Stan Cox

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Worship in the Local Church

Surely You Have Things Turned Around!

There are several things necessary for worship to be "true worship."  First, God must be the object.  By this we mean the one true God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The God referred to by Paul when he told the Athenians, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands..." (Acts 17: 22-24). The God to which Paul refers here is the one true God.  He is the Creator of the universe.  He is the omnipotent, omniscient, self-existent One.  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8).  All other gods are figments of man's imagination.

Second, in order for worship to be true it must be appropriate.  That is, it must be worship that is accepted by the one, true God.  If God has established parameters to acceptable worship, these must be recognized and heeded.  John records the words of Jesus on this matter, "...True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (John 4:23).

We are living in a time where the value or worth of an act of worship is determined experientially.  That is, if the worshipper has a positive experience in the worship, it is determined to be valid.  Such a standard is by nature subjective, and leads to widely divergent types of worship.  Where one might be most comfortable in a traditional, reverent, quiet service, another may thrive in a more contemporary, casual, even chaotic setting.

This experiential approach to worship has led many denominations to advertise their style of worship aggressively, to entice the curious.  A perusal of the yellow pages in Ft. Worth, TX turned up the following phrases describing the worship services of local denominations.  "Casual & Energetic Atmosphere", "A Contemporary Experience", "Contemporary Praise & Worship", "Tridentine Latin Mass Only & Always", "A Non-denominational church of Love, Light & Laughter",  "Anglican Worship in Downtown Ft. Worth Using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer" and "Traditional Anglo-Catholic Church".  One Methodist church went so far as to advertise a "traditional" service at 11:00 AM on Sunday, and a "contemporary" service earlier at 8:45 AM.

However, the focus of worship as revealed in the Bible is not if the worship pleased man; rather, did it please God?!  In Matthew 15, Jesus quoted Isaiah in condemning the Pharisees for their lawlessness.  Because they had substituted their own traditions for God's will He said, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (vs. 8-9).  The quotation is from Isaiah 29.  In that same context, the passage includes the following statement from God, "Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (vs. 16).

Surely we have things turned around when we seek to worship God in ways that please us!  As the creature, we have no right to choose how we will worship the Creator.  It is the place of the Creator to make those determinations.  We should rather seek to determine what God expects of us, and glory in submitting our will to His.  It is a matter of faith.  It is not our place to question the Master, only to serve him.

Jesus established this clearly in teaching his disciples.  He noted that a master, when he has instructed a servant, does not thank the servant for doing what was required.  He said, "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'"  (Luke 17:9-10).

The Greek word from which we get the term worship is proskuneo.  It has an interesting origin, derived from a word, pros, indicating direction, "forward or toward", and kuon, "a dog."  The term in its literal sense would be rendered, "to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand; to fawn, or crouch to&ldots;" (Strong).  Strong defines the term, as it is used in John 4, "prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): --worship." 

Another appropriate term in this context is obeisance.  The term comes from a French word meaning "to obey", and means "deference or homage."  Intrinsic in the concept of worship is deference to the one who is the object of the worship.  In giving homage to God, it must be understood that we defer to His will for us in our worship.

There is much revealed in the New Testament regarding what God expects in Christian worship.  Instructions are given regarding both the elements of Christian worship, and the manner in which these elements are to be accomplished.  God has clearly stated what he requires of us.  It is required of us to study those instructions, and conform our practice to His will.  Otherwise, our worship is not true!  "And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9).


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