The Worship Authorized in Scripture
Barry T. Hatcher
The importance of this lesson extends beyond the need for the denominational and heathen world to hear and obey. For more and more we see in our brotherhood willful violation of what is authorized as worship to God.
What seemed to be clearly understood regarding the object and acts of worship authorized by the New Testament ten to twenty years ago, has suddenly become muddled and unintelligible for some of my brethren to comprehend. Therefore, such practices as humming, partaking of the Lord's Supper on a day other than the first day of the week, celebrating Christ's birthday, using unauthorized elements as the emblems on the Lord's table, mechanical instruments of music, preaching the social gospel, women leading prayer publicly, and yard sales to supplement the contribution, to name a few, are becoming accepted in many places.
Have some congregations among us lost sight of the true object of our worship? When men choose through various innovations or tactics to sensationalize the worship in order to appeal to the participants' emotions, does this not make "emotionalism" the object of worship? And when man moves away from the authorized pattern by changing the acts of worship to bring about these "feelings", does he not violate the command to worship as Jesus said in John 4:24? "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
There needs to be a restoration within the church of Christ; return, by some, to the New Testament as the only rule of faith and practice.
"The principle Old Testament word is shahah, "depress," "bow down," "prostrate" Hithpael, as in Exodus 4:3 1, "bowed their heads and worshipped": so in 94 other places. The context determines more or less clearly whether the physical act or the volitional and emotional idea is intended ... The Old Testament idea is therefore the reverential attitude of mind or body or both."1
The first time the word worship is found in the Old Testament is in Genesis 22:5, when Abraham prepared to offer Isaac, says to the men with him, "Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." The context suggests that Abraham and Isaac will worship God as God has commanded, thus prostrating their will and emotions before God in an act of obedience.
Vine says that the word worship translated from the Greek work proskuneo means, "to make obeisance, do reverence to (from pros, toward, and kuneo, to kiss), is the most frequent word rendered to worship. It is used as an act of homage or reverence."2 Bagster suggests it means, "to do reverence of homage by prostration; to pay divine homage, worship, adore; to bow one's self in adoration."3
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the Devil, he was promised all the kingdoms of the world and glory, if he would fall down and worship Satan. It appears by the context in Matthew 4:9, that Christ was asked to physically, and in volition, bow to the Devil.
Worship is an expression of our devotion and respect for God. It is a time to praise, and express our dependence upon him through prescribed avenues or acts. Such is worshipping in "spirit" (the right attitude and disposition of mind), and "truth" (according to the pattern God has established). Worship involves the total personality of man and all of his faculties; physical, intellectual, and emotional. Physically, as we enter into the five acts of worship on the first day of the week; intellectually, when we concentrate on the sole object of our adoration; and emotionally, when our heart strings are touched by his word, and we are renewed in spirit to serve faithfully.
In order to describe worship fully, let us notice what is thought to be acceptable to God, but in fact is not. First, worship is not just some magical ceremonial ritual to insure eternal reward. The children of Israel, during the days of Jeremiah, were committing adultery, telling lies, and even offering sacrifices to other gods, thinking they could do these things and not incur the wrath of God; because they were coming before God and his house, from time to time, and paying homage to him. Likewise today, there are men living like the sons of the Devil during the week, then lifting their voices to God on Sunday singing, "Oh, How I Love Jesus."
Second, worship is not placing our loyalty in a body of believers or adoring the building and grounds where the saints meet. This is a form of idolatry. Jeremiah was also faced with. this kind of attitude among the children of Israel. They believed that as long as the temple of the Lord stood before them in Jerusalem, all was well, and God would be pleased. They kept it maintained and took great pride in her treasure. But Jeremiah said, "Trust not in lying words, saying the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these" (Jeremiah 7:4). But they refused to heed the warning, and in verse 8 he proclaimed, "Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit."
A few years ago I was engaged in conversation with a total stranger whose speech left much to be desired. When he noticed me cringing every time he cursed, he asked me if I was a preacher. I told him, "I preach for the church of Christ." Immediately his tune changed. He began to tell me about how he helped to build the Methodist church building in town, and dropped a few names of Methodist missionaries, as though this would lead me to believe he was a lover of God. I asked him if he attended the Methodist church regularly, and he said, "No, but the preacher and I are good friends." I wonder, how many in the Lord's church believe that as long as they can identify with the congregation in their area and point out the building to some passerby, they feel secure, while true worship and faithfulness are neglected.
Third, worship is not something we do every minute of every day. Everything that we do is not worship to God. The danger of this position is that there is no prescribed way for worshipping him. There would be no difference in playing basketball to the glory of God than singing psalms and hymns. Such thinking has lead to brethren setting aside the acts of worship and believing they are still pleasing in his sight.
Everything we do is not worship. Abraham, said, ". .. I and the lad will go yonder and worship . . . " (Genesis 21:5). Abraham was not worshipping when God commanded him to offer up lssac. Nor was Abraham worshipping as he traveled the road to the land of Moriah.
David was not worshipping God when he was mourning for his dying child. But when word came of the child's death, David changed his clothes and went ". . . into the house of the Lord, and worshipped" (2 Sam. 12:20).
Remember that Philip was charged to go down unto Gaza where he found a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Queen Candace. He had come to Jerusalem, according to Acts 8:27, to worship. The verb in this verse "had come" is from the Greek word elelethei, which is in the third person singular pluperfect tense.4 The pluperfect expresses the same action as the past perfect tense, and thus expresses action completed before a stated or known time in the past.5 Sometime prior to Philip's joining himself to the Ethiopian, the proselyte had traveled to Jerusalem where he entered into worship, and ceased that worship before returning home.
Worship is a response to God in three ways. First it is something done. It is the performance of certain physical acts, Second, it is something depicted. Worship is a time to take our minds away from the material things of this life and soberly concentrate and reflect on the God of heaven and his redemptive process. Third, worship is something uttered. Our reverence and devotion is expressed through songs and prayer, then through quietly listening as God speaks to us through his word; thus worship is a time of communication.
True worship is practiced by adhering to three important facts. First, there must be adoration and homage paid to the right object. Second, it must be with the right spirit, which means the right frame of mind. Third, it must be in keeping with God's word (John 17:17).
John saw a glimpse of heaven, as it was shown to him by the angel. Being overwhelmed by what he saw, he fell before the feet of the angel to worship him. The angel said, "See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God" (Rev. 22:9).
God is the object of our praise, and we need to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Today, men and women of all ages and religious beliefs, as well as many of our own brethren, bow the knee to various objects far removed from that of truth. Brother N. B. Hardeman said in one of his Tabernacle sermons:
In times gone by and with nations whose civilization lives only in history, we are told that they made their gods and their goddesses galore: that they erected their statutes upon splendid marble pedestals, and then gathered around them as humble devotees, bowing down at the shrine unto that image and likeness which was created by their own fancy.
Occupying a prominent place in our American life, there is tonight the great Goddess of Pleasure, swaying her scepter, wielding her influence, making her attractions and demands. I think the time has never been when there were more people that were ready to bow down at her feet and to seek her benedictions than now . . .
Then the time has never been but that the Lord God of Mammon stood swaying his scepter and wielding his influence and authority over the sons and daughters of men. Hundreds, thousands -yea millions there are of us who are ready to bow our heads and sacrifice anything under heaven - untruthfulness, honesty, uprightness, purity, chastity, even the virtues of manhood and womanhood - upon the altar of this god in order that he may pour into our laps the blessings for which humanity sighs tonight.6
In Exodus 19 it is revealed that God was soon to speak to Moses and the people from the thick cloud in order that the children of Israel would believe Moses, and that God was truly the one who was leading them. In Exodus 20, the people feared God so much that they asked Moses to mediate instead of having God speak to them directly. If ever a people could identify the object of their worship, it was after this event. And, yet, shortly thereafter, while these same people, camped in the shadow of the same mountain from whence came the thunder and lightning and fire and smoke, which put fear and respect into the hearts of all, turned their devotion to another object made with the hands of man.
Jesus responded to the temptation of the Devil with, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4: 10). Let us be reminded that God is the object of worship authorized in the scriptures.
For our worship to be scriptural, we must bow to the right object, and with the proper spirit or attitude. Jesus said, "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).
The word "spirit" in John 4:23 is from the Greek word pneumati which refers to the power by which a human feels and thinks. This same word is found in such passages as Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .", and 2 Corinthians 7: 1, where Paul said, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit . . . " Having that proper frame of mind when we approach God in worship, and seeking to follow him day by day is most important.
When Abraham was offering Isaac upon the altar, do you suppose he was thinking about his flocks and herds as to whether they were grazing properly and getting enough water? No, his mind was set on one thing, and that was worshipping God as he had prescribed.
When we gather to worship on the first day of the week, do you suppose some come present in body, but their minds are on the business deal that fell through Friday, or the big deal soon to come about? Maybe the ladies are worried whether the roast will be done, or if she should invite brother and sister so-and-so over for lunch. We could go on and on, listing one detraction after another that would keep people from worshipping God in spirit. Worshipping in spirit takes work and concentration. How many of us give it much thought? Let us put aside the world, our friends, jobs, recreation or anything else and worship in spirit the Creator of all things.
For our worship to be acceptable to the Creator, not only is he to be the object of our reverence, but it must be according to a prescribed avenue. God has always given man a method to approach him. There was a method in the Patriarchal age, a prescribed way to worship him in the Mosaical age, and he was not left us to aimlessly wander about, following our own feelings, as to how we approach him today.
When Jesus said to worship the Father in truth, he meant to worship according to his word. In John 17:17 we learn that we are sanctified through truth and that the word is the truth that accomplishes the sanctification. Worshipping in truth means worshipping only as the word dictates or authorizes.
If we are to please God, then those acts of worship which we engage in must be commanded or authorized by God. First, there is the preaching of the Gospel. Though this is not limited to the worship assembly, it is authorized by scripture. In Acts 2, we find the apostles proclaiming the first sermon and the establishment of the church. In Acts 2:42, "they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." From this passage we conclude that the members came together to partake of the Lord's Supper, to pray, and to study God's word.
The church at Corinth had her problems, and one of them was the proclamation of the gospel during the worship assembly. They all desired to speak in tongues and confusion was the result. Paul said, "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be contorted" (I Cor. 14:29-31).
There can be no question as to the scriptural authority to teach in the assemblies. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight" (Acts 20:7). 1 have no knowledge of anyone who would question this authority, but the abuses in the pulpits across the land each week are momentous.
The soundness of teaching is as much a part of the worship as the fact that teaching is authorized. Paul penned, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). Today there are men who preach a social gospel, who, as brother Rex A. Turner properly put it, are "dedicated to crusade and demonstrate for legislation that will correct the social injustices and inequalities of man. They think such concern and action for the welfare of the underprivileged of society is the very disease--the by-product of a morally sick society. There is no place in such a social gospel for the fall of man and his redemption through the death of Christ. There are now prominent leaders within the churches of Christ who have for all intent and purpose subscribed to the tenets of such a social gospel. They are, therefore, disenchanted with such matters as the plan of salvation for fallen man and the question of what constitutes scriptural worship."7
The social gospel is not the only abuse. What about shallow preaching, and preaching which has as its intent to entertain or soothe the ears of the listeners'? Preachers who let the brethren dictate what they will or will not preach have lost sight of who called them to preach and the purpose of preaching.
Second, we are commanded to give of our money each Lord's day. Paul said, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (I Cor. 16:1,2). There are many members of the church who could have more material possessions but, because of their sacrificial giving, choose to live on less, that the work of the church may prosper. Others, I am afraid, are like the "rich fool" recorded in Luke 12:15-21, who had little concern for the things of God, but thought only of himself.
The subject of giving is often neglected because the wrath of covetous members is feared. And yet, a covetous attitude can be more dangerous than the attitude of the thief, a fornicator, or a liar. But, to talk to someone about his giving is difficult and few are ever disciplined for it.
When we consider our giving, three questions should be asked: Who? When? and How? Who is to give? Paul said, "Everyone of you." Every member has an obligation to give. When are we to give? In I Corinthians 16:2 Paul said, "Upon the first day of the week." When we come together in our respective congregations to worship God, we are to give. Brother Roy Deaver explained it this way: "Particular attention must be directed to the Greek kata. This is the distributive use of kata. For example, in Luke 2:41 kata is used with the word "Year", and the meaning is: every year. The Lord's parents went to Jerusalem "every year". Likewise, kata mian sabbatou means: every first day of the week. Thayer cites this very phrase in I Corinthians 16:2 and says: "on the first day of every week" (Thayer, page 328)."8
Like the who and when of our giving, God has left us instructions as to how we are to give. We give first by giving ourselves (2 Cor. 8:5), then of a willing mind, cheerfully, not grudgingly but bountifully, for what we sow we shall reap (2 Cor. 8:12; 9:6,7). And our giving should be sacrificial giving like the giving of Jesus.
Third, the church is to sing. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth concerning the abuses in worship he said, "... I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (I Cor. 14:15). Later to the brethren in Ephesus, he wrote, "speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). And to the Colossians, he said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Singing is the only authorized way to worship God when lifting our voices toward heaven. The word Psallontes requires an instrument. The instrument is not inherent in the phrase "making melody" in Ephesians 5:19. But the instrument which is the heart is supplied.
Many today sing in their worship with the accompaniment of a mechanical instrument. But God has instructed us to sing, not sing and play.
The kind of songs we sing is also important. Song directors should be very careful in their selection of songs, because not only do we praise and glorify God; we also teach and admonish one another, and we should always teach the truth.
Fourth, we are to partake of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. Jesus told the apostles, when instituting the Lord's Supper, "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29).
We learn that the church celebrated this supper when it came together on the first day of the week. As we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine, we show the Lord's death until he comes (I Cor. 1 1:26). The church at Corinth partook of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week and so should we.
There have been many abuses made of the Lord's Supper over the years. Space does not afford a lengthy discussion of all these abuses, but a few must be dealt with.
First, the idea that the Lord's Supper can be taken on another day other than the first day of the week si completely without authority and those who hold such a view should try to give scriptural proof for such action.
Second, there is a doctrine being purported that the fruit of the vine can be the Juice of any fruit grown on a vine, for example, watermelon juice.
We learn from the scriptures that the Passover is a type of the Lord's Supper and the Paschal lamb was a type of Christ. Paul revealed, "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Cor. 5:7,8).
When Jesus instituted the supper, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; and Luke 22:15-20, partaking of the "fruit of the vine" was a part of the practice when eating this feast. Therefore, Jesus used the "unleavened bread" and "fruit of the vine" as the elements used in the Lord's Supper. The bread eaten was unleavened and the "fruit of the vine" was grape juice. The reference here is not to any fruit of the vine but to the specific juice to which they were accustomed. One might choose to change the reference to something other than grape juice but to do so would violate that which was authorized by Christ.
The same is true with the bread. It is completely false to teach that bread which is indigenous to the land is acceptable to God. If one stops to think, bread without yeast or leaven is indigenous to every land.
Finally, we are to pray, Acts 2:42. It should be done with the same spirit as the other acts of worship. When one leads us in prayer, let our minds be fixed upon such a petition to God.
Let us worship God understanding that God is to be pleased by how we worship. Worship God with the right frame of mind and in the right way.
Remember, that who we worship is what we will become:
The gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that. And a man will worship something - have no doubt about that, either. He may think that his tribute is paid in secret, in the dark recesses of his heart - but it will not. That which dominates will determine his life and character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1. James Orr, Editor, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), Vol. V, p. 3310.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expositor Dictionary of New Testament Words. 4 Vols. (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966) Vol. 4, P. 235.
3. H. K. Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974 - reprint of Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon, 1852), P. 351
4. Ibid., p. 132.
5. J. Martin Walsh, Plain English Handbook. (Cincinnati, OH: McCormick-Mathers Publishing Co., 1972), P. 30.
6. N. B. Hardeman, Hardeman.5 Tabernacle Sermon,. (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1923), Vol. 11, pp. 215-217.
7. Rex A. Turner, Sermons and Addresses on the Fundamentals of the Faith. (Montgomery, AL: Rex A. Turner, 1972), p. 82.
8. Roy Deaver, "The Corinthian Collection -- God's Financial Plan," Biblical Notes (December, 1983), pp. 99-100.