DOES ONE “GO TO WORSHIP?”
T. PIERCE BROWN
Sometimes it may be assumed that worship is what takes place inside a church building, so we must “go to worship.” As many signs outside the auditorium put it, “Enter to worship; leave to serve.” In an effort to overcome the erroneous ideas suggested by those statements, many have committed even more egregious errors. Let us notice some of them.
First, we need to realize that it is true that a person does not have to enter the “sanctuary” or auditorium, or “go to church” in order to worship. Worship may be carried on in a cornfield, bathroom or car. One man who decided not to attend any more after the bus began to bring some little dirty, unruly children said, “I can worship out on my tractor.” I admitted that he could, but there were two questions I asked him. First, “Do you?” Second, “Do you realize that God not only commanded worship, He said, `Forsake not the assembly.’ Do you assemble with anyone on your tractor?”
But does the fact that we can worship God elsewhere make a farce out of the admonition, “Enter to worship”? If one takes the position that many are taking–that everything a believer does is worship, whether it is cleaning his teeth, going to the bathroom, sleeping, or whatever — then it is silly to “Enter to worship” for walking up the steps is worship, opening the door is worship, saying “Howdy” to the usher is worship.
The reasoning (?) is: “Old Testament worship was time and place centered. New Testament worship under Jesus is anywhere at any time.” Those who make the argument fail to realize the difference in these two statements: “Worship as Jesus viewed it may be anywhere or any time” and “Worship as Jesus viewed it is everywhere all the time.”
That fact that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” does not mean that all that is done for the glory of God is worship, either in Old Testament or New. In fact, one may even worship God, but not do it to His glory, for it can be vain worship. But worship is praise or reverence directed to God. When I say to my wife, “Darling, I think you are sweet and pretty,” I am directing my remarks to her, not to God. I brought her an offering for her birthday. But that offering was not to God. However, both the praise and offering were to the glory of God, for they were a demonstration of the kind of concern God commanded and which will help to create and preserve in husband and wife the kind of attitude God desires. But when I say, “We praise thee, O God, for the Son of thy love,” I am directing my praise to God and am worshiping Him.
One of the mistakes that are made in this connection is in a failure to realize that the definition of worship is the same, both in the Old and New Testament. One was to do what he did to the glory of God under the Law of Moses as well as under Christ. If doing what we do to the glory of God makes every such act an act of worship, there was never a true follower of God who ever did anything but worship, no matter under what dispensation he lived! Then Abraham did not understand what he was talking about when he said to his young men in Genesis 22:5, “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship.”
Those who make the assumption that worship in the Old Testament was confined to certain times and locations, but in the New Testament is not, fail to realize an important point. Just because God commanded certain acts of worship to be done in the temple, did not mean that all worship must be done there. When He specified a certain act at a certain time, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, (Leviticus 10:1) and they substituted, they were punished, but that did not mean that no one could ever worship God except by using the fire from the burnt offering, or at some other place than in the holy place of the tabernacle.
For a person who claims to be a Bible student and/or a preacher to say that “non instrumentalists (as they put it) believe that worship is limited to five acts that can only be performed in a church building” is almost beyond comprehension. I have been trying to preach the gospel for more than half a century, and as far as I recall have never said, heard or read anything from a gospel preacher that implied a belief in the above statement.
When one takes the Lord’s supper, consisting of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine on the first day of the week, in accordance with the example of the inspired Apostles, he is performing an act of worship authorized of God. If one takes the Lord’s Supper, consisting of peanut butter and crackers, he is performing an act of worship, but not by the authority of God, or to the glory of God, and has sinned.
But one may take unleavened bread, fruit of the vine, along with peanut butter, jelly and whatever else he may want that is proper, and eat it at any time and place he may choose without sinning in so doing, for that is not an act of worship. If one offers thanks for that food (which he should) that act of offering thanks is an act of worship that God authorizes, and may be done anywhere at any time.
That same principle was true in the Old Testament. When God specified a lamb without spot at a certain time or place, He meant a lamb without spot at that time and place. Any substitution or infraction was a sin. But that in no sense implied or suggested that no worship could ever be performed except with a lamb at that time or place! For anyone who knows anything at all about the Bible to say that all worship in the Old Testament was confined to a certain time and place, but Jesus made it different in the New Testament is amazing. The truth is that when God specified a time, place, manner, or elements He did not mean for men to substitute or change that. But the argument (?) of many of the modern exegetes is that God could not today specify any time or place, for every believer is worshipping God all the time, in every place — and apparently may do it any way he chooses, no matter what example or command God gave!
So the truth of the matter is that one may “go to worship.” He may also go to play around, engage in meaningless rituals, visit with friends, or any other number of things. He may also worship without going to a particular place, called a “meeting house,” or some other name. He may also go through actions that God designed to be acts of homage or respect to Him (worship) without actually worshipping. He may also be actually worshipping in a way that is vain, as is said in Matthew 15:9, “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.”
A person was worshiping an unknown God as Paul mentions in Acts17:23, “For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you.” Was everything they did worship to that god? If everything a Christian does is worship to the true God, why is not everything a pagan does worship to a false god?
A person may ask the question about the use of a pitch pipe, “If a person is not offering that act to God, to whom is he offering it?” The answer should be so apparent, yet seems so hard for some to understand. Not every act is an offering! When my wife puts corn bread and turnip greens on the table, she is not necessarily offering it to me. Almost everything she does give honor and glory to me, for she is mine! But not everything she does is offered to me or directed to me! My little grandchildren seem to understand that, for she offers things to them she does not offer to me!
So, when a person does good things, and teaches truth to the children of God, he glorifies God and pleases God. However, an offering of a cup of cold water to one of these little ones by the authority of God and for his glory is not an act of worship offered to God.