Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The purpose of my prior BBQB blogs is to highlight Quaker reliance on Scripture to construct the Quaker practices and Quaker organization. This blog examines “worship” as one of the two words where Quakers failed to follow new covenant teaching because they focused on the plain meaning of scripture in faulty translations.
The study of worship starts with a dictionary definition. Worship as a verb means “to show religious reverence for: to adore or to perform acts of adoration”. It is from the word “worth” as in attributing worth or esteeming something of worth. It is also related to a title used by a social inferior when addressing a social superior. (Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus, Geddes and Grosset Ltd., 1989). There are some who want to give the word “worship’ a special meaning for religious purposes only, but a writer should use more appropriate words if a different meaning is required.
Since worship is imbedded in different religious cultures in different ways, this discussion will be limited to the specific question “how is ‘worship’ used in the New Testament.” One place to start is to examine each of the 79 occasions where the word worship occurs in the King James Version of the Bible. This translation played an important role in shaping our concept of “worship” so it will be helpful to begin there. 7 different Greek words were translated worship according to Strong’s concordance. The Greek word “proskuneo” is the only one with a meaning close to the English word worship. Literally it is to kiss forward and means to prostrate oneself in homage, to revere or to adore. This word occurs 59 times in the New Testament but never in the context of gathered church activities. It is basically limited to the response of people to the physical presence of Jesus in the Gospels and in Revelation.
The next most frequent Greek word translated worship is “latreuo”. It’s root meaning is serving as a menial servant. Because people served God in the Old Testament temple in ritual acts, this word is translated worship in 6 of the 15 time it occurs in the New Testament. The other 9 times it was translated services. The Greek word “sebomai” means to venerate or adore and is used as an adjective to describe devout people 10 times in the New Testament. The other words occasionally translated worship include those from the root meanings of glory, to heal and arbitrary humility or temple sweeper. Our conclusion is that because the word “worship” is not related to the activities of Christian meetings it does not help us understand what is to happen in the life of the congregation.
Those who emphasize worship and look for “worship” in church have difficulty describing it. One dictionary said there is not a definition of the worship of God anywhere in Scripture, still you should be doing it. (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers) Another said that you can’t find specific procedures in the New Testament that are to be used in worship, but again it is to be the most important activity in the gathered meetings (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers).
There is a place in scripture where the common understanding of worship is used in the gathering of Christians. Paul discusses the effect meeting activities may have on visitors to the congregational meeting 1 Cor 14: 24
14:24But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. 14:25And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship (proskuneo) God, declaring that God is among you indeed.
The visitor will worship in the English sense of the word. The gathered Christians use the meeting to do the following as recorded in 1 Cor 14:1-3
14:1Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 14:2For he who speaks in another language speaks not to men, but to God; for no one understands; but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries. 14:3But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. 14:4He who speaks in another language edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the assembly.
Christians do this not because God is not awesome or important to them but because they have His presence in each one at all times. Their task is to enjoy and be enriched by the Spirit of Christ and then to follow the Spirit into mutual sharing with their fellow Christians.
In another example the author of Hebrews uses worship not for gathered Christians but only for angels
1:5 For to which of the angels did he say at any time,
"You are my Son, Today have I become your father?"
and again, "I will be to him a Father, And he will be to me a Son?"
1:6Again, when he brings in the firstborn into the world he says,
"Let all the angels of God worship (proskuneo) him."
But when it comes to gathered meetings of Christians, he changes his approach because of the New Covenant in Christ. Notice the emphasis on the being close to God because of the heart made new in Christ.
Heb 10:16"This is the covenant that I will make with them: 'After those days,' says the Lord,
'I will put my laws on their heart, I will also write them on their mind;'"
then he says, 10:17"I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more."
This, then, is what the author of Hebrews asserts is the correct pursuit of the gathered meeting:
10:24Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, 10:25not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching.
It is the new covenant that in prior blogs we have seen is of paramount importance to the early Quakers that transform the activities of the gathered people of God from the worship of the Old Testament into fellowship of the New Testament. The New Covenant is God joining men and women together in Christ so that they are no longer isolated from God but are now united to God in Christ. It is announced in the Old Testament in the favorite quote of early Quakers
31:33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: 31:34and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.
Its fulfillment is announced in the first sermon in Acts when Peter proclaims 2:16But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel: 2:17'It will be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. 2:18Yes, and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy.
Paul explains how this new Spirit works to create the living temple, the Body of Christ among Jews and Gentiles
Ephesians 2:13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. 2:14For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, 2:15having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; 2:16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. 2:17He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. 2:18For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 2:19So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 2:20being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 2:21in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 2:22in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.
This is one of many New Testament passages that reveals the place of the New Covenant in Christ. The New Testament or New Covenant tells us the Spirit is in our hearts, we are included in Christ Jesus, and we are a temple and are part of the temple where God exists. Worship in Spirit and in truth is the attitude of the heart being sensitive in humility and love to God’s work in Christ. This work gives us a share of the Spirit of Christ therefore worship occurs 24 hours a day 7 days a week and Christians do not gather to worship but to communion with Christ and with each other out of their deep sharing in the Spirit of Christ.
Christians are those united to the Spirit of Christ and are recognized as part of the Body of Christ. The person who continues to be receptive to this Light or Spirit of Christ will continue to be transformed and transforming as the Seed of God takes root, grows and produces an abundance of fruit. Because each one has a share in the Spirit of Christ, Christians come together to function as a more complete Body of Christ than any one could individually. By coming out of their separate place of continuous worship and service, each Christian is warmed and strengthened by the common communion with Christ, a communion created in the depth of each heart as it is opened and attuned to the presence of Christ.
The Christian communion with one another arises out of the joint communion with Christ. The activities of the gathered community known as the church are based on experiencing communion with Christ and on the 50 or so ways the New Testament tells us to treat “one another” in the common life in the Spirit of Christ. The activity of gathered Christians empowers each member to develop their spiritual share of Christ and to build up the church to live out the love of God for those who are and are not yet part of the Body of Christ.
But what about those who maintain the dominate teaching in Churches at this time and wish to put worship at the center of Christians’ gathered meetings? Why do they use worship in the Church as they do? It seems as if the traditions of the church shape the understanding of “worship” more than the Bible does. The traditionalist will say the word “worship” denotes an attitude a social superior wants to receive from a social inferior. It is a way of ascribing worth and means giving honor. However, they go on to say, worship has a different application to religious activities for Christians today and in the past. Worship means to come together for all those things usually done in church, singing, praying, preaching, and participating in rites of sacraments. In this way, not only is “worship” given a peculiar usage different from it common definition, but also Christian religious activities are described in a way that mislead Christians. This indicates they do not grasp the destructive theological implications of placing worship at the center of the gathered church’s activities. They need to look again at the New Testament to see those who are called out to assemble as the Body of Christ constitute the building blocks of the church because they have the Spirit of Christ within them. Worship of an external God is not part of the church because God is within each person and not in some point in any time or place. If Christ is not in a person that person is not part of the church and having them worship an external God is not a Christian activity. Paul points this out in Roman 8:7-9
8:7because the mind of the flesh is hostile towards God; for it is not subject to God's law, neither indeed can it be. 8:8Those who are in the flesh can't please God. 8:9But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man doesn't have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.
The traditionalists failing to see the uselessness of worship are disturbed by the diminishing concern for worship and believe those in the contemporary world will fail, they fear, to be connected to that which transcends this present existence. Without worship many church leaders feel they have nothing of value to offer and modern humanity would have nothing to transcend this limited life. That is why the traditionalist works so hard to cobble together cultic acts to form something that could be called worship in church. This would include specially ordained men leading congregations in sacred preaching, meals, baptism, prayer and singing. The other way is to look in the church for activities that are not called worship. It is these non-worship activities that is the core of what Church should be.
The gathered Christian community does not focus on ascribing worth to God or to creating a feeling of honor to God as worship would have it do. The gathered community is a functioning part of the Body of Christ. The activity appropriate to be one Body of many members in Christ is Spiritual communion. Each part communes with the head and each member communes with every other member to strengthen the Body as a whole. This provides a clearer understanding of Christ’s purpose and concerns and enables the Body to carry out the work Christ has planned for the world. This should lead us to a reappraisal of the place of worship and to the conclusion that worship may be dangerous to our spiritual health.
Quakers did not reject the word “worship”, but they did redefine what the word meant to them. Barclay in An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Samuel Wood and Sons, 1827, 8the ed. Proposition 11, Page 358, defends himself against the charge that he is opposed to worship and opposed to Christian meetings. He denies the accusation and begins to explain what he thinks worship means to him.
Our work and worship in our meetings. §. VIII. Our work then and worship is, when we meet together, for every one to watch and wait upon God in themselves, and to be gathered from all visibles thereunto. And as every one is thus stated, they come to find the good arise over the evil, and the pure over the impure, in which God reveals himself, and draweth near to every individual, and so he is in the midst in the general, whereby each not only partakes of the particular refreshment and strength which comes from the good in himself, but is a sharer in the whole body, as being a living member of the body, having a joint fellowship and communion with all.
Isn’t Barclay here presenting a description of life in the Body of Christ when it is gathered into community? First the Body refreshes its connection to its Head, then this refreshment overflows into the fellowship of the members present in the gathered meeting. We have also seen how Fox accepted the word “worship” but he too frequently opposed the way the churches in his day followed the Old Covenant rather than the New and his teaching and preaching changed the way worship was experienced in his meetings. We would more easily and effectively have our meetings result in spiritual growth and maturity if we discard the word “worship” and replace it with communion and fellowship with the Spirit of Christ and then with each other.