How Should Worship Services be Conducted?
Study No. 5
Are worship services limited to a set pattern, whereby the minister speaks, and the people listen? Does the Bible indicate how we are to collectively worship God? What should we do in collective worship services?
A Holy Convocation ó For A Purpose
The Sabbaths, Feast Days and Holy Days are Holy Convocations, Leviticus 23:1-4.
To help one another continue in love and good works, we assemble ourselves together, Hebrews 10:21-25.
Deuteronomy 4:1-10 further explains the purposes for holy convocations, " . . . lest thou forget the things . . . and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons . . . . Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children."
Deuteronomy 31:10-13 adds, " . . . At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles . . . thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and the stranger . . . that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law."
Respect Must Be Shown When You Appear Before God
Three times in the year all adult males shall appear before the Eternal, Exodus 23:17.
Moses was told to take off his shoes at the sight of the burning bush, because he was on holy ground, Exodus 3:5. This shows that God demands respect and humility. The priests washed their hands and feet, showing that cleanliness is important to God when worshipping Him, Exodus 30:18-20. Aaron and his sons wore special clothes when ministering. The purpose of these garments was for "glory and for beauty," Exodus 28:39-43. Likewise, we should dress with our best before God.
All these are physical matters, which, while important, are minor compared to the spiritual attitude we must have when we appear before God. Are we wearing our best attitude? Do we have a clean heart without malice toward any brother? Do we truly respect the Almighty as we appear before Him?
Basic Requirement: Joyful Praise And Thanksgiving
"Serve the LORD with gladness: come before His presence with singing . . . . Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name" Psalm 100:1-5.
Psalm 116:17-19 notes, "I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving . . . . I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all His people, In the courts of the Lordís house . . . ."
"Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in His sanctuary . . . " Psalm 150:1.
Extol God for what He has done, but if you havenít confessed your sins, the Lord wonít hear you, Psalm 66:13-20.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 warns us, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools . . . Be not rash with thy mouth and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God."
How to Behave During Worship of God
Paulís letters to Timothy explain in detail "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God," I Timothy 3:15. Specifically, chapters 2 and 3 of I Timothy give the rules.
Prayers are to be made by men, I Timothy 2:1-8. Women are to learn in silence, not to be teachers, verses 9-15. The doctrine (teaching) to be taught is the law, sound doctrine, not fables, or vain jangling, chapter 1. The brethren are to be reminded of Godís law, I Timothy 4:6, not the doctrines of demons, verses 1- 3, or old wives' fables, verse 7. Those who teach must be an example; their teaching is for their salvation and those that hear them, verses 11-16.
What is to be taught? I Timothy 4:13 says there is to be reading (the Bible), exhortation, doctrine (teaching). Elders are to labor in the word and doctrine, I Timothy 5:17.
Paul continually told Timothy to avoid babbling, I Timothy 6:20-21, strife of words, I Timothy 6:3-5, fables, endless genealogies, superfluous words which gender questions, I Timothy 1:3-4, vain jangling, I Timothy 1:6-7. See also, II Timothy 2:14, 16-17, 23; 4:3-4. It sounds like there was a great amount of discussion going on in the churches. There was a tendency to stray off sound doctrine. Timothy needed to develop faithful men to teach others, I Timothy 3 and II Timothy 2:2. Who were these men and how were they given the opportunity to develop into teachers?
Do All Men Have The Opportunity To Speak?
Timothy was instructed to keep order in the church. If he was the only one allowed to speak, this instruction would not have been necessary. In fact, the followers of the Messiah continued somewhat the custom of the Jewish synagogues. There was a regular reading, then exhortation. Paul, as an outside guest, was asked to speak at Antioch in Pisidia, Acts 13:14-16. Jesus likewise was allowed to stand up and read, and exhort in His home synagogue in Nazareth, Luke 4:16. If it had not been for this established practice, God would have had to use some other way to spread the gospel. This format of services allows new truth to enter. But also there is the possibility for heresy to develop. If Christian services were exclusively for "headquarters-loyal ministers," Paul would not have had to spend the majority of his letters warning about false teachers, or false doctrines.
In II Thessalonians 3:6,14-15, Paul tells the brethren to withdraw from disorderly brothers, those who wouldnít work or follow Paulís teachings. They were disrupting the peace of the church. I Thessalonians 5:12-13 warns us to know those that labor among us and admonish us. Those that become disorderly would thus be made manifest. The brethren are to increase in the knowledge of God, Colossians 1:10, being knit together and directed by the head of the church, Christ, Colossians 2:19. Christís word is to dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, Colossians 3:16.
Philippians 1:14-18 shows that when Paul was in prison, many of the brethren had a part not only in teaching in the church, but also in preaching the gospel to the world.
May All Teach? What Is The Authority Of An Elder?
I Corinthians 14, the so-called "tongues chapter," is a clear statement that all male brethren may speak to edify others in the church, if they have the gift to do so. I Corinthians 12:7 shows that the manifestation (outward sign) of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. Of course, women have spiritual gifts also, but are not to speak in church, I Corinthians 14:34-35. I Corinthians 12:28-31 and Ephesians 4:11 show some of the gifts Godís Spirit imparts. Again, Ephesians 4:7 shows that everyone has a measure of these spiritual gifts given by the Eternal.
We are told to strive for love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that we may prophesy, I Corinthians 14:1. Verse 3 defines what is meant by prophesying: "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Paul states, verse 31, "you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." This does not mean all the women, verses 34-35, but all the men.
Are we sure that the "all" refers to all men, and not just ministers? Yes, because verse 26 refers to the brethren having subjects to speak about "when you come together," i.e., when the church gathers together for worship. Another reason the "all" in verse 31 must refer to all the male brethren, is that Paul has to qualify "ye may all prophesy" with verse 34, "let your women keep silence in the churches."
In light of this permission for all men to speak, some rules are given:
(1) Everyone has something to give: a psalm, doctrine, tongue, revelation, an interpretation. In our enthusiasm, we must remember: "let all things be done unto edifying," I Corinthians 14:26. Does it really profit the brethren, or are we only talking to ourselves?
(2) Men are to keep silence in the church if no one can understand what they are saying (that would be babbling), verse 28.
(3) Speakers are to take turns, verses 29-31, so that there is no confusion, verses 32-33.
(4) All things are to be done decently and in order, verse 40. Any brother who violates peace is disorderly, and we must separate from him.
(5) Godís word does not originate from us, come out of us. It comes unto us only as we are led of Godís Spirit, verse 36. One can think that he is speaking the truth, but deceive himself and others, verse 37. Having permission to speak in the church is not being given license to speak as we please. Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 again. Be careful not to abuse this privilege.
(6) An elder or host must ensure that peace, and not confusion, reigns. He is a leading speaker and moderator. Ministerial authority is given not to rule and destroy people, but for their edification, II Corinthians 10:8, 13:10, and Ephesians 4:12. The elder or host must ensure order, acting as moderator, often speaking himself.
(7) Notice again, the purpose of speaking in services: edification, exhortation, comfort, I Corinthians 14:3. We are to comfort one another, encourage others in the faith, Galatians 6:1-6, 10, not expound our knowledge, our pet doctrines. Give comfort to, but donít destroy, your brethren, Romans 14:13-20, 15:1-2.
The Church Edification Chapter
I Corinthians 14, rather than being called the "tongues chapter," is the "church order chapter," or "rules of worship service chapter," or "church edification chapter."
Notice the following: Verse 4, "he that prophesieth edifieth the church;" verse 5, "that the church may receive edifying;" verse 12, "forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church;" verse 19, "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue;" verse 23, "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place;" verse 26, "brethren, when ye come together;" verse 28, "in the church;" verse 33, "in all the churches of the saints;" verse 34, "Let your women keep silence in the churches;" verse 35, "for it is a shame for women to speak in the church."
The Pentecostals' perverted use of pseudo "tongues" has resulted in a smoke screen being thrown over I Corinthians 14. In an effort to refute false "tongues" ideas, some in the Church of God have overlooked what this important chapter does say. In forbidding false tongues babbling, some have also forbidden the brethren from speaking in church. In so doing, growth in spiritual gifts among the church as a whole has been stymied.
Not Wrong To Desire To Speak
Some brethren, desiring to speak to the churchís edification, are criticized as being vain and desirous of being a "minister." In the eyes of some, wanting to speak before the church is a sign of weak spirituality. Indeed, if it is to put forth a pet idea or try to impress others, this is wrong. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory: but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves," Philippians 2:3.
Rather than being a sign of weakness, the Bible states that wanting to speak to the church is something to be desired. "Let love be your greatest aim; nevertheless, ask also for the special abilities the Holy Spirit gives, and especially the gift of prophecy, being able to preach the messages of God," I Corinthians 14:1, Living Bible.
Let us continue in the Living Bible. "I wish you were all able to prophesy, preaching Godís messages . . . ," verse 5. "Since you are so anxious to have special gifts from the Holy Spirit, ask him for the very best, for those that will be of real help to the whole church," verse 12. "Long to be prophets so that you can preach Godís message plainly; and never say it is wrong to íspeak in tongues'," verse 39.
If itís not wrong to truly speak in tongues, and prophesying (preaching Godís Word) is more useful to the church, then who dares to forbid prophesying?
All Should Contribute Something
Because some anti-Pentecostal groups have forbidden all males, except the church leadership, to speak, many today, who may have the gift, do not even have the desire to contribute anything in the worship services. They have become robots. Church services in such groups have become nothing more than one-sided stale lectures from the top leaders down to the lowly dumb sheep.
The zealous Corinthians, verse 12, KJV, did not have this problem. "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine (teaching), hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying," verse 26. It would be a sad thing if nobody had anything to give to edify and help other brethren. Surely this would be a sign of lukewarmness and spiritual laxity.
Why donít you have something to give? Do you have a selfish religion, only wanting to be a sponge soaking up what everyone else gives? Is your church group selfish? Or does it allow all to give and share spiritual gifts?
Not all the male brethren are capable of giving an inspiring sermon, or even a coherent Bible study. But those that are able should not be denied the opportunity. The Living Bible brings out this point clearly: I Corinthians 14:1, " . . . the gift of prophecy, being able to preach the messages of God." Verse 5, "I wish you were all able to prophesy, preaching Godís messages . . . ." Verse 29, "Two or three may prophesy, one at a time, if they have the gift, while all the others listen." Verse 31, "In this way all who have the gift of prophecy can speak, one after the other, and everyone will learn and be encouraged and helped."
Though not all may have the gift of extended preaching (which is one part of the service), all males may "take part in the discussion" that follows, and "express their opinions," verses 34-35, (Living Bible). "It is improper for women to express their opinions in church meetings," verse 35, (Living Bible). Some may say the reason women arenít to express their opinions is that if they did, church services would never end!
Key To Order: Role Of The Elder
Synagogues of the first century A.D. had ruling elders who kept order, and who asked brethren to speak in their turn, Acts 13:14-15.
Likewise today, the role of an ordained elder is essential to keep order, to call upon those to speak, and interject if peace is violated or blatant heresy threatens. In light of the fact that some scattered brethren do not have an ordained elder, the next best thing under the circumstances, is for the moderator to be the host or someone designated by the group. Continued meeting together without an ordained elder may lead to trouble unless all stay close to their heavenly Father. Paul instructed Titus to "ordain elders in every city," Titus 1:5, indicating that the local church groups should have leaders as soon as possible. But these elders must follow I Corinthians 14, not becoming local lords of Godís flock, I Peter 5:1-3.
Development Of Leaders
As we have seen, the overall purpose of worship services is so that the whole church, men, women, and children, may hear and learn to fear the Eternal. That is, the church is to be edified. This can rarely, if ever, be fully accomplished if only one person speaks. Faithful men must be developed who shall be able to teach others also, II Timothy 2:2. Elders ruling well will assist in the development of many such men. Those men who have demonstrated that they are apt to teach, able by sound doctrine to exhort and convict the gainsayers, and meet the other qualifications, may then be ordained to positions of church leadership, I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. How can the aptitude to teach be developed without the proper worship service which allows many to speak? It canít. And those elders who forbid such development are robbing the flock of growth.
Results Of Proper Worship Services
In a church where "all may prophesy," results may indeed be astounding: "all may learn, and all may be comforted," I Corinthians 14:31. People are different. One manís Bible study message may "get through" to an individual, while another message by a different man wonít do anything. In a church where only one or two ministers speak, the whole church is limited to the growth level of the minister. His faults and weaknesses are not compensated by others who are strong where he is weak. Certain brethren can relate to the messages of this minister. Others cannot, so they are unable to grow. When one prophesies, a few learn, but when all prophesy, all learn. Spiritual growth and new members being added are the natural result of proper worship services. Stagnation and no growth result from one-sidedness.
Here is what should result from proper worship services: love, peace, order, harmony, edifying (learning), comfort, being exhorted to repent and change, knowledge, mature Christian understanding, spiritual gifts, zealousness. All of these and more are expressed in I Corinthians 14. The church will grow in members, verses 24-25 (paraphrased):
"But if you prophesy, preaching Godís Word, (even though such preaching is mostly for believers) and an unsaved person or a new Christian comes in who does not understand about these things, all these sermons will convince him of the fact that he is a sinner, and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears. As he listens, his secret thoughts will be laid bare and he will fall down on his knees and worship God, declaring that God is really there among you."
Major Scriptural Example Of Worship Services
Nehemiah 8 and 9 give the most detailed record of the Bible as to how worship services were conducted. Several men read the Bible, explaining it and exhorting the people, Nehemiah 8:7-8. This confirms Deuteronomy 31:11, I Timothy 4:13, and I Corinthians 14:3.
Conclusion: Exhorting One Another
The Scriptures have instructed us what is done in worship services, who does it, how it is done, also, how order is maintained and by whom. Now, we must apply this in our lives. The truth may be unsettling to some. But unless the scriptural manner of worship is followed, the gifts of the Spirit will not be allowed to grow and develop in the church.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not ceasing to meet together, as is the habit of some, but admonishing one another ó all the more so, as you see the Day drawing near," Hebrews 10:24-25 (Moffatt). W
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