William S. Cline
What does the Bible say about true worship? The question is indeed an important one and deserves a biblical answer. The very question implies that there is such a thing as false worship. And since it is our responsibility to not go beyond the things written (1 Cor. 4:6), we shall examine the Bible and see what it says about true worship.
There are passages that imply false worship. For example in Matt. 4:10 Jesus said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” Thus, the necessity to worship and the object to worship. Therefore, to fail to worship (the necessity) the God of heaven (the object) is false worship. Again, in John 4:24 Jesus said, “God is Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Here we have the object and the manner. Therefore, to fail to worship Jehovah (the object) in the right attitude and according to the proper avenues of worship (the manner) is false worship. In 1 Kings 12:25ff, we learn that Jereboam changed the place of worship, the object of worship, the time of worship, and the access to worship. He greatly sinned and led all Israel to sin by his changes. Surely we understand that to bow down to a pole or a stone and call such “God” or “Father” is not true worship. Likewise, to worship Jehovah in the wrong manner or with the wrong attitude is also sin.
The Bible identifies false worship. There is ignorant worship (Acts 17:30; Rom. 10:1-3); there is will worship (where people do what they want to do, Col. 2:18-23; Amos 4:4-5r), and, there is vain worship (Matt. 15:7-9).
The Bible identifies true worship. There are correct avenues of true worship. This is the “what” or what we are to do to worship in truth; and there are correct attitudes or “how” we are to worship in truth. Bible study is one of the avenues of true worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:11). Prayer is another avenue, or item, of true worship (Acts 2: 42; Jas. 4:3: 1 Tim. 2:8), According to 1 Tim. 2:8, it is godly men who lead the prayers and never the woman when in the presence of a man. Giving as God has prospered us is another avenue of worship (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:8-9). The fourth item of true worship is singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) . Please notice that the only thing we have authority for is to sing. We do not have authority to play a mechanical instrument as many people do. Nor do we have authority to hum as some do. We are to sing. The final act of worship which we have authority to engage in today is eating the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the supper the night he was betrayed and New Testament Christians in the First Century ate the supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 11; 1 Cor. 11:23-30).
Bible study, prayer, giving, singing and eating the Lord’s Supper are the . five avenues of worship authorized in the New Testament. And since we are not to go beyond the things written (1 Cor. 4:6), we cannot scripturally add to or take away from those things that are authorized. To change God’s word is soul damning (Gal. 1:6- 9). Even if an angel from heaven changed one part of God’s law, that angel would be anathema. Ours is not to question or change. Ours is to obey.
Someone may say, “You have gone through several books of the New Testament to find the five items of worship. I think you should not do that.” I know of no verse that contains all five avenues of worship though Acts 2:42 does contain four of the five. There is the apostles doctrine (Bible study), the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), the prayers and fellowship (contribution or giving). Permit me to carry this point a bit further. If one should object to several passages being used to point out what is true and acceptable worship he should note the following. Under the Mosaic system a lamb had to be offered at the Passover feast. There were numerous rules or laws regarding the offering of that lamb but in no single place are all of the laws regarding such listed. In Deut. 16:1-8 we find instructions concerning the Passover. We are told that the feast is to be in the month of Abib, but the passage does not say which day. And to have been on the wrong day would have been as much in error as to have been in the wrong month. We have to go elsewhere to find out the day of the month. Again, the passage cited says that the victim should be of the flock or the herd, but it does not say that it must be a lamb (thus a goat could have been from the flock or herd), and the passage does not say that the lamb must be without spot and blemish nor does it state that it must be of the first year. We must go to other passages to learn these tremendously important points. To have offered anything other than a lamb of the first year without blemish would have been sin. But again, the passage does not say that the animal should be roasted whole, that bitter herbs were to be eaten with it as well as unleavened bread, nor does it prescribe that no bone of its body should be broken. The passage says nothing at all about the burnt-offerings which were to be offered every day of the Passover week. Not nearly half of the legal requirements for the feast are mentioned in Deuteronomy. To learn all of what must be done to please Jehovah one must search out other passages which deal with the feast of the Passover. Therefore, one should not pause for even a moment when he learns that God, likewise, did not list every item of worship for the New Testament church in a single passage.
Just as important as the avenues are the attitudes. Much of worship is mental and it must be participated in in a correct manner. To simply listen to a preacher, to bow the head during prayer, to give some money, to eat the Lord’s Supper with your thoughts elsewhere, to sing without thinking and understanding what you are singing (1 Cor. 14:15) is to fail to worship in the proper spirit and even though the mechanics are right, the worship is still wrong. Worship is an attitude of reverence, adoration, submission, honor and praise. To go through the motions without proper consideration and concern is to fail to worship in truth.
I am thankful that the Bible identifies both false and true worship. I am thankful that we are told what we must do and how we must do it. May we have the courage and the conviction to avoid the false and seek after and follow the truth.