We are often asked this question by visitors: Why do we worship as we do? This little outline is intended to show that we are not simply doing it for the sake of being different - but rather we are self-consciously seeking to apply scriptural principles in our worship.
Worship in its broadest sense is something we are to be doing in every area of life – everything we do is supposed to be for God’s glory. Public worship is that declaring of God’s worth that occurs whenever His people gather together under His Word. Biblical corporate worship then is Word centred worship, performed in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
We are to worship our Holy God only by the precedent (ie: command or clear example) given in God's Word - all else is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2; eg: Hebrews 7:13-14). Theologians call this the "Regulative Principle of Worship". This principle stands as a guard against the accumulation of traditions and practices adopted on the pretext that they do not explicitly conflict with Scripture. This principle defines what things (or ‘elements’) there are in New Testament worship.
The Elements of Public Worship
The New Testament clearly teaches that there are six things (or ‘elements’) that are permitted as part of corporate worship:
The preaching and teaching of the Scriptures are the heart of worship. This is entrusted to those men so gifted and called (usually the elders/pastors – Ephesians 4:7-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5). Women are excluded from this authoritative public ministry, not because they are in any way inferior, but in order to display the diversity of God’s created order (1 Timothy 2:11-13).
Corporate prayer is to declare the truths and claim the promises of the Word – as they apply to the congregation (A familiar pattern for prayer is ACTS: Adoration; Confession, Thanks, Supplication).
Congregational singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that teach us about the truths and promises of the Word (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). These passages teach that the primary purpose for congregation singing is mutual instruction/edification. Consequently, the singing part of the worship should be under the general oversight of the eldership. For the same reasons, songs should normally have a rich biblical content reflecting the full range of Christian theology and experience (such as modelled for us in the Psalms). Songs with shallow lyrics or with poor or difficult musicality should be avoided as they do not serve the aim of edification-through-understanding. In our songs we seek to draw on the rich hymnody of the past as well as the best of the present.
Christ’s commanded the 'visible Words' of Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). These proclaim Christ’s work in us through His Word in visual form.
Voluntary giving is commended as part of worship. (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7) The giving is distributed (often by the Deacons) to support the ministry of the word, either directly - or through practical assistance to those in need.
We see from passages like Acts 2:41-42,45 that these various elements were a part of New Testament worship from the beginning:
So those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Order of Worship
Corporate worship is to be done in an orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:33a,40). However – Scripture does not specify how the elements in any particular service have to be arranged. This means that there is considerable freedom and flexibility depending on circumstances, the topic being preached, cultural context, etc. Any service could include things such as: a call to worship (usually from a Psalm); song of praise; reading of the Law; prayer of confession; song of repentance; OT reading; collection of the offering; congregational prayer; Lord's prayer; song/prayer of thanksgiving; NT reading; sermon; Lord's supper/baptism; closing prayer or benediction.
Our worship is responsive as God speaks to us through His Word and Spirit and the people respond in prayer and praise. This is why we generally have songs with prayer and the Word. This contrasts with a mystical view of worship which seeks to generate a mood, which is then misinterpreted as worship. Biblical worship rather aims to stir the heart through the mind as it comprehends the truths of the Word.
The Time of Worship
Throughout the Old Testament, God set aside the Sabbath as a day of corporate worship where the concerns of the normal routines of life were laid aside for this purpose (Exodus 20:8-11). This principle of weekly Sabbath worship continues in the Lord’s Day Sunday in the New Testament (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). This is part of the reason why we delight to gather together for worship on the Lord’s Day.
The Lost Art of Corporate Worship
When one gifted person leads us in prayer – we all pray together endorsing their prayer. When we sing – we sing jointly together as one Body. When we hear the Word preached – we listen together. The Scripture commends corporate worship in a public service. We are not to be individuals each contemplating about Christ individually in our minds (mysticism) – but joint members of a local body that together worship our God and saviour. All are participating – we don’t all have to be up the front to be involved in the worship.
The following are some more common questions that people have asked about our worship
About ‘Open Worship’?
Some argue that worship should be ‘open’ – that is that anyone should be allowed to contribute as the Spirit moves. Arguments for this are generally based around 1 Corinthians 14:26 and the ‘priesthood of all believers’.
When 1 Corinthians 14:26 speaks of ‘each one’ bringing a hymn, etc, this refers not to the whole congregation per se – but to 'each one' of those so gifted in the congregation (as is clear from the instruction to these gifted folk in the subsequent verses, and the fact that not all were gifted to bring a prophesy, revelation, inspired hymn, tounge, etc). These are to lead in an orderly manner ('one at a time') so the congregation can be edified corporately.
The ‘priesthood of all believers’ refers to the high privilege we all have of each being able to come before God because of what Christ has done. This however cannot be used to argue for everyone contributing as Scripture clearly speaks of a variety of gifts.
Finally we believe the Spirit actively works through his Word in which we all participate corporately. We do not need a mystical prompting to validate its ministry, an idea foreign to Scripture.
What About the Gifts? Prophecy and Tongues? Prayer Languages?
The Scriptures teach that the risen Christ since Pentecost has poured gifts out upon His churches to empower them for service . Hence we are committed to the service being overssen by those so gifted and called to teach and preach (Ephesians 4:7-13). The many other gifts (eg: helps, administration, giving encouragement, etc.) are essential to the building up of God’s people through day-to-day ministry.
The offices of Apostle (with their associated sign gifts – Acts 4:29-30 cf 2 Corinthians 12:12 cf Hebrews 2:3-4) and Prophets were foundational (Ephesians 2:20) and have ceased. In Scripture the real gift of healing never failed (Matthew 8:16; Acts 5:15-16). Genuine prophecy was infallible (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 cf Acts 11:27-28). True tongues were prophecies in unlearned, yet actual languages (Acts 2:4,6; 1 Corinthians 14 - esp. v10-11). The modern practices known as these today do not match the Biblical record. The failed 'healings', fallible prophecies and the meaningless 'tongues' practised today are not the Scriptural gifts.
What About Raising Hands?
Raised hands was the traditional Jewish stance for prayer and praise. In our culture – clasped hands is the traditional position of prayer. God is not so concerned with the position of our hands – as with the position of our hearts before Him. We encourage people to express their praise in culturally appropriate ways as long as it is not viewed as a mystical or super-spiritual practice. (There is a danger of hypocrisy if one mistakenly thinks raising hands is inherently more spiritual - Matthew 6:5-6.)
What About Music?
Music can be a helpful aid to uniting a congregation in worship. Yet many are confused over the role of music in worship. Some believe that the musical part of the service is worship. However, music has nothing directly to do with worship (the New Testament mentions only the music of the heart or of heaven). It is singing ‘in spirit and in truth’ that is part of worship. Any music should enhance or aid the worship (which is the singing) and not distract from or dominate it. Indeed music can be a distraction from worship it is difficult to follow, or if it stirs the emotions apart from the mind. This violates the Scriptural principle that ‘without understanding there is no edification’ (eg: 1 Corinthians 14:1-19), reducing it from edification to entertainment. As a result many become dissatisfied with the shallowness and superficiality of such ‘worship’. We seek to be neither traditional nor contemporary for their own sake in music or song, but rather seek to draw on the best of the rich hymnody of the past with the best of the present.
What About Dancing, Dramas or Films?
These activities may be permitted in some contexts, but they have no place in corporate worship. They are excluded on the basis of the Regulative Principle of Worship. This is our guide, not pragmatic considerations. The New Testament church and Apostles could easily have utilised the music and/or plays of the pagan culture around them, but notably did not. Instead Paul advocated the seeming foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)
What What About Fixed Formal Liturgies?
It is interesting that the New Testament does not advocate ritual or outward decoration of Old Testament Jewish worship. These outward trappings have passed away as part of the more spiritual worship brought about by Christ’s fulfilment of the OT patterns. Extensive use of fixed liturgies should generally be avoided as they so easily can develop into a rote rather than heartfelt response to God. There are many useful Scriptural responses that can aid worship however – such as the Lord’s Prayer, benedictions, beatitudes, Psalms, etc. In addition there are many shorter responses that may be helpful for instruction (such as the Apostles or Nicean Creed, or catechism responses), or good order (such as baptismal or wedding forms, etc).
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