Now that we've studied in depth the scriptural organization of the church, we need to determine the worship practices authorized by scripture. As with church organization we see many different worship practices among the various denominations in the world today. Some meet on Sunday, others meet on Saturday. One uses the native language to perform the various acts of worship, while another uses a language largely foreign to the worshippers. Some "speak in tongues" and engage in other "miraculous" acts during their assembly periods while others deny the existence of such events today. One religious body may use mechanical instruments of music while another will shun their use and sing only during their worship services. We've already seen how the various religious organizations around us today cannot all be part of the same body. So one must ask the question, "Of these varied types of worship practices, which are practiced by the members of the one body of Christ?"
Before examining the scriptures and studying their instructions with regards to worship practices we need to understand worship and what it is. If we don't understand what worship is, we will have a difficult time understanding the worship practices outlined in the New Testament. First, let's consider the word "worship." There are seven different Greek words translated "worship" in the KJV. The one used most frequently is proskuneo, which is translated "worship" or "worshipped" 60 times in the NT. Other Greek words translated "worship" and their frequency of use in the NT are doxa (1), eusebeo (1), therapeuo (1), latreuo (3), sebazomai (1), and sebomai (6). Other concepts of worship recorded in the NT include ethelothreskeia, translated "will worship"; theosebes, or "worshipper of God"; sebasma, translated "that is worshipped"; threskeia, translated "worshipping"; and latrueo, neokoros, and proskunetes, all of which are translated "worshipper." As you can see, the concept of worship is a complex one, with thirteen different Greek words being used by the writers of the NT. In addition to the above words being translated "worship" or something similar, they are also translated into other English words, such as "religion" or "devotion." I'd recommend those who are interested in a more detailed examination of worship link to the above words and read the various scriptures in which they are used, and also study the other words the English translators decided to use when translating the KJV.
Time won't permit me to include every example of worship in our study today, but I'd like to include a few examples, which will help us understand worship. Let's begin in Matthew. Turn to chapter 2, verses 1-8. Here we see the wise men who had seen the star God placed in the sky. They came to worship Jesus (2). Herod heard of these things, and was troubled by what he heard (3). He then consulted the chief priests and scribes as to where the Christ should be born (4-6). Herod called the wise men to him, asking when they had seen the star (7). He then sent them to Bethlehem, telling them to search for the child and bring him word again once they had found him (8). What was his reason for asking this: So that he might worship Jesus also! But was Herod's motive in worship the same as that of the wise men? No! We see the wise men worshipping Jesus in verse 11, presenting precious gifts to Him. Afterwards God warned them in a dream to return to their homeland by another route. Why? Because Herod sought to kill Jesus! (13) So we see two entirely different motives to worship in this account. One designed to worship God in a manner of reverence, the other with a motive to destroy the son of God.
In Matthew 4:9,10 we read of Satan tempting Jesus to worship him. But Jesus replies by stating, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." In both instances the word proskuneo is used, one time referring to the worship of Satan, the second referring to the worship of God. Do we have other accounts recorded, indicating the possibility for one to worship Satan rather than God? Yes, we do. Proskuneo is used to refer to the worship given to a man (Matthew 18:26); to the Dragon by men (Revelation 13:4); to the Beast (Revelation 13:4,8,12); to the image of the Beast (Revelation 13:15); to demons (Revelation 9:20); and to idols (Acts 7:43).
In Colossians 2:18-23 we read the following: "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." The verb katabrabeuo is translated "beguile" in this passage, and is the only time this word is used in the NT. The above link will take you to a Greek lexicon, and I'd also recommend you consider Vine's definition of this word. As Vine's notes, this word refers to the lost reward of one who follows the words of false teachers. Paul tells us in these few verses that these false teachers don't hold to the Head, from which the body is nourished and held together. (We know from our earlier study that the Head of the body is Jesus.) In Jesus we are free from the rudiments of the world. Since we are free, why subject ourselves to the ordinances, commandments, and doctrines of men? These doctrines have an appearance of wisdom in will worship, humility, and neglecting the body, but "are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (NKJV, verse 23) But what is this will worship Paul mentions? Will worship is defined in the Greek lexicon as "voluntary, arbitrary worship; a: worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ; b: said of the misdirected zeal and the practice of ascetics." So Paul gives us a grave warning against following false teachers, who don't derive their doctrine from the Head of the body, and whose teaching has an appearance of wisdom through their self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body. (NKJV verse 23) Does this sound familiar to us today? We see these characteristics abound in religious doctrine today. Paul tells us that we cannot use these outside indicators as evidence of doctrine derived from Christ! False teachers, whose doctrine is of men, oftentimes display these characteristics, and may draw many sincere people away from the true doctrine of Christ leading them to lose their reward! We must not succumb to the appearance of humility and sincerity, worshipping in a fashion devised by men but which is contrary to the contents and nature of faith, which ought to be directed to Christ.
Do we read elsewhere of man worshipping God in a fashion devised by men? Yes, we do. If you've read any of my other studies, you know the verse I'm thinking of. Matthew 15:9, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." In Colossians 2:18-23 we read of false teachers teaching doctrine devised of men. Jesus tells us the value of worship according to these doctrines: it is vain! The Greek word translated "in vain" in this verse is maten and means "fruitlessly." So false teachers teach doctrine which is not derived from the Head of the body, leading others to lose their reward through obedience to such doctrine, and making their worship to God fruitless! How incredibly sad! Are these people worshipping? Yes! Jesus didn't say that "In vain do they carry on certain religious rites", or something to that effect. These people are worshipping God, but their worship is fruitless. What makes it fruitless? Teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, which they learn through false teachers who look someplace other than the Head of the body for their authority. Does their worship appear genuine? Yes! Sincerity is not the issue. Undoubtedly these people are genuinely sincere in their efforts to worship God. If sincerity is not the issue, then what is? Authority. We learn in Colossians 2 and Matthew 15 where vain worshippers gain their authority: from men! When the false teachers preach their false doctrine, to whom are they not holding fast? The Head of the body (Jesus Christ). When members of the one body of Christ worship God, to whom will they hold fast? The Head of the body. Worship to God by members of the body of Christ will be fruitful, because the doctrine they hold fast is not of men, but of God. If one is truly a member of the body of Christ, they will be able to confirm this fact by objectively evaluating their worship practices. As I've said in my other lessons, Jesus would have no right to condemn men for worshipping God according to the commandments of men if men couldn't know how to worship God properly. It is the responsibility of each and every one who desires to worship God in a fruitful manner to search the scriptures and determine what worship is holding fast to the Head of the body, and what doctrines are holding fast to the teachings of men.
From these verses we see that God desires us to worship Him in a specific way. Do the scriptures tell us what that way might be? Yes! Jesus tells the woman of Samaria, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him." (John 4:23) So God "seeketh" men to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Let's take a closer look at this statement. What does Jesus mean when He says God "seeketh" men to worship Him in this fashion? Paul tells us in Acts 17:25 that God doesn't need anything from man, seeing how He is the source of all things anyway. But God seeking men to worship Him almost sounds like He needs something from us. Let's go back to the original language one more time. The Greek word translated "seeketh" in this verse is zeeteo. It has two principle definitions: to seek for, seek after, or strive for something; or to demand something from someone. Which definition of zeeteo makes most sense in this context, and in light of Acts 17:25? To demand something of someone! So when Jesus tells the woman of Samaria that God seeks men to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He is telling her that God demands men to worship Him in this fashion. To worship Him any other way is to worship in vain. For another example of zeeteo meaning "demand" please turn to Mark 3:31,32. Here we see Jesus' mother and brothers, standing outside the place He was, calling Him. In verse 32 the multitude about Him said to Him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee." Were His mother and brethren seeking to find Him? No! They'd already found Him, and were calling for Him outside the place He was. They were demanding to see Him. The KJV translators use "seek" to express this demand.
Jesus teaches us that God demands worship to Him be in spirit and in truth. Here we see two requirements before one can worship God acceptably: spirit and truth. Remember our study of the conjunction "and" in an earlier lesson? "And" is a coordinating conjunction, and serves to connect two words or word phrases of equal grammatical importance. Our worship to God is acceptable only if it is both in spirit AND in truth. To be in spirit but not in truth renders worship vain, as does worship which is in truth but not in spirit. Please consider the worship Herod would have offered Jesus. Would it have been in truth? Most likely. He would have put forth the necessary physical actions to appear to be worshipping the savior. But in spirit, hardly! He wanted to know where Jesus was so he could eliminate Him as a threat to his throne. When Paul tells the Colossian brethren to beware of false teachers who put on a show of religion through their ascetic acts, were those who followed the teaching of these false prophets worshipping in spirit? Most likely. They were likely genuinely sincere in their offering of worship to God. But what made their worship vain? Failing to also worship in truth. When man combines the true acts of worship with the true spirit of worship, then man's worship is not in vain but is fruitful and acceptable to God.
As you consider the worship practices of the various religious bodies today, which do you believe is lacking, spirit or truth? We know one or the other is lacking, because we've shown that they aren't all part of the one body of Christ. Since they are different bodies, they have different heads. The fact they have different heads means that all but one of these bodies (the one being the true body of Christ) have failed to hold onto the Head of the church and have followed false teachers into vain worship. But what makes their worship vain, lack of spirit or lack of truth? As I observe religious people today, to me it is nearly always lack of truth. People who attend worship services do so with a sincere desire to worship God. Their spirit is not in question most of the time. Certainly, there will always be people who go to worship services lacking the proper spirit. There are undoubtedly those who are part of the one body of Christ whose worship is vain due to a lack of spirit in their worship. But for the majority of religious organizations today their worship is vain due to absence of truth in their worship. But how does one correct this problem? One must look to the source of truth in order to determine what worship practices are truthful. We know what that source of truth is: The Bible, which is the inspired word of God. Jesus puts this issue to rest in John 17:17. If we are to discover what demands God has of us to make our worship truthful, we must look only to the word of God for His instructions.
This concludes our study on the basics of true worship. Now we will look to the scriptures and discover the instructions God has given us to make our worship acceptable to Him. Please follow the links provided in the navigation bar to the left.