By Leslie Diestelkamp
The Bible says, “Worship God,” and it is the responsibility of Christians to discern from the written Word what God wants us to do to express that worship and how He wants us to express it. By precept, approved example and necessary inference, the New Testament reveals the will of God in this matter. Any departure from that which is therein revealed becomes an apostasy. Consequently, each item of apostasy that will be mentioned in this article is indeed a departure from authorized practice. These items constitute departure because (1) authorized activity is omitted, (2) unauthorized activity is added, or (3) scriptural activity is done in a wrong way.
Apostasy is a failure to follow apostolic directives, either by omission or commission. In this article, we shall consider apostasies in public expressions of worship by assembled Christians.
Processes of Apostasy
History indicates that most apostasies. have come through misunderstanding, disrespect or human wisdom. History also shows that most apostasies have come by a very gradual process-step by step, even short step by short step. In view of this process, we must recognize every small departure, not only for what it is, but also for what it may become. George A. Klingman, in Church History for Busy People (p.92), said, “…the changes in the form of worship were brought about gradually and under great protest, destroying not only the original simplicity but also the spiritual unity which characterized the worship of the first Christians.”
Departures from scriptural worship not only came by the short-step method, but also by repeated processes. This is what I mean: After almost every effort at reform and-or restoration, the same processes that had previously brought apostasy were repeated, leading again to departure. Even sincere and well-intentioned people do not seem to learn the lessons of history! While pleading for reformation and hoping for restoration, people are usually caught in Satan’s subtle snare-the magnetic appeal of human wisdom.
One of the most devastating characteristics of departure is the historical fact that trends toward apostasy are usually irreversible. History will bear out that, once churches begin a trend toward unauthorized worship, the trend usually becomes an avalanche, a landslide, or a catastrophe! Therefore, it is very important, as we enter the ninth decade of this twentieth century, that we determine to avoid even the slightest trend toward unauthorized activities in worship.
Departures in the Denominations
Of course, denominationalism is, in itself, a great departure from apostolic ways. But denominations usually become actualities because of apostasies regarding the nature, the action, and the organization of such bodies. Hence, departures in worship have often been consummated within those existing denominations because of their already demonstrated rejection of the full authority of the New Testament.
Klingman, in his Church History for Busy People, quotes the renounced historian Mosheim (p. 46) thusly, “There is no institution so pure and excellent which the corruption and folly of man will not in time alter for the worse, and load with additions foreign to its nature and original design. Such, in a particular manner, was the fate of Christianity. In this century (the second) many unnecessary rites and ceremonies were added to the Christian worship, the introduction of which was extremely offensive to wise and good men.” A few examples of these departures are as follows:
1. The Lord’s supper, because of its utter simplicity as a memorial to the death of Christ (1 cor. 11:24-26), was almost immediately susceptible to changes to satisfy the vanity and the wisdom of men. For instance, in the early centuries, a number of various beliefs seemed to prevail regarding the actual presence of the body of Christ in the bread of the Lord’s table; but only in 1215 was it declared to be the only true doctrine by Innocent III, the Pope. This is called the doctrine of “transubstantiation.” About this same time, the practice began and developed of giving the people only the bread. In the course of time, “the Mass” took the place of the simple remembrance in the Lord’s supper. The Mass came to mean the perpetual sacrifice in which the body and blood of Jesus Christ are actually offered to God today.
2. Instead of the congregational singing authorized in the New Testament and practiced in apostolic days, a performance or display for entertainment gradually began to prevail. One sincere Catholic lady told me many years ago that “we no longer go to do our religion, but to see and hear it done.”
3. The appeal to human vanity naturally led to the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. A priest in the Greek Catholic church, who was himself a native of Greece, told me thirty years ago that there is no authority for the use of the instruments, in the New Testament, but that “we brought it in in the third and fourth centuries to please the pagans.” Indeed, the earliest references to use of instruments of music in worship seem to be in the second century, but then even the introduction of the flute or harp caused so much trouble that it was generally avoided for some centuries. Some great reformers of the sixteenth century considered the organ as a monument of idolatry.
4. In this twentieth century, some modern denominations have almost completely abandoned spiritual singing in favor of instrumental concerts and other instrumental extravaganzas.
5. In like manner, the modern denominations have perverted the Lord’s supper in at least three ways: (1) by relegating its observance to monthly, quarterly or annually; (2) by the other extreme of making it a means of forgiveness of sins; and (3) by making its observance available in buffet style – the table is always set and anyone may help himself at any time!
Departures In the Lord’s Church
Historically, even the body of Christ drifts toward denominationalism via departures in organization and doctrine, but the step-by-step changes in principles and processes of worship also are observed among the most sincere and devoted. After great strides toward restoration of first century religion and after some of the most significant evangelistic fruitfulness in modern history, the great emphasis upon a “revealed religion” became contaminated by the following departures in worship:
1. In the nineteenth century the Melodian and then the Organ were introduced in Kentucky and Missouri over much protest, but in just a few decades, pianos became common and stringed instruments, orchestras, etc. were gradually brought in too.
2. During those same decades, the congregational singing was often gradually supplemented by solos, choirs and recitals. The trend was not only toward non-involvement of the majority of the assemblies but also toward a display of musical refinement unrelated to spiritual worship.
3. Among God’s people, in this twentieth century, there has been considered trend toward formalism and ritualism, especially regarding the Lord’s supper; thus, (1) there is a tendency to make it a criteria for forgiveness, and (2) there is a trend that minimizes the “togetherness” that was an obvious characteristic of the observance of the Lord’s supper in the days of the apostles (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20; 14:23).
4. The observance of the Lord’s supper throughout the week and the taking of collections at any time are other departures among some brethren, and even many who do not practice this will not militantly oppose such.
That there is a continuing and ever-present necessity for restoration to New Testament principles of worship can hardly be denied. There must be a constant call, “Back to the Bible,” in every generation and even in every decade.
Let us look with genuine honesty at our own attitudes and activities that have to do with our worship. The New Testament completely provides for our every necessity even in worship, and we have the solemn obligation of discerning the message of God therein revealed. Sincerity must be recognized for its worth as an essential quality of worship, but it must also be recognized for its worthlessness for authority. Zeal must be identfied as an important quality for fruitfulness but it must also be identified as the culprit that will destroy our scriptural worship if that zeal is not bridled.
As we worship God by expressing the homage in our hearts in the, study of the Word, in singing praises, in prayers, in the remembrance of the Lord’s supper, and in giving of our material means, I personally urge that we keep a very close watch regarding the latter two. Let us be sure our giving is not only generous and cheerful but that it is purposeful (1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 9:7, 8). And Let us be sure that custom and convenience do not combine to distort our proper view of the Lord’s supper. Let us be sure that human wisdom does not obscure the very intentof the Lord and the very instruction of the apostles regarding this memorial feast .that serves in a very precise way to bring the people of God together each week.
- How is it possible for a Christian to discern what God wants in worship?
- In what three ways is the will of God revealed?
- What is apostasy?
- Why have most apostasies come about?
- Discuss departures that have taken place in (a) Lord’s Supper and (b) singing, both in denominations and in the church.
- How can zeal be an important quality for fruitfulness and also be able to destroy our scriptural worship?
- Name what apostasies you can think of in the following items of worship:
d. Preaching the word.
e. Lord’s Supper.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 12-14
January 3, 1980