The New Testament is a bit unclear, at first glance, when dealing with the subject of worship. Pagan astronomers come to worship Jesus. We remember their gifts. Do we remember also that they fell down? Not passed out. Deliberately took the knee, and probably more, to adore this new King. Worship is falling down, in heart, yes, but also in body.
This is the worship Satan wanted of Christ in the wilderness. The common thread continues. Just fall down and worship me. The two ideas are one. Fall down. Worship.
Paul says that those who hear a genuine interpretation of a foreign language, given by one who has never learned that language, will fall down on their face and worship God! That’s supposed to be the instinct of one who confronts the Reality of Heaven. Fall down. Worship.
1 Corinthians is packed with clues about public worship. At least, we see what the church in Corinth had become. Not sure that all of this was supposed to be in every church, but the example is here before us, so let’s take a look.
1 Corinthians 14:26 talks of the things that happened in a church meeting. Note first that everyone who wanted to could participate. This was no study in the performing arts. This was fellowship. People wanted to share what was on their hearts.
Paul restricts certain utterances and sets in order the way of their being manifested, but the general idea of communal sharing is not rebuked. One person might have a psalm, one might teach, one might manifest a miraculous gift. Keep it orderly, says Paul.
So that’s what church looked like? At least, at Corinth.
The book of Revelation is packed with worship. The very words spoken in Heaven are given to us to utter on earth.
Jesus, in speaking to His church in Philadelphia announces that those professing to be God’s people mistakenly, will be directed to come and worship at the feet of true believers.
Not that they would worship the believers, but that they will be forced to acknowledge that the true God of Heaven is in these people. And how does one arrive at another’s feet? Fall down.
Twenty-four elders, modeling plurality of eldership in the visible church, sit with Christ in Heaven. That is, when they are not worshiping Him. How? Falling down, casting crowns before Him.
So engrained is the habit of falling down in Biblical worship and in that first century, that John actually falls down twice in worship to an angel that is speaking to him. He is quickly corrected. But you get the point. Worship is a humbling reverential experience.
Where is it being practiced today? I hear the noise. Where is the awe? I mean awe of Him, not awe for the music band.
We cannot leave the Scriptures without pointing out perhaps the most crucial aspect of what is to be our worship experience: the Spirit of God. Paul claims in Philippians 3:3 that we are those who worship “in the Spirit.”
And then there is the classic fourth chapter of John. The woman at the well.
We know well the story of a woman convicted of her sin and confronted with the very Messiah of Israel. We know of her evangelistic efforts, and how a whole town turned out to hear Jesus.
But hidden in that passage is a truth that we still desire and need to discover.
God is looking for a group of people. When He finds them, He is pleased. Jesus tells us their general description, but we are left on our own to track down His meaning.
The woman was a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised by “true” Jews because their religion had been compromised over the years. First, when the Kingdom was divided into Judah and Israel, Israel became eventually a headquarters of false worship. Wrong place. Wrong sacrifices.
Then things got worse, as Israel sank into idolatry, worshiping the gods of their neighbors, in the ways those neighbors worshiped. Finally, they were taken captive by the Assyrians, who sent their own people to live in the land which had yielded its population to the conquerors.
There was a return eventually, but the mix was never resolved: Assyrian religion, mixed with a backslidden form of Judaism.
The woman, however, had been raised to believe that Samaritan ways were best. Aren’t we all subject to that syndrome?
Samaritans probably were taught that they were more open. More liberal. Ecumenism, you know. She was wrong to think Mt. Gerizim was the proper place of worship, and Jesus even told her so. “You don’t know what you worship!”
Yes, it had gotten that bad. Do the young know what they worship today, or are they merely caught up in a musical euphoria?
One thing she knew though. Messiah would come and set things in order. Her faith in Messiah suddenly paid off! But Jesus added some more to His revelations on that day. He told her that, even though Jewish worship was superior to Samaritan worship at the moment, soon there would be a sweeping away of all such geographically-oriented worship and something new would stand in its place.
He explained to her that God was interested, even now, for people to worship Him from inside, from the spirit. He thereby suggested that the outward form of worship was not the issue at all. He further told her that a true worshiper would have to be one who worshiped the true God.
“You know not what you worship” won’t do any more. You must know Whom you worship. And not just any “Whom” will do. There is only One Who is called the Truth. You must worship Him.
Worshiping Jesus from the inside. Such a revelation. Such a change from worshiping an unknown god with external ceremonies.
Worship then is to be spiritual first, then physical. Worship is to be located within, not in a specific location. Beyond this, no rules are given, no format. At least, not here.
We see how slowly over time this mandate for pure inward worship disintegrated and became a Roman priesthood following rigid regulations, suffocating the life out of worship, then claiming that this was the only worship allowed by the church.
Such suffocations eventually produce reformation. It happened in the form of Luther and Calvin and the rest. So much better. Rules remained, and rules still excluded. But the improvement was so marked that no one noticed for the longest time that ritual still governed worship.
The slowly evolving evangelical churches brought more relaxing of traditional rules. And yet more bondage in some ways. It isn’t long before a church or a denomination, whether yours or mine, the best of them, begins to feel that their order is the order when Jesus has called for no particular order.
I did not just say that there should be no order in the church. Each church must maintain the holy decorum demanded by its profession of commitment to a holy orderly God. If we have viewed the creation lately, we all must be aware of how orderly things are, and how order is not a bad word after all.
Pentecostals and charismatics declared war on some of the remaining issues of legalistic worship rules, but alas, they also created some rules of their own, equally exclusive.
For example, now there was to be a separate class of believers: the Spirit-filled.
Their “utterances” were to be held in awe and set the “utterers” apart as a holy club that could hear from God. A new priesthood, if you will. Like all priesthoods, it divided. And in some ways, it turned the progress of the church in the wrong direction.
For these people, the Scriptures often were not the final say. Rather, experience began its unhealthy rule in Christendom.
Offshoots of the Pentecostals were the charismatics, who could be found in every major denomination, and all the minor ones too. The movement caught hold, for better or worse.
But alas, it went even further into negative territory. A new offshoot, summed up today in the initials NAR.
Now, worship could mean anything the “experienced” desired. Falling down in a faint was one treasured addition. Walking and running around the building, carefully stepping over the “slain”, that was in. Utterances of persons speaking out of their own spirits multiplied. Barking like dogs. Laughing like hyenas. Feigned drunkenness. And of course the growing power of music to control crowds.