by William J. Stewart
Since the Bible is our guide “…given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine…” to the end “…that the man of God may be complete…” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we should expect to find in its pages how a public worship service ought to be conducted. I believe firmly that as we look into God’s word, we see an apostolic guide to the assembly. By apostolic guide, we simply mean that the practices engaged in by the New Testament church were either commanded by or given approval to in some way by the apostles of Christ. If we are to faithfully worship the Lord, we will pilot our actions by God’s revelation to man.
When shall we worship? The Sabbath Day or the First Day of the Week? There are two days of worship specified in the Bible; the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) and the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Notice, these days are distinct from one another (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2). In Old Testament times God required His people to observe the Sabbath, but such is not the case for the Lord’s church (Hebrews 7:18-19; 9:15-18; Colossians 2:16-17). The Sabbath is referred to in the New Testament, but not as a day to be observed by Christians. Notice:
- 43 times in reference to Jesus’ life on earth. He kept the Sabbath for He was a Jew born under the Law of Moses. For Him to not keep the Sabbath would have been a violation of the Law.
- 15 times in reference to the worship of the Jews. Several of these are occasions when Paul went into a synagogue to teach. Note, these were Jewish assemblies, not Christian.
- 1 time in which Christians are instructed concerning their freedom in Christ from the Law, and thus told “…let no one judge you … regarding … sabbaths…” (Colossians 2:16).
The New Testament makes the following references and observations of the first day of the week:
- Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9; John 20:1);
- Jesus appeared to His assembled disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19, 26);
- The church began on the first day of the week (Acts 2; Leviticus 23:15-16);
- Christians assembled on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
Shall we sing or play? To worship correctly, we must have authority for what we do (Colossians 3:17). When we consider what God’s word says about our worship in song, time and again we are told to sing (Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13).
Some might object, stating the book of Revelation speaks about harps and such. Indeed, it does. Not only is the message of Revelation symbolic (1:1), but the instruments mentioned are in heaven, not on earth. John’s purpose is not to give instruction for a worship assembly on the earth.
Another common objection draws upon the use of instruments in the Old Testament. Indeed they were used. Musical instruments were commanded to be used in the Old Testament worship (2 Chronicles 29:25). However, we are no longer under the Old Covenant. If we will grasp one part of the Old Law and apply it today, we are a debtor to keep all (Galatians 5:3; James 2:10).
Dining with the Lord at His supper. The church at Corinth was misusing the Lord’s Supper, and thus the apostle Paul sought to set things right. In 1 Corinthians 11 we find they had profaned the Lord’s supper by turning it into a common meal (v 17-22), so Paul restated the orderly fashion in which the Lord instituted the supper (v 23-26), and emphasized the importance of proper observance (v 27-34).
Consider the 5 “Ws” of the Lord’s supper:
- Who—it is a memorial feast to be taken by Christians (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
- What—two elements are involved, the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine (Matthew 26:17, 26-29; Exodus 12)
- Where—location is not important (John 4:21, 23). Wherever the disciples are gathered, they should partake of the Lord’s supper.
- When—the first day of the week is the only day authorized (Acts 20:7). Every week has a first day.
- Why—to proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Giving back to the Lord. Christians do not give a tithe—tithing was commanded in the Law of Moses to minister to the Levites (Numbers 18:24; Hebrews 7:5). In the New Testament, the Lord commands a free will offering, which is used for the saints (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). The only day upon which we are authorized to take a collection for the saints is the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
Talking with our Father. Prayer is an important part of the assembly of God’s people (Acts 2:42). Those who lead the congregation in prayer must do so with the spirit and the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15). There are various things which ought to be prayed for: all men, especially those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4); our enemies (Matthew 5:44); unity (John 17:20); distressed brethren (Acts 19:5), open doors for evangelism (Colossians 4:3).
Jesus gave a perfect example of prayer (Matthew 6:5-13), not to be recited (v 7), but to use as a pattern (v 9) for us to follow.
Listen to our Father. Not only do we take the opportunity to speak with God, but we also allow Him to speak to us through the preaching and teaching of His word. There are several examples of the early church assembling to hear God’s word spoken (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 20:7, 18, 20, 26-27). God’s word is food for the soul (1 Timothy 4:15-16; James 1:21; Romans 1:15-16). Hearing the word will affect growth (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 5:12; Colossians 2:6-7).
Decently and in order. The apostle Paul provided a pattern for an orderly worship service in 1 Corinthians 14. The specifics of the text (miraculous gifts) do not apply today, since the gifts have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-12), but the principles of orderly assembly certainly apply. Paul’s focus throughout the text is on what will be beneficial for the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12, 17, 26, 31). Paul demanded an orderly assembly (1 Corinthians 14:26-33, 40), not simply by suggestion, but by command (1 Corinthians 14:36-38).
Let us have decent and orderly assemblies. May we consult God’s word to be sure that all things we do are according to His will, not our own.