Title: Basics of New Testament Worship (2)
Last week we saw that worship can be a very tricky subject because we have little actual guidance from the New Testament Scriptures that directly and clearly reflect a teaching on our corporate worship service, and that most of what we know about the subject comes from tradition and culture and local customs and not from the New Testament itself. Yet in spite of this we saw that there is enough guidance for us to develop and foundation from which to build our worship in the assembly. We saw this by taking the basic matrix of passages in Acts like Acts 2:42, where we saw that the church from its very beginning met on the first day of the week and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and the breaking of bread and for prayer. Then taking what Jesus said on the subject in John 4:21-24, that God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in the Spirit and in Truth, and then looking at Paul’s statements in Romans 12:1-2 that our perfect and true worship is to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Finally, we saw that having this foundation in place, we can move ahead by making a series of choices that meet the needs of our congregations and their abilities to reach the larger community for Christ, and that these choices may differ from congregation to congregation, and from place to place.
This week, we continue our study first looking at the three Greek words that are translated as “worship” in the New Testament to see what we can find that relates to our Sunday worship assemblies, and then looking at some other New Testament texts in an effort to build a more complete picture of New Testament worship.
We begin with our look at those Greek words:
proskyneo to do reverence, or homage by kissing the hand; in NT to do reverence or homage by prostration; to pay divine homage, worship, adore, to bow one’s self in adoration*
From this word we have our English word “prostrate” as in ‘to prostrate oneself before the throne of God’. The word is used a total of 60 times in the New Testament, of which 9 are references to the Old Testament worship, 30 relate to an individual’s personal worship in one form or another, 21 are Apocalyptic references in Revelation to Old Testament worship forms. There are no direct uses relative to the New Testament worship assembly. An example of its use can be found in John 4:24:
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth
sebō to stand in awe; to venerate, reverence, worship, adore; worshiping, devout, pious, a term applied to proselytes to Judaism*
This word is used 10 times in the New Testament, all of which refer to individuals. An example is found in Acts 16:10:
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
latreia service, servitude; religious service, worship*
This word is used 5 times in the New Testament, all referring to a religious service performed, 4 times in Old Testament contexts, one time in the New Testament context. As an example, Romans 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship
(* Definitions from Mounce Interlinear New Testament)
If you look back at our foundation, we can see that our proper adoration, reverence and devotion to God is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him in service. Yet here we are, right where we began: What form should our worship assembly take?
For most of us, we look to culture and tradition, and what we see is ceremonies and rituals of various types. Often, they are associated with rules, regulations and observances of one sort or another, but is that what God really wants from us? The ceremonies were big in the Old Testament worship, but in that case, they foreshadowed the coming of Christ. We no longer look forward to His coming; He has come already, and the ceremonies and rituals have been entirely fulfilled in Him− they are obsolete in our time. We can even go a step further than that: they are merely human traditions. Paul gave us some guidance on human traditions:
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Our true and perfect worship both in and out of the assembly, is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform 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.
As Christians it always comes back to this, whether we are looking at individual spiritual practices, corporate worship assemblies, or at how to deal with the challenges of everyday life.