By Mike Willis
The people of the Lord are separate from the world; they will never blend in with modern religious denominationalism. We have already seen how the Lord’s people are distinctive with reference to their language and their doctrine. In this final article of this series, we remind our readers that the Lord’s people are also distinctive with reference to their worship.
The First Century Saints Had Distinctive Worship
The church which began at Jerusalem was distinctive in worship. Its worship was unlike that of its religious neighbors in many aspects. The inspired historian wrote that those who had been baptized on the day of Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Consider the differences in apostolic worship from that of those around them.
Judaism. New Testament worship certainly differed from that of Judaism in a number of ways. The Jews offered animal sacrifice daily at the Temple; too, incense was burned. The early church had no animal sacrifices to offer as a part of its congregational assembly; they burned no incense. As a matter of fact, the sacrifice of animals was replaced with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Whereas animal sacrifices were offered daily in the Temple, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary was an all-sufficient payment for the sins of the world; being all-sufficient, there was no need for continual offerings day after day.
The worship which the Lord’s people offered also separated them from Judaism; the Jews had no Lord’s supper – a memorial to the sacrifice of Christ; they did not preach the apostles’ doctrine; instead, they preached the Law of Moses. The early church did not observe the ceremonial law of cleanness. We can, therefore, conclude that the early church was easily distinguishable from Judaism in the worship which was offered.
Paganism. The worship of paganism did not have uniformity; that which was offered in one place to one god was different from that which was offered in another place to another god. Yet, the worship of paganism was distinctive from Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps the most obvious difference was in reference to the gods who were worshiped. Christians worship the true God; pagans worshiped a plurality of gods. Paganism was polytheistic and, therefore, differed from the early church.
The acts of worship of paganism were different from that of the Christians. For example, certain religions in Corinth committed fornication as an act of worship to their god. Other pagans burned their own children in fire as an act of worship to god. Consequently, we can see how distinctive the worship of the New Testament was when compared to paganism of the first century.
The Worship of Twentieth Century Saints Is Distinctive
Even as the worship of the first century church was distinctive from that of first century Judaism and paganism, so also the worship of the twentieth century saints is distinctive from that of its religious neighbors. Let us consider the distinctive nature of the worship of the New Testament church as compared to that of our religious neighbors.
1. The Lord’s Supper. The early church assembled on the first day of every week (1 Cor. 16:1-2) for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20; Acts 20:7). In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, remembrance was made of what Christ had done for us (1 Cor. 11:26). The items which were used were the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29) and unleavened bread (Matt. 26:17, 26).
Whereas the early church and the twentieth century church assembled on the first day of every week to break bread, modern Protestant denominationalism does not partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. Some denominations observe the Lord’s Supper monthly, others annually, and still others semi-annually. Some observe the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with a foot washing ceremony. Modern Catholicism, in distinction from Protestantism and the church, celebrates the “mass” every day. Both of these practices are contrary to the Lord’s revelation; consequently those who are simply following New Testament Christianity are distinctive with reference to the frequency of observing the Lord’s Supper.
The purpose for which the early church assembled to break bread is different also from that of Roman Catholicism. The New Testament church observed the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Catholicism celebrates the mass as a daily sacrifice of the body of Jesus which atones for venial sins and preserves one from committing mortal sins. The New Testament church is distinctive from the world of Catholicism in this respect.
2. Singing. The worship of the New Testament church in celebration to God is just as distinctive in the twentieth century as it was in the first century. The first century Christians had congregational singing (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). There is no evidence that the early church had a choir which did the singing for the entire congregation. Rather, each individual Christian lifted his voice in praise and adoration to God.
Modern worship services manifest several apostasies in worship with reference to singing. The most obvious apostasy is that of appointing a special singing group which does the singing for the entire group. Choirs and choruses are prevalent in many religious denominations today. Another apostasy in reference to the worship of God through song is the usage of mechanical instruments of music in connection with singing. There is no book, chapter, and verse authorizing the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship; nevertheless, brethren have forced them on other brethren causing a division in the body of Christ. A more recent apostasy which is showing itself in many denominations and some liberal churches of the Lord is the usage of specialized singing groups as a means of drawing a crowd to worship. There is no authority for drawing a crowd to the assembly to hear someone entertain us with his singing ability.
The Lord’s people will continue to be distinctive in the kind of worship which they offer. The simplicity of singing praises to God without mechanical accompaniment is considered strange to our religious neighbors. That we have no special singing groups to entertain us is unusual to our neighbors. Even today, the worship of the New Testament church is distinctive with reference to its singing.
3. Giving. The early church raised funds to preach the gospel through first day of the week contributions (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Each member gave as he was prospered, cheerfully, without grudging and not of necessity (2 Cor. 9:6-7). This was the manner in which funds were raised for the work of the church in the first century.
Modern religious groups raise their funds through begging, raffles, pot luck dinners, bingo games (a form of gambling), church owned businesses, and many other methods. The contributions taken in denominations are taken in at every assembly; in some assemblies several contributions are taken. The New Testament church continues to be different from that of its religious neighbors with reference to its manner of raising funds. Frequently I have to explain to people why our contributions are so high when compared to that of our religious neighbors. They cannot understand high contributions without many begging appeals for money. A group of saints committed to the support of the gospel preaching is unique even today.
4. Prayer. The approach of God through prayer is not unique. Just about every religious group offers prayer to God. What made the prayer of the first century church unique was that they approached the throne of grace through their mediator Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 16:13-14). They recognized their need for someone to stand between them and God, one who could and would plead their case (1 Jn. 2:1). Hence, the first century saints prayed to God through Christ.
This is still unique to some extent. Catholics pray to God through Mary. A mediator other than Jesus is used, a mere human being. Ecumenical circles pray to God directly without praying through Christ. They are concerned that they not offend their Jewish friends who do not believe in Jesus; consequently, a concerted effort is made not to mention Jesus’ name when offering prayer to God. Certainly the prayers of the saints are distinctive when compared to the prayers offered by ecumenical disciples and Catholics.
Let Us Remain Distinctive
I do not foresee the religious world around us making drastic changes in their practices in order to comply with the revelation of God. Until that is the case, the people of God will be as distinctive from the religious world around us as the first century saints were from the religious world around them.
There can be no compromise with sinful departures from God’s revelation. The man who departs from God’s revealed pattern cannot be fellowshipped (2 Jn. 9-11; 2 Thess. 3:14). The man who is presently involved with these religious denominations needs to obey the instructions of the apostle Paul; he wrote,
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
Those who are attending religious denominations need to leave those denominations to become a part of the church of God, the blood-bought body of Christ. Those who are presently a part of the New Testament church need to remember that they have nothing in common with modern religious denominationalism; joint participation with them reflects a compromising spirit; failure to oppose their apostasies is unfaithfulness to the Lord.
However, the man who expresses their apostasies will be viewed as a different person to the rest of the world; indeed, he will be considered a member of a sect in exactly the same manner as the first century saints were considered a sect (Acts 28:22). Let us be content to stand for God’s word; by so doing, we shall continue to be a peculiar people.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 35, pp. 563-565
September 4, 1980