Religious Concepts of "Worship" vs. Christian Concepts of "Worship"
Religious Concepts of "Worship"
By its etymological definition, religion involves being "bound" or "tied" in devotion to a particular object. In the process of such, religious worship, as differentiated from Christian worship, tends to develop certain traits and patterns. Whereas worship in general is object-centered, religious forms of worship are usually anthropocentric, focusing on the human worshipper's actions, experiences and benefits from such worship, as well as event-centered, focusing on the time, place and procedures involved in such worship.
Religious worship operates on the fallacious premise of human activated and generated activity. It fails to recognize that man is always spiritually derivative, deriving activity either from God or Satan. Such religious attempts at worship inevitably involve the imperative of human effort. Worship is defined as what we do. In order to worship we gather together and we sing, we pray, we listen, we give, and we serve God with our talents and skills. We "do our thing" in the parameters of prescribed programs and productions. It is "do-it-yourself" worship!
The reasoning behind such in the worship of Christian religion is usually that Jesus told His followers to do this, and gave us an example of such for us to follow. Even when couched in the explanation that "we do it because of Christ, in response to what He has done for us," it does not escape the reasoning that "we do it." Popular evangelical writers blatantly state that "real worship is something you do." "Because of what God has done for us, we are to be occupied with offering up acceptable spiritual sacrifices of worship." "Worship involves aligning ourselves with God's will for us."
In contrast to such we shall note that Christian worship is not what we do anymore than anything in the Christian life is what we do! The explanation of worship as the self-generated activities of man is a failure to understand God's grace. "God is not served (KJV-worshipped) with human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts. 17:25).
Religious worship also focuses on man's emotions and experiences. How does the worship experience make us feel? Do we feel good? Do we feel better for having thus engaged ourselves in worship? When worship is defined by how we feel, it is relegated to a mood-altering psychological experience. Our physical senses may be stirred by the architecture of the building, the beauty of the stained-glass windows, the sounds of the organ, the voices of a well-trained choir, the oratorical ability of the speaker, or the comfort of the pews. The lighting in the sanctuary, the musical variations, the sequence of the events, can and are orchestrated to manipulate people psychologically. They may be employed to create a pietistic and sentimental sense of peace and security. They may incite enthusiasm and excitement. They may draw tears of remorse, or impel the participant to a particular course of action. These subjective machinations are nothing more than playing upon the natural personal aspirations, gratifications and reputations of the participants, via "the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (I John 2:16).
In addition to emphasizing what we do and how we feel, religious worship endeavors tend to fixate on how we think and the extent to which we think that we have the object of our worship all figured out. By the repetition of creeds and the recitation of "statements of faith" people's ideological belief-systems are conformed and confirmed. Worship is often regarded as a time to gain knowledge and understanding through the teaching of doctrine and theology. This is particularly true among fundamentalistic religious groups wherein epistemological constructs of thought become the objects of their worship, amounting to ideological idolatry.
Religious worship is also anthropocentric in its emphasis on the benefit that accrues to the worshipper by the activity of worship. By worshipping it is alleged that we get strength, patience, "energy," and blessings. "Blessing comes from God in response to worship," writes an evangelical author. What then did Paul mean when he wrote that "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3)? The objective of Christian worship is not to "get blessed," but "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6).
Alongside of being man-centered, religious worship is also event-centered. It is limited by particular times, places and procedures, outside of which the worship experience is not considered legitimate or allowed to take place.
"Much of the so-called 'public worship' in Christendom, is merely a form of Christianized Judaism, and, in some cases, thinly veiled paganism. In Judaism there was a separate priestly caste who alone could conduct the worship of Israel. In Christendom a man-made priesthood called 'the clergy,' is essential to its worship, in spite of the plain teaching of the New Testament that all believers are priests. These priests of Judaism wore a distinctive dress, as also does the clergy. Judaism emphasized an earthly sanctuary, or building. In like manner, Christendom makes much of its consecrated 'places of worship,' and miscalls the edifice 'a church,' and refers to it as 'the house of God.' Jewish priests had an altar on which were offered sacrifices to God. Christendom has erected 'altars' in these ornate buildings, before which candles burn and incense is offered, and, in many cases, on which a wafer is kept, which is looked upon as the body of Christ! It is hardly necessary to say that all this copying of Judaism is absolutely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament.
Thus Christendom has initiated its own specially educated and ordained priesthood, whose presence is indispensable to 'administer the sacraments.' These men, robed in gorgeous vestments, from within a roped off 'sanctuary,' stand before a bloodless 'altar,' with a background of burning candles, crosses and smoking incense, and 'conduct the worship' for the laity. With the use of an elaborate prepared ritual, with stereotyped prayers, and responses from the audience, the whole service proceeds smoothly and with mechanical precision. It is a marvel of human invention and ingenuity, with an undoubted appeal to the esthetic; but a tragic and sorry substitute for the spiritual worship which our Lord declared that His Father sought from His redeemed children."
The Judaic religion had carefully prescribed Sabbath regulations for worshipping from sun-down on Friday evening to sun-down on Saturday evening. Voluminous legalistic accretions were added throughout the centuries. The Jews of the old covenant, for the most part, missed the intent of God in pre-figuring the privilege of God's people resting in the enjoyment of what God has done and is doing. Jesus Christ came as the substance of which the weekly Judaic Sabbaths were but a symbolic shadow. Aware that He was "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8), Jesus violated the religious regulations of the Sabbath, for He knew that the "Sabbath rest" (Heb. 4:9) wherein God's people could cease from their labors of striving to please God by their prescribed worship procedures, was to be found in the dynamic of His own life through Christocentric worship.
Yet the worship of Christian religion continues to emphasize the "Christian Sabbath" on Sunday, complete with legalistic expectations galore. The event of worship is considered to take place during the "Sunday Morning Worship Hour."
Whereas Judaism regarded the place of worship to be the "earthly sanctuary" (Heb. 9:1) of the tabernacle and the temple, Christian religion regards the "church building" as "God's House." This despite the fact that Stephen indicated that "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (Acts 7:48), and Paul told the Athenians the same thing (Acts 17:24). Those who "go to worship" at "the house of worship" each week are limiting the worship that God intends in His people.
As religion is often based on law which prescribes precise procedures and patterns for life and worship, religious worship is often shackled by these forms, techniques, rituals, and "regulations of worship" (Heb. 9:1). Worship is perceived as a "program" or a "production," wherein different "styles" and "art forms" of "pomp and circumstance" are employed. The spontaneity of the Spirit of God is quenched. One religious author declared that "acceptable worship does not happen spontaneously. Preparation is essential." The author once overheard a pastor refer to his manipulation of "the worship service" using the oxymoron of "planned spontaneity."
Whenever the method of worship becomes more important than the Person of worship, we have already prostituted our worship. There are entire congregations who worship praise and praise worship but who have not yet learned to praise and worship God in Jesus Christ.
God is not pleased with such religious worship. Through Isaiah God says to the Israelites concerning their religious worship,
"What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams. I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer; their incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts. They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you. Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen." (Isaiah 1:11-15)
"This people draws near with their words, and honors Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote." (Isaiah 29:13)
This latter verse from Isaiah is quoted by Jesus as an indictment upon the scribes and Pharisees of first-century Judaism (Matt. 15:8,9).
The prophet Amos also states God's perspective on their religious worship.
"I hate, I reject your festivals. Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs. I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:21-24)
Writing to the new Christians in Galatia who were in danger of reverting back to religious worship, Paul exclaims, "You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." (Gal. 4:10). To the Colossians who were being bombarded by religionists, Paul declares, "Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col. 2:16,17).
Religious worship is not only inadequate, it is an abomination to God. The "good news" of the gospel is that God has provided in His Son, Jesus Christ, an entirely new basis of life and worship.
Christian Concept of "Worship"
Christian worship is radically different from all the forms of religious worship. That is because Christianity is not a religion, but the dynamic spiritual reality of God in action through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Judaism stresses God's Law and His activity which is to be gratefully praised. Islam emphasizes submission to the will of Allah. Hinduism advocates the good works of "karma" to please the gods. Buddhism promotes self-control for inner-peace to transcend the cycle of rebirth into "nirvana." Jesus did not come to bring another religious worship pattern Christianity is Christ. Everything that is Christian is His Being in action, the dynamic reality of the ontological presence and activity of the risen Lord Jesus.
Christian worship is not man-centered or event-centered, as is all religious worship, but it is Christ-centered. Such Christocentric worship was established by Jesus Christ in His redemptive work which reconciled God and man in order to restore the spiritual presence and dynamic of God to man.
"Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, entering through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve (or worship - latreuein) the living God?" (Heb. 9:11-14)
As the "High Priest" (Heb. 2:17) and "the one mediator between God and man" (I Tim. 2:5), Jesus led us into reconciled relationship with God with the privilege of His divine presence in us. Jesus continues to be the priest that leads us in our worship of God. "No man comes to the Father," either in reconciliation or in worship, "but through Him" (John 14:6). "Through Christ we are enabled to come to God." The objective of redemption is making worshippers. The primary purpose of redemption is not how to get a man out of hell and into heaven, but to restore man to God's intent by the imputation and impartation of Christ's life in the receptive believer in order to live and worship to the glory of God.
In Christian worship the Christian participates in what Christ continues to do as the living Lord in our lives. We participate in His life, His ministry, His intercession and worship. The efficacy of our worship as our action lies in His action on our behalf, His continual intercession. Christian worship is prompted, evoked, activated and generated by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one true worshipper, for everything that is "Christian" is the activity of Jesus Christ. "Worship is controlled by its object who is also subject. Jesus is both the subject and the object of Christian worship, which is thus completely Christocentric.
"Jesus and worship are inseparable. He is the route to worship, the reason for worship, and the reality of worship. Worship...is evoked by Christ, through the Spirit, in such a way that He is the One who acts in us and through us, so that our worship becomes real worship in Spirit and in Truth. It is not we who represent Christ, but Christ who re-presents Himself through the Spirit. "By Him (Jesus Christ) is our Amen (our worship) to the glory of God through us" (II Cor. 1:20).
"The main point," states the writer to the Hebrews, is that "we have a High Priest" who is "a minister in the sanctuary, in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man" (Heb. 8:1,2). He identifies Jesus as the leitourgos, the "leader of worship," in the Holy Place of God's presence. The Christocentric reality of Christian worship could be expressed no clearer.
True Christian worship is the consistent response and activity of Jesus Christ within us toward God the Father, in order to glorify God by the expression of the "worth-ship" of His character in the behavior of man. Jesus is, and has always been, the only expressor of God. He is the expressive "Word" which "became flesh" (John 1:1,14). He is the expressive "image of God" (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4), whereby the invisible character of God is made visible in human behavior.
As with everything in the Christian life, worship is enacted only by the grace of God. "Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The dynamic activity of God expressing the reality of God's character is only realized as expressed by Jesus Christ. Christian worship is always activated by God's grace. He is the dynamic of His own demands.
We can expect God to provide everything necessary to make worship possible. We children of God must ever be dependent upon God, for we have no resources of our own. We are as impoverished in worship times as a baby unable to provide its own bottle at feeding time. God, the object of our worship, also becomes the inspiration of that worship. He has imparted His own Spirit into our hearts to energize that worship. All that is due Him comes from Him. His glorious Person evokes admiration for and honor of Him, as He imparts His nature into me.
The Father is the originator of worship. The formation of life is not the responsibility of the children. God is not a divorced parent who has visiting rights only on Sundays.
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit prompt and activate Christian worship to express the "worth-ship" of His divine character, and are also the recipients of the glory of the expression of that all-glorious character. Christian worship can only be understood in this Trinitarian expression. All attempts to divide the triune God into varying economic roles is fraught with misinterpretation. The three Persons as one God function as the essence of Christian worship.
To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said, "God is Spirit; worship Him in Spirit and in Truth" (John 4:24). Despite the absence of a definite article, Jesus was not saying that "God is a spirit," one among many nebulous noumena. Rather, He was indicating that God is the essence by which all things "spiritual" are to be measured and determined. We are to worship God in (or by) the activity of His Spirit operative within our spirit. Every Christian has the Spirit of Christ dwelling in and operative in their spirit, or they are not Christians. "If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9), and "the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16). We worship as Christians by the energizing activity of the Spirit of Christ operative within us. Christ is the spiritual Reality of God, the Truth (John 14:6), and the only One capable of expressing the reality of God's character through us. Christian worship transpires only as the Spirit of Christ who is the Reality of God expresses the character of God in the behavior of man to the glory of God. Those who do not understand the basis of Christian worship will inevitably interpret Jesus' words of worshipping "in Spirit and in Truth" with religious concepts of worshipping with emotion and mind, with feeling and doctrine, with experientialism and epistemology, with "enthusiasm and orthodoxy,"with "sincerity and Scriptural consistency", with "whole-hearted genuineness and true concepts." They have missed the spiritual reality of Jesus Christ in Christian worship.
To the Philippians Paul explained that "we (Christians) are the true (the spiritual reality that God intended, in contrast to the physical pre-figuring of such among the Jews) circumcision (in that our sins have been cut off by the work of Jesus Christ, rather than just male foreskins), who worship in (or by) the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). Christians worship by means of the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), expressing the "worth-ship" of God's character in our behavior, thereby counteracting "the confidence in the flesh," comprised of those selfish and sinful behavioral patterns expressed apart from Christ.
"Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual service of worship" (Rom. 12:1), urges Paul. Make yourselves available by faith to God's activity, in order to participate in a "spiritual service of worship." The intense practicality of such worship is evidenced by the following context in Romans 12-16. Christian worship is everything Christians do individually and corporately as Christ functions as their life (Col. 3:4). The only lawful worship of God is the observation of righteousness, holiness and purity.
What is the one condition of human responsibility for Christian worship? Faith is always the singular response of man in the Christian life, as the Reformation theme of sola fide (faith alone) indicated. Faith is much more than belief or mental assent. It is our receptivity of God's activity, which activity will always express the "worth-ship" of His character. God cannot act out of character. He does what He does, because He is who He is. In Christian worship we allow for our availability to His ability to express Himself unto His own glory. The message of Grace in the Christian gospel reveals that Christianity is not what we do, but what He does for us, in us, as us, and through us.
Christ's activity in the Christian is not prescribed with stereotyped patterns of behavior. Jesus Christ wants to be uniquely Himself in and through us. Whereas the old covenant had prescribed forms of worship as a pictorial pre-figuring to point to Jesus Christ, the new covenant is the Person of Jesus Christ functioning as the Reality of our lives, expressed in whatever form He directs and projects. The external rituals are replaced with internal spiritual Reality. Worship is not prescribed by the written words of the Law, but by the indwelling Spirit of Christ who serves as "the law written in our hearts" (Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
The free expression of a divinely indwelt human being allowing for the expression God's character in his behavior is the glorious purpose for which we were created (Isa. 43:7). That is why Jesus declared that "you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Such truth is not the propositional truth of doctrinal orthodoxy, but is the Personal Truth of the Reality of Jesus Christ who said, "I am the Truth" (John 14:6). Jesus went on to explain that the Truth of which He spoke was Himself, for He said, "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). By the presence of the Reality of the Life of Jesus Christ we are liberated from the prescribed forms and patterned procedures of religious worship styles. We are free to allow for the spontaneous, unique and novel expression of the "worth-ship" of God's character in our behavior all the time, everywhere, and in whatever manner He desires to manifest Himself. We are not limited to specific times, places and procedures in our Christian worship.
Geographical location is not a relevant issue in Christian worship, as Jesus made clear to the Samaritan woman who was questioning the proper location (John 4:20-24). Christians are both individually and collectively the "house of the Lord" (Eph. 2:19; I Peter 2:5) and the "temple" wherein God's presence is active (I Cor. 3:16; 6:19; II Cor. 6:16).
The time of our worship is not limited to a specific hour in a "service of worship. Worship is a lifestyle. Worship in everyday life, for it is the moment-by-moment privilege of practicing His presence, and allowing the glorious life of Jesus Christ to be expressed in our everyday behavior to the glory of God.
This is not to imply that there is not a place for the collective expression of Christian worship in the Body of Christ, the Church. We are "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together" (Heb. 10:25). We have a functional responsibility in the "sharing of the Body of Christ" (I Cor. 10:16). Worship is the very life and essence of the Church, but we must be careful to remember that the Church is not an institutional organization that exists to plan and promote public assemblies, the traditions and rituals of which are often regarded as constituting or producing worship. The Church is the collective expression of individual Christians who are allowing the life of Jesus Christ to function in their inter-relationships. A Sunday service is to be only a corporate overflow of a worshipping life.
Every facet of the Christian life is to be an expression of worship. Every Scriptural reference to the life and function of Jesus Christ in our lives can be viewed as being inclusive of the activity of Christ in our Christian worship. A few examples will suffice to document such:
"The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, ...is Christ in you, the hope (confident expectation) of glory (of manifesting the "worth-ship" of the all-glorious character of God, unto God's glory). (Col. 1:26,27).
"It is no longer I who live (or worship), but Christ lives (and worships) in me: and the life that I live (and the worship I engage in) I do so by faith (our receptivity of His activity) in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20).
"For me to live (and worship) is Christ" (Phil. 1:21)
"His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness (expressing the "worth-ship" of the character of God), through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (to express such glorious and excellent character within His creation). (II Peter 1:4).
"..Apart from Me you can do nothing" (including the bearing of the fruit of His character in worship). (John 15:5).
"God is at work in you both to will and to work (and to worship) for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
"Not that we are adequate to consider anything (including worship) as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is of God" (derived out of God through Christ). (II Cor. 3:5).
"May the God of peace sanctify you (set you apart to function as He intended in the expression of His Holy character)... Faithful is He who calls you and He will bring it to pass (expressing the "worth-ship" of His character in Jesus Christ). (I Thess. 5:23).
These and many other Scriptures attest to Christian worship being the total expression of the life of Jesus Christ in our behavior. May we cease to generalize worship as object-centered human preoccupation with objects "which by nature are no gods" (Gal. 4:8). May we cease to engage in the man-centered worship of religion which falsely supposes that worship is what we do, how we feel and we think, the extent to which we are committed, and evaluated by the benefits and "blessings" we receive. May we cease to limit worship to the prescribed times, places and procedures of religious tradition. Christian worship is Christ-centered, being established by His redemptive and restorative work and continuously generated and activated by the risen Lord Jesus within the Christian.
Christian worship is Christocentric. Jesus worships the Father by the Spirit through the Christian.