All people, consciously or not, ask themselves a fundamental question: “What are we here for?” Our answers to this question—whether voiced to ourselves or buried in our assumptions—become the focal point of our lives, the object of our devotion. Ultimately, they shape our desires, our choices, our very selves. In Scripture, the word used to describe this reality is worship.
The story of Scripture reveals that human beings are created to be worshippers; that is what we are here for. We were created by God to worship Him, and in so doing, to become ever more like Him, taking on His attributes and priorities. But if we do not worship God, then we will choose another object of worship and gradually become like it: there is no escaping worship.
The Church is the gathering together of those who worship the creating God, revealed to us through His Son Jesus Christ, uniting us to Himself through His Holy Spirit. The Church is therefore a body of people, not a building or an organization. In fact, Scripture describes the Church as including both those who worship God on earth and those who worship Him in heaven; Hebrews 12:18-29 paints the beautiful picture of the worshipping Church on earth being joined by all those already in heaven: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Seeking to express this reality, Christians have referred to the Church on earth as the Church Militant, and the Church in heaven as the Church Triumphant. We in the Church Militant remain upon earth to serve Jesus Christ’s Kingdom purposes, and our first service is to worship the living God (Acts 13:2). As its name implies, the worship of the Church Militant is spiritual warfare: God has given His people a powerful weapon to be wielded against the sin and death we encounter in the world, the flesh, and the devil—enemies already overcome by those in the Church Triumphant.
What does it mean to engage in such worship? Jesus said that God is seeking those to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Our worship, then, must be spiritual and must be in accordance with the truth of God’s Word.
Worshipping in Spirit
To worship in spirit means that our own spirits join with the Holy Spirit in all the means by which He leads His people into all truth (John 16:13).
Because Jesus, the Great King, is right now at the throne of God making intercession for us as High Priest and Mediator of the new covenant (Rom 8:34; 1 Tim 2:5) until the day He returns in bodily form, He sent to us the comforting Holy Spirit in His absence. The Holy Spirit, third person of the Godhead, testifies to the Son (John 15:26; 16:7); testifies to the truth of the Scriptures; and gives us the Word of God to be our comfort and guide.
Scripture also tells us that the natural man cannot know the things of God because they are spiritual. Therefore, we must have the Spirit to help us to understand the things which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Cor 2:6-16). The Spirit confirms to our spirits the truth of the Word, that we really have been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God (Rom 8:14-17). So to have “spiritual” worship, we must have the Spirit speaking in the Word to us, His children.
Worshipping in Truth
To worship in truth means that the Bible, God’s written revelation of Himself, is central to our worship (John 17:17).
When we say true things, we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him. He makes it plain that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, and His paths are past tracing out (Rom 11:33). This does not mean that we cannot know God or understand His revelation concerning Himself. But what it does mean is that we must be completely dependent upon Him in order to understand anything He has to tell us. And because all truth comes from God, we cannot find the truth or speak the truth at all, unless He first has uttered it and given us understanding of it.
So to worship in truth, we must ask what God says about how He is to be worshipped and glorified. Our church carries out this belief by including in worship only those elements which the Scriptures command. We do not worship God through our own vain imaginations (Rom 1:18-25), making up a form of worship that seems effective or impactful to us, but only in the ways prescribed in His Word.
How, then, are we to worship God? What is included in the worship of God, and what form should it take? Throughout Scripture, the form of worship is “dialogical,” or conversational. God speaks to His people, and we speak back to Him.
In the service of worship, God speaks to us through the Bible, read and preached; we speak back to Him by praying and singing His Word back to Him. This dialogue flows through a number of elements. At the beginning of the service, we hear God call us to worship in the reading of Scripture. We then speak back to Him in prayers and hymns of adoration and a confession of our faith. Next, because He has spoken to us in His holiness and righteousness, we must speak back to Him in the confession of our sins. He speaks back to us His pardon and forgiveness in the reading of Scripture, and we return to Him our thankfulness in song. At the center of the service, He speaks to us words of conviction and comfort through the preaching of the Word. We speak back our confirmation of hearing that Word and of our desire to obey it. Finally, He speaks His benediction upon us through reading of Scripture, and we say “Amen” to it.
As part of this dialogical worship, we regularly partake of the sacraments that Christ has commanded us to observe: Baptism and the Lord’s Table. These two sacraments, “visible words” in the dialogue of worship, are given to the Church to mark out those who believe in Christ for salvation and to remember and proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. The sacraments are instituted by Christ for the building up of the body and for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.
Although all of these things mark true and spiritual worship, we must never fall into the thought that our worship is perfect or has become the ground of our justification before God. Proper form does not ensure propriety. As we join together in corporate worship, Christ is formed in us (Gal 4:19); and only through Him may we approach God with reverence and awe to worship Him aright (Heb 12:28). “Who would dare of himself to approach Me?” asks the Lord (Jer. 30:21). “No one would be so foolish,” we reply. But there is a Mediator: “Through Christ Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).