Biblical Worship

1. Worship: Real and Counterfeit

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
This article introduces the issue, and describes how this series will approach it.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part one of a 20-part series.

In Colossians chapter two, the Apostle Paul warns against the evil of un-Biblical worship rooted in man's pride, rather than submission to Christ. This is a timeless warning to God's people.

18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men?

23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

In the early church, the Gnostics introduced angel worship and other un-Biblical inventions. In the centuries to follow, Roman Catholicism borrowed heavily from the paganism of the Roman Empire, and that syncretism continues to be the basis of its worship. Today, postmodern Evangelicalism says that the worship service must be a well-planned stage production designed to impress the un-churched, manipulate emotions, and manufacture desired results.

In contrast to these past and present abuses, what does Scripture say about the nature of genuine, God-honoring worship? How can Christians recognize the roots and fruits of counterfeit worship in our time, and how must we respond?

Today we begin a series focusing on these questions. To some, our focal text may seem to be an unusual one - Colossians 2:18-23. But as we shall see, this text gets to the very heart of the issue - the great difference between man-made doctrines and authentic Bible doctrine. The Apostle Paul under divine inspiration wrote these words not only to the Colossian church, but for the instruction of the church in all its days on earth.

A Fourfold Warning

This passage gives us one of the strongest warnings we find in God's Word against the evil of man-made doctrines. It is a warning against a tyranny that can ruin the spiritual life of the individual Christian, and of the church as a body. We must not permit man-made doctrines to gain a foothold in our own thinking individually, or in the thinking of the church as a body. We must reject all man-made doctrines and cling only to God-made doctrines - sound doctrine as we find it only in the written Word of God.

To put it a different way, we must reject all spiritual counterfeits. We must cling to that which is genuine. Therefore, we must know the genuine article intimately and thoroughly, so that we can recognize the counterfeit when it comes along. That is why the systematic reading, study, preaching, and teaching of the whole counsel of God, the entire Word of God, is so vital.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul warns believers against four specific categories of counterfeits. First of all, he warns against submission to counterfeit authority. Secondly, he warns against engaging in counterfeit worship. Thirdly, he warns against the use of counterfeit intercessors. And fourthly, he warns against the deception of counterfeit mysteries, or counterfeit revelation.

As we shall see in this series, these four things are intimately related to one another. Each of these counterfeits can and will - if not prevented - have a corrupting influence on believers and the church in the other three areas. Counterfeit worship has its roots in submission to counterfeit authority, and to counterfeit revelation. It can, as we shall see, involve the placement of counterfeit mediators between man and God.

A Four-Step Approach

As we approach the problem of counterfeit worship in the church, we are going to follow a four-step process.

First of all, we need to understand how the warning that Paul has set forth in this passage related to the people to whom it was written. How did this apply to the Colossian believers in the middle of the first century A.D.? What was going on that presented such a danger to the individual believer and to the church in that day and in that situation? What was it that was so dangerous, that it required such a strongly-worded warning as the one we find here? What kind of counterfeit worship were men seeking to impose upon the Colossian church?

Secondly, having understood the Colossian situation, we need to understand similar problems in subsequent church history. What do we find, in the nearly two thousand years since the time of the Colossians, that has posed a similar danger to the church? What kinds of counterfeit worship do we find in church history, and how does this same Biblical warning apply to those evils?

Thirdly, we need to be aware of similar problems in the church in our own time. What kinds of counterfeit worship do we find in the twenty-first century church? How does this same passage of Scripture address the problems and evils of our own time?

Fourthly and finally, we always need to bring our focus away from the counterfeits, and back to the genuine article. And so, we will finish our study of this vital issue by focusing our attention once again on the true worship of God, according to Scripture.

I pray that this series of studies will be used of God to cause each of us to more fully comprehend what Scripture means when it commands us to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 96:9). May each of us come to understand the full significance of Jesus' words to the woman of Samaria in John 4:24, when He declared that "God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" - truth unmingled with falsehood.


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