The word “worship” comes “from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe that, in turn, comes from a root meaning “to honor.” As an Anglo-Saxon word, it means to ascribe worth or reverence to something or someone. It also comes from an old English word meaning “worth.” That is to say, worship is an act of giving “worth,” “praise,” and “value” to God. Thus, the word conveys the idea of giving divine honor to the Lord. Evelyn Underhill has defined worship as “the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God self-revealed in time.”
There are several words in the Scriptures translated as “worship.” The Hebrew word shachah, means “to bow down,” “bow the knees,” and “to fall prostrate,” and ‘abad, literally means “to serve” (cf. Judg 2:11). The words express that we ought to worship God in reverence, in wholeness, in completeness, and in nearness. The Greek word proskuneo means “to bow” and “to kiss” the hand of some honored or royal person (John 4:24). Another Greek word is latreia, a main word for “worship,” which means to offer oneself to God—in service. Worship implies service, a duty or obligation that is expected from the worshipper. The Psalmist said, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Ps 95:6 NKJV). “To bow down,” and “to kneel” while worshipping God are inseparable gestures in the worship services.
Worshipping God requires homage and obeisance to a higher authority. When one comes to the presence of the Lord, one must come with supreme reverence and allegiance to Him. One’s inner attitude and not his extremal trappings are what God is concerned about the most in worship.
In practice, worship services are an “important educational function, communicating what is central to a Christian community.” According to Philip Henry Lotz “worship is one of the most important aspects of religious education.” One of the “important aspect of Church school worship is the sense of fellowship at worship.”
Richard Robert Osmer, in his book, The Teaching Ministry of Congregations, says that worship as a Christian practice, involves the following educational efficacies. First, worship helps build up a strong sense of identity. Second, worship is character building; it also shapes the thoughts, feeling, and actions of the worshippers. Third, it strengthens one’s faith and embodies interpretations that are relevant to context. Hence, the old cry is true, “to educate is to redeem.”
The words of Timothy D. Son are appealing when he said:
perhaps one of the greatest educational benefits of worship is its ability to tacitly communicate the central core values and theological conviction of a community to its members through collective performance.
Worship in Christian education involves a faith-based set of biblical principles through which the believer encounters God’s presence. In order for worship to be educationally effective, it must incorporate the following. First, it must be relevant to the culture and able to meet the needs of the worshippers. Second, it must provide a theological balance between God’s self-disclosure and the human response. Third, worship should be interactive, where the message communicates the truth to the worshippers. Fourth, man’s aspirations must be subject to God’s leading, where it emphasizes service first and foremost to God and second to mankind. Fifth, worship should be sensitive to one’s religious language and prayer and, in turn, enhance the worship experience of the congregation.
True education is the basis for character building and for correct worship. R. J. Rushdoony said, “There can be no true worship without true education, because the law prescribes and is absolute, and no man can approach God in contempt of God’s prescription.” In this way “true worship and love for the Creator compels us to true education, and true science.” I would also like to add that without the infusion of the Holy Spirit, there can be no true worship.
While “education” is meaningless without God, so is “worship” without the Holy Spirit’s presence. True worship must be done in the spirit of truth and not only on the merit of education (cf. John 4:21-24).
I like how Thomas S. Popkewitz has aptly put it:
The agents of redemption are the state educational researchers, who solve the riddles of school reform, and the change agents, who have become the teachers; they are “self” motivated professionals.
Worshipping God calls us to meet him in the best attire possible. For example, in the Day of Atonement, God said, “for on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Lev 16:30 NKJV). Worshipping God demands ceremonial or ritual cleanliness, but the inner motive or disposition of a person is more important than ceremonial or ritual purity.
Jewish tradition prescribed wearing proper attire “when reciting the two major prayers of the liturgy; one must be clothed from the waist down to say the Shema [Hebrew for “hear,” found in Deut 6:4-9 and often called “the creed of Judaism”] and also cover the top of the body for the Amidah [literally, “standing”; prayers are uttered while one is standing]” Ritual cleanliness for “prayer was required on account of the sanctity of the synagogue and not because of any intrinsic sanctity which prayer possessed.” This emphasized the significant role of one’s place and attire in the worship service.
In Islam, the place of worship and the person who prays should be clean. Prayer is only acceptable when offered in clean dress and by an individual with clean intentions. Worship and prayer are permissible in a ritually clean environment. When worshipping, the clothes that are worn and the place of prayer must be clean. For the congregational Salat (prayer), the Qur’an advises “that beautiful clothes be worn with decorum.” Islam teaches “cleanliness is half of the good deeds that should be performed by one’s limbs.” Thus, cleanliness is half of faith; it completes faith. It is said, half for your body and half for your spirit makes it whole (full).
Hinduism advises that the worshipper must take a bath before he prays. Their high emphasis on cleanliness before one goes to worship is commendable. Hinduism further teaches that before performing puja, a worship ritual, one “should be freshly dressed, clean and undistracted by daily concerns.”
In the philosophy of Buddhism, worship is acceptable when done in clean clothes, which includes clean socks and shoes. The Buddhist canon states: “the body must be dressed well and in clean clothes, regularly nourished, and protected from changes in the weather.”
Ellen G. White seemed to have echoed or even made stronger statements regarding Sabbath dress. She stated:
Many need instruction as to how they should appear in the assembly for worship on the Sabbath. They are not to enter the presence of God in the common clothing worn during the week. All should have a special Sabbath suit, to be worn when attending service in God's house. While we should not conform to worldly fashions, we are not to be indifferent in regard to our outward appearance. We are to be neat and trim, though without adornment. The children of God should be pure within and without.
All world religions seem to agree that an individual must be clean when they go to worship. While worship in some of the aforementioned religions is ritualistic in nature, Christian worship is more educational and exegetical. Hence, it is imperative that all Christians exercise cleanliness and adopt contextualized modesty of dress before they go for worship.
Worship motivates and empowers worshippers to rekindle the fire of commitment to love God and to serve others. True education calls believers “to love,” “to worship,” “to witness,” and “to work” for God faithfully. True education calls for a united community in worship. Education should instill in believers’ mind the ideas of physical and spiritual cleanliness.
Notes & References:
 Duncan B. Forrester, James Ian H. McDonald, and Gian Tellini, Encounter with God: An Introduction to Christian Worship and Practice (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 36.
 David L. Barnhart, Jr., What’s in the Bible About Church?: What’s in the Bible and Why Should I Care? (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009), 67.
 Evelyn Underhill, Worship (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 61.
 Raymond E. Isbell, Essays on Selected Christian Topics (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011), 34.
 Jeffrey A. Truscott, Worship: A Practical Guide (Bukit Merah Central, Singapore: Armour, 2011), 5-9.
 Timothy D. Son, “Worship as Christian Practice,” in Encyclopedia of Christian Education, ed. George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 3:1406-1407, at 1406.
 Philip Henry Lotz, Orientation in Religious Education (Nashville, TN: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 126.
 Randolph Crump Miller, The Clue to Christian Education (Berkeley, CA: The University of California, 2007), 131.
 Richard Robert Osmer, The Teaching Ministry of Congregations (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 92-95.
 Son, “Worship as Christian Practice,” 3:407.
 R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 2012), 1:19.
 Rick Joyner, Mobilizing the Army of God (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 80.
 Thomas S. Popkewitz, “The Sociology of Knowledge and the Sociology of Education: Michel Foucault and Critical Traditions,” in Sociology of Education: Emerging Perspectives, ed. Carlos Alberto Torres and Theodore R. Mitchell (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998), 47-67, at 55.
 Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2020), 32.
 Percy Selvin Goldberg, Karaite Liturgy and Its Relation to Synagogue Worship (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1957), 45.
 Ismail R. Al-Faruqi, Islam: Religion, Practice, Culture & World Order (London: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2012), 31.
 Remzi Kuscular, Cleanliness in Islam (Clifton, NJ: Tughra, 2008), 45.
 Sara Lister, Justine Hofland and Hayley Grafton, ed. The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2020), 400.
 Himalayan Academy, What is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures into a Profound Global Faith (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 2007), 204.
 Vassilis Vitsaxis, Thought and Faith: Revelation, Redemption-Salvation, Time, and the Triadic Approach to the Godhead, trans. Deborah Brown Kazazis and Vassilis Vitsaxis (Boston, MA: Somerset Hall Press, 2009), 1:199.
 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), 531.
Youssry Guirguis is an Old Testament scholar with a special interest in the area of Islamic studies at the Asia-Pacific International University in Thailand and the Andrews MAR (extension site) program director for the Asia-Pacific International University. He is an adjunct professor in Middle East University’s Master in Islamic Studies Program and has conducted research in the areas of biblical studies, Islamic studies, and biblical rituals.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.