What is Worship?

September 27, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 10:13 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Cjones brought up a question on a previous thread that I was planning on posting on.

As Christians, we worship God.

What does that mean?

dictionary.com gives plenty of pretty definitions, using terms like “reverent honor” and “homage” or “adoring reverence or regard.” and I don’t dispute these terms, but they are all pretty subjective, and full of little questions of nuance.

After all if reverence is “deep respect tinged with awe” then I can say I probably have worshipped my wife, my parents, my children, Darius Gray, President Hinckley, butterflies, and George Lucas (prior to episode1 being released, of course). However I obviously don’t worship these in the way I worship God.

So the word “Worship”, as defined, somewhat fails me. In another thread, Blake Ostler said “However, only the Godhead is entitled to worship” . This still fits with the above definition but adds nuance, as the key point is “entitlement”. Other items may be worthy of our worship, in the subjective sense, but it is only divine triad who we are currently commanded to worship. Even then, the focus is on the Father.

Is this all that worship is? By looking to the definitions, am I missing the praxis? or is the praxis chaff?

It seems to be that the greatest worship is emulation and belief that if others emulate as well, the world will be a better place. Much of the praxis can be boiled down to this.

What is worship to you? How do you worship?


  1. As Blake notes, having the capacity to be the receptacle of our faith, is an important aspect of God’s worshipfulness.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 27, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  2. I have faith in my Wife, J., but I understand what you and Blake are saying (well, what you are saying anyway, Blake lost me at the logical impossibility of an individual God)

    We are talking about a certain type of faith.

    And “the capacity to be a receptacle of our faith” is not so different from “worthy of being emulated”, right?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  3. I worship that which I sacrifice for. That which I offer the highest form of worship is that object/ideal/person to which I am willing to put before all other desires in my life. If I worship my flesh, I sacrifice all other relationships to the demands of my flesh. If I worship my wife, I sacrifice all other relationships and objects to her demands or wishes. It is the freely chosen bond to which I place my highest loyalty.

    Herein lies the wickedness of idolotry, no man can serve two masters.

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  4. Matt,

    I agree with your general direction here of saying that worshipfulness exists on a sliding scale and that in some senses of the word we may be said to worship beings vastly inferior to God. It is interesting that we have scriptures where people mistakenly try to worship an angel and the angel tells them to stop (Rev 22:8). I take it that our inclination would be to worship any being who appears so much greater than we are, but that the angel in that verse knows full well that he is not the source of light and life and such worship seems obviously misdirected from his perspective.

    Brigham and OrsonP had their famous disagreement about whether we worship the attributes of God (impersonal) or God the person. Brigham, of course, gave the smack down to Orson’s view that we worship the attributes. I think the two are closely related. I think we worship the Godhead because of what they did (and do) for us. We worship them because they save us (personal and specific to them). However, this cannot be decoupled from their attributes, because the worship-worthiness of what they do depends on their motivations in doing it and the type of beings they are. Thus, in my mind, the most important attribute that makes God worthy of worship is his all-benevolence (an omni I believe in). We can never fully worship a being who is not all-benevolent (impersonal and generic).

    Thus, we worship the Godhead because of a combination of what they are and what they have done for us. We love them because they loved us first (1 John 4:19). It was when the multitude went forth and saw and felt the prints in Jesus’ hands that they fell down and worshiped him (3 Ne 11:15-17).

    Comment by Jacob J — September 27, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  5. To me, worship is humble recognition and respect shown while communing with the Spirit.

    I worship by fasting and prayer, but most often by meditation.

    President David O. Mckay had this to say about meditation:

    I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion…Meditation is the language of the soul…Meditation is a form of prayer.

    Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. Jesus set the example for us. As soon as he was baptized and received the Father’s approval, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” Jesus repaired to what is now known as the mount of temptation. I like to think of it as the mount of meditation…

    Comment by Howard — September 27, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  6. Kent, Sacrifice is not an all or nothing deal though, but I understand your point. The Will of God the Father is at the top of the decision hierarchy when we have faith in and worship him.

    However, (and this may be where I am differing from what I don’t understand about what Blake said) Christ shows us that it is not worshiping two masters when we worship one who is in absolute unity with the father. So the more my wife is in line with the teachings of the Gospel, the more she is worthy of my worship.

    I do agree with you that Sacrifice is a natural effect of and form of worship.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  7. In a monotheistic context, worship seems to indicate an acknowledgment of sovereignty as well. (Maybe this is what Blake is talking about with entitlement?) But I think this is over-emphasized in the Christian world at large. It can lead people to think they worship Christ by simple intellectual assent.

    This can be balanced by the idea that Kent expresses, that worship is sacrifice. But the sacrifice model on its own is kind of deficient because it boils down to nothing more than priorities. In that mindset, we could worship God by doing everything else less, not by actually doing anything differently in our relationship toward him.

    I think the sovereignty and the sacrifice combined make a more complete picture of worship. But then again, maybe worship is more a relational concept. I worship my wife in comparison to law school, but I worship God in comparison to my wife.

    Comment by JKC — September 27, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  8. JKC, we can’t really do everything else less without doing something more, since nothing is part of everything in the dichotomy you decribe… err.. yeah.. (sorry, that sounds so stupid.)

    As for Sovereignty, I can agree with this so long as we understand it is not based on legitmate power but referent power, which makes more sense with regards to the definition of worship outlined above.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  9. One of the elements of worship that I didn’t address is the idea that there is an expectation for a return on investment by the worshiper.

    The act of worship is not derived through compulsion (which would become assent or groveling rather than worship), but rather through a hope and adoration of the object worshipped. Therefore the idea that the object of worship is “worthy” of worship since it/he/she represents and promises the hopes and dreams for fulfillment and the “highest expected benefit” in life.

    If I do not hold a belief in a deity or a life after death, my expectations may be lowered compared to a believer, but my investment in those things and people which I perceive bringing me “joy” in the future (sometimes immediate future) can be termed worship in my opinion.

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  10. I hope my desire for some definition to what is meant by worship is not a threadjack at Blake’s “How Many God’s” post.

    It seems like Todd’s question about which God/Gods we worship is the obvious one when talking about plural Gods. I just knew that I would have some trouble following the discussion if Blake means one thing and Todd Wood means another, and so on.

    I’m guessing that Blake and Geoff have similar ideas about who we worship. Here’s what Geoff said on a recent thread at 9 Moons:

    My answer is that we worship the One God. The one God is the name we give the unified Godhead. So since the Holy Ghost is part of the One God I would say to an extent we worship the Holy Ghost. I don’t think we would worship any given member of the Godhead if they left the divine unity of the One God though (and our scriptures imply that is a logical possibility).

    But not everyone sees it that way. I went to a class at BYUI this summer where Joseph McConkie pretty much spent the whole hour emphasizing that only God the Father is our object of worship:

    “In NT exchanges between the Father and the Son, the Son always refers to God as father.
    The divine sonship has been systematically taken from the Bible. Joseph Smith restores it.”
    “We are not Baptists in temple garments. It’s not about any ‘relationship with Jesus’, it’s about being brought back to the presence of God the Father.”

    Both of these views make their own kind of sense. So is my obstacle here only a failure to understand what worship means? Is worship a matter of degrees with the Godhead? Humility and sacrifice don’t quite seem to cover it completely.

    Comment by C Jones — September 27, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  11. Before anyone thinks I’ve gone to apostate in my thoughts, here is the lds.org position, which I’d say is pretty favorable to what we’ve discussed so far.

    Kent: In your view is the worship itself it’s on return on investment, or are we rewarded for worshipping? I hate to split hairs in this way, but I think you are saying the former, but am not sure.To me the former says we can be like god, in that we say “I want to be like that”, then we emulate God and seek his guidance until we become like him due to our worship. In the latter, we worship God so that he will give us something, and it is not our worship that gives us the gift but God. I guess you could say it is both, but how so?

    I’d say JFM bases the Father only idea off of D&C 20 but it becomes confusing because Jehovah is Jesus, etc.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 11:53 am

  12. Cjones: I should add that the difference doesn’t make much sense to me, since HF and JC are one in purpose and principle, so worshiping one would be the same as worshipping the other. Or Worshipping Both should be the same as worshipping one. I don’t “get” Blake when he says

    “no individual god could ever be worshiped because it is logically impossible for there to be an “individual god” in any significant sense.”

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  13. JFM is an anachronism and is quixotically carrying the tattered banner of his father’s theology.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 27, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  14. Matt,

    I’m pleased that lds.org seems to line up with my thoughts, though it is of course presupposes you already know what worship means and is inherently vague.

    When you worship a person rather than an object (though how often we turn people into objects!), there is an added element of relationship that you are describing. I think worship of objects ultimately is just a worship of self.

    I hope I don’t worship God to get the gifts he offers (which would turn him into an object or a “means” for me), I rather worship God because of the love he has for me intrinsically, which is inseparable with His desire to give me the gifts He offers. The gifts He offers are inseperable from the relationship He offers. I don’t worship God to get the gifts, I worship Him because He is a Giver.

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  15. Matt,

    Based on my discussions with him I’d say that Blake’s point is that if any individual member of the Godhead, including the Father, rejected the love and unity of the Godhead, that individual would not remain worship-worthy as a separate and single being. The loving unity in the Godhead is a necessary part of worship-worthiness of the persons in the Godhead.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 27, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  16. Additionally, the individual can’t be a god outside of the indwelling relationship with the godhead. It would be a contradiction in definitions, he would cease to be god or worshipworthy.

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  17. However, if what I just wrote is true; was Jesus worshipworthy at birth?

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  18. I should add that the difference doesn’t make much sense to me, since HF and JC are one in purpose and principle, so worshiping one would be the same as worshipping the other.

    Exactly. Yet in the NT Jesus often says things like, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8)
    Anyway, I had kind of a ‘doh’ moment when you pointed to the Church site… And of course it was helpful! I’m thinking that the Jesus of the NT in his physically fallen body, was not to be worshipped in the same way as Jehovah, who was in the presence of the Father. Or worshipped in the same way that he is entitled to now. Here’s what BRM said:

    . . .Christ was “in the beginning” with the Father; that he is “the Redeemer of the world,” and the light and life of men; that he “dwelt in the flesh” as “the Only Begotten of the Father”; that in his mortal progression “he received not of the fulness at the first, but continued from grace to grace”; and that finally, in the resurrection, “he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.”

    As far as how we worship, I’ve always kind of leaned towards the David O McKay ‘communion with God’ view that Howard mentioned. Music, prayer, the temple rituals, pondering scripture– those things that take us out of the world. Although BRM also says that it includes keeping thw whole law of the gospel. “Ten thousand times ten thousand things…”

    Comment by C Jones — September 27, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  19. The Nephites did pray to Jesus because he was with them, but would it have made one lick of difference if they had just prayed to the Father instead?

    The real question is in what sense are they different from each other in personality to merit a “special” relationship with? I honestly have no idea how to address the Father in a way that doesn’t presuppose my feelings for Jesus’ mortal mission. Do I thank Jesus for the atonement, or the Father, or both?

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  20. Jacob J had an excellent comment which I somehow missed at #4. We are what we do and We do what we are. The two cannot be seperated. Brilliantly stated Jacob! Too bad no one squared that away with Brigham and Orson. Perhaps Joseph has set them straight on all of it now?

    I am not sure I can agree with #15 and #16, but that is not really to do with Worship. I don’t want to foment into a threadjack, but does this mean God was not a God before he entered into a relationship with Jesus, or that he has always been in a relationship with Jesus? On the one hand, this seems to break MMP, Geoff. On the other hand, Kent, do you then believe that Jesus was God in the sense of being a member of the Godhead before he said “Here I am, send me?” or do you believe that God the Father was not worthy of worship before he entered into indwelling unity with the son? As you said in #17, When Christ came to earth to receive a body, and was no longer eminent as a member of the Godhead, was he not worthy of worship?

    C Jones, you attempt to answer that last question by saying Jesus is less worthy of Worship than Jehovah, But was not Jesus more worthy of worship as he took upon himself the trials of man than before he did so?

    Finally, #19, Kent, I really struggled with this when I first joined the church, as a former Catholic. I think even though we believe they are two distinct personages, it is impossible to say where Jesus’ life and works end and where HF begins in the sense we are discussing. I hope someday my wife and I work that well together…

    Comment by Matt W. — September 27, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  21. Matt: To avoid a threadjack there is a great talk on mp3 where Blake Ostler talks about all these aspects of the Godhead’s properties and the kenotic theory of how Christ emptied himself of his divinity in coming to earthRight-click to download Mormon Scripture: A Unique Understanding of the Nature of Divinity. It is his concept that God does not experience Godhood without someone to express his love to (though that is a crude and fast explanation). Your question of whether God was worship worthy prior to entering the indwelling unity with the son is interesting. I think you are rather asking if the Father was worshipworthy prior to entering into an indwelling relationship with any other individual? My answer would be that God is only worshipworthy because of the gift of love he gives. If he is not in a relationship with anyone else, how would he be Love?

    Yes, I believe Jesus was divine prior to volunteering for the job. I believe that once he came to earth he had emptied himself of his glory and was no longer God in any sense but his origin, he experienced humanity as I did at birth and through my childhood.

    Comment by Kent — September 27, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  22. J. Stapley is dead on in #13. An interesting cross reference is 3 Ne 11:15-17 which I also linked to in my first comment.

    An important scripture to add to the mix in this discussion is D&C 93. It starts out in verses 1-5 talking about how Jesus is the true light that lighteth every man, that he is one with the Father, and that he received a fulness from the father.

    Then, in verses 7-18, it gives us a piece of the record of John (which we didn’t get in the Bible) in which John bears record that Jesus did not receive a fulness at first, but received grace for grace until he received a fulness.

    Then, in verse 19-20, he explains why he gave us this piece of the record of John:

    I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.

    For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (D&C 93:19-20)

    This is very interesting. What does this tell us about worship? As to the “how” of worship, it clearly is telling us that we worship God by keeping his commandments so that we can receive of his light grace by grace until we are glorified in all things and become one with the Father and the Son.

    The “what we worship” is equally clarified. We worship God the Father and his Son who live in oneness, having all power and glory and light and life. But it’s more than that, much more. They want to share that power and glory, and they want to bring us into their same oneness to be with them. That is what we worship, a God who seeks to give us the fulness of everything he has. So, this section explains what I was saying in #4 in a very powerful way and is perhaps the most important scripture we have about the nature of true worship.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 27, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

  23. Nice post Jacob!

    Btw, President Hinckley worships both the Father and the Son:

    “None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His wounded feet and hands and side, amazed at the love He offers me.”

    Comment by Howard — September 27, 2007 @ 8:13 pm

  24. Matt (#20): but does this mean God was not a God before he entered into a relationship with Jesus, or that he has always been in a relationship with Jesus?

    Blake contends that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have been perfectly unified forever. We have argued in the past here whether that notion constitutes an ontological gap between us and them. Blake insists it does not, but others have remained skeptical.

    I personally lean more toward the idea that there has always been an extended Godhead in existence but that the individual beginningless members of that Godhead may or may not have always been members of that perfectly unified extended Godhead.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 27, 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  25. This is a really interesting question, and a good angle, perhaps, from which to approach a lot of religious questions.

    I’ve never been much into any kind of formalised worship and tend to feel a sense of worship most in nature. I don’t mean ‘nature worship’, but rather that sense of peace, awe, reverance and thankfulness which nature can so deeply inspire.

    With respect to God, it seems to me that worship is a kind of thankfulness and gratitude. But as in real life, it’s always better to demonstrate thankfulness than to merely say “thanks”, though there can always be humble moments of “thanks” that are simple and profound.

    Using the gifts and aptitudes God has given us, sharing our particular abilities with others, making the best use of God’s bounty – these all seem to me like the best demonstration of thankfulness and thus the most devout form of worship. I suppose this is all in the same vein of thought which holds that the way you live life itself can be a prayer.

    Comment by Kyle R. — September 28, 2007 @ 1:34 am

  26. Jacob, well said. I love section 93. and you even have Howard backing you up!

    Geoff, I also would have my skepticism of Blake’s “eternally unified” claim, as that would make it impossible to understand why HF already had a body while JC and HG did not.

    On the other hand, your take has it’s own set of problems, as I don’t believe that people retire from the Godhead.

    Kyle, I don’t disagree, but I definitely also see a powerful and profund place for kneeling in prayer or sitting in the celestial room with your eyes closed, thinking about life, or taking the sacrament pondering christ’s atonement, or serving a mission, performing a hymn, etc etc..

    Comment by Matt W. — September 28, 2007 @ 6:12 am

  27. Matt, definitely. And of course there’s a long and important tradition in Christianity (and early capitalism) of ‘work’ as a form of worship as well, though I realise that the prayerful, sacred space and time dedicated to worship and worship alone is a special one.

    Comment by Kyle R. — September 28, 2007 @ 7:10 am

  28. Matt: I am mystified by your question as to why the Father and the Son and Spirit could be unified as one if the Father had a body before they they did. The simple answer is that the Father became mortal before they did. Look, the Spirit doesn’t have a body of flesh and bone and the Father and the Son do. Yet they are one. Joseph Smith clearly taught that the Spirit will one day take a body upon himself. Thus, divine beings can be fully unified even if one or two are embodied and the second or third are not. Not a mystery.

    Geoff: Relations of volition are simply not ontological distinctions. Thus, the notion that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have been one unchangeable God from all eternity based upon such volitional relations is not an ontological distinction. That fact is especially shown by the fact that we can join the same unity by choosing to do so. Ontological distinctions are metaphysical and logical and it would be impossible for us to be one as they are if the distinction were ontological in nature. I suggest that you don’t grasp the distinction between an ontological difference and a differences due merely to choices and temporal ordering. The fact of their eternal unity is simply scriptural — and it is what Joseph Smith consistently taught.

    I worship the greatest love and commitment to the well being of all. I am moved to awe by the power and knowledge that arise out of such totally committed love that fully manifests divinity. I wouldn’t worship, and may even oppose, the greatest power alone if it were exercised for evil.

    Comment by Blake — September 28, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  29. What is it about God that we ‘worship’? And what do we mean by ‘worship’?

    I’m thinking of non-religious uses of the word in mortal terms, such as someone hero-worshipping, or worshipping the almighty buck etc. No non-religous uses of the term seem comparable and in fact would be idolatrous applied in a religious context.

    So it makes it difficult to get a fix on what the word actually means, apart from, perhaps, to ‘revere’.

    As for for it is about God that we worship, I suspect that even a very religious person could worship God himself – even the true God – in an idolatrous way. For instance, some people talk as though they mainly worship God for His power.

    Comment by Kyle R. — September 28, 2007 @ 7:32 am

  30. Blake:

    I am not sure how your response answers my concern, unless you are also saying Heavenly Father also always had a body, which doesn’t seem to the case because you said “the Father became mortal before they did”. My concern is that if the Godhead were in perfect unity when HF gained a body, why did they not gain bodies at that time as well? Further, if the Godhead was already in perfect unity, to what end was their unity at that point? Their unity is now that all may achieve the level they are at (to reduce it to simplest ideas). Are you saying they have always been unified to this cause? If so, how could they be unified to this cause even before they Father took upon himself a body.

    As for the Holy Ghost, there seems to be purpose in his not having a body yet, based on the purpose of the unity of the Godhead.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 28, 2007 @ 7:55 am

  31. Matt, listen to the mp3 I linked in post 21. Blake answers every single question you just asked.

    Comment by Kent — September 28, 2007 @ 8:03 am

  32. I’ll download it this weekend.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 28, 2007 @ 8:15 am

  33. Matt (#26) — I thought you had Blake’s books… He explains this stuff very clearly there. He focuses on the notion of kenosis which means that the Father and the Son at different times and places freely chose to temporarily empty themselves of their full divinity and union together in order to become mortals in physical bodies.

    Blake — I accept your arguments on why your model does not constitute an actual ontological gap between them and us. There is some kind of beginningless difference/gap but I can buy the idea that it is not ontological. (I actually already held this position but I noted in #24 that some people were skeptical of it last time we talked about it.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  34. Matt: How is perfect unity inconsistent with some members of the Godhead having a body and others not? Indeed, it is the case right now that Father and Son have resurrected bodies and the Spirit does not. Are you claiming the Godhead does not have perfect unity now? And yes, there unity consists in part (there is much more) in perfect unity in purpose, including the purpose of maximizing the flourishing and growth of all persons.

    Comment by Blake — September 28, 2007 @ 9:44 am

  35. Geoff: I have #2, havent finished it yet. Will get #1 when I finish #2. Probably part of my problem with #2 is I haven’t read #1 though…

    Blake: not sure I am making sense. We say we “need a body” to come unto the fullness. Are you saying we can have perfect unity without having the fullness? I am ok with that, but It seems to me that any power or divinity a being would have without their own fullness of divinity would be via divine investiture, and not via their own fullness.

    You also have spoken about how our father wants us to be in an equal relationship with him. the HG, not having a body, does not have an equal relationship with the father. Perhaps I am the one conflating perfect unity with equality and that is MY error, not yours..

    Comment by Matt W. — September 28, 2007 @ 11:25 am