Discover God’s authority
As we have stated many times, we will mention again this morning, that anytime we consider performing an action, we must seek the authority of God. 1 John 3:4 tells us that sin is lawlessness. Therefore, when we act without the authority of the Lord, we sin. So we cannot simply ask if the Bible says we cannot do something. We must see if the Lord says we can do perform a particular action. There are three ways that we discover the authority of God in three ways. First, we discover the authority of God through direct command. When God says to do something or not to do something, such as “do not commit adultery,” then we have a direct command from the Lord. A second way that we discover the authority of God is through necessary inference. This is taking the information revealed by the Lord and drawing an inescapable conclusion. Peter did this in Acts 10 when we saw the vision of unclean beasts and was told to arise, kill, and eat. Peter made a necessary inference that he was now authorized to speak to the Gentiles. The final way that we discover the authority of the Lord is by an approved example. If we see the first century Christians performing an action, we can also do the same thing that they did.
What is worship?
Before we can seek the authority of God in worship, let us first understand what worship is. If we were to literally look the word up in a Bible dictionary like Thayer or Vine, we would see that the word “worship” literally means “to kiss the hand.” What we understand from this is an act of homage and reverence that is properly due. It comes from those who would be before royalty who would bow and kiss the hand. We are speaking about giving God the praise, honor, respect, reverence, and worthiness that is due to him. Now this is an important point that we are going to make and stress: worship is to be a God-centered activity. Worship cannot be about what I want to do if I am giving him the honor, praise and reverence that He deserves. Worship is about how God wants me to show him honor, praise and worthiness. For example, suppose we were to meet the president. Those in charge will tell you that you need to refer to him as “Mr. President.” Now I might think that he would appreciate me just calling him George. But it does not matter what I think, what matters is the one to whom the respect is being given. I need to call him “Mr. President” because that is what is due to him.
Authority to worship
We must seek authority to worship God. As we have noted previously, there is authority given to individuals and given to each local church. We will begin by noticing the authority given to each individual. Worship is not simply done in a collective effort. Each individual is to live their lives in worship to God. We see this in Romans 12:1 where the scriptures say, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Here we see the Lord commanding each of us to give up ourselves to the Lord as our worship to him. Sometimes we draw boundaries about worship that may leave us with the wrong idea. We sometimes speak of worship as something that is only done within the walls of our church building and only done when the whole assembly is together. But this is not the case. When we are apart from each other, we are still worshipping God. Every aspect of our lives must continue to give to our Lord the honor and glory he deserves, not just simply when we assemble together. Usually when we speak about worship, we are talking about the actions that are done by Christians in a collective action. This will be our focus this morning. We see the Christians in Acts 2:42 worshipping the Lord by continuing steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers.
How Are We to Worship the Lord?
In spirit and truth. In John 4:20, the woman at the well asks Jesus a question about worship. She understands that Jesus is at the very least a prophet, and therefore wants to know what is appropriate worship. Jesus responds that God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Since there is not the word “the” in front of the word spirit, I understand this text to be speaking about our spirit. God demands our acts of homage, respect, and worthiness to come from deep within ourselves, from the very heart. In the first chapter of Malachi, God condemns the people because they continued to bring worship and sacrifices without any heart. Jesus would quote Hosea twice in Matthew saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Our spirit is of most importance to our worship. Worshipping according to what God has revealed to us, His truth, is also just as important. Heart can only get us so far. We must have God’s revealed word, the knowledge of truth, to know what is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. I firmly believe that this is an important balance that must exist in our worship to the Lord. Our Lord warned against removing either of these elements from our worship. Some say that only the heart and spirit matter. As long as you love God and call it worship, then this is all that matters to God. We read of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6, having good intentions of preventing the ark of the covenant from falling, touches it and God strikes him dead for his error. Besides, the heart only argument does not make sense. If we have a true heart, then we should want to and will worship God the way he has prescribed. Some want to worship in truth but without spirit. But our Lord also warned against this. Matthew 15:8 Jesus said that the people honor me with the lips but their heart is far from me and in vain they worship me. Their worship was useless because a lack of the heart that did not want to do things as God has said. Both spirit and truth must be involved in our worship.
With a view to edification. Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done for edification.” Therefore, our focus must not only be upon what God desires from us, but that we do things in such a way that it builds up and strengthens the worshippers.
Singing. We see in the first century the Christians were singing songs in praise to the Lord. We do not read about them pulling out any mechanical instruments. James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Ephesians 5:19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Praying. In Acts 2:42 the first Christians devoted themselves to prayer. We see this again in Acts 4:23-31 where the disciples pray for boldness. Romans 12:12 says to “continue steadfastly in prayer.” Colossians 4:2 we are commanded to “continue earnestly in prayer.” Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Prayer is certainly authorized by our Lord as worship to Him.
Lord’s Supper. Another action we read the first century Christians performing in was the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 2:42 we read the Christians were together in the breaking of bread. In Acts 20:7 we read the disciples in Troas on the first day of the week coming together to break bread. Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 to partake of the Lord’s supper when we come together.
Teaching. In Acts 2:42 the early Christians continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. We see in Acts 20:7 that the Christians in Troas not only came together for the Lord’s supper, but Paul also preached to them a message. In Acts 14:27 we also see a local church gathering together to hear a report about the work that Paul had been doing among the Gentiles. As we have mentioned in past lessons, teaching is a fundamental work of a local church.
Giving. We also see that when the disciples came together on the first day of the week, they also gave according to their means. We see this commanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. We see in example many times in scriptures, such as 2 Corinthians 8:5, 19, 2 Corinthians 9:11-14 as well as Philippians 4:18. These are the things that we see the first century Christians doing in their worship to God.
The use of mechanical instruments in the worship of a local church has pretty well been accepted in most denominations and religious groups. In regard to this issue, I need not do any proving against the mechanical instrument. Anyone who wishes to have one must show authority for it. This is what we stated at the beginning of our study. Sin is acting without the authority and law of God. Where is the authority for a mechanical instrument? We have no need to get ourselves into a bind trying argue passages for singing with the voice only. Though I have already given you four passages showing authority for singing only, we simply need to ask others to show authority for mechanical instruments. There is no such authority.
Old Law. Many will go back to the psalms and show that David used mechanical instruments, such as Psalm 150. However, we do not live under the old covenant nor are we saved by the old covenant. Hebrews 8:6-13 and Hebrews 10:9-10 tell us that we live under the law of Christ and not the old law, which is the law of Moses. If we are to go back and take one law from the old covenant, then we must take them all. If one law is binding, then all laws are binding and we must offer animal sacrifices, keep the sabbath, worship in Jerusalem, and so on. We are not under the old law and any laws found under it do not apply to us today.
Revelation. Some argue that we see the angels in Revelation having mechanical instruments, like in Revelation 4:8. There are many problems with using this for authority. First, how was the book written? In symbols, as Revelation 1:1 tells us. The things that we read were not literal images, but figures to make a particular point. We cannot say that there are harps in heaven. This is a symbolic image. Further, even if there are harps in heaven, that does not authorize harps on the earth. Further, even if it did authorize harps on the earth, it would only authorize harps and nothing more. The argument from Revelation does not prove that all mechanical instruments can be used. There is no authority for the use of mechanical instruments.
There has been movement for a greater role in the use of women in the worship of a local church. This ranges from having women elders and deacons to having women as preachers. Is this authorized and acceptable to our Lord?
1 Timothy 2:12 addresses this issue for us. Paul tells Timothy, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” We have noted in other lessons that this passage has been misused far too often to constrain the rights of women in the church. I encourage the reader to consider my other article about women speaking found on this site: Woman Keeping Silent 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1
But one must recognize that the passage does not allow a woman to assume a role of authority. 1 Timothy 2:12 certainly condemns women as preachers since preachers have been given authority over a congregation (Titus 1:5). Part of a preacher’s work is to “set things in order” in a congregation and “appoint elders” (Titus 1:5). For a preacher to set things in order in a church and appoint elders in a church is to have authority over all the men and women of that church. Paul, however, declared a woman is not to have this authority and therefore having a woman as a preacher would be a violation of God’s law.
Can a woman be an elder? One of the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3:2 is “the husband of one wife.” How can a woman be the husband of one wife? In fact, the Greek is literally “a one woman man.” How can a woman be “one woman man?” It is not possible. Therefore a woman cannot be an elder. If this were not enough, elders have authority over the whole congregation, which would again violate 1 Timothy 2:12.
Many say women can be deacons. But where is the authority for this? The TNIV pushes this perversion of 1 Timothy 3:11, “women who are deacons.” But this is in no way what the Greek says. The Greek word is women or wives. The wives must have these characteristics. Further, notice 1 Timothy 3:12 that deacons are also to be the husband of one wife. Again, women are disqualified from these positions. There is no authority for women to take these roles and, in fact, there is express command against them taking these roles.
Entertainment or “contemporary” worship
We also see a disturbing trend in making worship fun and entertaining. Worship in many congregations includes play ping-pong, watching football games, listening to motivational speakers, and other such entertainment ideas. One denomination left a message on the machine here about how they were moving to a new building and needed to sell some things they had. First on the list was their ping-pong tables. We must remember what worship was defined as at the beginning of this lesson. Worship is paying the honor, respect, and worthiness to the Lord that he deserves. Worship is to be centered on God, not on ourselves. Does ping-pong worship God? No. Further, where is the authority for a local church to be providing these things? There is none. In many places, preaching has become more and more watered down. Simply the telling of some illustrations and funny stories and that is the lesson for the day. But this is not the preaching that the scriptures depict for us. Theatrical productions are being done instead of the reading, studying and teaching of God’s word. We need to be aware that there are unauthorized changes being made among local churches today.
Defend the Scriptures, Not Traditions
Unfortunately, some people are sounding the alarm at all changes that are taking places in local churches today. The catch phrase now is “change agents.” Articles in the papers and books are being written sounding the alarm about change agents. Allow me to list some of the change agents that we are being warned about.
Song books. In one article, someone listed the discarding of song books and using a large screen projector to sing songs as part of the “change agents.” Is there anything wrong with this? Are song books commanded? Last time I checked we are just commanded to sing. Therefore we have the authority to do it from memory, from paper, from books, on projectors, or however we are going to sing songs.
Gospel meetings. Another change agent is not having gospel meetings. For some reason this is a move to liberalism. Again, we have been given broad authority to teach. No where are we commanded to have gospel meetings. This is a choice left up to each congregation.
Meeting times. When congregations decide to not meet on Wednesday nights or not to meet on Sunday nights, then this is another sign of liberalism and the winds of change taking hold. Yet we are authorized to assemble whenever a congregation sees fit. We must at least meet on Sunday for the Lord’s supper and giving. But there is not a command that says we must meet on Wednesday and not Friday. We have the liberty to choose the times of meeting and then ought to attend them, be it two times or ten times in a week.
Meeting in homes. Some congregations choose to have assemblies in members’ homes. Yet some are coming along and saying that these are also changes to liberalism. But Paul said that we taught in houses also. Acts 20:20 says, “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” Are we going to suggest that all the first century congregations had buildings and did not meet in houses? I have heard preachers argue this: if you do not have a building, then you can meet in homes, but if you have a building you cannot meet in homes. Where is that restriction in the scriptures? One decision may be more expedient than another, but we still have authority to meet in any place. We have the choice as to the location that we want to assemble together.
Sign. Some also see “liberal winds of change” when congregations have changes in their signs. Some congregations say “church of Christ,” some say, “a church of Christ meets here,” others say the location like “Haverhill Road church of Christ,” and others have other names. Apparently whatever a congregation chose to put on a sign years ago cannot be changed. If you change it, then something fishy is apparently going on. What was on the sign for the first century Christians? We do not know. In Truth Magazine, a fellow wrote, if it was good enough for Paul to say “churches of Christ,” it ought to be good enough for us. There are two problems with this argument. First, Paul also thought it was good enough to call the church in Corinth the church of God. Those in Antioch thought it was good enough to be called Christians. The Lord Himself addressed seven churches by location, like the church in Ephesus. Early in Acts, Christians were called “the Way.” There are many names that the apostles used besides church of Christ. But more importantly, we need to remember that “church of Christ” is not a title, but a description of who we are. It is a description to tell people that we are those called out of the world and into a relationship with Christ. We want to accurately and scripturally describe ourselves to people in the world. As we have noted before in these lessons, what many are trying to do in compelling congregations to have “church of Christ” on their sign is create a coalition of churches to designate who is “in” the body of Christ. As we noted in previous lessons, to believe that the body of Christ is made up of congregations is denominational. There are many biblical descriptions that local churches can use on their signs.
Defend the scriptures
We are to defend the authority of God. We are not to hold fast to the traditions or expedients chosen by our parents, grandparents, those of the American Restoration movement, or any other human being. We are to hold fast to the word of God alone. When people begin warning about these changes, let us make sure that these are changes against the word of God. We must be concerned and warned about changes that do not have the authority of the scriptures. However, if we are being warned about people discarding song books, getting new signs, or other changes of tradition or expedient, then we must understand that we have the general authority of God to make these changes. Jesus said in Mark 7:6-9 that there were those then who discarded the commandments of God to keep the traditions of men. It is still happening today. Let us be sure that we are not those who are keeping the traditions of men as the commands fo God.
Let us worship God the way that he has prescribed. Only when we worship his way will he be pleased. Let us be warned that there are those who would try to change our collective worship to include things that are not authorized. We must fight against that and stand for the truth. Let us defend the authority of the scriptures.