|The worship of the church
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:
The verse above is a part of the answer of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well when she
spoke of the difference in the place of worship between the Jew and the Samaritan. A
misunderstanding of what Jesus had to say here is one of the reasons for the division in part of
the religious world today. Not only is there confusion about what Jesus meant when he said
worship must be "in spirit and in truth;" but, there is much confusion as to what "worship" itself
is — what it means. The word "worship" is defined in the English language:
"n reverence tendered a divine being or supernatural power also: an act of expressing such
reverence;" "vb to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power —vi: to perform or
take part in worship or an act of worship" (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary; p.
"n 1. The adoration, homage, or veneration given to deity. 2. The rites, ceremonial forms,
prayers, etc., such adoration requires or assumes."; and, 'v 2. To pay an act of worship to" (Funk
and Wagnalls Desk Dictionary; Vol. II; p. 791).
Under "revere" Webster defines the difference between "worship" and its synonyms:
"syn REVERE, REVERENCE, VENERATE, WORSHIP, ADORE mean to regard with profound
respect and honor. REVERE further implies deference and tenderness of feeling; REVERENCE
suggests a self-denying acknowledging of what has an intrinsic and inviolate claim to respect;
VENERATE implies a regarding as holy or sacrosanct esp. because of age; WORSHIP implies
homage by word or ceremony to a divine being; ADORE adds to WORSHIP a more personal
emotion or may apply to any great and unquestioning love" (p. 736).
Under "venerate" Funk and Wagnalls defines the difference between "worship" and its
"—Syn. We venerate that which we judge objectively to be of great worth, as a great man, our
ancestors, a holy person, or a sacred object. Revere and Reverence imply respect, to which
have been added personal affection and awe; revere is chiefly applied to persons or to a deity,
and reverence, to places or objects: to revere God and the saints, to reverence a holy shrine. In
strict usage, we worship or adore only that which we consider divine; worship refers to
participation in religious ceremonies, and adore, to the sense of personal gratitude for divine
favor which the worshipper feels" (p. 756).
Thus, we see in the English language "worship" is not only a feeling in the heart, but the
expression of that feeling in an action toward God, whether by word or deed.
The Bible was not originally written in English, though. It was written in Aramaic, Hebrew and
Greek. Do the words in the original language convey the same meaning? Is the English word
"worship" a correct translation of them?
There are ten words in the Greek New Testament that are translated into some form of the
English word "worship." The most often used of these words is proskuneoo, which is translated
only by the English word "worship" and appears some sixty times in the New Testament. It is
the word found in our text at the beginning of this article. Proskuneoo is defined:
"prop, to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence...hence among the Orientals, esp.
the Persians, to fall upon the knee and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of
profound reverence, (to make a 'salam')...hence in the N.T. by kneeling or prostration to do
homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make
supplications" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
"To do reverence or homage by kissing the hand; in N.T. to do reverence or homage by
prostration...to pay divine homage, worship, adore...to bow one's self in adoration..." (The
Analytical Greek Lexicon).
Guy N. Woods, in commenting on the word "worship," says:
"The word most commonly used to indicate this act in the New Testament is proskuneoo, the
basic meaning of which is to kiss the hand toward, an act in oriental countries signifying
obeisance. In the New Testament it denotes homage, reverence, awe, etc.; and it includes such
acts as may be utilized in expressing or exhibiting these emotions and attitudes.
"In the American Standard Version of the New Testament at Matt. 2:8, there is reference to a
footnote (and often thereafter where the word worship occurs a reference to this footnote) which
'The Greek word denotes an act of reverence whether paid to a creature (see ch. 4:9; 18:26), or
to the Creator (see ch. 4:10).'
"(1) The Greek word denotes an act. ...It is not true that only the inner man worships. Inasmuch
as worship consists of acts, it follows that such acts are as much involved in worship, and are
as essential to it, as the attitude which prompts them. The view that worship is simply and
solely an attitude — to be distinguished from, and dissociated with acts — is not in harmony
with the facts in the case.
"(2) The Greek word denotes an act...paid. This emphasizes and enhances the force of our
suggestions above. Worship is an attitude; but it is more, it is an attitude which expresses itself
in an act — an act paid to another. To worship then, one must engage in acts" (Questions and
Answers by Guy N. Woods, 1976; p. 366).
The English word "worship" is a correct translation of the original language. "Worship" as it is
spoken of in the New Testament is the outpouring of the adoration of our hearts and souls in
acts of praise, thanksgiving and supplication. It becomes true worship not by being only in the
heart, but by its expression in actions.
The Lord God of heaven, being the Creator of all that is, is the One to whom the adoration of the
heart is directed in worship. It is he whom worshippers wish to praise and honor with their
songs, prayers, and services. Thus, it behooves the worshipper to see whom Jehovah seeks to
be his worshippers.
The Samaritans worshipped God in ignorance upon Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshipped
God in Jerusalem as the Lord had commanded them (Deuteronomy 12:5-11; I Kings 9:3; II
Chronicles 3:12). Yet in the reign of the gospel it was neither in Gerizim nor Moriah that men
would worship the Father. Listen to what Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria: "Woman,
believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem,
worship the Father. ...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. God is a
Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21,23,24).
Under the grace of the gospel, all requirements as to the geographic location of worship would
be removed. God, as a Spirit, is not limited as to time and space, and can be worshipped in any
place upon the earth. The worship of God is to be done by the spirit of man according to the
Under the New Testament for which Jesus shed his blood (Hebrews 9), God expects not those
physical forms of old, but spiritual sacrifices continually offered by a kingdom of priests, the
church (I Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:5; I Timothy 3:15). Our worship offered from our heart and very
souls ascends before the Father even as the sweet incense of old came before the mercy seat
in the tabernacle and in the temple.
As J. W. McGarvey wrote: "Jesus draws the mind of the woman from the place of worship to the
Person or Being worshipped, and from the form to the spirit of worship. God seeks for genuine,
and not formal worshippers, and for those who worship him in truth..." (The Fourfold Gospel, p.
Too many feel that as long as they sit on a pew for an hour or more a week, as long as they are
present for worship services of the church, they are worshipping; but, we must worship "in spirit
and in truth." Unless the spirit of the individual, his heart and his soul, has poured out its
adoration toward God in the actions engaged in, they are meaningless; there has not been true
worship. Jesus rebuked the heathen for their "vain repetitions" which were spoken void of
meaning (Matthew 6:17). Can the individual expect his prayers or songs, offered without
meaning to his heart and soul, to be acceptable? Listen to the admonition of Scripture. [All
emphasis mine.] "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing
with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (I Corinthians 14:15). "Speaking to
yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart
to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). "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" (Colossians 3:16).
It is interesting that the only condemnation associated with engaging in worship is found in
doing it in a wrong attitude. "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the
Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord...For he that eateth and
drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (I
Corinthians 11:27,29). Unless an individual partakes of the Lord's Supper in a worthy manner,
recognizing the memorial of the body and blood of our Lord, he eats and drinks damnation to
Engaging in acts of worship devoid of a correct spirit is not worship acceptable to God. The
heart and soul must pour out its adoration of the Lord God of heaven through the acts of
worship engaged in; otherwise, it is vain, empty, meaningless. God must be worshiped "in
When Jesus was being tried before Pontius Pilate, after hearing Jesus say he was born to
"bear witness unto the truth" and that "every one that is of the truth heareth my voice," asked,
"What is truth" (John 18:37-38)? However, the governor did not wait for an answer.
As we contemplate the words of Jesus to the woman of Samaria that worship must be "in truth,"
the question of Pilate comes before us - "What is truth?" The phrase, "in truth," is used also in
Philippians 1:18 and I John 3:18. In both these passages, the phrase, "in truth," is used
meaning "in actuality." In both passages, it is used in opposition to the idea of pretence.
Had Pilate waited for an answer for his question, "What is truth?", he might have been told the
same thing which Jesus said "to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word,
then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"
(John 8:31,32). Or, perhaps, he would have been referred to the prayer Jesus had prayed earlier
in the garden to his Father in heaven: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:
17). In either case, it would be "the word of the truth of the gospel" to which Pilate would have
his attention directed (Colossians 1:5). The Bible, and in particular the New Testament, is the
truth. "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God..." (II Timothy 3:16).
One cannot worship in actuality, or genuinely, who does not come to God in worship according
to the truth. One cannot worship God genuinely, yet ignore the manner in which he has
commanded that he be worshipped.
M.C. Kurfees, in his classic tract, Walking by Faith: Origin of Instrumental Music in Christian
Christianity is preeminently a religion of faith. Let us get this fact well and firmly fixed in our
minds, for it will be seen that upon a proper understanding and appreciation of this vital
principle, all acceptable service to God depends....
But, not only is Christianity, as a system, purely a system of faith (Gal. iii.23), but in order to its
acceptableness, all service, which we render to God, must be of faith. No proposition is more
clearly established in the Word of God than this. Not only is it plainly declared that *we walk by
faith," but in Heb. xi.6, is the explicit statement that "without faith it is impossible to please God.'
Any act of religious worship, therefore, however great or small, must be of faith in order to
please God. This does not mean that every act of man outside of religious service must be of
faith. Man may follow his own wisdom or reason in the management of his own affairs, but in
the service or worship of God, the only legitimate use of man's wisdom or reason is to
acquiesce in whatever divine wisdom has revealed, and to thus "walk by faith." In the
management of all affairs exclusively his own, man has the unquestionable right to follow his
own judgment, provided he contravenes no principle of moral propriety or righteousness. In
other words, beyond the regulation of man's conduct in all spheres of action by principles of
moral integrity and righteous dealing, God has no where legislated for man, except in the
service to be rendered exclusively to Him. In this sphere, however, God has legislated. He has
ordained the worship to be rendered to Him, and human wisdom must neither add to, take
from, nor in any way modify what He has prescribed, otherwise those who do so are walking by
their own judgment, and not by faith. Hence, that we may see the principle on which all
acceptable service to God must be rendered, let us now consider —
I. FAITH DEFINED IN DISTINCTION FROM OPINION.
Two questions properly answered will present this distinction in its true light.
1. What is it to walk by faith? In Rom. x.17, Paul declares: "So then faith comes by hearing, and
hearing by the Word of God." This settles it as to how faith comes; it conies by hearing the Word
of God. Accordingly, where there is no Word of God there can be no faith; and if no faith, then no
walking by faith. This is not the opinion of any man or set of men; it is the unquestionable
teaching of God's Word. Hence, if hearing the Word of God is the way faith comes, then, where
the Word of God is, there can be faith, but none beyond that. If, therefore, the Word of God says
nothing concerning a given course, there can be no faith in pursuing that course, for FAITH
COMES BY HEARING THE WORD OF GOD. And hence, since we are to "walk by faith," and
"without faith it is impossible to please God," it follows that in any matter whatsoever in which
we are not directed by the Word of God, we are neither walking by faith, nor pleasing God. This
prepares us for the second question:
2. What is it to walk by opinion? In Jno. iii.1,2, we have the words: "There was a man of the
Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; that same came to Jesus by night and said
unto Him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these
miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." But, you are ready to ask, what has such a
passage to do with the question before us? Let us see. There are two questions in connection
with this famous conversation to which I wish to call attention: (1.) Did Nicodemus come to
Jesus by night? The universal and unanimous response from all believers in the Bible of ever
class and distinction is, that he did. But what is the cause of this perfect unity of sentiment?
Simply because the Bible says he came by night, and there is always union where all follow
what the Bible says. (2.) Why did he come by night, and not by day? It would be easy to find an
answer to this question among the theologians. But the trouble with this class of wise men is,
that to attempt to follow their guidance in such matters is like the attempt to ride two horses in
opposite directions at the same time. One class of them tells us Nicodemus acted in this
instance through fear of his colleagues in the Jewish Sanhedrin, choosing the curtain of night
behind which to converse unobserved with the Great Teacher. Others tell us it was not through
fear, but to avoid the crowds that gathered about Jesus during the day, the eminent ruler of the
Jews preferring the stillness of the night that he might converse undisturbed with the Galilean
Reformer. Now, one or the other of these views may be correct; but, as the Bible does not say
one word about it, no mortal can know why he came by night. And this is precisely what is true of
all the learned theologians. They only tell what they think about it; that is, they express their
opinion. The word opinion signifies what one thinks, and in religious matters, it means what
men think concerning matters on which the Bible is silent. The distinction, therefore, between
faith and opinion is perfectly clear. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God; opinion is what
men think where the Word of God does not speak. Hence, when men introduce as worship to
God, as service to be rendered to him, things on which His Word is silent, they walk by opinion
and not by faith.
The apostle Paul very plainly stated a fact of religious life in Colossians 3:17 - "And whatsoever
ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father
by him." The phrase "in the name of means "by the power or authority of." This is illustrated in
our present language by the statement: "Open, in the name of the law!" or, "Stop, in the name of
the law!" One is to open or stop because of the authority of or power of the law. It is illustrated in
the New Testament by the question and answer given when Peter and John are questioned
concerning the healing of the lame man at the gate of the temple called Beautiful (Acts 4:5-12).
In the first century, when the servant was sent to the marketplace to buy materials for his
master's house, he was given a clay tablet (much like a credit card) which enabled him to buy in
his master's name. This allowed him to purchase what was necessary because he was
empowered or authorized to do so. Even so, we must be empowered or authorized in our
service to God to please him We must have his authority; we must do it in his name.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr. in commenting on the need for divine authority in worship, said:
The principle is stated in Colossians 3:17 "Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the
name of the Lord Jesus!" The only ground upon which to meet God in worship is to worship in
his name, where his name is recorded. God's name has always been recorded in what he has
commanded. In the Old Testament God put his name on physical altars, and later in the temple
of Solomon...God speaking through Moses, said, "In every place where I have recorded my
name, there will I come unto thee, and there will I bless thee." And to these particular places the
worshippers went, in order to worship God. God had put his name there.
In the New Testament we worship "in the name," but in a different way. God puts his name on
things commanded. If it has not been commanded, his name is not on it; and that thing cannot
be done by his authority. Therefore we could not meet him in the act.
It is a question, then, of divine authority. It is a question of respect for the word of God. I have
been convinced for a long time that the fundamental error of the religious world today, is the lack
of respect for the word of God. The need for divine authority for what is done in the realm of
religion is no longer recognized. But the fundamental principle of worship is simply this: In the
realm of worship we stand in the realm of revelation.
This principle, spoken of in // John 9, is illustrated in Leviticus 10:1-2 "And Nadab and Abihu, the
sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire thereon, and offered strange fire
before the Lord, which he commanded them not" [emphasis mine]. Notice, they did not do
something God said "Thou shalt not do;" they merely did not do what God told them to do. God
expects to be worshipped by that which he commands. When he says to do a certain thing that
immediately and completely eliminates everything else (II John 9; Revelation 22:18-19; II
Timothy 3:16-17; I Peter 4:11; Acts 15:24; Hebrews 1:5; 7:12-14).
Worship, to be acceptable to God, must be the outpouring of the adoration of the heart and soul
engaging in those acts commanded by God in his word. The Holy Bible is the one and only
authority for acceptable acts of worship. Worship must be "in truth."
THE ACTS OF WORSHIP
One of the primary responsibilities of the church is to worship God (Ephesians 3:27). Those
who comprise the saved have the responsibility not to forsake the assembling of themselves
together (Hebrews 10:25). For the Christian, this is a period of praise and honor to God and
exhortation for himself, and others. Yet, what would be done in worship has been a subject of
controversy since the time of the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 14). It is to the scriptural
responsibility of the people of God to worship that we now turn our attention.
Worship, the adoration of the heart and soul offered through an action of the body directed
toward God, must be offered "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Offered by the spirit of man,
worship must be according to the truth of God's word. Divine authority must be followed, and
only with Divine authority can action be engaged in as acceptable worship (Colossians 3:17).
What is offered as worship in truth must be by the authority of the Lord Jesus; anything else is
sin. Only if book, chapter and verse can be given can such an act of worship be pleasing to God.
In Acts 2:42, the historian Luke records of the three thousand who gladly received the word and
were baptized, "and they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in
breaking of bread, and in prayers." What they continued in, so must the church and Christians
who would be pleasing to God today. The churches of Christ in Judea were examples to be
followed (I Thessalonians 2:14). Mosheim records of the worship of the early church: "The
Christian worship consisted in hymns, prayers, the reading of the Scriptures, a discourse
addressed to the people, and concluded with the celebration of the Lord's Supper"
(Ecclesiastical History, Volume I; p. 303).
The first action that is required in corporate worship of the congregation is the assembling
together in one place (Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 1:20). Divisions in the assembly, whether
for age, race or social standing are sinful (James 2:1-4). "Are you not then partial in yourselves,
and are become judges of evil thoughts?"
Prayer is an act of worship commanded by God (I Thessalonians 5:17). It is to be offered in the
name of Christ, by his authority (Matthew 21:22; John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23,24,26). Jesus is
the only mediator between man and God (I Timothy 2:5).
The reading of the scriptures is recorded in the New Testament as an action which is to take
place in the worship assembly (Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:27).
In connection with the assembly of the church to worship is recorded a discourse, or preacher
(Acts 20:7). The preaching is to be done from the scriptures (II Timothy 4:2; I Peter 4:11). The
action is restricted to the men (I Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 2:11,12), unless there are no men
present (I Corinthians 11:1-5).
A free-will contribution is taken up on the fist day of the week (I Corinthians 16:1-2). This is to be
given freely, cheerfully, and according to what the individual has been prospered that week, and
has purposed in their heart (II Corinthians 9:5-7; Acts 20:35).
The Lord's Supper is to be partaken of on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The unleavened
bread is taken in remembrance of the body of the Lord, and the fruit of the vine (grape juice) is
taken in remembrance of the blood of the Lord (I Corinthians 11:19-20). This is done every first
day of the week.
Congregational (everyone invited) singing is commanded (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). It
is done with melody and grace in the heart, understanding and meaning what is sung.
Mechanical instruments of music is missing in the commands — it is without authority.
Anything more than these is of sin. Skits, musical productions, dances, concerts, etc. have no
place in the worship of God. Worship must stay within the bounds of what is written (II John 9;
What does the church to which you belong teach about worship? Does it teach that worship is
more than just an attitude of heart and mind, that is also includes actions? Does it seek to
follow the truth, doing only those actions in worship which are found in God's word? Does it
meet upon the first day of the week? Does it make a division of the congregation into groups
based upon age, race or social standing? Does it offer prayer through Jesus? Does it read the
scriptures? Does it preach from the scriptures? Does it take a free-will offering only upon the
first day of the week? Does it partake of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (grape juice) for
the Lord's Supper? Does it have congregational singing? Does it sing acappella (without
instrumental accompaniment)? Or, does the church to which you belong add other things to
those revealed in scripture to what it does in worship?
Won't you worship "in spirit and in truth?"