ow often throughout our years of attending "church" have we heard the statement, "we are assembled together to worship God". We even call the time spent together in the auditorium, "the worship service". Someone will often arise and say, "let us now begin our worship to God". At the end of the "worship period", someone will again arise and encourage all to return for "worship'' at the evening and the mid-week services. Some person may approach us with the question, "Where do you worship?", to which we readily reply, "Oh, I worship at the 5th and Main Church of Christ".
We have developed a doctrine concerning "worship" that is not even remotely reflected in the writings of the New Testament. We use denominational terminology and not Biblical language to justify a concept and practice that is not taught or implied in N.T. scripture. Where, in the N.T., do you find the terms, "worship service", "five acts of worship", or even the concept of Christians coming together for the purpose of worshipping God? I fear we have been greatly influenced by our parent organizational religious bodies, "the denominations", as we are so fond to call them, not realizing that we are one of them. To top it all off we arrogantly condemn others who meet in buildings with the wrong names on the outside and who do not abide by the right form of "the five acts of worship".
In John 4:19-24, Jesus was discussing, with the woman at the well, the concept of acceptable worship. The main controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans was over the site of worship, the temple in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim. Jesus clearly states the location is not even remotely the issue but rather the attitude of the worshiper. "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:23-24 (NIV). Jesus demonstrated, in his sojourn here on earth, what it means to worship in spirit and truth. His attitude and character were clearly manifest in all that he said and did. He was not interested in forms but rather in the changing of the inner man. All of his teachings were devoted to the transforming and renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2). His greatest interest was in the needs of men. So much so that he was willing to violate the traditions of men to meet needs of people. If we are to worship in spirit and truth then we also must seek to put on the same attitudes and characteristics as he manifest. If worship consisted of doing certain things on a certain day and in a certain location, then why didn't Jesus ever say anything about it?
In the N.T. there are three Greek words that are translated "worship" depending upon either context or the whim of the translator. LATRUO is best translated "to serve", if we are to reflect its most literal meaning. PROSKUNEO is often translated "worship'' but is also translated "to bow down" or "kneel before". In its most literal form it means "to kiss towards". SEBOMAI, also translated worship, means "to stand to awe" or "venerate".
The word "worship" can be broken down into two parts, "worth" and "ship". According to old English, this denotes the person or objects 'condition of value or merit', either because of innate quality or because of extended decree. This is why the title of "your worship" or "lord" was often used in England and even today is still retained to some degree. Of course we realize that these were simply titles of respect and honor without the implication (at least we hope) that this person is somehow superior to his fellowman. Surely we are not guilty of the same thing in the use of titles such as preacher, elder, deacon, doctor, etc.
God alone is worthy of worship and service in the ultimate sense. Jesus, when tempted by Satan to fall down and worship (PROSKUNEO) him, quoted Deut. 6:13, as recorded in the passage of Matt. 4:8-10. Verse 10: "Begone, Satan, For it is written, 'You shall worship (PROSKUNEO) the LORD your God, and serve (LATRUO) HIM only ' "(NAS). In Deut. 6:13, the word translated "worship" in the N.T., is rendered "fear". The reason Satan wanted Jesus to bow before him was because he wanted to usurp the position of God. The word, PROSKUNEO, represents the idea that a person has the attitude of heart that causes him to literally be willing to express his respect and adoration for a person or object, in that, he is willing to bow down or kiss toward. An inward attitude expressed in an outward way. There are numerous examples of individuals w-ho worshipped (PROSKU-NEO) Jesus and expressed their worship in spirit and truth by bowing down or kneeling before Him and also by expressing their praise and thanksgiving to God. (The leper-Matt. 8:2, Jairus-Matt. 9:18, Canaanite woman-Matt. 15:25, the Gadarene demoniac-Mark 5:6, the man born blind-John 9:38).
Some, however, can falsely express their reverence, but in their inner man totally reject the one to whom they are outwardly expressing their adoration. We have examples of this in Herod's expression to the wiseman of desiring to worship (PROSKUNEO) the new born king (Matt. 2:8), and the mocking of Jesus by the soldiers in Mark 15:19. Others may truly believe that what they are doing is a service to God. "They will make w)u outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for every, one who kills you to think that he is offering service (LATRUO) to God" (John 16:2). Paul was such a one before he became a Christian. Indeed there are many the world over who are doing what they think is a service to God, not understanding that in reality they are opposing Him. Just look at the numerous examples through church history' where those who exposed corruption or taught what was not accepted church doctrine were persecuted and even executed.
In the passage Matt. 15:1-20, verses 7-9 (Isa. 29:13): "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship (SEBO-MAI) Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men' (NAS). The key question here is, "Why was the veneration of these Jews in vain?". It was not because of doing the wrong things with respect to the rituals of the temple, feasts, etc. But, rather because they failed to understand that what they did in their day-to-day activities was just as important to God as what they did in the temple. In this case they failed to honor their fathers and mothers, thus showing that they had a wrong attitude toward God. That is why what was done at the temple was rejected by God.
This same problem was among the Jews of the period of the O.T. Note the prophets' condemnation of the religious activities of the people because of the way they treated each other. Isaiah, Chapter 1, speaks of God rejecting the sacrifices of the people, the incense they offered as being an abomination, and their assemblies becoming a burden to God. Why had what God commanded them to do become unacceptable to Him? Because the people were wicked as demonstrated by their treatment of one another. Amos and Micah also express this same concept in their writings (Amos 5:21-24 and Micah 6:6-8). This helps us to understand that just because someone is religious, attends "church", goes through the rituals, gives money, participates in the services, does not necessarily mean that person is acceptable to God. These activities are not wrong in themselves, but when we isolate our religion off in its own category away from the rest of our lives, there is a complete misconception of what God wants us to be. We make our supposed worship of God idolatrous by perceiving God as a being that must be appeased by certain religious activities. Nowhere in the N.T. do we see a certain set of worship activities commanded to be done on a week by week or year by year basis as we do in the O.T. Nov,, get this straight, I am not saying that what we do week to week is wrong, but rather I am saying it is just not there. We have made law where law was never intended. Note the following examples of why the Christians met together:
Prayer - Acts 4:31; 12:12
Teaching - Acts 2:46; 11:26; 19:9
Hear a report- Acts 14:27; 15:4, 30, 21:17-20
Meals or the Lord's Supper - Acts 2:42,46; 20:11; I Cor. 11:17-34
Discipline - I Cor. 5:4
Singing - I Cor. 14:26
Reading of scripture - 1 Tim. 4:13
Read a letter - Col. 4:16
Prophecy, tongues, interpretation -l Cor. 14
Why were these things done? Was it for the purpose of offering something to God? Paul wrote: "He does not dwell in temples made by hands nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:24-25). God has no needs, He is self-sufficient. What makes us think that our so-called acts of worship are what He needs so He can make it through another week. We have an idolatrous view of God if we think that what we do in our "worship services" on a week-by-week basis will appease Him so that we may one day enter into heaven. All these activities listed above are not for His benefit, but rather for ours. Paul put it better than I: "What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (I Cor. 14:26 RSV). Very clearly every activity was for the purpose of encouraging one another. In Acts 20:7-12, the Christians came together to break bread. But, what is the purpose of breaking bread together? Yes, it is to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. But, if that is its sole purpose then why come together? Could we not all just stay at home and remember these things on our own? In fact which of the supposed five acts of worship cannot be done by one's self in the privacy of our homes? If you will look closely at the context of I Cor. 11:17-34, you will see the problem here was one of the not even considering the needs and conditions of their fellow brothers in the Lord. Paul goes on in the same letter, chapters 12,13,14, to show the need for doing that which edifies others.
Someone, at this point, may say, "Don't we pray to God and sing praises to God?" I would have to answer in the affirmative. In fact all that we do, is toward God, if we understand the concept of worship as taught in the N.T.
Heb. 13:15-16: "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And dc) not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
I Cor. 10:31: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
Col. 3:17: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."
But, what is the primary purpose of praying and singing? According to Jesus' own statement, "for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8 RSV). By His very nature God knows all things. Then why pray? Because this keeps us God-conscious and helps us to realize our total dependence on Him. Just because He knows our needs doesn't mean we shouldn't ask. In our asking we begin to be more aware of His greatness and our helplessness without Him. Singing likewise is for the purpose of encouraging one another (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). By the way, we always quote these passages in the context of a worship service. Cannot these things be done one-on-one or in small groups throughout the week? The context in no way limits these activities to a formally designated hour of worship.
We have divided our life activities into separate areas not realizing that Christianity is not something done only one day a week at a set hour, but rather is a way of life that will influence everything we say and dc). What we do on all other days of the week can he just as much worship to God as what is done in an assembly on Sunday. That is exactly the concept as taught in the N.T.
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Rom. 12:1 NAS). Does the Lord just want our bodies on Sunday? Jesus showed us by example what spiritual service is all about. He came to meet the needs of people and not rituals and forms. Heb. 10:24-25 makes it very clear that the purpose of assembling together is to "stimulate one another to love and good deeds", not to go through the five acts of worship. No wonder so many have quit coming to the assemblies. There is little time for encouragement or the meeting of needs because we are so concerned with rushing through the ritual so that we can say we have worshipped God as he commanded. And who are we to say that the assembling of ourselves together as mentioned in this passage only refers to a formal and designated time. Could not this refer to the meeting together of two saints over coffee, a meal, even the telephone? Surely, we can be encouraged by such meetings, and most likely, even more so than in a large group.
If we can ever understand that our love for God must be manifest in our love of our fellow man, then we have finally begun to understand that worship is in spirit and truth. We can do absolutely nothing for God, but we can do a lot of things to and for our fellow man. "As you did it unto the least of these my brethren you did it unto me." We must be like Jesus whose major concerns were the needs of people. We, like the Jews and Samaritans have resorted to arguing among ourselves where the acceptable place of worship may be when all around us people with needs are crying out for help.
I hope this study has helped us to see that worship in spirit and truth involves all that we think and believe and say and do. Just as we don't stop being a Christian and then start being a Christian depending on circumstances, neither do we cease to worship God and then again begin worship to God at our own convenience. Even such trivial acts (or are they really trivial?) as giving a cup of cold water show our attitude of reverence and therefore service toward God.
Finally, if we understand what worship really involves, then all the things that we have argued over with each other and the other denominations take on an entirely different degree of importance. I Cor. 12,13,14 helps us to see that the deciding issue about what is done in the meeting together of the brethren, is: "Does it build up the saints?" Only to the extent that our rituals and traditions help us to be more mindful of the needs of others are they acceptable to God. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship (LATRUO) God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).