Scriptural Worship

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

Man is by nature a worshiping being. Men everywhere render homage to, or pay respect to, some higher being. There never has been found a race or tribe of men but that had some kind of worship. Men innately seem to sense the need to worship something.

The Bible teaches that one of the purposes ot man is the glorification of God. Paul said, "ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body" (I Cor. 6:19, 20). This effort on the part of man to glorify God is what we mean by worship.

Men have always been commanded to worship. This worship has always been sacrificial. Abel offered animal sacrifice according to the will of God (Heb. 11:4). Abraham was ordered to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God, though God stayed his hand when he saw that Abraham feared him (Gen. 22:1-19). The Jews, by divine order, offered animal sacrifices of many sorts. And the Christian is to offer up spiritual sacrifice (I Pet. 2:5). He is to present his body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God (Rom. 12:1, 2). Thus we see that worship, in every age, has been sacrificial. God has not always required the same sacrifices of man, but in every dispensation He has required some acts of devotion on the part of man.

In this dispensation, as in every other, the acts of worship are either specified, or they are not specified. If God made no specifications as to how man is to worship, then man is free to worship in any manner that he sees fit. But it is the thesis of this effort that God has specified how He would be worshiped. If God has laid down certain rules of worship, it then becomes the duty of man to worship in harmony with these stipulations. Let us then study the Bible to see what rules God has laid down for acceptable worship.

A Scriptural Object

Though men have always worshiped something, they have not always worshiped God. The divinely specified object of acceptable worship is Almighty God. Jesus taught, "God is a -Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jno. 4:24). The apostle John tells about his intention to worship an angel, but the angel forbade him, saying: "I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book: worship God" (Rev. 22:9). Men are ordered to sing with grace in their hearts "unto God" and to give thanks "to God the Father" (Col. 3:16, 17). Peter teaches that men must "glorify God" in the name Christian (I Pet. 4:16). Thus the divinely specified object of worship is more than once said to be God the Father.

The history of man's efforts to worship reveals that he often has worshiped unscriptural objects of worship. When Paul went to the city of Athens to preach, he found that they had many "objects" of worship (Acts 17:23). Someone has said that so numerous were idols in Athens that it was easier to find a god than a man. Idolatry was a very prevalent error in the ancient world, and is yet a prevalent error. Persons who worship a plurality of gods are said even today to outnumber those who worship "one God" (Eph. 4:6).

However, the greater threat to the acceptability of worship with men today, so far as the object of worship is concerned, is not the danger of entering into an idol's temple. Such could hardly be found, at least in this country. But men might so love the world that the things of the world become idols to them (I Jno. 2:15-17). A man's god is simply the most important thing in the world to him. Paul teaches that covetousness (the excessive desire for things) is idolatry (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5). Jesus taught, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). Many men today bow their knees before the god of this world, and serve him rather than the Almighty.

Others invalidate their worship by rendering it to a man instead of to God. Our friends in the Roman Catholic Church refer to the pope as "Holy Father," "Vicar of Christ," "Vicar of God" and "Vicegerent of God." They show homage and respect unto him that ought only to be shown to God. The Catholics tell us Peter was the first pope. But when Cornelius "fell down at his feet, and worshipped him," Peter told him, "Stand up; I myself also am a man." He acted very uniquely if he were a Pope! Worship is to be rendered to no man.

One of the things wrong with a Christian belonging to the Masonic Lodge is the fact that they have men whom Christians are supposed to call "Most Worshipful Grand Master," "Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden," etc. The Bible says "worship God."

The same type of sin is committed when one calls a preacher "Reverend." The word "reverend" is a form of the word "reverence," which is a synonym for worship. If a man is "reverend," he should be reverenced. But the Bible teaches that God's name only is "holy and reverend" (Ps. 111:9).

A Scriptural Place

The Bible teaches that before one can worship God acceptably, he must be in the scriptural place of worship. Let us hasten to say that we do not here refer to any particular physical location. Jesus taught that worship under the New Testament order would be irrespective of physical location (Jno. 4:21). One can read in the Bible about worship being rendered down by a riverside (Acts 16:13) and in a prison (Acts 16:25). Some early disciples met in their residences, or in a Jewish synagogue or in the temple. The physical place did not matter. One might worship God under a tree, in a rented hall, or in a commodious building. The church might rent, borrow, or own a building.

But God has stated that worship today must I be rendered in a certain place. Paul taught, "unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:21). The place to worship is "in the church" and "in Christ Jesus..." Peter stated that glory to God could be rendered only "in the name Christian" (I Pet. 4:16). Thus, if one scripturally could not wear the name "Christian," he did not sustain the right relationship to God so as to worship him acceptably.

The privilege of worship is a "spiritual blessing," and all spiritual blessings are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). Thus one outside of Christ is not in the right place to worship scripturally. One can only worship God through Christ (Col. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:5). Jesus taught his disciples to start a prayer by saying "Our Father . . ." (Matt. 6:9). Unless one scripturally can call God his Father, he cannot scripturally pray. The Bible declares that "God heareth not sinners" (Jno. 9:31).

In the Old Testament era God ordered the erection of the tabernacle, which was simply a portable place of worship. This was the place where God ordered his people to worship during their wanderings. When Israel became permanently settled in the Promised Land, the temple was built. God then met his people there, and put his name there (I Kings 8:17:21; 2 Chron. 6:8, 9). Today God has a place where he will meet his people. Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). The church is shown, in the Hebrew letter, to be to the people of God today what the tabernacle was to the people of God in the Old Testament. The church is God's "true sanctuary" and spiritual tabernacle (Heb. 8:1,2; 9:11). In like manner, the church is described as the temple of God (Eph. 2:20-22).

Thus the church is the place today where men must worship God. Of course the church is not a physical house, but a spiritual relationship. Unless one is "in Christ" (Eph. 1: 3; Gal. 3: 26, 2 7), and in the church which is the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1: 22, 23), he is not in the proper place to worship. One who is not a member of the church cannot render acceptable worship to God. One who cannot scripturally wear the name "Christian," or who cannot scripturally call God his Father cannot scripturally- worship God.

Scriptural Acts of Worship

God did not leave man free to improvise his own worship. God selected and stipulated the acts of worship that are acceptable to Him. Jesus taught that any worship, other than that which God commanded, is vain worship (Matt. 15:9). Shortly after the establishment of the church, it was said of their worship: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). With the addition of singing which is elsewhere taught, this passage summarizes the acts of worship of the early church.

Apostles' Teaching - the early church had in its assemblies the study of the words of the apostles. When the disciples gathered at Troas, "Paul discoursed with them" (Acts 20:7). When the gospel is preached today in the gatherings of the saints, apostolic precedent is being followed.

Fellowship - The word "fellowship" suggests partnership. Early Christians were "fellow-heirs," "fellow-members of the body," and "fellow-partakers of the promise" (Eph. 3:6). It is not surprising then that they were partners in the work. The original word translated "fellowship" in Acts 2:42 is translated "contribution" in Rom. 15:26. It was by joint-participation in the contribution that all the members had fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:5; 4:15, 16).

Unfortunately the word "fellowship" has been so distorted in modern terminology that some have entirely lost sight of its New Testament meaning. "Fellowship" has been so long applied to wiener roasts, ball playing, coffee drinking and banqueting until few retain the Biblical concept of joint participation in a scriptural work. The so-called "Fellowship Halls" are not fellowship halls at all. They are misnomers. Such should be called "Banquet Halls" or "Play Rooms." The modern "Fellowship Hall" is far removed from any scriptural usage of the word "fellowship."

Breaking Bread - Sometimes the expression "breaking bread" in the Bible refers only to the eating of a common meal (Acts 2:46; 20:11), but sometimes it refers to the eating of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). The eating of bread and drinking of the fruit of the vine, as Jesus ordered, constitute a communing with the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10~: 16). This is to be done until he comes again (I Cor. 11:26). New Testament churches, therefore, were communing churches.

Prayers - When God's people study the apostles' doctrine, God is speaking to them (I Thess. 2:13). Prayer is simply man's effort to speak with God. The early church was a praying church. The church today that is to be like the New Testament church must also be a praying church.

Singing - The early church was instructed to be a singing church. Paul ' told the Corinthians, "I will sing with this spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (I Cor. 14:15). The Ephesians saints were instructed to speak "one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). In a very similar passage the Colossian church is instructed, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you'-richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God" (Col. 3:16). The Hebrew writer said, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise" (Heb. 2:12).

One very easily can see that singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs not only is authorized, but is required. The practice of turning the song service into a period of entertainment by the employment of choirs, quartets, solos and other "Specials" is not of New Testament order. Some in the church who loudly have protested the usage of the sectarian "choir" now have formed "Church of Christ Choruses." It would be very interesting to hear one of these opposers of "choirs" but defenders of "choruses" try to tell someone what the difference is.

Mechanical instruments of music in church worship are a late innovation. One cannot read of such in the New Testament. Historians tell us that the introduction of mechanical instruments into the praise of God in church services came several centuries after the close of the New Testament canon. Such a practice can only be a human invention. Every man sustains an affirmative relationship to his practice. We "sing" in our services, and have cited scriptures that authorize singing. Let those who would bring mechanical instrumental music into the worship of the church present New Testament authority for the practice, if they can. It is not in the Book!

The New Testament church was a studying, giving, praying, communing and a singing church. So must be the Lord's church today.

A Scriptural Time

There are some items of worship that God commanded, but did not specify any particular time when these acts are to be done. One may therefore study anytime he chooses to do so (2 Tim. 2:15), or sing when he is merry (Jas. 5:13), or pray when he wishes to do so (I Thess. 5:17). But there is a divinely appointed time to "break bread" and to "lay by in store,"

Breaking Bread - We are taught when New Testament Christians today are to break bread by finding out when New Testament Christians in the first century broke bread. Acts 20:7 reads: "And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them " The early church observed the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week.

Denominational churches, "take communion" once every three months, or twice a year, and some but once a year. They apparently understand "first day of the week" to mean once, twice, or four times a year. When God's people in the Old Testament were told "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8), they found out this meant to keep every Sabbath day holy (See Num. 15:32-36). Historians tell us that the early church assembled to remember the Lord's death and suffering every first day of the week. And so do faithful churches of Christ today.

Laying By in Store - The Bible not only tells us when to observe the Lord's Supper, it also tells us when we are to give of our means. The apostle Paul said, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1, 2).

You will note that the time for the breaking of bread and for the collection is "the first day of the week." The Lord's Supper is to be observed as often as a collection is taken. A collection is to be taken no more often than the Lord's Supper is served.

It is interesting how sectarian preachers reason. When they read about the Lord's Supper on "the first day of the week," they loudly argue that this does not mean every first day. This, to them, only means to do it once or twice a year. But did you ever hear of a denominational preacher who misunderstood "the first day of the week" when it is applied to the contribution? Did you ever hear of a preacher who thought this meant to take up a collection once or twice a year? They usually take up a collection (or several collections) at every assembly.

But the frequency is to be the same for the Lord's Supper and the contribution. Both are to be done on "the first day of the week." In churches of Christ every first day a collection is taken and the Lord's Supper is served. No congregational collections ever will be taken in faithful churches of Christ at mid-week services. Nor will the Lord's Supper be served at any time other than on "the first day of the week."

A Scriptural Manner

Jesus summarized the manner in which all worship should be rendered when he said to worship "in spirit and truth" (Jno. 4:24). We have studied what the word of truth has said about the object of worship, the place of worship, the acts of worship, and the time for worship. But what does "in spirit" mean?

It means to worship with one's spirit. It is true that one is to offer up the "fruit of lips" unto God (Heb. 15:15), but one also is to sing and make melody "with your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). When one eats the Lord's Supper he must do so "discerning the body" (I Cor. 11:29), else he eats and drinks damnation to himself. God will not accept ritualistic, formalistic worship. It must be spirit-given worship. One's heart and soul must be in his worship.

Some of our denominational friends are very conscientious and sincere in their worship, but much of their worship is not according to the truth (Jno. 17:17). But "spirit" without "truth" is insufficient (Jno. 4:24). On the other hand, some members of the Lord's church go through the scriptural acts of worship in a very cold, indifferent, insincere manner. "Truth" without ((spirit" also is insufficient. Worship, in order to be acceptable, must be rendered "in spirit" AND "in truth." John 4:24 constitutes a good summary of God's demands of us when we worship. God requires sincerity and truth in worship.


God demands that we worship Him, but He has stipulated how we must worship. The stipulations of God therefore exclude all worship which is without divine authority. We must worship the divine object, in the divinely specified place, by the acts God commanded, at the time He commanded them, and in the manner God commanded. Otherwise we worship in vain. "But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9).

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 8, pp. 2-6
May 1967