By Harry R. Osborne
Have you gone to the worship services of various churches? There is an amazing variety among them. In fact, there is so much variety that one wonders how so many practices could come from people supposedly following the same book, the Bible. The obvious fact is that they do not follow the simple New Testament pattern for worship. Instead, they add to and subtract from that biblical pattern to suit their own desires.
Examples of denominational “worship” seem to be reaching a new high in lows these days. We all remember the denominational group in California several years ago that added a drive-in window for all of their members who could not spend the time to come in for the whole service. It was a kind of “Jiffy-Prayer” booth. So many gimmicks have come down the line that it is impossible to list or even remember all of them.
A few weeks ago, however, I was intrigued by the scheme of a group who came to the Living Stones church here in Alvin, Texas. Several fellows of muscular build, called “the Power Team,” did karate chops pulverizing huge blocks of ice in “worship” to God. I thought surely that was the worst it could get – until last Sunday. On that Super Bowl Sunday, the Second Baptist Church in Houston had services in the gymnasium where they erected a 20-foot TV screen to watch the football game. During the whole thing, the deacons sold nachos, hot dogs, popcorn, and cokes while young women dressed as cheerleaders pranced around and lead cheers. At halftime the preacher, called the “headlines man” for the evening, gave his address. I am certain all were edified. Is this “worship” as God intended it?
Let’s look at what the New Testament says about the worship of the church. In Colossians 3:17, we are reminded that we need authority for whatever we do, either in word or in deed. Let us see what that church in the New Testament did and what they were instructed to do. In this way we can determine the full pattern regarding worship as God gave it by the inspired writers.
First, we see that the New Testament church engaged in prayer to worship God. Jesus taught the disciples that prayer was an act of worship and reverence to God (Matt. 6:9). In Colossians 4:24, the church at Colossae is enjoined to pray. The church in the book of Acts is seen praying (Acts 2:42).
Second, we see the preaching and teaching of God’s word in worship. Acts 2:42 says that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13 makes it clear that the apostles’ teaching is in fact the word of God. When men speak “the oracles of God,” it is so “God may be glorified” (1 Pet. 4:11).
Third, we see Christians in the first century singing praises to God. They were commanded to speak “one to another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Nine times in the New Testament we find commands to or examples of singing in worship to God.
Fourth, we find New Testament Christians gathering on the first day of every week to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). This was in fulfillment of the command given by Christ on the night of his betrayal (Matt. 26:26-29). Paul makes clear the place and manner of partaking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20-34).
Fifth, we mad of first century Christians giving of their means upon the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2). Paul affirms that this is an act of worship in 2 Corinthians 8:5. Christians gave to meet the needs God authorized the church as a unit to discharge, but they gave only on the first day of the week.
When we have noticed those five acts of worship, we have covered completely what the New Testament calls “worship.” No ice smashing, nacho selling, cheerleader prancing, TV watching and so on – just things that focus on adoration of the God of heaven.
The term “worship” in our New Testament is defined as “to make obeisance” or “do reverence to.” It is said to denote “an act of homage or reverence.” Praying to God does that. Singing praises does that. Preaching God’s word does that. Thinking upon Christ’s death in the Lord’s supper does that. So does contributing out of love for God and his cause.
Where in the world did people get the idea that these other things give homage and reverence to God? They may be things in which men like to engage, but “worship” is to please God! We please God by doing the things he says we ought to do.
Brethren, we need to be very cautious about these principles, too. There is always some well intentioned soul who comes along and decides that we could add “enthusiasm” into our services by various means. What lies behind the well intentioned, but often errant suggestion that follows is a basic misunderstanding about the nature of worship. Worship is to please God! The uplifting we derive from it ought to be a by-product of the fact that God is praised, not the other way around. I hear a multitude of brethren talking about the main purpose of worship being the energizing of ourselves and our brethren. That concept is nothing short of sectarian thinking and will lead all who follow it into the same practices we see in the denominational world! The denominations structure their services around what will excite them the most. The Christian seeks to worship, adore, and praise the Almighty God of heaven and receives joy as a by product of his service to God.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 7, pp. 195-196
April 7, 1988