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Gospel Gazette Online
Vol.  11  No. 2 February 2009  Page 16                    powered by FreeFind

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To Whom Ought Christians
Direct Their Worship?

By Louis Rushmore, Editor

Louis RushmoreSomeone poses the question (and sub-questions) as to whom ought Christians to direct their worship. Namely, whereas prayers are to be to the Father through Jesus Christ, Who is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and High Priest (Hebrews 8:3), ought the other four acts of Christian worship (singing, Lord’s Supper, giving and preaching) be directed to the Father only, or may they be addressed to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as well? In other words, “Can we sing directly to Jesus in songs?” “Can we thank Jesus also in the Lord’s Supper?” “Can we thank the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our giving?” “Do all five acts of worship have to be directed to the Father only?”

My personal inclination from instruction I received and my practice throughout the years would be: (1) Pray exclusively to the Heavenly Father through or in the name of or by the authority of Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:9; Romans 1:8; Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17) and (2) Likewise, offer my worship to our Heavenly Father, with the added acknowledgement that (a) our singing edifies and instructs fellow Christians, too (Colossians 3:16), (b) preaching has as its primary function instruction and edification of fellow Christians (Romans 10:14; Ephesians 4:11-12) and (c) Christians commune with Jesus Christ in the observance of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:29).

However, for 1,500 years or so, the Christian world has debated with itself, for instance, whether prayers may be offered also to Jesus Christ (Grillmeier 184). Members of the churches of Christ variously conclude: (1) Christians may pray to Jesus Christ as well as to the Father, and they may sing songs of praise to Jesus Christ as well as to the Father. (2) Christians must pray exclusively to the Father through Jesus Christ, but they may sing songs of praise to Jesus Christ as well as to the Father. (3) Christians may only pray to the Father through Jesus Christ, and they may only worship the Father. It is clear that no one can answer these questions to the satisfaction of all students of the Bible and members of the Lord’s church. In other words, the answer to these questions to the satisfaction of all, despite sincere study of the New Testament, is highly unlikely.

We begin by noting from New Testament passages whether or not it is permissible biblically to worship Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ as a person of the Godhead on that count is worthy of worship there can be no question. As our Lord made his debut in this world through the doorway of the Virgin Birth and as an infant, the wise men worshipped (proskuneo, to prostrate oneself in homage) Him (Matthew 2:2, 11); no indication appears in this passage that worshipping Jesus Christ was wrong for them to do. We might add that worshipping Jesus Christ was not something that had occurred before either under Patriarchy (probably the religion to which the wise men were amenable) or under Judaism (the religion under which our Lord’s parents lived and into which Jesus was born). Jesus Christ was worshipped on this occasion on the basis of His Deity, irrespective of the religion given by God in force at that time.

Later, a Jewish ruler worshipped (proskuneo) Jesus Christ (also while Judaism was in force) (Matthew 9:18); our Lord did not rebuke the man for worshipping Him. Still later, the apostles of Jesus Christ worshipped (proskuneo) Him (Matthew 14:33); the response of the apostles seems appropriate given the fact that our Lord just demonstrated supernatural power by walking on water, saving Peter and apparently calming the raging sea. In Matthew 15:25, a Gentile woman worshipped (proskuneo) Jesus Christ, for which she was not rebuked and later commended. In Matthew 20:20, the mother of James and John came worshipping Jesus Christ (proskuneo). Though the word worship does not appear in Matthew 21:9, worshipping Jesus was what the masses were doing in that verse; not only did our Lord not rebuke them, but he refused to rebuke the masses when called upon to do so (Matthew 21:15-16). Jesus indicated that worship of Him was appropriate by quoting the Old Testament and applying it to Himself (Psalm 8). After Jesus’ resurrection, two women worshipped (proskuneo) Him (Matthew 28:9). The eleven apostles worshipped (proskuneo) Jesus prior to His Ascension (Matthew 28:16-17; Luke 24:52). Elsewhere during Jesus’ time on earth, others took opportunity as well to worship (proskuneo) Him (Mark 5:6; John 9:38). In none of these instances did Jesus refuse the worship directed toward Him as misplaced. Besides humans, angels (Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 4:8; 5:9-12) and demons (Mark 3:11) worship Jesus Christ, plus dead saints worship our Lord (Revelation 4:10; 5:14; 19:4).

In our Lord’s rebuke of Satan when Satan desired Jesus to worship him, Jesus Christ quoted Scripture that only “God” (theos, deity) is to be worshipped (proskuneo) (Matthew 4:10). The word “God” refers to the divine nature possessed by each of the persons of the Godhead, and would apply as much to Jesus as to the Father or to the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is a worthy recipient of worship. “The apostles of Christ has (sic) no doubt that the resurrected Jesus Christ ought to be worshipped” (Hatcher), and neither should we doubt that Jesus Christ as a member of the Godhead is worthy of our worship. Butler added: “Those who do not worship Jesus Christ do not worship God at all” (186). Workman agrees: “The central element of worship is offering praise to Deity: to ‘fear God and give him glory’ (Rev. 14:7; cf. 15:4) and to worship Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ (Matt. 14:33)” (38). Nevertheless, that Jesus Christ is worthy of worship does not answer the question sufficiently whether all acts of worship, such as prayer, may be offered to Jesus Christ, and we would not want to misrepresent the foregoing persons by suggesting that their admission that Jesus Christ is worthy of worship necessarily includes prayers to Jesus.

It is clear that Jesus Christ taught that prayer ought to be directed to the Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). These prayers, we learn elsewhere in the New Testament, can be directed to the Father because of our relationship to the Son, and it is through His name (John 15:16) and Mediatorship (2 Timothy 2:5) that our prayers can be made to the Father (Revelation 5:8). Yet, it seems apparent that the apostle Paul prayed to Jesus Christ on more than one occasion about the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Further, Paul appears to be in the habit of approaching our Lord in prayer (1 Timothy 1:12). Therefore, the question is not whether Christians are to pray to the Heavenly Father, but the question is whether other passages indicate that some prayers may be made also to Jesus Christ.

(For example, the narrative of John 14-16 to the apostles about the baptism of the Holy Spirit applies only to the apostles because no other biblical context modifies that instruction to include others besides the apostles. However, John 14:1-3, within the context of John 14-16, promises heavenly blessings to Christians in addition to the apostles because the promise of heaven in other New Testament passages includes Christians in addition to the apostles.)

Some members of the Lord’s church affirm that Christians may pray to Jesus Christ, and an Internet page at The Interactive Bible lists several reasons in an attempt to support such a conclusion. Other brethren, though, urge caution or firmly object to offering prayers directly to Jesus. “I am not convinced that there are clear examples of praying to Jesus in the Bible. We should pray to the Father in Jesus’ name and in the Spirit” (Worthey). “The Bible teaches us that acceptable prayer can only be offered to God, the Father, through Jesus, the Son. … The Bible makes it clear that we are not to pray to Jesus, We are to access the Father using Jesus’ name” (Emory). “We pray TO the Father in the name of Jesus - John 16:23. 1) Note: we do not pray TO Jesus (v. 23a, Jesus specifically said ‘you will ask Me nothing’)” (Moore).

I can say from personal observation that sometimes our brethren do not seem to know to whom they are praying in their prayers, because they seem to use references to the persons of the Godhead interchangeably in the same utterance. Since I am uncomfortable with praying to Jesus Christ and singing to Jesus Christ, personally, I will refrain from either of these practices. I will, though, be sure to whom I am praying when I pray and be consistent in my address to Deity as I pray.

Works Cited

Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of John, Vol. 1. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P., 1961.

Emory, Neil. “In the Name.” Neil Emory’s Blog. 18 Dec. 2008. 20 Feb. 2009. <http://neilemory.blogspot.com/2008/12/in-name.html>.

Grillmeier, Aloys and others. Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. 2. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1996. 20 Feb 2009 <http://www/books.google.com>.

Hatcher, Michael. “The Lord Is Raised and Commissions His Apostles.” Studies in Matthew. Dub McClish, ed. CD-ROM. Denton: Valid Publications, 1995.

Moore, Tom. “The Pre-existence of Christ.” The Preacher’s Files. 20 Feb. 2009 <http://preachersfiles.com/the-pre-existence-of-christ/>.

Workman, Gary. “How Shall We Worship?” CD-ROM. Spiritual Sword 24.1 (1992): 36-40.

Worthey, William Mural. “Should We Sing All Songs?” From Mural’s Desk. 4 Feb. 2007. 20 Feb. 2009 < http://www.muralworthey.com/home.php?id=349>.

“Yes we can pray to Jesus!” The Interactive Bible. 20 Feb. 2009. <http://www.bible.ca/ntx-praying-to-jesus.htm>.


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