Neither Jesus nor the apostles provided a ritual of worship to be followed by the church; yet the New Testament has much to say on the subject. Several words occur that are translated "worship' or "serve." The three most frequent are:

1. latreuo, translated "worship" and serve, which originally meant to serve for hire," but in the New Testament, "to render religious service or homage, to worship..... to perform sacred services; to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for the worship. " (Thayer).

2. Proskuneo is the word most frequently occurring and universally translated "worship,' a compound word meaning to kiss the hand to (towards) one." Among Orientals, especially the Persians, it signifies "to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. Hence, in the New Testament, by kneeling in prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance," whether of respect or to make supplication (Thayer). In the New Testament it describes an act of worship to God, to Christ, to a man (Matt. 18:26), to the dragon by men, to the beast, to the image of the beast, to demons and to idols. In a marginal explanation of Matthew 2:2, the A.S.V. translators say, "The Greek word denotes an act of reverence whether paid to the creature, or to the Creator."

3. A third word, sebo or sebomai, occurs a number of times and means to revere, to worship or is used to designate worshippers, devout persons, devout Greeks and devout proselytes.

In the absence of formal liturgy setting forth a definitive form to be followed, one must examine what is said about worship and determine what the early church did in expressing praise and devotion to the Lord. It might first be observed that the New Testament deals with both false and true worship, which should serve as a warning to be heeded and instruction to be followed. False worship is indicated under three headings:

1. Vain Worship. Jews from Jerusalem came to Jesus questioning Him about His disciples transgressing the traditions of the elders by not washing their hands when they ate bread. To this He replied, "Why do ye also transgress the conunandment of God because of your traditions?" The Lord then proceeded to discuss their tradition regarding the care of their parents by their offspring, saying, "Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:2-9; Mark 7:6-13). Jesus thus sets forth the truth that worship according to traditions is empty, to no purpose; it is void of results.

Traditions are teachings which are handed over either by word or by writings from one to another. Paul spoke of the traditions which brethren had received from him which would be those revealed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the apostles condemned the teachings which originated with elders (or men) and were not from God but yet were given equality with His word. Worship originating with men, or based on human teaching, is vain and must be so recognized and rejected or avoided by Christians. All worship should be examined in the light of truth, the worshipper accepting that which is authorized and avoiding that which is of human origin.

2. Will-worship. Will-worship is also condemned. Paul wrote to the Colossians, saying, "Why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, Handle not nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh' (2:20-23). This likewise would be vain, but Paul deals with the matter primarily from both the Jewish and Gentile asceticism. Thayer describes this as worship which one devises and prescribes for himself contrary to the contents and nature which ought to be diverted to Christ," as practiced by the misguided zeal of ascetics. It is further described as "voluntarily adopted worship, whether unbidden or forbidden .... which one affects" for himself (Vine). As described by Paul, it is a self-imposed system of ordinances which reflect fallible human wisdom, rules determined by men imposing strong ascetic regulations of seventy against the body; but they are of no value against practices of fleshly lusts. Proper control of the flesh grows out of a faithftil life after the spirit in one's relationship to God and not in adherence to a system of ascetic rules.

3. Worship in ignorance. Worship in ignorance of God, the true object of worship, and of that which He has authorized as worship is likewise unacceptable. Standing before a group of philosophers on Mars' hill, Paul said, "Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription. TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you" (Acts 17:22-23.). The apostle then proceeded to set before these men the true God in all His power, glory and benevolence to man. The fact that one attempts to worship the true God but does so in ignorance of His nature and being, is no guarantee that his worship is acceptable. It follows that if one would be a true worshipper of God, he must have a correct concept of His nature and being and of the worship that God authorized. Such enlightment can come only through the revelation which God has made of Himself and His will in Christ by the Holy Spirit. God's people must be an enlightened people.

--From Creation To The Day Of Eternity, pages 133-135.

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Last Updated Sept. 7, 1997 by
Bob Cleek bcleek@niia.net

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