Debates over the proper way to worship God have been going on for about as long as sinners have been worshiping. And these debates are not entirely without merit. After all, God has always prescribed for his people the proper ways in which he is to be worshiped if our worship is to honor him. Not once in all the Bible is God portrayed as apathetic concerning how he is to be worshiped as though all that matters are our intentions. Let us not forget about Cain’s unacceptable offering, Nadab and Abihu, the golden calf, or the church in Corinth. But we must also carefully avoid the trap of worshiping our worship as though the elements themselves are to be objects of our praise or pride. The “how-to’s” of Christian worship are given not for our boasting but for the Lord’s own glory. But those elements of Christian worship are also meant to teach sinners where to go to find forgiveness.
Just as in the Old Testament, Christian worship addresses the question of where sinners must go for salvation. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman about worship is only part of a larger conversation concerning the woman’s sin and her need for salvation. The worship of both the Samaritans and the people of Israel centered on their respective temples and the practice of sacrifice. So worship, as it was shaped by the opening chapters of the Bible, was always intended to address first and foremost the question of where sinners can go to have their sins covered.
That is why Christian worship has a gospel shape to it. In worship, Christians hear God’s gracious call to worship, respond in praise, confess their sin, hear God’s pardon, answer back in praise and confession of faith, offer prayers of supplication, hear God’s word proclaimed, celebrate the covenant meal, and receive God’s benediction.