What is Worship?
Worship is divine honors paid to God, specifically words addressed to Him, either said or sung, or acts performed in His honor. The term is derived from Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe, meaning "worth ship", the recognition or acknowledgment of worth or worthiness (compare Luke 14: 10, Authorized Version, "Then shalt thou have worship," where Revised Standard Version reads "be honored"). In Judaism and Christianity, and in most other religions, divine worship is the highest expression of faith and devotion, and its chief component is prayer or praise.
The authentic pulsebeat of any religion is felt in its worship; to this all other elements, including its creed, theology, and organization, are secondary and dependent. In worship the sense of divine presence, and the attempt to approach God, to ascertain and yield to the divine will, are the central realities, hedged in mystery and fill ed with power. Sacraments, sacrifices, special offerings and dedications, festivals, supernatural cleansing and forgiveness, and the quest for divine power and grace-all these find their center and sanction in worship. Thus in early Greece and early Israel the festivals were essentially joyful celebrations (as at the harvest) of the divine presence and favor: God (or the god) was actually with his people, among them, spreading the blessings of his divine presence and goodwill. Such observances sometimes became little more than country fairs or secular feasts, but the religious significance was never wholly lost.
The early Christian church distinguished between the service of worship centered in "the Word" (the reading, study, and exposition of Holy Scripture) and that centered in the Sacrament (the Lord's Supper), where prayer and action were combined with reading. Both types had their antecedents in Judaism, the study of Scripture in the synagogue service, the sacramental or sacrificial rite in the worship of the Temple. Both types are reflected in modern Protestant and Roman Catholic worship: the Breviary Offices or "Hours," combined (for example, in Lutheran and Anglican worship) in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the sacramental service of the Mass, Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. The same is true of Orthodox Eastern worship, where the lectionary element (reading from Holy Scripture) is combined at great length with the central liturgical act of the Mass (the Holy Mysteries) . Still other types of worship are found, not only in other religions but even in Christianity, where, for example, the Society of Friends (Quakers) have only the service of prayer and the reading of Scripture, and no sacraments.
The charge of "formality", sometimes brought against the classic types of Christian worship, could be brought against any kind of religion, even the most "inward" or inarticulate. On the other hand, objective or fully expressed worship is the normal means of access to the divine presence and the source of religious strength and inspiration to countless believers, from the simplest adherents to the most devout and consecrated saints.
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