Whom do we worship?
Related Posts: Who is Jesus?—to a Mormon; The Nature of Christ; The Trinity ; Godhead: God or Gods?
See also "Worship" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism
In the mind of most Mormons the objects of worship are God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost is necessary for the true worship of the Father and the Son; it is through the Holy Ghost that we worship in spirit and in truth, for “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 5:5).
Since worship can mean many things, the concept in Mormonism is not well defined. Those in heaven “sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost” (Mormon 7:7); the ordinance of baptism is performed “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 20:73); our prayers are directed to God the Father and are done in the name of Jesus Christ; and the first words every newly confirmed church member hears are, “Receive the Holy Ghost” (D&C 49:13-14).
In addition to the worship of the Father and the Son (as individuals), we also worship the Godhead, consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. A statement issued by the First Presidency in 1886, titled “Epistle to Saints scattered abroad” reads, “The God of heaven, whom we worship, is represented as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” It should be pointed out that God should be taken as meaning Godhead, not one God in the traditional Trinitarian sense. As Apostle George Q. Cannon said, “We worship them as one God.” Apostle M. Russell Ballard said, “Much misunderstanding would be avoided if [others] understood that we worship only one Godhead, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” (“Building bridges of understanding,” Ensign, June 1998). As far as I can tell, there is no statement from a General Authority or verse of scripture indicating we worship the individual person of the Holy Ghost.
Because the Mormon concept of Godhead differs from the traditional Christian one, the objects of Mormon worship (at least in concept) are different from that of conventional Christian worship. Most Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in Trinity and Unity: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance,” reads the Athanasian Creed. Different denominations define acts of worship in their own unique way. For some denominations this involves liturgy: for Catholics this includes mass; for many Protestants some form of common prayer; for Mormons, partaking of the sacrament and temple ceremony are part of our worship.
Worship the Father and the Son
Just as we pray to the Father in the name of Christ, we also worship the Father in the name of Christ: “believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name” (2 Nephi 25:16). And we also worship Christ: “bow down before [Christ], and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul” (2 Nephi 25:29; Matt. 2:2; 28:9; 3 Nephi 17:10; Rev. 5:8). In the September Ensign President Hinckley wrote of the church’s respect and worship of Jesus Christ: “We love Him. We Honor Him. We thank Him. We worship Him. He has done for each of us and for all mankind that which none other could have done” (“Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Sep. 2007).
We worship the Father because he is our Heavenly Father. We worship the Son because the Father has given all honor and glory to Him: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). For that reason, “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23; compare Luke 10:16).
What worship is and isn’t
We are commanded to serve God with all our heart and soul, but we are not forbidden from giving honor to political or religious leaders, or to earthly kings. Anciently, and even recently, worship meant to give homage or honor. Hence Christ says to the saints at Philadelphia: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan…to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:9). (The NASB reads “bow down at your feet” and the ALT reads “prostrate themselves in reverence.”) The tribe of Judah was told “thy father’s children shall bow down before thee” (Gen. 49:8). And Joseph saw in a dream that his brothers would bow down before him (Gen. 37:7, 9-10). Abraham bowed before three holy men (Gen. 18:2); Joab fell down before King David (2 Sam. 14:22); and “Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him” (Daniel 2:46)--Daniel did not refuse these honors.
People today tend not to think of worship as a form of general respect but rather as something reserved for God alone.
Different cultures have different ways of giving respect to presidents, leaders, and prophets. In some situations giving honor to political or religious leaders is appropriate. In another context the same honor could imply disrespect to God. For example, in some cultures bowing is a form of greeting or a way of showing respect, and is not an act of worship. Though in a different context it might be. Whether or not a given act is true worship depends on (1) the act being appropriate to the worship of God and (2) the way, and the spirit in which, it is given.
With this in mind, singing a national anthem or saying the pledge of allegiance, taking an oath of public office, bowing to an earthly king, or giving respect according to one’s cultural traditions does not interfere with the true worship of God. However, just as it would be inappropriate to give obeisance to the servant of an earthly king, it would be inappropriate to give honor reserved for our Heavenly King to one of His servants. We never perform prostration before, or pray to, the prophet (1 Nephi 17:55; Acts 10:25-26), or angels (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9); though we do give the prophet great respect. For example, by singing the hymn “We thank thee O God for a prophet” and “Praise to the Man” (i.e. Joseph Smith).
How do we worship?
There are many things that could be classified as worship: song, prayer, reverence, ordinances, prostration, emulation, etc. One goal of worship is to arrange our priorities such that God is esteemed above all other things and persons. True worship is described very well by Nephi: it is with our “might, mind, and strength, and…[our] whole soul” (2 Nephi 25:29).
I suppose the highest act of worship we can give to God is to obey his commandments: “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” said Jesus (John 14:15). The greatest of all commandments, that is, the greatest act of worship, is to love God and to love one’s neighbors: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39; italics mine).
Do people of other religions worship the true God?
To those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, and administer to the sick and afflicted, Jesus said, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). The righteous did not know they were serving our Lord Jesus: “when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? (NASB, Matt. 25:37). Jesus’ reply is one of his most beautiful sayings: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Love for others is accepted by God and is a true form of worship. Though theological conceptions of God differ from religion to religion, every act of kindness is an act of worship--as Muhammad said, “even a smile can be charity.” According to the Book of Mormon, “every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13). I believe that any Muslim, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, and Atheist can worship God.
 Elder Bruce R. McConkie made this statement: “We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense-the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to Him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator” (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p.60).
In my database of LDS writings this is the only statement I have come across which says we do not worship the Son. However, in his book Mormon Doctrine Elder McConkie writes, “The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship…No one can worship the Father without also worshiping the Son…‘He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.’ (John 5:23.) It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worship the Son” (“Worship,” Mormon Doctrine).
The statement from Mormon Doctrine should be taken as the more authoritative one, as the book was reviewed by a Church committee--after the first edition was published. There are several ways that worship can be defined. When reading statements like the one from Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie one must be careful to put it into its proper context. Elder McConkie gives a more thorough statement in his book The Messiah Series: “in addition to worshiping the Father, our great and eternal Head, by whose word men are, there is a sense in which we worship the Son. We pay divine honor, reverence, and homage to him because of his atoning sacrifice, because immortality and eternal life come through him. He does not replace the Father in receiving reverence, honor, and respect, but he is worthy to receive all the praise and glory that our whole souls have power to possess” (p. 566).
 James R Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 3, p. 93.
 George Q. Cannon, at the General Conference, held in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, April 7, 1895. (See Collected Discourses, Vol. 4.)
 Paul’s advice to those who are invited to dinner at the home of a pagan is,
If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience--I do not mean your conscience, but his. (ESV, 1 Cor. 10:27-29).
 We are given a very strong warning by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni: “take heed…that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil” (Moroni 7:14).