WHAT TRUE WORSHIP IS AND IS NOT
True worship, the kind offered by the faithful
True worship has its basis in faith and obedience to God—“Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). While true worshipers may stumble and fall, they will not cherish known sin in their hearts. “He who says, ‘I know Him’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). This does not mean that sinners should avoid God until they can get their sin problems straightened out. We should come to God, especially when we have sinned, not to gloss over our sin with a feel-good religious experience, but to receive forgiveness, cleansing and power to overcome. This is the heart of worship as we recognize our own sinfulness and need, and God's goodness and mercy.
Besides individual sin, we must be certain that our worship does not involve institutional sin that is an integral part of our church. In chapter 13 we saw that a major area of disobedience in the last days will be the substitution of a false day of worship for the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. We have also considered the idolatry that is an integral part of many Christian denominations.
True worship springs from an intimate relationship with God— “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). True worshipers do not ignore God all week and then come to a service to get “pumped up.” The psalmist said “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalms 34:1). Corporate worship is not a substitute for personal worship, and likewise personal worship does not negate the need for worshiping and having fellowship with the Body of Christ.
Regarding music in worship, from the examples in Revelation it is obvious that music is a vital part of true worship. The worshipers of chapter 15 “sing the song of Moses… and the song of the Lamb,” and songs of worship and praise fill the Psalms and the Book of Revelation. True worship is not characterized by tired, stale music, but is fresh and touches the emotions (“They sang as it were a new song before the throne…” Revelation 14:3). On the other hand, it should not be a noisy cacophony that relies on powerful instruments and driving rhythm to artificially ignite the emotions—this was characteristic of the false worship experience with “the horn, the flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music” (Daniel 3:5).
True worship is characterized by clear Bible teaching that focuses on the sacrifice of Jesus for the guilty sinner. The evil and pervasive nature of evil is exposed and contrasted to the holiness of God. There is preaching and teaching of the word of God that exposes popular sins and cuts the sinner to the heart, causing him to fall down in repentance and be covered by the cleansing blood of Jesus. True worship encourages the worshipers to “wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). And it teaches the truth about God's character and kingdom principles and exposes the errors and lies that Satan seeks to propagate.
Finally, God does not use threats to force anyone to worship him. Instead of threatening, He warns of the consequences of worshiping false gods, and appeals to all to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7).
Other common features of the worship that takes place in many churches are not characteristic of true worship. As mentioned already, true worship does not include bowing before any man, creature or object except God. John, overwhelmed by the visions the angel had presented, “fell at his [the angel's] feet to worship him, but he said...‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10). The apostle Peter, (who according to Catholic theology was the first pope) refused to allow Cornelius to bow down to him—“Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man”.
Although many of the great men of faith who are now worshiped as saints had already died by the time the Bible was written, there is no instance of anyone in the New Testament worshiping or praying to any saint. Aaron in the wilderness made a golden calf, which was supposed to be a visible representation or symbol of the Lord, but God rejected this and every instance of trying to represent Him with a visible object of worship (Exodus 32). Indeed, the second commandment states clearly, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them” (Exodus 20:4,5). Bowing down before people, “holy relics” or works of religious art is not a part of true worship.
The focus on someone other than God can even become the dominant theme of prayers and hymns. For example, in the Catholic Church one of the most important private prayers is the “hail Mary,” which says, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” This prayer is repeated over and over by supplicants desiring a worship experience or offering penance for sins. But nearly all of the prayer focuses on “the mother of God” and “us sinners” rather than God. The repetition of the prayer itself is a focus on self, my sin and my need for mercy, in effect denying the fact that mercy has already been granted at the Cross and is applied as soon as we ask—not after hundreds or thousands of repetitions.
True worship is not a social hour in which the “worshipers” focus on each other. Although there should be a time for social interaction among Christians, it should not take the place of worship which is focused on God. Certainly a worship service that is so dry and predictable that the “spectators” feel free to use it as a time to catch up on the latest gossip is not worship at all.
 It is true that Revelation 14:9-11 gives a severe warning against those who engage in false worship, but there are no threats against those who do not engage in true worship. This represents the difference between a threat to force obedience and warnings of inevitable consequences.
 This is in striking contrast to the practice in the Catholic and Orthodox churches where the worshipers bow before statues or icons of the saints who are believed to be as angels in heaven, waiting to intercede for us. This theme of not worshiping angels was so important that it was repeated again in Revelation 22:8,9.
 The apostle Paul also refused to allow obeisance. See Acts 14:8-18.
 For example, in the Orthodox and Catholic churches, John the Baptist, Stephen and James are considered saints, but in the considerable portion of the New Testament which was written after their deaths there is no mention of anyone directing prayers, petitions or worship toward them.
 Aaron made the calf, but did not proclaim a feast to a new god, but rather “made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5).
 The repetition of “Lord have mercy on me” could be considered a violation of the third commandment (“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”) because the very repetition shows a lack of faith in the God to grant what He has promised. Jesus warned, “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).