Landmarks of the Lord's Church (No. 3)
The Lord's church exisits on earth today because the divine landmarks which were established in the beginning are recognized and adhered to by God-fearing people. The Lord's church can continue to exist on earth today only so long as this condition prevails. If those who are members of the church should for some reason lose sight of the landmarks or should they disregard the pattern according to which the church is built, then the church would lose its identity and become absorbed in the maze of denominationalism. This has happened before, and it could happen again. For this reason the church needs constantly to keep the landmarks of the New Testament church clearly in focus. One of these divine landmarks is the worship of the church.
The rule by which true worship is measured is set forth in the words of Jesus to the woman at Jacob's well. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). This sets forth three aspects of true worship: (1) the object toward which it is directed; (2) the disposition of the worshiper; and (3 ) the manner of its rendition. It will be noted that the object of true worship is "the Father." He is the only object of Christian worship. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou Serve" (Matt. 4:10). Peter acted in accord with this truth when he refused the homage of Cornelius showing by his refusal that no man is worthy to receive the worship of his fellow-man. Even the worship of the angels of heaven is to be abhorred (Rev. 22: 8, 9).
The spirit of man is that invisible part of him that perceives, reflects, feels, and desires. Worship "in spirit" is simply worship that comes from the heart or from the inner man. True worship does not consist in form or ritual alone. God will not accept worship which does not spring from the innermost recesses of the sentient element of man. The very nature of God, "God is a Spirit," demands that true worship be spirit centered. The spirit is the only part of man that can commune with God. Leave the spirit out of the worship and it degenerates into base formalism without meaning or value.
Worship is an act of homage or reverence. We have seen that true worship must come from the heart and must be directed unto God. But what about the manner of worship? What acts are to be performed? Has God left us free to choose the acts by which we shall worship him? or has He stipulated what acts shall be performed? The answer to this is found in the words of Jesus: ". . . they that worship him must worship him . . . in truth." The truth is the word of God (John 17:17). The acts of true worship, therefore, are limited to and regulated by the word of God. Every act performed in worship must be authorized by the word of God. Any act that is not so authorized is not "in truth" and cannot be true worship. To perform even one unauthorized act injects in element of error into the worship and renders the whole worship vain. "But in vain thev do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9).
A study of the word of God reveals that there are five acts which are performed "in truth." (1) The Lord's Supper is observed in memory of the death of Christ on the Cross for the sins of the world (I Cor. 11:23-26). This act is performed upon the first day of the week when the church is assembled together (Acts 20:7). (2) Christians upon this same day, the first day of the week, give of their means according to their individual prosperity to finance the work of the church (I Cor. 16:1, 2). (3) Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are sung "with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16). In this singing Christians teach and admonish one another. (4) Prayer is not to be neglected, but true worshipers continue steadfastly therein (Acts 2:42). And (5) teaching and learning the word of God is an item in the divine plan for worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7). These five acts complete the New Testament plan for true worship. We are not at libertv to leave out any of these acts of worship which God commands, nor are we at liberty to add any item which he has not commanded.
In order to maintain our identity as the church of Christ, we must maintain the true worship which is one of the landmarks of that church. A change of any part of the pattern of true worship will result in a loss of identity and an apostasy from the truth. That the sectarian world long ago abandoned this divine landmark is a matter of common knowledge. There is not one item of true worship which they maintain as God ordained it. They have perverted every single act of true worship. The Lord's Supper is not observed upon the first day of each week, but is observed monthly, quarterly, or yearly as it happens to suit the wishes of the particular denomination. It is not uncommon for the Lord's Supper to be observed upon Thursday night, or upon some other occasion unknown in the word of God. Money to finance the work of the church is raised by various and sundry means. Pancake breakfasts, ice cream suppers, rummage sales, raffles, and begging from the general public are among the more common schemes. However, new ones are being hatched up every day and who knows what tomorrow may bring. The singing has been corrupted with the introduction of instrumental music, unscriptural (and often non-religious) songs, choirs, musical plays, etc. Prayer has been perverted in numerous ways. Among the various denominations it may take forms ranging from pure ritualism on the one hand to pure emotional outbursts on the other. The word of God has frequently been replaced by sermons honoring Mother, Father, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Y.M.C.A., Conservation Week, Thanksgiving, ad infiniturn. Christ must take a back seat, if indeed he has one at all.
It is possible that the church of our Lord today can follow the sectarian road to apostasy. We should be constantly vigilent lest foreign tendencies and practices creep in. Let us not become so filled with worldy pride and conceit and so desirous of worldly applause that we forget to whom and for what purpose our worship is rendered. Let us not in our zeal for order and perfection in carrying out the acts of worship lose the heart in the shuffle. That we should give of our best to the Master is unquestionably right, but to seek to make our worship appealing to the world is unquestionably wrong. This, it seems to me, is the greatest threat to true worship today. It need not be so, and it will not be so if we keep the divine landmark of true worship ever before us. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
Truth Magazine II:10, pp. 21-23