What is Christian Worship?
Christianity is the transformation of rebels into worshipers of God. However, we might not know and understand what constitutes biblical worship. Christian worship is both an attitude and an act. If the form of worship changed with times and situations, its heart and center did not.
Christians today might tend to restrict worship to what happens in church on Sunday. But when God revealed himself to Abraham, promising that his children would inherit the land of Canaan. Abraham demonstrated his faith through prayers and sacrifice. Abraham did not tend to restrict worship to a certain day or location. Worship was part of his life.
WHAT IS WORSHIP?
Worship is more fully understood as an interrelation between divine action and human response: worship is the human response to the self-revelation of the triune God. This includes (1) divine initiation in which God reveals Himself, His purposes, and His will; (2) a spiritual and personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ on the part of the worshiper; and (3) a response by the worshiper of adoration, humility, submission, and obedience to God.
WORSHIP IS SEEN AS A WAY OF LIFE (ROM.12:1)
Worship is mostly viewed as an act of the assembled people of God. In the OT, people worshiped God in the tabernacle (Exod. 25-40; Lev. 1-7) and temple (1 Chron. 22-29; 2 Chron. 3-7;29-31), as well as in the worship of the NT church (Acts 13:2; 1 Cor. 11-14). But worship should not be restricted to what happens in church on Sunday.
In a broad sense, worship is seen as a way of life (Rom. 12:1). This means that all of life should be viewed as an act of worship or service before God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) In this context, worship involves individual encounters with God (Gen. 29:35; 35:11–15; Exod. 3:1–22; Josh. 5:13–15; Isa. 6), family worship (Gen. 4:2–5; 8:16–9:17; 35:2–7), and includes a few descriptions of worship in heaven (Isa. 6; Rev. 4; 5; 7; 15; 19).
DIFFERENTIATING WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP
Worship is not fellowship. The fellowship is one of the most important parts of our Christian life, but it is not worship. The fellowship is a horizontal experience. Some people define fellowship as “a bunch of fellows in the same ship”. It is a parity experience between fellow believers, male or female. Fellowship is necessary and important, but it is not worship.
Worship is the human response to the self-revelation of the triune God. This is what worship is about. It is theocentrically focused, not anthropocentrically focused. Worship should be focused on God, not focused on us. If you take a close look at worship, you might find sometimes worship isn’t worship, because it focuses on all kinds of other collateral things – on fellowship opportunities, about activities we are involved in – rather than casting our eyes upon Jesus and looking full in His wonderful face.
God reveals Himself to human, his purpose and his will, and God wants us to have a spiritual and personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ. Worship is our response to the self-revelation of the triune God. In worship, God is the center, not us. In John 4, Jesus states that God is seeking true worshipers, those who worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). The object of worship here is God, and God is seeking true worshipers who only focus on Himself rather than others.
THE PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
WHY DO WE WORSHIP?
We have talked about what worship is. Worship is the human response to the self-revelation of the triune God, and worship should be theocentric focus. However, why do we worship? Why does God want us to worship him? What is the purpose of worship?
TO UNDERSTAND OUR PLACE IN CREATION
Genuine worship helps us to understand our position in the whole creation order; that is, we are the creatures, and God is the creator. It is hard for non-Christians to accept this fact. Our human nature prefers to be self-centered rather than God-centered. Genuine worship restores the creation order and enables us to accept that we are not God, and only God is God, and only God deserves to be worshiped. Genuine worship is a kind of divine gift from God. When we worship in spirit and truth, worship places us back into the position of God’s original design.
TO ENCOUNTER GOD
Genuine worship is a kind of divine gift from God. In genuine worship, God condescends to inhabit our praise and our worship. God dwells in the midst of His people. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Therefore, the purpose of worship is about encountering God.
HELP US DEVELOP GOD-LIKE AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTERISTICS
Worship is not mainly for God’s benefit, but also for our benefit. Genuine worship enables us to encounter God, and this kind of worship experience will help us develop God-like and Christ-like characteristics. When we worship God in spirit and truth, we develop traits such as tenderness, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, purity, kindness, and love. All of these attributes prepare us for eternal life in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
WHAT IS THE TRUE WORSHIP?
John 4:23–24 (ESV) — 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
What Jesus said to the women of Samaria are His first recorded teaching on the subject of prayer. They give us some wonderful first glimpses into the world of prayer. The Father seeks worshippers: our worship satisfies His loving heart and is a joy to Him. He seeks true worshippers but finds many not such as He would have them. True worship is that which is in spirit and truth. The Son has come to open the way for this worship in spirit and in truth and teach it to us.
WORSHIP IN SPIRIT
All true worshipers must worship God in “spirit and in truth.” That is, true worship takes place on the inside, in the heart or spirit of the worshiper (Ps. 45:1; 103:1–2). Worship pleasing to God must be unfeigned and transparent, offered with a humble and pure heart (Ps. 24:3–4; Isa. 66:2).
WORSHIP IN TRUTH
But this is not enough. Worship “in truth” connects the heart or spirit of worship with the truth about God and his work of redemption as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. David understood the importance of worshiping in truth and the necessary linkage between “truth” and the Word of God when he wrote, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear [i.e., worship] your name” (Ps. 86:11; Ps. 145:18). Here both the Old and New Covenants agree! The true worship of God is essentially internal, a matter of the heart and spirit rooted in the knowledge of and obedience to the revealed Word of God.
WHAT IS THE FALSE WORSHIP?
THE CONSUMER APPROACH TO WORSHIP
There are some wrong attitudes about worship. You might hear this: “I don’t like to go to church, because I don’t get much out of it.” This is a consumer approach to worship, which is emphasizing on the wrong thing. As we discussed, worship focuses on God. It is the human response to the triune God. Thus, the question we should be asking is, “Where can I go to serve the Lord? Where can I go to best worship the Lord in fellowship with His people?” It is not about what we can get out of it. But the good news is that in the worship, God also comes to give.
THE ENTERTAINMENT MODEL OF WORSHIP
There is another false approach to worship, which is the entertainment model. In this model, people come to watch a performance on the platform. This would be like going to a concert to enjoy music and watch the performance of a superstar, but that is not worship. That is the entertainment approach to worship. In genuine worship, what really should be happening is all God’s people forget about themselves and get caught up in love and praise of God.