What is Worship?

I am currently enrolled in Christian Missions, where we are required to read John Pipers Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. The book on its own was fine, I tended to skim most of the pages. That is, until I got to the final chapter, titled: “The Inner Simplicity and Outer Freedom of Worldwide Worship.”

It is in this chapter that Piper discusses what worship is. Here are a few quotes that I highlighted as I was reading this chapter:

What I mean by “worship,” lest any take me to mean merely the gathering of Christians for corporate worship or (still more limiting) that part of the gathering for singing songs and hymns. I love those times and meet God powerfully in them. But to say that missions exists for that would bet o narrow and far from my meaning. I mean something much more radical and soul-gripping and life-encompassing when I speak of worship as the goal of missions. (215)

My these is that worship in the New Testament moved toward something radically simple and inward, with manifold external expressions ni life and liturgy. (215)

In short, what we find int he New Testament is an utterly stunning degree of indifference to worship as an outward form and an utterly radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart. (215-216)

He [speaking of Jesus] diverted attention away from worship as a localized activity with outward forms and pointed toward a personal, spiritual experience with himself at the center. Worship does not have to have a building, a priesthood, and a sacrificial system. It has to have the risen Jesus. (217)

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers wil worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24 (218) – [Emphasis mine]

It will not be wrong for worship to be in a place or to use outward forms, but he [speaking of Jesus] makes explicit and central that this is not what makes worship worship. (218)

In the New Testament, worship is significantly de-institutionalized, de-localized, de-externalized. (221)

One of the reasons Puritans called their churches “meeting houses” and kept them very simple was to divert attention from the physical place to the inward, spiritual nature of worship through the Word. (222)

What is the essence of this radical, authentic, inward, unifying experience called worship, and how is it that this experience comes to expression in gathered congregations and in everyday life? My answer . . . is that the essential, vital, indispensable, defining heart of worship is the experience of being satistified with God. (223)

God is glorified in us when we are satisfied in him. And since worship is essentially the experience of magnifying the glory of God, the essence of worship is being satisfied in God. (225)

So when I say, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is,” I do not mean “worship services.” I do not mean “worship singing.” Those are part of the expression of the essence of worship, but those things can happen and not be worship. Worship is not first an outward act; it is an inner spiritual treasuring of the character and the ways of God in Christ. It is a cherishing of Christ, a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ. When these things are missing, tehre is no worship, no matter what forms or expressions are present.

I think Piper is spot on with a lot of what he has said. He also missed the mark a little bit in what he said.

What are your comments?

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  1. Lew,

    Thank you for these quotes. I’ve read that book by Piper, but I think it was an earlier edition without that final chapter (or, maybe I just forgot that chapter). Anyway, I’m glad that Piper recognizes that “worship” is internal. I think the last quote is the best. If believers could understand that they can participate in certain activities apart from “worship”, then they may begin asking what worship really is, and how God expects them to worship him. That would be a step in the right direction, at least.


  2. Alan,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree, I really appreciated the last quote. I do not agree with everything Piper said in this chapter (or the book), but he hit on a lot of important ideas here.

    God’s Glory,

  3. Lew,

    Having gone into missions, I had to read quite a few missions-related texts. Most were very pragmatic-focused, boring reads. Because of that, “Let the Nations Be Glad!” was a breathe of fresh air. Even though I read it a few years ago, it remains my favorite.

    I appreciate your desire to investigate and understand what true, God-honoring worship is. I am on a similar quest. I think it would be healthy for all of our churches to take a long, hard look at both how they define worship, and how they practice it.


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