Thursday, March 21, 2013

Worshipping the King - NOT a "Do It Yourself Project!"

In our study of NT worship reflecting on the TRUTH side of our Lord’s admonition to “worship God in spirit and in truth,” we concern ourselves, not only with what is true worship, but with that which is not.  The Bible calls this kind of false worship “will worship.”

During the last several weeks we have focused on congregant prayer, the reading of God’s word in public, the proclamation of God’s Word and “laying by in store” of our prosperity every Lord’s Day.  Lord willing we will examine congregational singing and the observance of the Lord’s Supper the next    two Lord’s Days.  We should emulate the apostle John in Rev. 1.9 – 11 and “be in the spirit on the Lord’s Day.”

Please, please be aware that the things spoken here are spoken in a spirit of love and caring for the souls of those that hear.  Our goal is not to condemn but to “speak as the oracles of God, neither adding to nor taking away” from the revelation that is the New Testament.  Paul speaks about these matters extensively in Colossians 2.16 – 23.

The pattern of sound doctrine was threatened at the church of Christ in Colossae.  Colossae was one of 3 cities in proximity in central Asia, close to both Hierapolis and Laodicea in the Lycus River Valley about 100 miles east of Ephesus.

Colossae was an older city already in decline at the time of Paul’s writing.  Its founding date is unknown but it dates back until at least the time of Xerxes, the king who married Esther.  Colossae would disappear from history in another 2 centuries or so after Paul’s writing.

As far as we know, Paul never visited Colossae but he took great interest in the congregation there for he knew and admired a man of the Colossae church of Christ – Epaphras.  It is likely that he was taught the gospel during Paul’s 2 year stay in Ephesus.  Epaphras raised serious concerns about how the worship of the congregation was emerging into at least 6 distinct heresies, the worship of angels, asceticism, the reliance upon “visions” over revelation, the embrace of philosophy over truth, rejection of  the Headship of Christ and the reliance upon Jewish traditions, especially feast days and the practice of circumcision.   These 6 heresies prototyped 2nd century Gnostic heresy and 4th century (and on) Roman Catholic heresy.  As the Colossae congregation was a mixture of both pagan and Jewish backgrounds, the Colossian heresy emerges with components from each camp.  Gnosticism had characteristics of both in the 2nd century.  When Roman Catholic apostasy came to the forefront it, too, was a mixture of both pagan and Jewish influences.

Colossae Heresy:                                  Roman Heresy:

*Worship of angels                                *Worship of “saints”

*Asceticism                                            *Denial of the flesh in regards

                                                              to marriage and eating of


*Visions over revelation                         *Allegorical interpretation of

                                                              the Scriptures as dictated by

                                                              the church

*Philosophy over Truth                           *The Magisterium

*Rejection of the Headship                      *The elevation of the Bishop

  Christ                                                    of Rome as the so-called

                                                               “Vicar of Christ”

*Embrace of Jewish tradition                   *Embrace of church tradition

  over revelation                                       over revelation


The simultaneous emergence of these 6 heresies all spring from a mindset that Paul calls “will worship” translated from the compound Greek word, ethleo - threskeia  (Lit. “To will – religion.”)  It is a word not used in the New Testament anywhere else and may have been used for the first time ever by Paul to describe the magnitude of the potential problem. 

 Here’s how Thayer and Robinson define ethleothreskeia:

Thayer – “…worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to (revelation) …arbitrary (random) worship.”

Robinson – “..worship in which one goes beyond what God requires without…command.  It is the religion of self-will, the establish(ment) of (man’s) own ceremonial rites.” 

Paul makes quite the point in I Corinthians 10.1 – 12 that the Old Testament, though not written TO us, was very much written FOR us for example, instruction and warning.  What are, then, some OT examples of “will worship” that were written for our example, instruction and warning?

The first example we have of “will worship” in the OT is the account of Cain.  Cain presumed that he could substitute his preferred sacrifice for the sacrifice of command and that this substitute sacrifice would still be pleasing to God.  Wrong!  Cain’s sacrifice…his “will worship” if you please…was rejected totally by God.

Secondly, we have the account of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.1 – 3.  The Scripture says that these two were destroyed by fire because they presumed to offer “strange” fire before God.  The word translated “strange” in the KJV is from the Hebrew word “zur.”  Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions says that this word means, among other things, “another…foreign…enemy…loathsome…alien…”  Essentially, these two men offered “another fire,” “a foreign fire,” “an enemy fire,” “a loathsome fire,” and an “alien fire.”  The ESV renders zur accurately as “unauthorized fire.”  “Will worship” is any worship un-authorized by God.

Our third example of “will worship” in the OT is found in I Samuel 13.8 – 14.  Here we find King Saul operating, again, in a presumptive direction.  He co-opted the rightful role of both priest and prophet to offer a burnt offering to God in an appeal to the Almighty for blessing the army of Israel in an upcoming battle with the Philistines.  As before, Saul’s actions were un-authorized and outside of God’s will.

We could cite many other examples but for our last one today is one found in II Chronicles 26.16 – 21.  Here King Uzziah, it is said, that "...when he was strong, he grew proud to his own destruction..." (ESV)  The king presumed to "will worship" by offering incense in the Temple of God though he was not a Levite.     As a result, the king was a leper the rest of his life.  

The explosive use of “will worship” among denominations is everywhere around us.  The recent coronation of the so-called “pope” of Rome is “will worship” from beginning to end.  One denominational church on Sardis Road in Charlotte often advertises their so-called “Taize” services that include “candles, chants and silence.”[1]  A “Taize” service is 100% “will worship” for it is un-authorized in the NT.  “Will worship” is not found just in sectarian worship but sadly in the Lord’s church as well.

Examples of “will worship” among churches of Christ today:

  • Unauthorized use of the instrument
  • Unauthorized vocal mocking of instruments
  • Unauthorized drama as part of public worship
  • Unauthorized Saturday night communion services
  • Unauthorized use of women leading in various acts of public worship
  • Unauthorized special Christmas, Lent and Easter services

In Colossians 2.23 Paul refers to these matters as “will worship.”  The NASB accurately renders “will worship” as “self made religion.”  Enough said!  Worship is NOT a “do it yourself project!”







[1] A “Taize” service is part of the so-called “Taize Community” founded in 1940 in Burgundy, France by a Protestant cleric by the name of Roger Schultz.  The communities guidelines were written in 1954 by Schultz and called The Rule of Taize.  The Taize Community is an ecumenical Protestant / Catholic / Other Traditions effort.  Adherents are directed to live their lives with “kindness, simplicity and reconciliation.”  Source: Wikipedia / Taize Community.