What is Worship?
The Nature of Worship
The first question we consider as we look at the elements of Christian worship as we practice them is why we worship at all.
The answer is twofold;
We worship God because we were created to worship Him.
Paul in the letter to the Ephesians tells us this (Eph.1:3-6). This prayer shows the consciousness of the first Christians in their worship. They understood that they had been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory. (Eph.1:12).The Westminster Catechism teaches the same truth when it reminds us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” It gives witness to the same principle that God created us to worship Him. Therefore worship must serve as its first aim the glory of God. This in contrast to those who think of worship for various ends; because it makes us happy (it does not always); it brings a sense of fulfillment and while it does fulfill the purpose of our existence we do not worship for the fulfillment that it brings us; to build family solidarity (the high priests of the Canaanite fertility religion believed the same). True worship is distinguished because it serves above all else the praise of God’s glory.
We worship God because He commanded us to worship Him.
The first four of the Ten Commandments concern worship.
- The first commandment tells us that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is that we are to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength” Our most ardent love is to be directed towards the Lord and not ourselves.
- The second commandment tells us we shall not use idols in worship, for, as Paul tells us, God is not represented by the art and imagination of people; God created us to be the reflection of his image. (Acts 17:2-31) If we confuse art or entertainment with worship, we fail to fathom the meaning of the second commandment.
- The third commandment tells us that we are not to use the Lord’s name in vain, which implies “vain repetition.” It reminds us to worship God honestly and sincerely.
- The fourth commandment tells us to worship the Lord on the Sabbath day. This concrete commandment reminds us that the worship of the Lord is a concrete reality that takes place a very concrete way. All the other commands in Scripture seem to be an elaboration of these four.
The Characteristics of Worship.
There are characteristics of worship that sees it as an act of obedience to the Law of God;
According to the Scripture, it is:
- the preaching of the word
- the giving of alms
- the celebration of communion
- the ministry of prayer
All of which are based upon Acts 2.42. There are no ready-made liturgical services in the Scripture, nevertheless the church is called to develop services which are in accord with the specific directions and examples that are to be found in the Scripture. This is not a biblical literalism, rather it means that Christian Worship should be in obedience to God’s Word as it is revealed in scripture. As Bucer (1491-15551) puts it, “it is only the worship which God asks of us which really serves Him.” Worship is not some sort of creative art to entertain God with elaborate pageants and liturgical dramas. God directs us that worship should be simple because the manner of life which Jesus lived was simple and without pretense. The worship of the church should be consistent with essential principles such as justification by faith alone, prevenient grace, and Christian love.
It should be in the name of Christ.
It is in the name of Christ that the Christian Church is assembled, remembering the promise that where two or three are gathered there He is amidst them. (Matt.18.20) Jesus frequently told His disciples to pray in His name (Jn.14.14; 15.16 etc.) When we pray in the name of Christ we are continuing the ministry of intercession which Jesus himself began on the cross. When we pray in in the name of another we are doing it in their stead. The preaching and teaching ministry was and is in the name of Jesus; He began it and we do it in obedience and in completion of His work. (Acts 5:41) In the same way, our alms and good works are to be in the name of Christ. (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:38-41)
Christian worship is a function of the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ and our worship is to be a part of the worship which the ascended Christ performed in the Sanctuary to the glory of the Father. (Heb.7:23-25; 10:19-22)
Worship is the work of the Holy Spirit.
As the Holy Spirit is within us as we pray (Rom.8:15-27) and the songs and hymns and psalms that we sing in worship are the songs of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4.25). Even the preaching of the church is to be in the Spirit. (1 Cor.12:8) Jesus promised us that when we present our testimony before the world it is not we who speak but the Holy Spirit who gives us utterance. (Mark 13:11) Christian worship is inspired by the Holy Spirit, directed by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, purified by the Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit. Christian worship is thus in this sense “Spirit filled”.
As far back as 8th century BC Amos insisted on the holiness of worship and made clear that God had no room for those who made sacrifices that were absent the power of the sanctified life. (Amos 5:21-24).
There is an important link between the integrity of the service of God and the service of our neighbor, when those who worship the Living God live immoral lives the glory of God is obscured, on the other hand when Christians reflect the holiness of God and are in fact the image of God then God is glorified.