The Concept of Worship to God
Man is a worshipful being. Through the history of mankind, in every culture, whether in ignorance or knowledge, man has appealed to someone or something outside of himself for guidance and protection. Pagan idolatry is an example of that "ignorant" worship. Paul declared to the idolatrous Athenians, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23).
It is not the purpose of this article to argue for the existence of God. Granting his existence, it remains that worship must be directed to him rather than the false gods devised by man. Worship offered to dumb idols goes unrewarded and unappreciated. The prophets of Baal figured that out in their contest with Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Notice the derision expressed by Elijah with regard to their pleas to Baal, "And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened'" (1 Kings 18:27). Their petitions went unheeded because Baal was not, in fact, a God.
In contrast, Elijah's appeal to Jehovah was rewarded gloriously: "'Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.' Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench" (vs. 37-38). The divine demonstration established faith in the children of Israel, "Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!'" (vs. 39).
Not only must worship be directed to God, but it must be directed to Him in accord with His instructions. The Samaritan woman that Jesus met at Jacob's well learned this lesson from our Master. She related the common practice of the Samaritans in her conversation with him, contrasting their worship with that of the Jews, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship" (John 4:20). In response, Jesus said, "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews" (vs. 22). In this, he expressed that the acceptable worship was that offered in Jerusalem, because it was offered knowledgably, rather than in ignorance. Later, Jesus explained what would constitute acceptable worship under the new covenant, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (vs. 23-24).
From this exchange we can see that under the New Covenant which God established through his Son Jesus, worship has changed. No longer is the place important, as it was with the Jews. No longer is the system of sacrifices, feast days, and other tenets of Old Testament worship in effect. The worship of God by Christians is of a different order. Therefore, to go to the Old Testament system of worship as authority for our practices today, whether to justify instrumental music in worship, or some other aspect of the Jews' worship, is simply not a valid way of establishing authority for our worship to God. Rather we must emulate the New Testament example of Christian worship in our own assemblies.
Jesus' discourse, reveals another important truth about our worship. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (vs. 24). Not only must man worship God in "truth" (i.e. – in accord with his will), he must also worship God in spirit (i.e. – with a proper attitude or state of mind).
As Christians we rightly condemn the human innovations that have corrupted the worship offered in most denominations. However, it is as important to condemn any ritualism that exists as well. Worshipping God by rote, without a proper spirit is as worthy of condemnation as any innovation. And, it is a more likely sin in the Lord's church. While we refrain from worshipping God according to the "traditions of men", we must likewise be careful to avoid the pitfall of apathy and formality. Simple Christian worship must be from the heart.
Men have departed from the New Testament pattern of worship that is pleasing to God. God is worthy of our worship, and desires us to worship Him. But notice the type of individual God wants to worship Him. "…True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (vs. 23).
God does not want men to establish new and innovative types of worship that are more entertainment than true devotion. He is not seeking "dramatizations", "Interpretive dances", "Concerts", "Choirs", or "Passion Plays." Rather, he desires the singing of Songs, Prayer, Sacrificial Giving, the Memorial of His Son's death in the Communion, and the Edification of His people through the Preaching of the word. As we will see, each of these things are revealed in His word, and constitute worship in accord with Truth. This true worship, offered up in a proper spirit by His children, is what pleases our God and Creator in heaven.