethren, without checking with us for details (some of our preaching brethren are notorious for this kind of neglect), wrote this up as a flagrant violation of God's word that teaches us "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together." According to them, we had committed the grave sin of not checking in at one of the "official worship stations" of the church of Christ, and therefore, what we did was not acceptable unto God!
These brethren are quick to make laws where God did not make them and impose their human wisdom as binding upon the saints. According to them, if one travels on a vacation over Sunday into a land where other saints do not exist, and he cannot assemble, he sins; if one finds work and lives in an area where the church cannot be found, he sins; if one goes on a tour of the Holy Lands, etc. and cannot find "the official worship station," he sins. My Oh My! How our misconception leads us to behave just like the Pharisees of old!
Worship is an Individual Matter
The worship of God is as much an individual matter as salvation. Does our worship depend on how each one of us serves God, or is it dependent upon our "belonging to the church," an expression not found in the word of God? Consider this: We Christians do not "belong to the church," WE ARE THE CHURCH! Jesus is "the savior of the body," the church (Eph. 5:23), and we belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Since we are the church, our faith to Christ is infinitely more meaningful than the unscriptural notion of "being faithful to the church." With the Lord in our hearts and as part of walking in the light, we WILL MEET WITH THE SAINTS and encourage and provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). In this way salvation is not dependent on a legalistic concept -- "being at all the church services" -- but is based on an obedient faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Thus, our coming together is not out of constraint but is motivated by a strong desire to please our King.
Through the centuries the Roman Catholic Church developed a system which conditions a person's mind to serve God through this institution. His worship of God is administered and controlled by and through the clergy, the official Church. He is taught by the Church; he is concerned about Official Church doctrine but has little to say about its orthodoxy, and he allows the Church to regulate his worship. He reveres the buildings as the "house of God," and makes it the focal point of his worship. He comes to worship at the appointed times and goes through a predetermined ceremony. Most of the time he is oblivious to everyone around him as he goes through his "acts of worship." Most of the time he is merely a spectator. He seldom thinks of worshipping any other way. He is a good Catholic, faithful to the Church. Am I saying that we are not too different from him? Read again this description of him and compare your practice and attitude with his -- then, you be the judge!