What is Worship?

The question What is worship? is generating a fair amount of controversy and electronic ink in the Internet world of blogs and online magazines. Some brethren seem to be trying to break new ground in worship, announcing You will search the New Testament in vain to find the idea of a worship service and that all of life is worship - even brushing your teeth. Much of this is based on extensive work in original languages, with Hebrew terms like shachah and Greek words like proskuneo liberally mixed into the conversation. The results are well expressed in an article by Digby L. James: Singing hymns and giving testimonies, hearing a preacher and enjoying Christian fellowship, is not worshiping, although we speak of such activities as a worship service. To worship God is simply to bow down to His will, recognizing and acknowledging that His will is best. The article goes on to say A Christian is a worshiper of God and worships God all of the time, in everything that they do. Where brethren will go with such ideas remains to be seen but already some are saying there is no such thing as the five acts of worship. What do we make of all of this? Let me offer a few simple observations on worship.

First, you can’t have it both ways. If all of life is worship, including mowing the lawn to brushing teeth, then how do actions performed in the assembly of the local church specifically to honor God somehow get excluded from being worship? Taking the Supper is done in specific remembrance of Christ (1 Cor. 11:23ff). By what reasoning does washing the car make the cut as worship but remembering Jesus death doesn’t?

Second, brushing your teeth and washing your car are not worship. In a sense all of life is to be offered to God (Romans 12:1-2) but actions that are part of every day life are not worship. Louw and Nida’s Lexicon defines worship as To express by attitude and possibly by position, one’s allegiance to and regard for deity. Attitude means the mind, and this definition does nothing but tell us what most readers already knew: we worship God when we express outwardly the adoration and praise and love for Him within our hearts. If I am not thinking of God then my singing is not worship. It lacks the attitude of reverence and regard. My heart is not, if you will, bowing down. Like- wise, when I am wash- ing the car and thinking about the car, not the Lord, I am not worshiping. Remember, Paul says there are matters that are every- day activities (2 Tim 2:4). Washing the car is that kind of action. It doesn’t express allegiance for and regard for God. Simply put, not all of life consists of the activities God has prescribed as acceptable ways to express the attitude of adoration and praise to Him. All of life can be lived to please God and be lived according to God’s instructions. That is called obedience and is God-honoring, but it is not the same as worship.

Third, a bunch of Greek and Hebrew won t change any of this. Much is made of the Greek word for worship (proskuneo) never being used of the New Testament church’s assembly. But what does that prove? Kittel notes that proskuneo often parallels the other common term for worship in the New Testament, latreo. Further, proskuneo is used in the NT to describe going to a specific place to do religious activities. The Ethiopian man is said to have gone to Jerusalem to worship (proskuneo) in Acts 8:27. John 12:20 similarly speaks of going to worship (see also John 4:20). Note as well the way the Septuagint uses proskuneo. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was widely used in the NT world. In Deut 26:10, 1 Chron 16:29, Zech 14:17, 1 Sam 1:3; 15:25 (to cite only a few of many examples) proskuneo refers to worship at the temple or engaging in the specific rites of the temple. Elkanah, for example, would go up to worship year by year (1 Sam 1:3). If one can go to worship then it necessarily follows that what one is doing now is not worship. Elkanah had to stop what he was doing and go to a different place and do different things to honor God (worship). Thus, studying the original language yields the recognition that if one had spoken of what the NT church did in its assembly as worship using either Greek word for worship the people of the NT world would not have misunderstood or wondered what was meant. They knew proskuneo meant go and do religious activities because that is how the term was used in both the Old and New Testaments. Worship has, Kittel tells us, a technical use which means very much what we mean when we say let’s go to church or that was a wonderful worship service. It meant to go and join with others in religious rites and acts that pay homage to God from an attitude of heart that adores, reverences and loves God.

Worship is critically important. When people start redefining it then all kinds of alarm bells and whistles should sound. The latest fad may be to try and act more spiritual than others with new definitions of worship and by denigrating the local church’s assembly but a study of the Bible reveals the error of such. Let us live in full obedience to God and be ready to worship Him in spirit and in truth as revealed in His word.

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