Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 8, 1968
NUMBER 14, PAGE 1-3,5-6

Essential Elements Of Christian Worship

Jefferson David Tant

When visitors attend the public meetings of churches of Christ, they are often curious about obvious differences that exist between churches of Christ and most denominations with respect to the manner in which the worship services are conducted. Such questions as "Why don't you use a piano or organ?" or "Why do you observe the Lord's Supper every Sunday?" are legitimate questions. When we are queried as to the absence of choirs, the absence of nightly collections during a revival, the missing mourner's bench, the lack of an altar, we understand that these questions are deserving of an honest answer.

Our practices are not based upon personality quirks, personal preferences, popular demand, or the desire to be different. We believe them to be based on sound, scriptural principles, and as in every matter, we seek to give "book, chapter, and verse" from the word of God for all that we say or do. In the introduction of this article, let us state some of these principles, and then give the particular applications of them.

Principles To Guide Us In Our Worship To God

1. Our worship must be in truth. In John 4:19-24, we learn from the conversation Christ had with the woman at the well that those who worship God "must worship in spirit and truth." We can all appreciate the force of the word "must." God will accept no other worship than that which is "in spirit and truth." The scope of our study does not include a discussion of worship in "spirit" at this time, so we turn to a determination of worship in "truth." What is truth? What is the standard of truth? Jesus himself answers the question for us in John 17:17 as he prays that his Father might sanctify his disciples "in the truth: thy word is truth." If the word of God is the standard of truth, this eliminates popes, preachers, creeds, parents, opinions, etc. as being the standard of truth. Therefore, to worship in truth is to worship according to what the Word of God says.

2. Our worship must be a good work. Paul instructed Timothy on this wise: "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." (II Tim. 3:16-17) Note that the inspired scriptures furnish us unto every good work. If we, in our service to God, are practicing some things which are not contained in the scriptures, we must conclude that such cannot be a "good work" in the Bible sense of the word. It may seem good to man, and please him, but recall that we must strive to please God, and not our own likes and dislikes. The Gentiles were condemned because they did what seemed good to them: "for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever." (Rom. 1:25)

3. Our worship must be in faith. "And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him." (Heb. 11:6) Certainly all recognize the need of faith, which is the foundation of our very existence: "For we walk by faith, and not by sight." (II Cor. 5:7) But how does one receive faith? Paul answers: "So belief (faith) cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17) If, therefore, what we practice is not of faith — has not come from the word — then we have sinned. ...and whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23) Again, our own opinions and likes, and adherence to the creeds and doctrines of men are omitted.

4. Our worship must be by the authority of Christ. We are instructed: "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col. 3:17) Doing something "in the name of....Jesus" simply refers to doing it "by the authority." If I send someone to the bank to transact business "in my name," they do it "by my authority." Christ told us that "...all authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth." (Matt. 28:18) We are not permitted to act on our own authority, but must submit ourselves to Christ, who is our Lord and King. The only way we can learn what authority he has given concerning the things we are to do in worship to him is through the word revealed unto us. There is no other way to know the mind of God and what is pleasing to him. "For whom among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth; but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words." (I Cor. 2:11-13) How do we know what is pleasing to God, or what is within the bounds of his authority. By the revealed word. Therefore, to do anything not revealed is to reject the authority of Christ.

Now, with these rules and principles as our guide, let us examine the New Testament and see what it says about our public worship unto God.

The Lord's Supper

The command to observe the Lord's Supper is given in Luke 22:19: "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me...." If the information in this and parallel chapters were all we had, we would be free to partake whenever and as often as we desired. But we find the New Testament church under the guidance of inspired men partaking of the supper every first day of the week. This is inferred from the language in Acts 20:7, and a study of church history corroborates this fact. Historians of every religious background universally agree that the first church partook communion every first day of the week.

The Israelites were commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy, and had the common sense to know which Sabbath. Every Sabbath! As often as it came. We celebrate New Year's Day on the first of the year. Which year? Every Year, for that is how often the first of the year comes. But some complain that partaking of the supper so often makes it common and lessens its meaning for us. A young man, recently married, affirmed this idea in debate one time. His opponent thereupon asked him if he had kissed his wife good-bye as he left that morning. The young man answered in the affirmative. When queried about the previous mornings, he replied, "well, yes. I kiss her good-bye every morning." His opponent responded by asking if such frequency would not lessen the meaning of the kiss and cheapen it. He suggested that the young man's wife would really know the extent of his love for her if perhaps he kissed her only once every three or four months. The point was well made. It is not the frequency that makes common, but the attitude of the heart.

Few, if indeed any, of the denominations today partake of the Lord's Supper as prescribed in the New Testament — on the first day of every week. Let us use as an example the popular quarterly observances in many Baptist churches. Is this done in truth? No, for the word does not teach such, and it is the source of truth. Is it a good work? "Surely", you say, "the partaking of the Lord's Supper would have to be a good work." Not if it is not in keeping with the scriptural definitions of what is a good work. Some new church is now claiming to observe the Lord's Supper in partaking of LSD and marijuana as the elements. Now, if we can change the frequency of observance, why not the elements? Why condemn one and not the other? Is it worship in faith? "Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ." Have you learned the quarterly observance, or the drug substitution from the word of Christ? No. Therefore, it is not worship in faith, nor by the authority of Christ.

Giving Unto The Lord

We learn of God's plan for financing the collective work of Christians in I Cor. 16:2: "Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come." Just as we partake of the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day, so we must give also "upon the first day of the week." It is not specified in the New Testament how much we must give (inspirit of denominational binding of the Old Testament tithe), but rather we are told to give as we prosper, and to give liberally and cheerfully. (II Cor. 9:6-7)

A careful study of the New Testament reveals that such voluntary contributions by the members are the only way the church received funds. But men today have devised all sorts of schemes and plans to relieve people of more money. Pie suppers, carnivals, bingo, cake sales, rummage sales, birthday offerings, business endeavors, real estate income, community-wide solicitations, etc., are all part and parcel of many religions organizations' quest for money. Some even traffic in alcoholic beverages, as the Catholic Church in Southeast Texas that got a tavern license to sell beer in its basement (the Catholic Church also owns and operates various distilleries), and churches like the Lutheran Church in Chicago that has "beer picnics." This particular church, with some members who are officials in some breweries, has picnics throughout the summer, and sells beer from kegs which the breweries have donated. And on we could go.

But note, please, that every one of these schemes falls short of acceptable worship when we apply the Biblical rules and principles. Worship in truth? No, for they came not from the source of truth. A good work? Not unless we can read of such in that book which furnishes us unto every good work. Worship in faith? Not if it has not come by "hearing....the word of Christ." Nor is it done by the authority of Christ.

Singing Praises To The Lord

Christians are commanded to sing in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, with the latter reading: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God." Before going further in the matter of singing, let us consider some background material pertinent to the problem of instrumental music in worship.

There are two types of commands in the Bible — general or generic, and specific. There are many Bible stories that illustrate this distinction, e.g. Noah and the ark. If God had told Noah (Gen. 6) only to make the ark out of WOOD, this would have been generic, and Noah could have used ash, birch, cedar, dogwood, elm, fir, gopher, hickory, etc., or whatever suited him. But God specified, and the choice was not with Noah. He was instructed to use gopher wood. Noah did not have the right to substitute or add to in any way. He might have reasoned: "Well, God didn't tell me not to use knotty pine, and I think that would look good in the master bedroom." But God told him exactly what kind he wanted, and Noah would have been in violation of God's law to do otherwise. Likewise Moses was commanded in Numbers 19 to make an animal sacrifice. If God had left it at that, Moses could have offered an ant, a bear, a cat, a dog, an elephant, a fox, a goat, a heifer, etc., or whatever pleased him. This would have been generic. But God specified. He said a red heifer, without spot or blemish, upon which had never come a yoke. Did Moses have the right to offer another kind, or an additional kind, in the absence of God's prohibition? Certainly not! That would have been a violation of God's command. Illustrating the generic command is, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." God did not specify the means of going, so whether we ride, walk, run, sail, swim, etc., is immaterial. They are all included within the scope of the command. We are told to "preach," or "teach." Included within that command are blackboards, P. A. systems, tracts, classes, public discourses, etc. All of these are means or methods of teaching, and do not change or add to the command to teach or preach. When I use a blackboard on which to illustrate a point in a sermon, I am still just teaching - nothing more, nothing less.

Now, with respect to making music, there are three possibilities: (1) singing (vocal), (2) playing (instrumental), or (3) a combination of the two. What has God said? Note these passages: Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:19; I Corinthians 14: 15 ; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13. This is the sum total of information in the New Testament with respect to the music that is to be offered unto God. And every last verse says "S-I-N-G!" If God had said simply, "Make music," we would have been free to whistle, hum, play any instrument, yodel, sing, etc. But God specified. He said sing! What right have I to add another kind of music? Remember, the early church was under the guidance of inspired men, who guided the church in the will of God. Did they overlook something? I think not. Again, historians are in agreement that the instrument in the worship of the New Testament church was unknown for over 600 years, and did not come into general usage until sometime around the 11th Century.

But to be as thorough as possible, we should consider some of the more prominent arguments made in favor of the instrument in worship. (Space forbids mentioning all, but they all fall short.)

(1) "David used instruments, and he was a man after God's own heart. If he could do it, so can we." Yes, David used the instruments: he offered animal sacrifices: burned incense to the Lord; and had a plurality of wives. Let us suppose that during our services one night a man comes in the back door with a sheep under his arm. I ask, "Why are you bringing that animal' in here, brother'?" "To offer a sacrifice unto God," he replies, "David did this and pleased God, so I shall do the same." And while I reason with him, another man comes in with a bowl of incense. As we all sniff the air, he is asked, "What's that stuff for?" "Incense for the Lord," is the quick response. "David burned incense in worship, and therefore I can, too." Meanwhile there enters a man with seven women. I remark to him, "It's fine that you brought so many visitors tonight. Who are they?" "They are my wives," he answers. "What! Don't you know that we are taught in the New Testament that a man can have but one wife?" "Oh, yes," he says, "but David had seven wives, and if he could and please God, so can I. And I really don't know how I could do without a single one of them," he continues, listing their many virtues.

What is the matter? Davis lived under the law of Moses. We live under a different law — the law of Christ. If we, today, seek to justify our practices by the Law of Moses, we are told: "Ye are severed from Christ, ye would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace." (Gal. 5:4)

(2) "Where are we told NOT to use the instruments?" Where was Noah told NOT to use oak? Where was Moses told NOT to use a goat? The point is, God told us WHAT to use. He specified, and expects us to be satisfied with that. Should God have had to tell Noah every kind of wood NOT to use? Certainly not! A direct parallel is the Lord's Supper with its elements of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. Can we use cake and ice cream instead? We use it at home, don't we? True, but there are many things we use at home that are perfectly all right, but which are not authorized in worship. Where has God told us NOT to use cake and ice cream on his table? He hasn't. But he has told us what to use. He has specified that we use the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. He has specified the kind of food. Likewise, he has specified the kind of music — singing. Cannot we be content with God's revelation?

(3) "I don't see any harm in it." Neither do I, except for the fact that God did not see fit to include the instrument in our worship to him. He commanded the Israelites to use it (II Chronicles 29:25), and this is why they were justified in so doing. If he had wanted us to use instruments in worship, do we not suppose that he had enough sense to let us know it;

Therefore, those who use the instruments in worship, or whistle, do so in violation of every principle we have to guide us. It is not worship in truth, for the standard of truth does not contain it. It is not a good work, for it is not contained in the catalogue of good works. It is not worship in faith, for it has not come from hearing the word of Christ. It is not done by the authority of Christ, for his law nowhere authorizes it.

Teaching Or Preaching God's Word

We find this practiced in the assemblies for worship. (Acts 20:7) Although there is no specification as to how the teaching is to be done, it is clearly specified as to what is to be taught — the gospel. This, then, eliminates the teaching of opinions, politics, economics, the social gospel, etc., which are often found in denominational pulpits today. We also note that women are forbidden to teach men in such a way as to exercise authority over them. (I Tim. 2:12) This clearly prohibits women preachers, or women teaching classes where there are men present. If such practices are not prohibited by the language Paul used, then I must admit that I am at a loss to understand plain English or Greek, and I could not possibly understand that 2+2=4.

Furthermore, Paul instructed that all things are to be done unto edifying (building up). Even though the Bible teaches that speaking in tongues has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer practiced, some insist they have this in their edification services today. But even if they did speak in tongues, the Biblical kind, in their assemblies, it is usually contrary to the regulations given in I Cor. 14:26-32. Here the Christians were told to speak one at a time, and only if there was an interpreter. Otherwise, they were to keep silent. The "tongue-speaking" services I have witnessed were characterized by several speaking at once, and never have I seen any one interpreting.

So once again, by all standards set forth in the word of God, those who teach anything but the gospel, or who have women preachers, or who conduct so-called "tongue-speaking" services, etc., do so contrary to every Biblical principle. Such worship or service is neither in truth, nor a good work, nor in faith, nor is it done by the authority of Christ, for NOWHERE in the revealed will of God do you find such practices authorized, but rather condemned.


Perhaps there is less disagreement over the matter of prayer than with respect to the other items discussed previously. The Bible teaches that public prayers were offered as well as private, (Acts 2:42; 20:36; I Tim. 2:8), and certainly we are in agreement that prayers should be offered sincerely and not as a means of attracting attention or being seen of men. Christ deals effectively with the matter of such in Matthew 6 and in Luke 18.

It is interesting to note the practice of the peasants in India while we are on the subject of prayer. Upon arising early in the morning, they go to a scribe and have a prayer written on a piece of paper. Upon paying a sum of money to the scribe, the slip of paper is taken into a room that is filled with machinery — wheels, pulleys, belts, etc. Attached to the wheels are little leather cups, and into these cups the prayers are placed. Throughout the day these wheels revolve over and over. It is the belief of these Indians that every time their prayer comes to the top of the cycle, their prayer ascends to heaven. "How odd," we might say, "thinking they can pray to God by machinery."

But what do you suppose might be their reaction upon entering some huge and costly church building or cathedral in this country, and beholding a large pipe organ at the front of the building, with consoles, pedals, buttons, stops, switches, wires, and an imposing set of metal pipes filling the front of the building. As the swells of the organ fill the air, one of these visitors might he caused to exclaim, "How odd, thinking they can praise God by machinery."

Again, the principles set forth in the word of God are to determine what is acceptable, for therein are we taught to pray.

The passages we have cited show the New Testament teaching concerning our public worship unto God. It is impossible in the space taken that we could give every scripture. or consider every argument pro or con concerning the things taken into consideration. But the picture is clear enough. If we want to add to, or subtract from, or change in any way what God has ordained, we have ample warning given: "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son." (II John 9) What is your choice? To be content to remain with what is revealed in the Bible, or to follow the inventions of men?

If you, dear reader, are a member of a church which does not follow the New Testament teaching on these or other matters, then it must follow that you are not a member of the lord's church. He promised only to build ONE (Matt. 16:18), and the ONE BODY (Eph. 4:4) is identified as the ONE CHURCH (Col. 1:18, 24). Since there is but one, it will be the one following the Bible, the teaching of Christ.

Consider these things carefully. Pleasing God is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. Study things carefully. Pleasing God is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. Study the scriptures, and continue in "the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (II Tim. 3:15)

— 4011 Phylis