Worship, Worship Everywhere: What is Worship Anyway?

C Cho-o

Nominalism is one of the biggest contemporary challenges that confronts the Naga churches, the cause of which may be attributed to poor worship and, perhaps, poor preaching. But, the kind of response we hear from many Christians about worship service experiences today are, boring, monotonous, lacks liveliness, too long, too dry, and the like. What’s the real problem?  

Bruce H. Leafblad opines that, we who are identified with evangelical Christianity are hard put to demonstrate any serious concern for worship in this century. As scholars, we’ve failed to study worship, or give attention to the theology of worship. Principles of biblical worship are not sought as the foundation of local church practice. Most of our evangelical seminaries have not even offered full course in worship. Therefore, it appears that, in our context, ignorance is a major hindrance to true worship (cf. John. 4:22-24). This is, indeed, a wonderful comment on the kind of Christianity we embrace in our context, too. Worship renewal must be a cry of urgency, today, particularly among the Free Churches. 

According to Robert E. Webber, 20th century worship renewal was centered around two areas:     (i) Understanding Christian worship, and (ii) Experiencing the power of worship. One can never enjoy doing anything without knowing what one is doing or why and for what? One can never truly experience the power of worship either unless one understands what one is doing. As a matter of fact, ignorance is a major hindrance to true worship. 

Popular Notions of Worship: Wrong Concepts

Many Christians have a notion that, work is worship; going to church is worship; singing is worship;  praise is worship; praying is  worship; sacrifice is worship; giving is worship; prostrating is worship; and the like (all under the category of performance).  

Unfortunately, none of these is an adequate definition of worship. Work is not worship, because we’re not saved by works, but by grace through faith; activity cannot be equated with spirituality (Ephesians 2:8-9). Work is not worship though one can worship through one’s work. “Work is worship,” “Service to man is service to God” are not Christian philosophy, they have heathen origin, and therefore, though they are not totally wrong, they are only half-truth from Christian perspective. 

Sacrifice is not worship, because, rituals cannot bring salvation, but obedience to the will of the Father (1Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6). No matter how much time and energy, or money you spent in the name of your faith, they can’t please the Lord a bit so long as your life is not a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). 

Praying and singing are not worship, because not all who says, Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of God, but one who does the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21). Theja Meru, to a group of young people said, “You can praise and praise God and go to hell.” Praise without worship is a mere performance. 

Believing that there’s God is not worship, because even demons believe that there’s God and shudder (James 2:19; Mark 1:24). Christians have one thing in common with the demons, i.e.’ our belief in the existence of God. It is worship that makes Christians different from that of the demons.  Demons don’t practice their faith in Jesus Christ; Christians do. To believe is to have faith. To have faith is to practice, and that practice of faith is worship. 

Going to church regularly is not worship, because God does not like formalism or lips’ service (Is. 1:13; 29:13). Michael Card once said, “America is in deep trouble; our churches are full, but our lives are empty.” Naga churches are not trouble-free churches in this regard. Though failure to attend worship services is an indication of spiritual sickness and a perversion of values, going to church is not the whole duty of a Christian living.  

Giving is not worship, because you can’t buy salvation (Matthew 23:23). In giving we don’t give ours to God either, it is returning to God what is God’s. Therefore, if giving takes the place of a heart for God, a Christian fails to worship. 

Prostrating is not worship, because the latter is a matter of the heart. Bowing, kneeling, raising hands, and the like are simply postures of worship. These postures themselves are not worship.  The rich young ruler’s religious posture at the feet of Jesus and his strict adherence to the law did not make much sense to the latter, for the former’s heart was not in consistent with the prostration. Keeping the law is not worship either. Christian worship is life-centered and relational (Mark 10: 17-22) “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” is not worship for religiosity is not spirituality (2 Timothy 3:5). 

Worship in Perspective 

The English word worship is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word weorthscipe. This word is a combination of two words worth and ship which later on became a single word “worship” with the meaning of ascribing worth to a person or a thing of value (Viertal). “Worship (worthship) is a homage – the attitude and activity designed to recognize or describe the worth of a person or a thing which the homage is addressed” (Webber)

According to Robert Webber, Revelation and Response are the two fundamental elements of worship.  Martin Luther declared that,  “To know God is to worship Him.” In Romans 1:18 ff. Paul talks about inescapable judgment on those who know God and fail to honor Him. Therefore, worship is revelation on the part of God, and response on the part of the worshippers. And response in worship is not simply knowing that God is real, but responding affirmatively, accepting God, opening life to God, and rejoicing in God’s transforming reality. 

Paul W. Hoon (a Methodist), quoted by James F. White, says, “The core of worship is God acting to give his life to man and to bring man to partake of that life.” Hoon maintains that “Christian worship is God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and man’s response,” or a twofold action: that of “God to the human soul in Jesus Christ and in Man’s responsive action through Jesus Christ.” 

Peter Brunner (a Lutheran), also, quoted by White, speaks of the duality of worship: “Worship as a service of God to the congregation” and “Worship as the congregation’s service before God.” The key words in worship for both Hoon and Brunner are “Revelation” and “Response.” For Brunner, “the gift of God evokes man’s devotion to God.” 

Nikos A. Nissiotis (Orthodox theologian) states: “Christian worship is not primarily man’s initiative, but God’s redeeming act in Christ through his Spirit.” Like Brunner, Nissiotis stresses the “absolute priority of God and his act” which humans can only acknowledge. In the language of Fritz Ridenour, “Religion is men and women seeking and reaching out to God; Christianity is God reaching down to men and women.” Therefore, Christian worship is primarily responding to God’s reaching down to mankind (revelation). 

Worship involves two parties-God and man. Therefore, worship is basically relationship. It’s one’s personal relationship with God that matters. It’s a communion between persons, God and man. We worship God for who he is; we praise God for what he has done. The former is the person and character of God, the latter extols the acts of God. Worship as a personal relationship means there are two sides to encounter. For W. E. Viertal,  worship is a dialogue involving revelation on the part of God and response on the part of man and women. Examples: Jeremiah 1:1ff. and Isaiah 6: 1-8, etc. This encounter awakens powers and transcendence within us. It is reverently “entering   into” a life other than one’s own. For Ross Snyder, it’s transaction—an actual interchange of energy which involves openness on the part of the worshippers Worship involves the whole man and not a segment of his personhood. The biblical concept of man presents him as a unitary person. There is no dichotomy in personality, and no dualism in the life of man as seen in Greek philosophy “Blessed are those…seek him with the whole heart” (Ps. 119:2). “With my whole heart I seek thee” (v.10). 

Franklin M. Segler (a Southern Baptist) said that worship is not a human invention; rather, it is a divine offer. God offers himself in a personal relationship, and man responds. God’s offer of love elicits man’s response in worship. A vision of God demands a worship response because God is worthy of worship. According to William Temple, to worship is: to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open the heart to the love of God; to devote the will to the purpose of God.

To sum up, worship is not a performance dictated by law or rituals, but a response, a communion, and personal relationship with the Lord. When we look in to the lives of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, Martha was so occupied with performance (activities), whereas Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to what Jesus had to say. In the words of Jesus, “only one thing is needful, and   Mary had chosen the good part. . . .” Christian worship is listening to Jesus Christ and responding to him.