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What is Worship?
by Chris Bennett

Hebrews 12:28 says '...worship God...' Is this in church or in the whole of life, including church? And what does 'worship' mean?

A: Two Observations and a Question that Arises

l. The word is 'latreuo' and is related to 'latreia'. In Rom. l2:1 the noun is translated 'act of worship' in the NlV, but clearly it refers to the whole of life. It is 'service' in the AV. In Heb. 9:14 the verb is translated 'serve'. In Heb. 13:l 5-16 different words are used but the general idea of worship, or rather sacrifice, is present, and it is talking about confessing God's name and thanking him (in the whole of life life?), and showing practical love to others - giving! Similarly,l Pet. 2:5 does not seem to refer only to church services. So the NT on 'worship' seems to be saying that life a,s a whole is or should be worship.

2. On the other hand, when the NT refers to why Christians meet together or come to church it seems to be mainly for mutual edification and encouragement, not for worship - see Acts 2:42; l Cor. l2 and l4; Eph. 5:l 9; Col. 3:l 6; Heb. 10:25 on this point. Furthermore, Jesus promises, his presence in the midst (Matth. 18:20) not in large main 'worship services' but where two or three are gathered in his name - in other words, there is, no hint of something special about main services of worship.

So worship is the whole of life, and we do not have Christian meetings mainly for worship! What is going on? This is not the traditional outlook, What are main Christian meetings for?

B: A Proposed Solution

(This solution comes mainly from the NT, not the OT', because OT worship centred on the priests offering sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus has fulfilled that; his body is the temple now. Therefore it is only to be expected that Christian meetings would be very different from OT ones in the Temple).

l. Coming to the Temple to offer sacrifices has been fulfilled by Jesus' sacrifice; now we come to God through him, anywhere, any time, on our own, in a small group, in a large meeting.

2. Further aspects of OT worship - of coming to God and giving him the glory that he is due - are fulfilled in the whole of life, not just in Christian meetings. We serve and worship him seven days a week. The main sacrifice that God now wants is loving obedience across the board.

3. When we come together, with Christians in church, we express our thanks and we seek God certainly, but 'worship' is not the main or all-embracing category for what we are doing. Rather, we come to meet God and to build up one another in our covenant relationship with him, but not centrally to give something to God - the giving is seven days a week. Indeed, in a way we cone far more to receive from him than to give to him, in church.

C: Some Consequences (and other ways of restating it) if is proposed solution is right:

l. A church service should be mainly a gathering together of the family of God to meet him and others, and to help one another in knowing believing, and following him (praise or what some would call “worship” is just one element in such a meeting with God).

2. Main 'services' should therefore be very normal, human and natural in style, not be “different”, religious, formal, severe or Stoical.

3. Corporate worship is not special in an OT priestly sort of way (so there is no need to look for very special rules or instructions about exactly how it should be done).

4. We do not get to God by worshipping properly but simply by desiring to meet him and we can therefore be quite relaxed about elements in what others are doing in church that we do not 100% agree with.

5. The main benefit coming from a service is not that we feel satisfied we have worshipped, but that we and others have been edified - that our faith and commitment to live for God is strengthened, and that we have known something of is his reality and love.

6. There is no need to try and maintain that “the sermon is the climax of the worship” - as some do.

7. Whether or not people 'get something out of the service' really is very important.


For further reading, see David Peterson, Engaging with God (a Biblical theology of worship), Apollos, IVP.

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