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1. In broadest definition worship is the response of the creature to the Creator. In this sense it includes all expressions of mind or voice or body which are motivated by or directed toward the Divine. Since all men live and move and have their being in God, the term worship may be as correctly applied to the conscious and unconscious responses of pagan peoples to God as they understand Him as to the devotion of Christians.

2. Christian worship can only be defined accurately, however, by adding to “Creator” the words “as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and makes Himself known through the Holy Spirit.” The recognition of the Holy Trinity as the one true God and the acceptance of the revelation of His nature and His purpose to save all men through Jesus Christ is basic to the Christian faith. Since no man can call Jesus “Lord” but by the Holy Spirit, the recognition of the Third Person of the Trinity is also basic to Christian worship. Since the Holy Spirit works among men through the means of grace—the Word of God in Scripture and sacraments—their impartation of the new life in Christ Jesus is the beginning of worship. Because the old nature of man must continually be killed by the Law, and the new man must constantly be revitalized by the Gospel and the sacraments, their use is a necessary part of any continuation in worship. So vital is this Word impetus to the existence and the practice of Christian worship that the Lutheran Confessions say: “We cannot offer anything to God unless we have first been reconciled and reborn. The greatest possible comfort comes from this doctrine that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness” (Ap IV 310). Luther wrote in his Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

3. In common usage the word “worship” is used to include this reception of the means of grace—hearing the Scriptures and participating in the sacraments. However, in its sharpest focus the word “worship” describes man's response to this power of God brought to his life by the Spirit. Man's desiring to receive forgiveness, grace, and righteousness is worship. “Gladly” is the adverb that carries the worship accent into the action of hearing the Word. It is not the mere participation in Holy Baptism or the Lord's Supper that is worship; but the reaching out to God by the believer during his participation or as he meditates on God's gift in the Sacrament, that is worship. Worship is more accurately man's “fearing and loving God,” the heart of the First Commandment and the beating center of the Christian faith. Worship is “the all-pervading recognition of the absolute worth of God.”

4. The word for “worship” commonly used in this specific sense in the OT is hishtahawah, from shaha, to bow, to prostrate oneself. In the NT the specific word is proskuneo—to prostrate oneself, to adore, to worship. The general concept of worship, however, included the broader aspects of “the service of God.” The OT word for this idea is abodah, from abad, to labor, to serve. In the NT this idea is expressed in the word latria,* originally meaning servitude, the state of a hired laborer or slave. Later the word described a gratuitous act by a citizen for the state, as, for instance, if a ship were built at a citizen's expense and given to the navy. Christians use it in the terms “church service,” “divine service,” “religious service,” or simply “service.”

5. Since God is served not only by expressions of adoration but by acts of service to the least of our Lord's brethren, “worship” is often used to include all that a believing man does for God's sake. In this sense worship is everything that a child of God does in faith. The mutually edifying acts of Christians for one another, “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” are particularly described as aspects of worship. Every act of charity, done “as unto God” can well be called worship, especially since there is really nothing that a creature can do for the Creator except to show love and concerns for His other creatures. Such a definition of worship, however, equates it with the Christian life. To provide a workable definition of worship, the “recognition of the absolute worth of God” which pervades these actions could more helpfully be described as worship.

6. The interaction between Christians in worship (“Corporate worship”) is the more readily included in some definitions because Christian worship is always corporate in nature. Frequently the corporateness is visibly expressed as congs. of Christians gather in one place to “worship.” In such meetings the Scriptures and sacraments are used, and ritual and symbol are employed to make corporate expression possible. But even when Christians worship individually they are not alone, since all are “members one of another.” That Christians “gather together” is the expressed will of God, and the mutual helpfulness of Christians as they worship together is God-pleasing. But narrowly considered, these actions, too, are focused in man's direction. What is worship in them, in worship's narrow sense, is that they are offered to God by those who do them.

7. Forms which a group of Christians employ in order to express their worship of God are not worship, even though that word and the word “service” are sometimes used to label them (see also 4). The Luth. Confessions state that “the ceremonies or church usages which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, but which have been introduced solely for the sake of good order and the general welfare, are in and for themselves no divine worship or even a part of it” (FC Ep X 3). It is here that the distinction between “spiritual” and “ceremonial” worship should be drawn. Our Lord's words to the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth,” do not deprecate the use of form in corporate or individual worship. They underline that the Lord must be loved with heart and soul and mind and strength, and not with heartless words or thoughtless ceremony. Our Lord Himself was the supreme example of such true worship of His Father; and He gave that example to us as a Jew participating in the ceremonial aspects of OT religion as well as in the times and ways that He went apart to pray to the Father in secret. The very creature-liness of humankind demands that worship be expressed in physical ways, even as God has revealed Himself in ways that are susceptible to the senses. God not only communicated His will and the revelation of His thoughts (which are not our thoughts) and His ways (which are not our ways) to the understanding of man, but He came into our world and time through the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. His grace was made available to man through the very real dying of His Son, and our justification was secured through the coming to life again of the body of our Lord. His forgiving love is still mediated to us through print, through water and bread and wine. This alone would provide the adequate justification for the use of “things” in man's response to God. The detailed specification in the OT of the manner in which the action of worship was to be expressed is further evidence that it is correct for man to acknowledge his creatureliness by the use of ceremony and symbol in worship. Cultus, the embodiment of worship, is therefore divinely approved in principle but not specified in detail for NT Christians. The Luth. Ch., in Christian liberty, but with a very keen sense of the significance of the ch. as it has existed in the world through the centuries, has adopted the historic liturgy of the Western Cath. world. Even as this form is used in the recurring cycles of the church* yr., Christians must be mindful of the fact that worship is the adoring action of the participant, and not mere participation, in the liturgy.

8. The Christian worships when he gives to God the glory that is due His name; when he confesses his faults to Him whom he knows to be faithful and just to forgive his trespasses; when he gives thanks at all times and in all places for all things that a loving God directs in his life; and when he presents prayers and supplications for all sorts and conditions of men, and all this always as a member of the Kingdom and within the frame of the will of God, which is the basic premise of adoration. GWH

See also Adoration; Worship, Orders of; Worship, Parts of; Worship, Private.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Content Reproduced with Permission

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