The Letter and the Spirit of New Testament Christianity (IV)
One of the clearest demonstrations of the Letter and the Spirit of New Testament Christianity is seen in God’s teaching on worship. In this brief article I will attempt to show whom is to be worshipped, who is to worship, and how we are to worship our God.
Our worship is to be directed to God. In Exodus 34:14 God’s covenant people were told: “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” – reflecting, of course, the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” – Exodus 20:3. Many beautiful admonitions regarding worship are contained in the Psalms. Two examples are “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” Psalm 29:2 and “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.” 138:2. The opening narrative of the New Testament records the “wise men from the East” coming to Jerusalem and inquiring “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2. The consistent record of God’s approval of worship to Him, in His appointed way, passes through the Age of the Patriarchs, through the period of Moses’ Law, and continues throughout the Christian Age. In the words of the angel speaking to John (who had fallen down to worship him) on Patmos: “Worship God.” We are taught that ultimately in the Judgment all people of every nation will come to worship: “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:11,12. An awesome picture of worship is presented in Revelation: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” 5:13,14.
While time continues, the freedom to choose to worship or not to worship God is a choice made by each individual. This brings us to the question: “Who is to worship?”
The “who” and the “how” are often presented together in Scripture. For example, Jesus explained to the woman of Samaria: “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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23,24. In this single statement our Lord specified that His Father was seeking those who will worship Him in “spirit and truth.” What does this statement mean? The attributes of the Almighty are reflected in how we worship Him. God is the source of the Truth—divine, absolute, eternal Truth. God is spirit, therefore not confined to physical temples or other places. He is ever-present (omnipresent), all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent), and eternal. Our worship needs to reflect our knowledge of those attributes.
A good way to view our worship is to see ourselves and all other Christians as priests. God has always had worshippers to bring their offerings and sacrifices to present for His acceptance. The priests of the Patriarchal Period offered sacrifices for themselves and their families. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—always building altars—always offering sacrifices. During the Mosaic Covenant, the tribe of Levi supplied priests to offer various offerings for the people. Aaron and his male descendants served at the high priests to offer the special atonement sacrifice. Similarly, Christians have Jesus as the perfect high priest who has offered the sacrifice of His own blood to provide absolute forgiveness for our sins. All Christians serve as priests! We are, in the words of Peter, a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood. Notice his words: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5, and “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9. In John’s wonderful visions recorded in Revelation, he sees and hears worship where there is the singing of a new song containing these words: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 5:9,10. It is in our role as priests that we offer our selves as a “living sacrifice” unto God—Romans 12:1.
In offering our sacrifices to God when we assemble, we follow the apostolic pattern by engaging in “acts of worship.” While true worship stirs our emotions to high levels, all that stirs our emotions in not God’s authorized worship. God has revealed that New Testament assemblies sang, prayed, contributed, engaged in a memorial meal in which they remembered the death of Christ, and spent time reading and teaching His word. Restoring the original acts of worship was an important contribution of those in the past who have gone “back to the Bible” for everything taught and practiced. Whether our worship assembly includes thousands (as Solomon’s evidently did—1 Kings 8), or where only “two or three” (Matthew 18:20) are gathered together in the Lord’s name, Jesus promises to be in our midst as we truly worship God.
We are exhorted to worship in an old hymn, “O Worship the King”:
“O worship the King, all-glorious above,
And gratefully sing His wonderful love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.”