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The Foundation of Worship Part I: What Is True Worship?

What Is True Worship?

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This is Part I of a three part series titled The Foundation of Worship. In this series, we will identify what true worship is (Part I), diagnose the problem of idolatry (Part II), and present the lasting cure (Part III). Today, there are over 5 million churches made up by 42,000 Christian denominations worldwide that hold worship services throughout the week. In just the past 110 years, the world’s population has increased by more than 330%, a little more than triple the size, while the total number of Christian’s has increased by 313%. Interestingly, the number of Christian denominations during that same period of time has increased by over 2500% (just 1,600 in 1900). While the reason for having different denominations is based largely on disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture, the disproportional increase over the past century reveals that Christians today are becoming more and more concerned about the interpretation of Scripture. The main purpose of interpreting Scripture is to live in accordance with God’s word. In other words, Christians are looking for the “right” way to worship. This inevitably leads to a variety of views on how worship should be conducted, thus, the reason why we see all kinds of different churches and worship services. As these views are challenged, adapted, and changed, it is important to hold onto the fundamental truths of biblical worship.

What is Worship?

Too often in our “consumerist” culture, churches are viewed as “retail stores” offering different products and features of worship. Some hold fervently to the “tried and true”, while others quickly adapt to the changing culture. “Hey, look, this one offers free coffee, but that one doesn’t!” “I really like the traditional hymns that this church sings…that church is too loud.” Every week, Christians and Non-Christians, alike, are presented with myriad choices when attending a worship service. Often we ask questions such as, “Where do you worship?” or “How is the worship there?” These types of questions attempt to place worship in a physical place, or determine the quality of worship by the quality of its singing or preaching. In addition, the experience of worship, the emotions and feelings that accompany a worship service, has become a major determinant of worship quality. Vaughan Roberts notes,

Many people who come to church are looking for an experience. They do not want to think; they want a direct encounter with God. They want to feel His presence with them. And when they do, or at least when they think they do, they call that ‘worship’. For them, worship is primarily to do with the feelings rather than with the mind. But the Bible will not allow us to divorce the two. True worship will certainly involve our emotions, but it does not begin with them.”

Practically speaking, the more we know about something, we develop a greater appreciation (or depreciation) for that something. How does one grow in love for another? By learning more about the other person. The emotions and feelings come naturally with deeper knowledge, not vice-versa. Additionally, Roberts gives a compelling example of our perception of worship,

Jane almost chews out her co-worker on a particularly bad day at the office, but God’s forgiveness of her own sins springs to mind, and she bites her tongue. John refrains from participating in a university drinking binge, instead opting for orange juice, despite the shame because his Saviour endured the ultimate embarrassment. Peter loves to attend church services and above all loves to sing—’I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you, O my soul, rejoice…’ Which of these three are worshipping: Jane, John, or Peter?”

This brings us to the fundamental question: What is true worship? In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes,

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Notice that Paul does not mention going somewhere to worship, nor does he mention a time of singing. Paul appeals to the Church in Rome to offer their bodies as living sacrifices in response to the mercy of God, the indicative (which he explained in much greater detail through the first eleven chapters of his epistle to the Romans). Not only just as living sacrifices, but sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God. What Paul is writing here is the essence of Gospel-centered worship. He presents the Romans with the Gospel indicative, THEN the gospel imperative (or call, or command). The imperative that Paul is urging his brothers to follow goes beyond a specific place, time, or act. In other words, Paul is writing that worship involves the whole being—complete surrender. Harold Best describes worship as “the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become, in light of a chosen or choosing God.” Worship is not just an aspect of who we are, nor is it a specified segment of life. Worship is the essence of our being. As a result, we are always worshiping. While the method of our worship may vary, the act of worship is constant. Therefore, true worship is something that cannot be confined. While it does involve church services and times of singing, it is certainly not limited to that. Dr. Timothy Keller writes simply,

The word ‘worship’ comes from an Old English word meaning ‘worth-ship’. I define worship as a private act that has two parts: seeing what God is worth, and giving Him what He’s worth. Worship is treasuring God: I ponder His worth, and then do something about it—I give Him what He’s worth.”

In other words, true worship involves the active recognition of the character and work of Jesus, the only true, living God, then seeking to live accordingly. In essence, ALL of life is worship. There is always something that is gripping at the core of our being—something that is deeply treasured. Scripture assures us of our soul’s deep satisfaction when we worship the only true and living God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the story example above, Roberts asks who is truly worshiping. The answer is ALL of them. While Peter is worshiping, true worship is more than just attending church and singing songs of praise. Jane and John, both, in recognition of what Christ has done for them, live accordingly through their actions. Our decisions, reactions, and attitudes reflect the object of our worship—what our heart treasures. Only through Jesus, who lost his ultimate treasure when He was separated from His Father on the cross, can we have access to the ultimate treasure—access to our heavenly Father. Click here for Part II of this series “The Foundation of Worship”, titled “Worship Gone Awry”.Church statistics were referenced from Gordon Conwell’s Status of the Global Mission research data found here.

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