New Testament Worship
Text: John 4, esp. vv. 22-24
by Robert J. Young

We are at Jacob's well, with a fallen woman, a Samaritan. We are in the shadow of Ebal and Gerizim. Here is the greatest man and a great sinner. The common subject about which they talk is worship. We do not know what the Bible says about worship as we should. If we did, we would not have the problems, misunderstandings, and absenteeism we do.
In the Bible, the New Testament church worships. We do not need an upper room, a second story to be scriptural. But if a person could simply fasten one's self near the ceilings of our buildings, one could get a view of modern worship. In general, one can predict what one will see. One can write it down in advance. Announcements, prayers, songs, sermon, invitation, closing prayer. On Sunday, add the communion and contribution. This may vary slightly from church to church, but we know in general what our worship is. We do not doubt, we do not guess. It may change slightly, we may stand or sit, the number of songs may change, but it is basically the same structure. We may have the Lord's Supper first or last, but these changes are superficial.
My question is this: if you could turn back the time machine to the first century, again suspend yourself near the top of the building, and observe the church in Palestine, Asia Minor, Europe, or elsewhere in a first century worship service, what would you see? What would happen in Jerusalem on Sunday morning? You could sit with Peter, Philip, Steven, Luke, and listen to them preach. Would you like to visit the church of the New Testament during worship?
We could learn what no man in the Bible or history recorded. This shows our uncertainty about worship. We speak of worship services, but such is not in the Bible. There are two Greek words translated as worship, but one is often translated service. No man has the remotest idea of what New Testament worship was exactly like in its details, forms, and particulars.
That the Bible does not record an assembly for worship is interesting, challenging, intriguing. We try to dissect NT worship, see the reasons, and we think about facts, attempt to see purposes, goals, aims, and functions. Perhaps that is why the New Testament does not record a worship assembly. If the Bible says they sang in unison, some would say we must do the same, and we would not have singing with harmony. If the Lord's Supper was before the sermon, some would say we cannot have it after the sermon. If the worship lasted one hour and two minutes, some would say we have to do that also. How could someone who arrives late meet the time requirement? We have a problem when we try to differentiate, distinguish the functions of New Testament worship from the forms. So we must reexamine worship in the bible. God's wisdom is apparent in the lack of specific instructions. The Bible does not describe to us a worship assembly. I believe the omission is intentional.

Today we share thoughts about worship. In Jerusalem, the worship was tied to the temple. There was a liturgy. Worship was solemn, punctual, methodical. But in Antioch, Acts 11, the worship was different. Jews and Gentiles were together, perhaps the worship was not as formal. Worship was different in different churches. We may not know, but it seems probable.
In the United States, the worship in different churches is different. Black churches do not worship like white churches. Hispanic churches worship in a different way than white churches. Worship is not the same. Worship here is different, and not merely in language. We must recognize the differences, and appreciate, respect, and honor one another.
My structure does not overrule your structure, my methods do not overrule your methods. If you consider the Bible, there is spontaneity in worship. One reason the Bible does not give us a pattern for worship is that we can then use our own culture and customs in worship as long as it does not interfere with the Bible teachings about worship. There is no pattern with regard to silence, meditation, types of songs, etc. If there was one illustration, even a small point, some would want to force all to that point.
It is good that we have little idea about NT worship services. We know there was a problem at Corinth, women talking, fussing, tongues, uncontrolled, and Paul says there is error, but the text which summarizes is 1 Cor. 14:40. Worship can become unorderly.
In this lesson we study misconceptions of worship. We do this to understand New Testament concepts of worship.

I. Bible names for Bible things.
The preacher is not a pastor. We may scold someone who uses the wrong word. That person does not know the Bible. He called the preacher a pastor. We demean.
We must be careful, but we tend to be careless. We may similar mistakes. We speak of "going to church." The church is not a building, not a location, the church is people. In reality, there is no way to "go to church." We are the church. A phrase like this is accommodative language. Go to the store, go to the temple, go to the school, go to the university. Remember our signs: The church of Christ meets here. That does not solve the problem. Is this the only place it meets? Could it meet in another place? Is that the only place it meets? Are we today a part of the church? Is the church assembled here?
There are no holy places in the NT Christianity. In John 4, we are ner Gerizim, Ebal, Jacob's well, Jerusalem, but Jesus says one does not go to a holy place to worship. Worship in the NT is not where you are, but who you are. You cannot get closer to God physically than you are right now. The mountain top is not closer to God than the bottom of the canyon, or the Dead Sea. God is not in a holy place.
This means the church building is not holy. In the United States, the denominational churches call it a sanctuary and will eat in the building, many churches of Christ do not call it a sanctuary and will not eat in it. The principle is this, there are no holy places in Christianity. If we want to understand worship, we must not become prisoners of our buildings. We are the church. Nothing in our buildings is holy. The Christian is holy. Every Christian's body is the temple, the place of God. It is not in a city. It is my body. Everywhere a Christian goes, there is a temple of God, there is the potential for worship. My body is a place of worship. Until we see this, we cannot restore worship that honors God according to who God is. In John 4:24, this is truth, worship is in people not in places.
I worship, I serve. There are things we do together as the church assembles that are not appropriate at other times. There is a unique worship we share. But I must worship at other times beside the public assembly for worship. I am a creature of worship.
A Christian in the confines of the will of God offers continual worship because he is the temple of God. This is the tenor of my life. This is the attitude of my life. If I am a Christian, Rom. 12:1-2. I am transformed. Spiritual worship. Present body, living sacrifice. The Jews offered burnt offerings again and again. Paul says, the Christian in his personal temple has a constant living sacrifice that is spiritual, that is service to God.
Now we look again at the two words. Proskuneo, common in New Testament, literally to kiss toward. Worship is not limited to this concept. There is latreuo, worship or service. Both words appear in Matthew 4:10. Latreuo is also in Acts 7:42; Phil. 3:3. We must expand our concept of worship, but not at the expense of the assembly. In the New Testament, God's church assembles. That life is a type of worship does not do away with assembling together.
Do you ever attend worship on Sunday and leave with disappointment? Some want to reconstruct worship into enthusiasm and excitement. Biblical worship is exciting, is filled with awe, but worship is not always emotional.
We try to manufacture worship, use gimmicks and gadgets, try to do something special. In worship, we must seek reality. We assemble, we worship, this is our life. I will worship when I cannot see the impact and value. I will not be selfish in worship. I will come and worship even when I do not receive as I hoped. I do not attend worship out of duty, but because of God.
This is a first point. Worship is people, not places. Worship is my identity reestablished. Worship is based on who God is, who I am because of God. Worship is my life, worship is church assembly. These are not the same. Both are important. Christians must live the Christian life, Christians must assemble for worship. These work in my life together. To leave off either denies my commitment to God.

Return to Sermon Index

Return to Young Home Page
Last updated March 21, 2001.