By Kenneth D. Sils
The night before Jesus gave his life on the cross, he prayed fervently to his heavenly Father for spiritual strength. As Jesus was praying for his apostles he said, “As You have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (Jn. 17:18-19). The apostles of Jesus were referred to as “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20) with the mission of telling the world about his truth, the good news which sets men free. Knowing this, it should not surprise us that Jesus would continue his prayer saying, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all be one, as You, Father are in Me, and I in you; that they all may be one with Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).
In the first century, there was no such thing as the cur-rent “unity in diversity” doctrine. The church of Christ was a unified body of believers. They accomplished this by “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). This unity is even seen in the way they worshiped God, knowing they must follow the pattern God gave them through the apostles. In John 4:24, Jesus told us, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Christians worship God in spirit and in truth.
Man is not at liberty to worship God in just any old way that feels good and still be pleasing to God. Consider the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10: 1-3, “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” While these religious men were carrying out an activity of worship, they sinned and died before the Lord. Why? Because they were not fully following God’s instructions concerning worship. If one truly adores God, he will praise him just as he has been instructed according to God’s law with a heart of reverence.
When we peer into God’s divine record, it is easy to see just how the church in the first century worshiped. There are many commands and examples available in the New Testament to know exactly what the church did when they” came together as a church” (I Cor. 11: 18). They didn’t come together to “do their own thing”; they came together to express homage to God and the only way to do that was to be “subject to Christ” (Eph. 5:24).
In 1 Corinthians 14, we learn a couple of important principles about the worship of the church of Christ. In verse 26, we see that they were to “let all things be done for edification.” The worship of the church was designed not only to praise God, but to build up the faith of the saints. The only way this could be accomplished was for the church to “let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). If proper worship is ever to take place, then there must be order among the church. The members of the church are to maintain their composure so all can be edified in their worship. This truth strikes at the heart of many of the modem “charismatic” denominational churches which allow and encourage their members to run around their auditoriums, shout whatever comes to their minds, fall down with a pseudo-slain spirit and jump around in primeval dancing when the mood hits them. Worship to God was never de-signed to have today’s “carnival” atmosphere, but was a serious reflection of homage to God with members participating in authorized actions from the doctrine of Christ.
The church, the called out, came together “as a church” for the express purpose to worship God. If we desire to be a part of the church of Christ, we must worship God just as Christians did in the Bible. They worshiped God observing five different activities which God ordained in the New Testament. All other ways of congregational worship must be forsaken in order for the church’s worship to be accepted by God. Here are the activities of assemblies of God found in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9):
1. The church of Christ worships God by singing praises to him. In Hebrews 2:12, the writer tells us that congregational singing is encouraged by God when he says, “I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praises to You.” The apostle Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus to be “speaking to one an-other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” The church which our Lord built never used instruments, other than their hearts, to sing praises to God. They sang in a congregational fashion. Any other way is foreign to the pattern which Christ established through his apostles in the New Testament. Those who refuse to accept his plan balk at the authority of God and will find that their worship is a “vain” worship.
2. The church of Christ worships God by praying to our Father. As Paul was instructing the Corinthians about their behavior when assembled, he said in 1 Corinthians 14:15, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding.” In the first century, men offered up prayers to the Father in words that could be understood and “Amened.” Jesus instructed men to pray to their Heavenly Father in Matthew 6, yet prayer was to be offered in the name of Jesus (Jn. 14:6; Col. 3:17). A period of worship without sincere, heartfelt prayer is like a river bed without water. God desires for us to come before his throne with singing and praying as often as we can.
3. The church of Christ worships God by giving of their means. The apostle Paul told Christians in 1 Corinthians 16: 1-2, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also; on the first day of the week, let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper.” The church of Christ gave back a portion of their income in a common treasury (collection) on the first day of the week. Notice that they gave on the first day of the week and there is no mention of the Old Testament command of “tithing.” One is to give as he purposes in his heart (2 Cor. 9:7), exposing his spirit of worship. Also, one is to give when God told him to, exposing his allegiance to the truth. Any ministry or church which takes upon itself to collect money just any day or demand a tenth or more is speaking beyond the boundaries of Christ’s doctrine. Modem day denominationalism shows its true lack of respect for God’s pattern here.
4. The church of Christ worships God by eating the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 20:7, Christians at Troas came together on the first day of the week to break bread. This action, done on the first day of the week, was eating the Supper instituted by our Lord to proclaim his death to the world. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. Therefore, who-ever eats this bread and drinks this cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Again, this passage demonstrates that we must worship in spirit and truth. The Lord’s supper is to be done just the way God demanded. Any deviation of time or manner is a perversion of worship which causes one to be guilty of sinful rebellion.
5. The church of Christ worships God through preaching the gospel. Acts 20:7 also tells us that Paul spoke to these Christians until midnight. There can be no doubt, only the gospel of Jesus was being preached. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word.” The only acceptable preaching was the preaching of God’s holy Word, the gospel or doctrine of Christ. Evangelists never preached about politics, philosophies or theologies of men, secular education or a “social” gospel. When one honestly examines the majority of pulpits today, one finds everything except “the truth that makes one free” (Jn. 8:32). Paul describes the church of Christ as, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Friend, when is the last time you have heard a lesson beginning and ending in Scripture?
The church of Christ responds to God’s plea for unity. They are unified in the apostle’s doctrine. They worship God just as first century Christians did, making them a part of the same body, the church. Satan has many ministers who appear righteous, but they abhor the authority of God by worshiping as they feel, rather than by the truth. Today, you are shaping your eternity. Are you worshiping God in spirit and in truth? Investigate the church that Jesus built and you will find reverence, homage and worship which is acceptable to God.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 21, p.6-7
November 2, 1995