The Work of the Church – Part 2
We noted a couple of months ago (“What God Authorizes for the Work of the Church,” published May 22, 2016) that God gave Moses a pattern to follow in building the tabernacle (Hebrews 8:5), including its organizational structure and the work of the priests and Levites in the tabernacle. God also gave Moses the pattern for worship in the tabernacle (the altars, the vessels and materials to be used, the sacrifices to be offered, etc.). Any changes to God’s pattern for worship are on record as being unacceptable to God. When “Nadab and Abihu…offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them…fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2—ESV).
Contemporary vs. Traditional
Many today are calling for “contemporary” changes in worship, referring to the way revealed in the New Testament to be too “traditional;” they contend that there is no set pattern given in the New Testament regarding the worship that is acceptable to God. But Jesus said: “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). The worship that God authorizes for His church is worship that is according to “truth” and truth is defined by what the Scriptures teach. God’s “word is truth” (John 17:17). We are instructed to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) revealed in God’s Word, and we are warned not to add to or subtract from God’s word (Revelation 22:18-19).
While we are warned against following “the tradition of men…not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8), we are admonished to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught” (1 Thessalonians 2:15) by the apostles. To worship God in spirit and truth and thus have our worship accepted by Him, we must hold fast to the “traditional” worship revealed in the Scriptures and reject the “contemporary” worship that is according to the tradition and commandments of men. In Matthew 15:9, Jesus warns of “vain worship” which involves “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” By implication, John 4:23-24 indicates there is such a thing as false worship since only some are “true worshipers.” God did not leave us free to imagine and improvise our own worship. God has provided a pattern for worship in the New Testament; He has selected and commanded the elements of worship that are acceptable to Him.
The Lord’s Supper
On the night of His betrayal, Jesus instituted what is later referred to as “the Lord’s Supper.” In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul reminds the saints at Corinth: “that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (vs. 23-25). The saints were “to come together as a church…come together in one place…to eat the Lord’s Supper” (vs. 18, 20). Since we are to “do this in remembrance of” Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross (see vs. 26-29), this is clearly a part of our worship to God. Acts 20:7 shows us that “the disciples came together to break bread…on the first day of the week.” “Break bread” here is a figure of speech (metonymy) where the part is put for the whole and refers to the Lord’s Supper.
Giving to God
While the saints were assembled on the first day of the week to observe the Lord’s Supper, it was also the time designated for their giving to God to fund the work of the church. Paul said to the saints at Corinth: “Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:2–ASV). Since “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and our giving is an opportunity to glorify God (see 2 Corinthians 9:12-15), it is another element of our worshiping God in spirit and truth.
Listening to God’s Word
Teaching, reading, and preaching of the word of God took place in the assemblies of the church you can read about in the Bible. Paul wrote to Corinth: “he who prophecies (inspired teaching in the first century) edifies the church…in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue…if the whole church comes together in one place…let all things be done for edification…that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:4, 19, 23, 26, 31). When the teacher or preacher is proclaiming the word of God, it is God in His word speaking to the hearts of the people. “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The element of worship is on the listener’s part as he looks beyond the speaker to God who reveals His will through His word. “My hands also I will lift up (a phrase referring to worship) to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).
Praying to God
When the apostle Peter was in prison, “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). Paul taught the saints at Corinth to “pray with the understanding…in the church” so the uninformed could say “Amen” at their giving of thanks (1 Corinthians 14:15-19).
Singing to the Lord
The apostle Paul directed that Christians should be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Singing praise to God was a part of the worship we find in the assemblies of the church. Paul instructed Corinth to “sing with the spirit…and sing with the understanding…in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:15-19). There is no passage of Scripture in the New Testament that authorizes the use of instrumental music in worship to God. The apostles were instructed to teach the disciples all things that Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). They did not teach the use of instrumental worship; therefore, instrumental music in worship to God is not authorized by Jesus. Churches that are “of Christ” are content to worship according to the pattern that God has revealed in His word.