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 Vol. 7, No. 10 

October 2005

~ Page 13 ~

Image Worship

By T. Pierce Brown

I read one article and heard two sermons that, if I understood them correctly, taught that all we do in life is worship, if we are Christians. It may be that the basic idea that all three of them were trying to establish is that worship does not consist of a few rituals performed in a church building, or that a person may go through the "five acts of worship" and still miss the real center of New Testament Christianity. It may be possible to go away from a "worship service," having done very little worship and no service at all. If that is all they were trying to establish, we heartily agree with them. But all three made such statements as: "all of life is worship" and "everything a Christian does is worship," because his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and he is supposed to present his body a living sacrifice, and that all we do in word or deed is supposed to be done to the glory of God.

We teach that we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). We teach that we do not need to come together as a corporate body every time we worship. That is, we may worship individually, anywhere, anytime. But, we deny that all of life is worship, and that everything a Christian does is worship. God has rules for corporate worship as a body that do not apply to the individual solitary worshipper. We need to know that we may worship God anywhere, at anytime, but that does not mean that anything we do anywhere at anytime is worship.

Although an increasing number of persons do not particularly care about how words are used in the Bible, or "calling Bible things by Bible names and doing Bible things in Bible ways," we think the viewpoint is valid, and encourage it.

Let us, then, examine the Bible usage of the term, "worship." The word most often used for "worship" in the Old Testament is "shachah," roughly equivalent to "proskuneo" in the New Testament. The fact that the basic meaning of the Old Testament term is "to bow down," and the basic meaning of the New Testament term is "to kiss the hand toward" does not change the fact that they both mean "an act of veneration and respect" and are properly translated "worship." The word in the Old Testament is translated "worship" 99 times, and about 67 times by various other terms that indicate a bowing down or doing obeisance to.

A similar word, with so close to the same meaning that we would probably be "splitting hairs" to try to distinguish the difference is "segad," translated "worship" 12 times, and meaning "to prostrate one's self or do obeisance."

In the Greek text, the following words are translated "worship" and have these basic meanings: doxa (1)--to glorify; eusebeo (1)--to show reverence or piety; therapeuo (1)--to heal or serve; threskeia (1)--a religious observance; latreuo (3)--to serve; sebazomai  (1)--to revere or honor; proskuneo (59)--to kiss toward. In no case did they actually "kiss toward" as far as I can discover, but they did obeisance to, showed reverence to, or worshipped. As in the case of "shachah" in the Old Testament, it is simply a word whose literal etymological meaning was one thing, but it had acquired a special meaning because it described an expression of love for, yearning for, respect and adoration for, and such other things as are involved in worship.

"Worship" as the term is used in the New Testament is not simply any and all daily routine activity, and "worship" is not simply an attitude, or something that is done only in the heart. In all cases, worship is an act of paying homage or respect. One must, of course, have the right attitude in order to do this, which means that merely going through the act is not worship. But speaking of merely going through an act reminds us of some of the sneering remarks made by some of our religious neighbors about the "mere act of baptism." The Bible knows nothing of "mere" acts! It is somewhat like speaking of "mere women"! The worship of which the Bible speaks must be in spirit and in truth. It is similar to the idea expressed by Paul in Romans 6:17-18 where he speaks of obedience from the heart to a form of doctrine. It is not enough to go through a "form of godliness and deny the power thereof" (2 timothy 3:4), not does one just have an obedient feeling (an attitude of obedience) in the heart. There must be both the right attitude and the right act.

One may say in a general way that for a Christian, his whole life is a life of paying homage to God. I would agree with that in the same sense that I would agree that one's whole life should be a life of prayer, or that one's whole life should be a life of service to one's fellowman. But that does not mean that as one ties his shoes or brushes his teeth, these are acts of prayer or service to humanity, nor are they acts of worship for a Christian.

One may worship while he cleans his teeth, takes a bath, stops at a traffic light, or performs other acts or duties, such as giving a cup of cold water to a little one, but that does not prove nor indicate that these are acts of worship. I may worship while someone rings a cowbell, or blows a train whistle, but that does not mean that I am authorized to use those things in worship, either corporate or individual.

The fact that the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, the Samaritans in the mountain, and we worship anywhere in spirit and in truth, does not in any sense indicate that every act is an act of worship. In fact, it indicates the very opposite. If worship is basically the same to the Jew, Samaritan and a Christian, then the fact that they went to Jerusalem to worship or went to the mountain to worship should have some significance to us. When I say "basically the same," I do not mean that the acts of worship are the same, but the basic meaning is the same. The acts of Satan worship are not the same as worship to God, but the meaning of the term is the same.

A housewife should be able to wash the dishes or sweep the floors in an awareness that she is fulfilling one of the functions God provided for her, and she can do those things in such a way as to glorify him, but that does not thereby make them acts of worship.

When the Bible says they "came to worship," that indicates that the coming was not worship. Yet, the coming indicated a reverent attitude and willingness to glorify God. Get this point: Until and unless the act one performs is an act done for the purpose of paying homage or reverence to God, it is not worship to God in the biblical sense.

To summarize the matter: Even the Israelites, as well as we, were supposed to respect, revere, glorify and esteem God at all times, but they are not represented as worshipping him at all times. Neither are we. They were commanded to pay that respect and reverence in particular ways and by specific actions. So are we. The church as a body may show its respect for God in song. So may an individual. But every song an individual sings is not an act of worship to God, even though that individual's whole life is a life of devotion and service.

So, although we may applaud the efforts of good brethren who are trying to get us to see that our religion and worship are not confined to a church building, or to "the five acts of worship" in the assembly about which we may be preaching, we may do a great disservice to Christ if we become unduly lax in our exegesis of a passage, or imprecise in our definition of terms. We should not "strain out gnats and swallow camels," and cause dissension in the brotherhood over such things, but we should be willing to re-examine our concepts and our linguistic expressions of them to see that we do not pervert the original intent of the Holy Spirit.

The main reason we bring it up is that we are sure that if the idea that everything a Christian does is worship gets widespread acceptance, false and harmful doctrines and practices will result there from. Also, if we lose sight of the fact that we should let the Bible itself define the way we use terms when we are talking about God's will for us, we are already in trouble.Image

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