It has been said that the purpose of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is also the chief philosophy of Christian worship. The Christian is to glorify God in word, work and walk. The Christian is also to enjoy God forever. The Christian is to revel in the presence of God. The Christian is to sing His praises, remember the good gifts God has given and participate in God’s mission. In short, the Christian is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
PART I: DEFINITION OF WORSHIP
Frank Segler says the word worship is derived from an Old English word weorthscipe. It means worthiness or worthy ship. The modern church uses
this word to apply to giving God the recognition that He deserves. This word is inadequate in conveying the meanings that the Greek and Hebrew words used in scripture.
Lee Campbell’ essay identifies some words that are frequently translated as worship. Though not always, the Greek word latreia is frequently translated as worship. This term, in Romans 9 and Hebrews 9, refers back to the Old Testament cultus. This was the false belief that killing disciples was service to God. It is also used in Romans 12:1, to mean that Christians should offer themselves as living sacrifices to God.
Campbell says the Old Testament uses the words, shachach and aboda in reference to worship. The word aboda is used primarily in referring to serving in the temple . It is service oriented. Cleaning and preparing the temple for the sacrifices and rites associated with the daily operations of the temple. Segler says the word shachach means to “bow down” or “prostate oneself”.
Segler says this is similar to the Greek word proskyneo. The words shachac and proskyneo are referring to one’s posture before God. Bowing down or prostrating one’s self is a show of submission and reverence. Honor is given to the one bowed before. Jesus used this word in John 4:24. The Hebrew word, shachach, is the word used in Exodus 34:14. This is where God gives the command “Do not worship any other gods.” Do not bow or humble one’s self before any other God.
So there are at least several elements to worship. Sacrifice, service and recognizing that one is subservient to God are at least three of those elements. These can be seen as aspects of liturgy. Segler says this term is taken from the Greek word leitourgia. This word is similar in form to the word latreia. In the New Testament, the word referred to the work of priests in the old covenant (Luke 1:23). It included the preparation of the Temple and the sacrifice. It was an action word. In the New Testament, it refers to both the ministry of Christ and the worship of the church.
Paul used this word when he referred to the offerings collected for Jerusalem Christians, for the assistance he received from others, the delivery of the Philippians’ gift and of ministry to the gentiles. For Campbell, this indicates that sacrifice and service are two essential elements of worship.
There is one final word that needs to be defined, the Greek word ekklesia. It is a combination of two words and means to call out. It originally referred to the gathering of free citizens to make decisions and take action on behalf of the general welfare. Greek speaking Jews used the term to refer to the gatherings of the people of Israel. Greek speaking Christians used the term to refer to gatherings of Christians for worship. James Strong identifies this word as being translated church in the New Testament. Michael Hawn says the church then is made up of those called out of the world to make decisions and take action on behalf of the world.
Worship then is best defined as ascribing to some idea, entity or person honor and glory. This is done by acts of service, sacrifice and submission. For the Christian, God should be the object of worship. Worship defies objective definition. It is best experienced.
PART II: MEANING OF WORSHIP
The interesting thing about worship is that there is no set biblical definition. The Bible describes the object of worship and the actions of worshippers without ever defining the word worship. The words translated as worship describe specific actions. Worship is occurring every moment of everyday in the lives of every person. Harold Best says this occurs whether the person is aware of this or not. Every action that is taken is in response to what the individual gives the most worth at that moment. This can be worship of the one true God or many false gods. Worship is not limited to specific religious activities. Worship speaks to the deepest expressions of one’s worldview.
PART III: PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
For Segler, worship then is the Opus Dei. The adoration of God is man’s highest privilege. God is to be worshipped for God’s glory alone. In true worship, God reveals Himself to man and man reveals his heart to God. That is why in John 4:24, Jesus says that there will come a time when man would worship God in Spirit and truth. There was coming a time when the sin that separated man from experiencing God fully would be done away with.
In this case, a primary purpose of worship is celebration. Man celebrates the action of God in history. It could be the Jew remembering the exodus in the Passover meal or the deliverance from Haman in the feast of Purim. It is also the Christian remembering the shed blood of Christ in communion and the new life symbolized by baptism.
For Segler, worship involves experiencing God in a dialogue. God reveals Himself to us through His actions, through the Bible, through fellow believers, in music, poetry and the Holy Spirit. Man responds to God in worship. God speaks and man either obeys or revels in the love revealed. Man responds to God with music, words, through actions of love for fellow man. In essence man responds to God through the life he lives. Worship involves an encounter with God. God confronts the worshipper. God’s presence is very real and not merely an emotional response.
Giving is an essential aspect of worship. Worshippers are able to participate in the kingdom of God through the giving of their possessions. This is a remembrance of the sacrifices made in the Jewish system for an atonement of sin. Now the worshipper gives to show his appreciation for the work of Christ and out of obedience to God. Segler says: “Worship is primarily the offering of our total selves to God, our intellect, our feelings, our attitudes and our possessions.”
PARTS IV: BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL BASIS OF WORSHIP
Worship began in the garden. Adam and Eve experienced a more intimate worship then most men ever will on this planet. They walked with God. God spoke in an audible voice. Adam worshipped God in his work. Adam was given the tasks of naming the animals and caring for the garden. This worship for Adam was his natural way of life before the fall.
After the fall, it was no longer natural for Adam to worship. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are hiding from God. They no longer are in dialogue with God. Worship is broken. God takes the first step. God makes clothes of animal skins, this involves a sacrifice. Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden, this involve submission. Adam is then punished to hard work, this is service.
For the years after the fall, worship is primarily led by the patriarch of a family. In Genesis, Noah, Enoch and others found faithful are described as walking with God. They dialogued with God. They were passionate about a relationship with God. They lived lives that glorified God and they were intent on enjoying Him forever.
Segler calls this period the patriarchal period. Worship included building altars and dedicating places and objects to God. Fathers taught their children how to worship and led the family if the worship of God.
Genesis chapter 12 introduces Abraham. Abraham submitted to God. God promised to bless Abraham. Abraham worshipped God and Abraham taught his son, Isaac, to worship God. Abraham’s passion for God is seen in his willingness to sacrifice his son. (Genesis 22)
After generations of dealing with the patriarchs, their descendants have become a large people. The descendents of Abraham find themselves slaves in Egypt. Moses is called by God to deliver these people. (Exodus 3)
God now enters into a covenant with the nation of Israel. God says of this covenant: I will be your God and you will be my people. God gives His people the Ten Commandments. Obeying these commandments will identify the Israelites as worshippers of the true God. God institutes the sacrificial system. Segler says that God demanded sincere worship: “You shall not bow down to them or worship other Gods” (Exodus 20:5). God establishes the priesthood and ordains that offerings and sacrifices be acts of worship in the centralized location of the tabernacle.
During the period of the judges, shrines to God were set up in various places. David established Jerusalem as the center for Jewish worship (2 Sam. 24:25). David desired to build a temple for God. God denied David this privilege. David had even drawn up plans for the temple (2 Sam. 7:2-3).
Solomon, David’s son, was allowed to build the temple. Worship for the people of God is centered on the temple. The feasts, sacrifices and offerings are centered on the temple. Thus we see man serving God in the temple, sacrificing in the temple and submitting to God in the temple.
Israel was not faithful to God and so God sent prophets to call her to repentance. The worship of god was neglected and false gods were worshipped. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets warn of God’s impending judgment for neglecting proper worship. As a result, Israel is conquered and led into captivity.
It is in captivity that synagogues are formed and worship is no longer centered on Jerusalem and the temple. After 70 years of captivity, Israel is allowed to rebuild the temple and reestablish temple worship. Israel still uses the synagogue to supplement temple worship.
Segler says that New Testament worship is rooted in Jewish practices. The first Christians were faithful Jews. From the beginning, the early church followed Jewish liturgy. Primarily the three forms of Christian worship were: worship in the temple, worship in the synagogue and worship in the home.
In the book of Acts, Christians are found worshipping and meeting in the temple daily. As Christianity spreads throughout the empire, there is a pattern of Paul or Peter or another missionary first going to the local synagogue and preaching. After converts are made, they continue to meet in the synagogue or each other’s homes. Worship becomes centered on the local congregation and patterned on the synagogue form. As Segler points out, this includes less formality, an emphasis on teaching and more lay participation in worship.
The early church followed the synagogue pattern of worship. Segler identifies these as element of the synagogue form:
1. Reading of the Scriptures and their interpretation.
2. A recitation of the Shema (Deut. 6:4)
3. Psalms, Ten Commandments, Benediction and Amen.
5. The prayer of sanctification.
Synagogue worship still emphasized the feasts and celebrations of the Testament. Dr. Webber describes it as being event centered. Jewish worship is anchored on the exodus. It recalls the exodus and looks forward to the return to the Promised Land. These events are reenacted and celebrated over and over again. God is praised for His faithfulness and the congregants are encouraged to practice a sincere faith. Early Christian worship was also event oriented.
The Christian church modified this form. The church substituted the Epistles and gospels for scripture readings. New Christian hymns replaced the Psalms and the ordinances of baptism and communion became center pieces of worship. Justin Martyr, in his Apology, described an early service in this way:
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday,76 all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,77 and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,78 and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration
In this description of an early worship service, the following elements are found: (1) Scripture is read, (2) The scripture is interpreted, (3) prayer, (4) communion and (5) an offering are taken. These elements are very similar to the worship of the synagogue.
This simple form of worship developed over the centuries and became more formalized culminating in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church centered on the Lord’s Supper. This Mass has remained very constant throughout the years.
The reformation brought about a revolution of Christian worship. Three forms of worship came out of the reformation. Segler describes these as the Anglican, Reformed and Free Church forms. The Anglican form was similar to the Roman Catholic mass with the major differences being the use of the vernacular and the mass was no longer the repetition of the death of Christ. Instead the worshippers joined in the sacrifice offering their lives together with Christ’s.
Calvin sought to simplify worship. Segler identifies four items that Calvin specifically wanted to reform. Calvin believed the spiritual presence of Christ was present in the Lord’s Supper. He suggested that it be celebrated once a month. Calvin wanted to introduce congregational singing in worship and he developed a hymnbook for this purpose. Calvin also wanted to start teaching theology to children and reform the churches’ view of marriage.
The radical reformers and the puritan movements moved farther away from the liturgical form of worship. They wanted to return to primitive Christianity. Segler says these churches emphasized: the preaching of the Word, congregational participation and singing and a deemphasizing of the role of clergy. This is seen in the Anabaptists, Puritans and later Baptist churches. In America, the frontier was well suited to the Free Church form of worship.
PART V: THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP
In determining a theology of worship, the first principle one should look at is that worship is centered on God. Worship is not about man. The worshipper recognizes God primacy. This is emphasized by the words found in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God.” God is the creator. God existed before man. John Broadus says that if we were just spectators and not participants with God, worship would still be due God. We would still be drawn to worship God because of His wonderful works. Jonathan Edwards addresses this in his sermon: The End for Which God Created the World.
“And thus we see how, not only the creature’s seeing and knowing God’s excellence, but also supremely esteeming and loving him, belongs to the communication of God’s fullness. And the communication of God’s joy and happiness, consists chiefly in communicating to the creature that happiness and joy which consists in rejoicing in God, and in glorious excellency; for in such joy God’s own happiness does principally consist. And in these things, knowing God’s excellency, loving God for it, and rejoicing in it, and in the exercise and expression of these, consists God’s honor and praise; so that these are clearly implied in that glory of God, which consists in the emanation of his eternal glory.”
Worship is Christ centered. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). It is only because of Christ that we are able to truly worship God. Jesus made possible reconciliation between man and God. This enables man to enter dialogue with God. Steve Pruitt says that it is Jesus’ shed blood on the cross that makes man’s sacrifice of praise possible. Man does not approach God on his own merit. Jesus provides access to the Father.
Worship is not possible without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to worship God. Jesus told the woman at the well that there was coming a time when men would worship in spirit and truth (John 2:24). The Holy Spirit is who enables us to worship in spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the midst of the church.
Segler says that The Holy Spirit creates the very desire to praise and worship God. After creating that desire, the Holy Spirit then empowers the congregation in worship. Worship is only made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Worship emphasizes the Word of God. The Bible is the written history of God’s people. It tells the story of God reaching down and working and being active in the lives of His people. The Bible gives assurance of faith and hope for tomorrow. The Bible must be central in the worship of God. Every sermon preached, every song sung, every part of the worship must be grounded in the Bible.
It is important to remember that even though the church has the revelation of scripture for instruction on the proper worship of God, man must be careful to insure that he worships God truthfully. John Calvin, in his commentary on the passage in John 4, says this:
“We are not to essay anything in religion rashly or unthinkingly. For unless there is knowledge present, it is not God we worship but a spectre or ghost. Hence all so-called good intentions are struck by a thunderbolt, which tells us that men can do nothing but err when they are guided by their own opinion without the Word or command of God”
PART VI: THE VALUE OF WORSHIP
Man must worship because it is good for him. Broadus says that only worship can satisfy the highest aspirations of man’s nature. When one looks at the wonders of nature, his soul seeks out something to worship. It is not adequate to worship the creation man seeks the creator.
Broadus also says that worship comforts man. It is comforting, in the midst of tragedy, to know that God knows what He is doing. That by worshipping and submitting to God, man can rest in the words that “all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).”
The third reason for worshipping God is worship nourishes the soul. Worship with God meets man’s deepest needs. Segler says that worship gives man a sense of belonging. It resolves feelings of guilt, anxiety, meaninglessness, insecurity, loneliness, brokenness and grief. Worship fills man with the peace of God.
PART VII: SUGGESTIONS FOR THE PRACTICE OF MEANINGFUL WORSHIP
The church should consider the Lord’s Day the “eighth” day. It is the beginning of the new week and the consummation of the last week. In this manner worship is the foundation of life on earth and the promise of the consummation in heaven.
Unfortunately over the last few centuries, worship has lost its’ center. Basically a speaker stands up for thirty to forty-five minutes and lectures the congregation. If there is no sermon there is a testimony or special presentation that acts like one.
The other ingredient of worship is music. Christian worship has been reduced to two ingredients. There might be a prayer or two and an offering. Communion and baptism occur infrequently.
How is this different from any Bible study? What sets this apart as the “eighth” day or the Lords’ Day? One can get together with friends, sing songs and read the Bible any day. Now admittedly the performance of the act is usually more proficient on Sunday in a formal service then at an informal Bible study. More skill does not always translate to a taste of heaven on earth.
What the church needs to do is emphasize that God is meeting the church in a special way. There is a logic and order to the quiet elegance found in simple liturgies that could perhaps set apart the “eighth” day.
The church begins by making the journey to His holy mountain. The congregation sings a song of entrance. A prayer of adoration is made. The church enters the presence of God and confesses sin, receives pardon. Praise is made for God’s redemption and man’s adoption into His holy family.
The scripture is read aloud. It is read with life and conviction. All of scripture is read. Hopefully Psalms are sung. The ancient tradition of “passing the peace” is observed.
Prayer is a major part of the service. In the presence of God, prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, petition and blessing are offered. Scripture readings are punctuated by praise and thanks to God.
A sermon or homily is offered. Rather then being the focal point of the service it is now just one component. This emphasizes that corporate aspect of worship. No one individual fills a prominent role in the worship service. Instead, worship is corporate and centered on what Dr. Webber calls the table and the word.
The service ends at the table of God. When God meets His people, God offers a feast. Jesus commanded the church to partake of communion till his return. This is a foreshadowing of the feast promised in heaven. This makes the “eighth” day service a true foretaste of the heaven to come.