Is Jesus Worthy of Worship?
Part IV of IV
In the previous articles regarding this topic, evidence has been examined that conclusively proves the worthiness of Jesus to receive worship. Respecting every means by which the church comprehends authority (i.e. command, example, and necessary inference), it is unassailable that Jesus is to be worshiped through means of song and prayer. All honor, glory, power, dominion, and blessing belongs to Christ. How this question has crept into the minds of sincere people of the Lord is tragically remarkable.
The hideous shadow of Satan is surely cast amidst those arguing against the worship of Jesus as God. Unfortunately, the majority of church members are woefully ignorant concerning the Bible doctrine of the deity of Jesus, thereby becoming fertile soil for the tares of devilish design to be sown among the congregations that disparage the excellence of Christ by denying Him the worship He is worthy to receive. Some of the more prominent arguments proposed in support of this errant theory will now be examined, allowing the reader to weigh carefully the thoughts of uninspired men against the inspired word of God.
1) Matthew 6:9. It is claimed that Jesus restricts prayer to the Father alone when teaching men to pray. Jesus began the model prayer in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name…” The argument is pressed that Jesus teaches prayer is to be addressed to the Father, presumably indicating the Person of the Godhead we know as God the Father and to Him alone. However, several objections can be readily offered in opposition to this strict style of interpretation.
The prayer illustrated by Jesus was simply a model prayer. It was not intended to cover all aspects of prayer; in fact, Jesus was merely teaching His Jewish brethren who were presently residing under the Law of Moses how to pray. The apostles – under supervision of the Holy Spirit – taught the church how to pray; including many responsibilities concerning prayer not mentioned by Jesus in the sketch or outline of prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9.
Paul instructed prayers to be made “on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). He instructed the men “in every place to pray” (2:8). Peter explained that a man’s treatment of his wife had effect on his prayer (1 Peter 3:7). The Lord’s half brother, James, taught that prayers were to be made for the sick (5:14-16). Jesus did not expand into any of these aspects of prayer, but their inclusion in the inspired New Testament does not permit dismissal on the grounds that Jesus did not include them in His brief, illustrative prayer.
Similarly, Jesus later expanded the object of prayer to include Himself, instructing the apostles, “If you ask Me anything in My name I will do it” (John 14:14). If Jesus is not to be addressed in prayer, why is He responding to prayer (cf. John 14:13; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Jesus never taught what men are saying today, i.e., “Prayer can only be addressed to the Father.” He comforted His chosen apostles by saying, “If you ask Me anything in My name I will do it.” The authority for praying to Jesus is given by Jesus Himself, and since we are able to view examples where the apostles and other Christians prayed directly to Christ, the resistance to the practice by uninspired men among us today is simply meaningless.
Furthermore, when Jesus offered the model prayer, He represented humanity addressing the fullness of deity. As William Shedd brilliantly observed, “When men say, “Our Father who art in heaven,’ they do not address the first person of the Godhead to the exclusion of the second and third. They address, not the untriune God of deism and natural religion, but the God of revelation, who is triune and as such the providential Father of all men and the redemptive Father of believers. If a man deliberately and consciously intends in his supplication to exclude from his worship the Son and Holy Spirit, his petition is not acceptable. ‘He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father’ (John 5:23)” (2003, p. 253).
Those not fully comprehending the Biblical doctrine of the triune nature of God will invariably misunderstand the unity of essence and activity that uniquely belongs to the three Persons of the Godhead. When Christ told the Samaritan woman that true worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and in truth, He did not indicate that the first Person of the Godhead was to be worshiped in exclusion of the second and third Persons. Rather, the term “Father” denotes the trinity of divine Persons. Jesus clarifies the sense when He says, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). God must be worshiped, but God exists as a trinity of Persons comprising one absolute Supreme Being. God is not a monad Personality.
The unity of God is witnessed in statements by Jesus such as “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus did not say “I and the Father is one” as meaning a monad person, but the two Persons “are one.” The plural verb here reveals a distinction is required between the two Persons, yet the two are “one” (neuter gender – indicating oneness of essence or unity of being). To see Jesus was to see God. To worship God is to worship Jesus. To pray “Our Father, hallowed be Thy name…” is to pray to Christ equally as to the first Person of the Godhead. A division or separation of the Godhead along these lines is utterly impossible.
The name (singular) of God includes the holy three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). These three constitute the God of revelation who is the Father of all creation. Men are to worship and serve the God into whose name they are baptized, and this certainly includes the petitions and prayers that ascend heavenward. Each divine Person supposes and suggests the others. To pray to One is to pray to all Three.
This explains why Christ taught His Jewish brethren to pray “Thy kingdom come.” Although the address is made to the Father, the coming kingdom belonged to Christ (cf. John 18:36 “My kingdom”; Luke 22:30 “My kingdom”; Ephesians 5:5 “kingdom of Christ”; 2 Peter 1:11 “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”; etc.). The model prayer addresses not God the Father to the exclusion of the second and third Persons of the Godhead, but petitions deity as the father of humanity.
2) John 16:23. Did Christ intend to renounce prayer being offered to Him by telling the disciples, “In that day you will not question Me about anything” (John 16:23)? The KJV is really at the heart of this argument, translating the statement, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.” The NASB (as quoted initially) captures the essence of the statement. Jesus was not discussing whether or not He could be addressed in prayer, but the context involves the questions that were rising in the hearts of the disciples as they pondered the meaning of all that Christ was telling them. Jesus, aware of their confusion, supplied the disciples with a prophetic analogy; the meaning of which they would come to understand after suffering the sorrow of His death, followed by the joy of the resurrection.
The expression “that day” refers to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that occurred on Pentecost (Acts 2), supplying the apostles with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit to the apostles during the discourse preceding John 16:23 (cf. John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7, 13). Following His ascension and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles would be supplied with all the necessary information to complete the work Christ commissioned them to do. At this time, they would no longer be confused about their role or lacking in understanding, but the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds all that Christ had said to them.
The fact that prayers are addressed to Christ is proof positive that John 16:23 does not represent what some are claiming in an attempt to bolster their misguided theory. The questions that the disciples desired to ask in their uncertainty would no longer exist following the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to these men. It is a misuse of this passage to claim it refutes the opportunity to address Christ in prayer.
3) Prayer is made “through” Christ, but not “to” Christ. This is a common approach to denying that the Scriptures authorize prayer to Christ. The argument, though, falls short on a couple of levels.
First, the New Testament unambiguously authorizes prayer to Christ in the statement Jesus made in John 14:14 when He instructs the apostles, “If you ask Me anything in My name I will do it.” If Christ does not authorize prayer “to” Him in this passage, to whom does He authorize it? When Jesus later says, “if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23b), none can be found who claim this statement does not authorize prayer “to” the Father. However, the wording is the same as 14:14 except the object there is Jesus. If 16:23b authorizes prayer to the Father, then 14:14 must likewise authorize prayer to Christ.
Second, when Christ says to “ask…in My name” in John 14:14, the meaning is the same as the identical statement in 16:23b, “ask…in My name.” To perform any activity “in Jesus’ name” is to do so by His authority. When Peter says men are to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38), he simply indicates that repentance and baptism are to be accomplished in accordance with the authority of Christ. Every act of the Christian is to be performed, not by the authority of the Father, but by the authority of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17).
There is nothing contradictory about Christ authorizing prayer being addressed to Him, but also “in His name.” We pray to Christ, not by our own authority or anyone else’s authority, but by the authority of Christ Himself. The same is true concerning prayer to the Father; it is still to be offered, not by the authority of the Father, but by the authority of Christ. John 14:14 and 16:23b do not conflict, but are supplemental. Christ authorizes prayer to be addressed to Him personally as well as to the Father, but both must be in harmony with Christ’s authority. To claim you are praying to the Father absent Jesus Christ is simply fanciful aspiration. If the prayer is not offered in harmony with the will of Christ, the prayer ascends no higher than the lips that utter it.
4) Praise is made “about” Christ, not “to” Christ. Here again some seek to draw a distinction where none is drawn in the Scriptures. The argument is made that sentiments of praise may be uttered “about” Christ, but may not be directed “to” Christ. A more absurd form of argumentation can hardly be imagined! If all the parts of this study have been perused by the reader, then it will be recalled that ample evidence exists to prove that Christ is praised directly in prayer, song, and doxology within the New Testament.
Furthermore, the distinction suggested is not visible in the teachings of Scripture. We have previously noted that Psalm 23 addresses Jesus as the great Shepherd of mankind. In verses 1-3, the singer expresses thoughts “about” the Shepherd, but beginning in verse 4, the words are addressed “to” the Shepherd. Here is sufficient proof to demonstrate that no qualitative difference exists between speaking “about” the Lord in praise and speaking “to” Him (cf. Exodus 15:1ff).
5) Steven’s prayer involved the miraculous and is no example for Christians today. Finding no other way to avoid the obvious conclusion that Steven prayed to Jesus, criticism argues because the prayer was made by one “full of the Holy Spirit,” the example of prayer is not a precedent for Christians living after the miraculous age.
If this argument carries any weight, the consequences would be far more reaching than intended. The New Testament was written under supervision of the Holy Spirit in the miraculous age, and if Steven’s prayer to Christ is to be dismissed, what would prevent the dismissal of the entire Bible based upon the same argumentation?
The attempted nullification of Steven’s prayer on this basis is also illogical. Is it permissible to do that which is intrinsically evil simply because the miraculous is involved? Is the Holy Spirit to be arraigned on charges of contributing to Steven’s delinquency?
Rather than discrediting the prayer to Christ, the attendance of the miraculous actually serves to authenticate the prayer to Christ as an activity ordained and arranged by God. Steven’s prayer – recorded by the inspired physician – stands approved and sanctioned by God for the encouragement of Christians of all ages. If the practice was not acceptable and not intended to be duplicated, why did the inspired authors of the New Testament not say what uninspired men today are saying?
Every excuse falls flat when compared with the written word of God. Men may continue to denounce, mock, and ridicule Christians for worshipping Christ, but the Bible still reads the same. Jesus was worshipped as a baby, as a grown man, following the resurrection, and after ascending to the throne in heaven. The church has always worshipped Jesus in accordance with New Testament authority.
Voices from the Past
The early Christians faced dire consequences due to their worship practices. Although vehemently denied by some today, the worship of Christ in both song and prayer was part of the primitive worship experience. The following examples will clearly demonstrate to the unbiased reader that those closest to the inspired teaching of the apostles did not hesitate to offer both songs and prayers to Jesus, and they were commonly known as worshippers of Christ as God. Listen closely as these early Christians speak, defining for all time the God they worshiped:
Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 35-107), in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, requests them to pray to Christ on his behalf (Epistle, XX).
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-339), known as the “father of ecclesiastical history,” tells of the martyrdom of a Christian whose name was Porphyry, who was burned alive for the sake of Christ. With his final words, as he approached the flames, he was “calling upon Christ the Son of God, his helper” (Ecclesiastical History, “Martyrs,” XI).
Even the enemies of the cross have blessed us with an account of early Christianity that depicts the worship of Christ in song by the church. In a letter (c. 112 A.D.) from the Bithynian governor, Plinius Secondus (Pliny the Younger) to the Roman emperor, Trajan, concerning what should be done with “Christians” in Bithynia, he stated “that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god” (Epistle X, 96).
In one of the greatest volumes ever penned on the history of Christianity, Joseph Bingham includes page after page of evidence taken from the early writings of the Patristic Fathers which demonstrates the worship of Christ in both prayer and song.
In his book, The Antiquities of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, Chapter 2, Sect. 1, the subtitle reads: “Proofs of the worship of Christ, as the Son of God, or the second person of the blessed Trinity, in the first century.”
This section noted many of the evidences related in earlier portions of this study as found in the New Testament. Of special interest is the evaluation he assigns to the phrase “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Bingham wrote concerning the worship of Christ, “so common was this practice, that among other titles of the believers, at their first rise and appearance in the world, they were distinguished by the character of those that called on the name of Christ…they were called invokers, or worshippers of Christ, before the name Christian was known in the world” (p. 576).
Regarding John’s vision in Revelation 5:8-13, Bingham comments, “the church in heaven and earth together is represented as offering both prayers and hymns to Christ” (ibid).
In Chapter 2, Sect. 2, the historian relates evidences from the writings of second century Christians. He includes a benediction by Polycarp from a preserved letter wherein he invokes, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, the eternal High Priest, the Son of God, build you up in the faith and truth…” (p. 577). This prayer was addressed to “Jesus Christ Himself” by a Christian who was tutored in Christianity by the apostle John.
Following the martyrdom of Polycarp, the church at Smyrna wrote a letter to the neighboring congregations relating how the heathen judge was prevailed upon by certain Jews not to allow the Christians to retrieve the remains of Polycarp for burial on the grounds that they might “leave their crucified Master, and begin to worship this other” (ibid). To this charge the church at Smyrna rebutted, “that we can never either forsake the worship of Christ, who suffered for the salvation of all those who are saved in the whole world, the just for the unjust; or worship any other. For we worship him as being the Son of God” (ibid).
As Bingham states, “This is an unanswerable testimony, to prove both the Divine worship of Christ, as the true Son of God, and that no martyr or other saint was worshipped in those days” (ibid).
A prayer of Titus Flavius Clemens (Clement of Alexandria, c. 150-215 A.D.) reads, “Be merciful to thy children, O Master, O Father, thou ruler of Israel, O Son, and Father, who are both One, our Lord” (p. 579). In his book, Paedagogus, Clement includes a “Hymn to Christ the Saviour,” which contains these sentiments:
“Your simple children bring, In one, that they may sing
In solemn lays, Their hymns of praise,
With guileless lips to Christ their King” (III, XII).
The second century church battled against heathens who attempted to portray Christians as atheists because they appeared to worship only Jesus, the man they viewed as condemned and crucified. Bingham quoted the judge who martyred Andronieus, charging “that Christ whom he invocated and worshipped, was a man that had suffered under the government of Pontius Pilate” (p. 579).
Answering similar charges, Athenagoras retorted, “We are no atheists, who worship the Creator of all things, and his Word that proceedeth from him” (p. 578).
Bingham also described Minucius Felix who rebutted the same charges, saying “he whom they worshipped was God, and not a mere mortal man” (p. 579).
After citing many similar cases, Bingham says, “Their worship of Christ was so well known to the heathens, that at every turn, we see, it was objected to them. And their answer was always the same, that they worshipped him indeed, but not as a mere man, but God, the Son of God, and of the same substance with the Father” (ibid).
Closing out the second century evidences, he says, “Therefore we must conclude that as it is plain from the foregoing testimonies, that Christians did give Divine worship to Christ in this age” (p. 580).
Regarding the worship of Christ in the third century, the testimony of Origen against charges leveled by Celsus is given: “We therefore worship one God, as I have showed, the Father and the Son…We worship one God, and his only Son, and Word, and Image, with supplications and prayers to the utmost of our power, offering him who is the propitiation for our sins, as High Priest, to offer our prayers, and sacrifices, and intercessions to God, the Lord of all things” (p. 581).
In his writings, Origen worded many prayers. The following are examples (p. 583):
a) “O Lord Jesus, grant that I may be found worthy to have some monument of me in thy tabernacle.”
b) “I must pray to the Lord Jesus, that when I seek he would grant me to find, and open to me when I
c) “Let us pray from our hearts to the Word of God, who is the only begotten of the Father, that
reveals him to whom he wills, that he would vouchsafe to reveal these things unto us.”
Origen’s comment on 1 Corinthians 1:2 is also forthright. He explains, “With all that call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ declares him to be God, whose name was called upon. And if to call upon the name of the Lord, and to adore God, be one and the self-same thing; then as Christ is called upon, so is he to be adored; and as we offer to God the Father first of all prayers, so we must also to the Lord Jesus Christ; and as we offer supplications to the Father, so do we also to the Son; and as we offer thanksgivings to God, so do we offer thanksgivings to our Savior. For the Holy Scriptures teach us, that the same honour is to be given to both, that is, to God the Father and the Son, when it says, ‘That they may honour the Son, as they honour the Father” (p. 581).
Novatian argued for the deity and worship of Christ, stating, “He is present in all places that call upon him; which belongs not to the nature of man, but God…which kind of prayers would be of no use if he were a mere man; and from our obligations to fix our hope on him, which would be a curse rather than a blessing, if he were not God, as well as man” (p. 583).
Felix, an African bishop, prayed, “O Lord God of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, I bow my neck to thee as a sacrifice, who livest to all eternity: to whom belongs honour and power for ever and ever. Amen” (p. 585).
Thelica prayed, “I give thanks to the God of all kingdoms, Lord Jesus Christ, we serve thee: thou art our hope: thou art the hope of Christians: most holy God, most high God, God Almighty, we give thanks to thee for thy great name” (ibid).
The prayer of Emeritus says, “I beseech thee, O Christ: I give thanks to thee: deliver me, O Christ. In thy name I suffer, I suffer for a moment, I suffer willingly: let me not be confounded, O Christ” (ibid).
And from Ambrose, we encounter the final prayer of the martyr Vitalis: “O Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior and my God, command that my spirit may be received” (ibid).
Bingham concluded the material on the worship of Christ by stating, “It were easy to add many other testimonies of the like nature, but these are abundantly sufficient to show what was the practice of the church, in reference to the worship of Christ, during the three first ages, before Arianism appeared in the world” (ibid).
The reference to Arianism is a landmark in time. As Bingham so ably demonstrated, the church in the first three centuries worshipped Christ as God, petitioning and praising the members of the Godhead in holy unity. The view among Christians that Christ is not eternal deity and should not be worshipped has no existence in history until the close of the third century when the monk Arius (c. A.D. 250-336) began claiming “there was a time when the Son was not.”
From this late philosophy, the church began splintering into many diverse teachings concerning the true nature of Jesus Christ. Doctrines that cannot be proven by the Scriptures or from the earliest writings of Christians began to emerge, destroying the unity of the church by the grievous misunderstanding of the unity of the Godhead as presented from Genesis to Revelation.
The claimed recovery of New Testament Christianity in America during the 1800s quickly began receding back into apostasy in the twentieth century by the reintroduction of some of the most heretical teachings concerning Christ to ever emerge. Those seeking to expunge the worship of Christ in the church of Christ today are only a hair’s breadth away from the central teaching of modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The seriousness of this issue may not be overstated. If God must be worshiped (Matthew 4:10), and Jesus is God (Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20), what becomes of the Christian who consciously withholds all worship from Jesus, even staunchly opposing the participation of others who desire to worship Christ? The real danger is that this man-made doctrine may prove to be more than just an absurd position; it may prove to be eternally damning.
Consider Paul’s acknowledgment that Christ will return “with His mighty angels [i.e. the angels of God] in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; emp. added). While obeying the gospel is certainly a prerequisite for salvation, Paul affirms that knowing God is equally important. Too many in the church have been taught to obey the primary steps of obedience, but they remain woefully ignorant of the God of revelation.
Those denouncing the worship of Christ reveal they are ignorant of the true God of the Bible, thus possibly placing themselves in the unenviable position as the future recipients of Christ’s wrath (cf. Psalm 2:12). Paul urgently warned of the coming “man of lawlessness…who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Here is a serious matter to consider:
1. Jesus is called “God” no less than 12 times in the New Testament.
2. Jesus received worship no less than 12 times in the New Testament.
3. Jesus has no less than 12 prayers directed to Him in the New Testament.
4. Jesus is included in no less than 24 benedictions in the New Testament.
5. Jesus is the authorized object of the songs of the church in the New Testament.
6. Jesus is praised in at least 3 doxologies in the New Testament.
7. Jesus is worshiped by the heavenly hosts in the New Testament.
Clearly, the New Testament is not silent respecting the worthiness of Jesus to receive worship. Drawing from Paul’s dire warning, in whose company is one placed today who “opposes” the deity and worship of Jesus Christ? Paul’s “man of lawlessness” opposed all worship to God, and Jesus, as unmistakably depicted in both the Old and New Testaments, is certainly God (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1). To oppose worship to Christ is to oppose worship to God, thereby aligning the oppositionist in dangerous company with the “man of lawlessness.”
The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians claimed to worship God, but their failure to honor and revere Christ disavowed their claim. It is impossible for one to worship God while willfully excluding Christ as an object of worship. As witnessed on the pages of the New Testament, the apostles of Christ never withheld from Christ the prestige and honor reserved exclusively for God. Jesus was addressed directly in conversation, in prayer, in benedictions, in doxologies, and in songs. The heavens reverberate with the worship of the Lamb, yet some among us decline to participate; either sitting silently on the sidelines or else protesting profusely against the worship of Christ.
Christians need to exercise extreme caution before taking a position that denounces the worship of Christ; for the voice of the heavenly hosts resounds, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). These seven qualities appear to suggest the complete adoration and reverence due Christ Jesus. If honor, glory, and blessing are to be bestowed upon Christ by the Christian, how is such to be accomplished without song, prayer, praise, or worship?
In light of the available evidence from the Scriptures, we must conclude that not only is Jesus worthy to receive worship, but He must be worshipped as God. The failure to do so would appear to be an act of willful disobedience. The early church was characterized by the worship of Christ in accordance with New Testament directives. The restored New Testament church in our day will also embrace the worship of Christ.
Let us, therefore, cast off the shackles of man-made doctrines and give the more earnest heed to the gospel preached by the apostles of Jesus Christ – our Lord and our God; to whom belongs the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing for ever and ever, age unto age, for all eternity. Amen.
Bingham, Joseph (1878), The Antiquities of the Christian Church, Vol. 1 (London: Reeves and Turner).
Shedd, Willaim Greenough Thayer (2003), Dogmatic Theology, Ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed.
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub.).