SHALL WE CHANGE OUR WORSHIP?
Roger D. Campbell
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth"
(John 4:23,24). God wants us to be "true worshippers." True worshippers are those that worship the Lord God "in spirit and in truth."
Today in the church we often hear the cry for "change." One area that is often targeted for change is the worship of the church. Some have openly charged that the worship of many congregations is dry, boring, lifeless, and traditional. The claim is that our worship is in need of a major overhaul if we want to avoid losing our members, or if we want to attract any new people.
The word "change" is a neutral word. Change might be bad, or it might be good, depending on the situation. Webster's Dictionary defines "change" as "to become or make different; to alter. "
Is it Scriptural for the church to make any changes in its worship services? That depends on the type of changes one has in mind. Some changes might be acceptable under the right circumstances. If the present worship in which a congregation engages is already in harmony with the Scriptures, then any acceptable changes to such worship would all involve matters of judgment, wisdom, or expediency. Consider a few examples of this kind of change:
- Changing the times of services on the first day of the week. We are commanded to refrain from forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, so out of necessity there must be assemblies (Heb. 10:25). The first century church assembled on the first day of the week in order to worship (Acts 20:7). Since the specific time of day for the Lord's day assemblies is not designated in the New Testament, then the leaders of a local church have the right to choose which time(s) of assembly is in the best interest of that particular congregation. Thus, it would be acceptable for the same leaders to make a decision to change the times of the church's Sunday services.
- Changing the order. Because the New Testament does not specify the order in which we are to engage in the five different acts of worship (praying, Lord's supper, singing, giving, preaching), it would be acceptable to change the order of these, and no harm would be done. Changing the order of such Scriptural acts would not cause them to cease being "in spirit and in truth."
- Changing the length of services. Nothing is said in the New Testament about how long worship services are to last. Therefore, if the elders/brothers of a local church decided to change the duration of services from what it was in the past, this in and of itself would not do anything to prevent the church from worshipping in spirit and in truth.
- Changing the place of assembly. The church must assemble (Heb. 10:25). Just where it is to do this is nowhere specified in the Bible. Each congregation is at liberty to choose what location is most expedient for its assemblies. This might change from time to time, and such change would in no way hinder the church from worshipping Scripturally.
Having pointed out that there are some areas pertaining to worship in which changes are acceptable
, we want to emphasize that this does not mean that every form of change related to the church's worship is pleasing to God.
Let's now turn our attention to some cases in which we have no authority to change the worship of the church.
Still, the thought prevails in the minds of some that somehow the church must "spice up" its worship. Why? Because our worship is just "too dry and boring" (according to them). Such an idea is extremely offensive to those who still want to "hold fast the form of sound words" given in the New Testament (2 Tim. 1:13).
What is it that is so boring and dry about worshipping God according to His Word? Could it be the Lord's supper?
- The purpose of the worship assembly. The purpose of our gathering to worship is to pay homage to God, to give Him honor, praise and glory. Our attention during our worship is to be on the Lord and His word. Worship is not to be entertainment or a show that is "put on" in order to please men. Thus, hand clapping in worship is totally out of place. It is wrong because we come together to worship Jehovah, not applaud any actions that men might take or words they might speak. If clapping is right for that which we approve, why not boo when we don't like something (or whistle instead of booing, as is done in Europe)? Secondly, hand clapping in worship is not acceptable because it is not authorized in the New Testament. Brethren, it is a sad day for God's people when we stoop so low as to try and drag the pep rally and "show time" atmosphere into our worship assemblies.
- The time to partake of the Lord's Supper. Jesus commanded His followers to break bread (1 Cor. 11:24-26). Acts 20:7 shows us when this is to be done -- on "the first day of the week." There is no authority in the New Testament for the church to have communion on any other day of the week. To partake of it on a different day is to act without divine authority, and thus to be wrong (2 John 9; Col. 3:17).
- The sex of the preacher in a mixed assembly. God does not permit women "to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12). Thus, only brothers in Christ are permitted to preach in a gathering when both men and women are present. True, in the denominational world, women often preach when men are present, but such is a clear violation of the Bible's teaching. It is wrong, and those in the church who are wanting to ape the actions of the denominations are just as wrong! Those who desire to change the worship of the church and make it more appealing to the world by putting in women preachers are going against the will of God and leading the church into apostasy.
- The sex of those who lead prayers (or lead in worship). Again, many are crying for the church to "get with it" or "wake up" and begin using women in leadership roles in the worship. Friends, God has spoken on this matter, and His word says that men (males) are to serve in leadership roles in the worship of the church, not sisters in Christ (1 Tim. 2:8). We do not apologize for this, because it is God's decision! Any changes being made that put women into the role of leaders during public, mixed assemblies are without Bible authority.
- The type of music that we are to offer to God. God has charged His children to praise Him with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The use of mechanical instruments of music in worship to God is completely without New Testament authority, and thus is prohibited. So, any cry to bring instruments into the worship of the church or at least do away with ("change," "tone down") our opposition to their use is simply not in harmony with the Bible. We must not buckle in to those who want to "have it their way" in the church's worship.
Is it boring and dull to eat unleavened bread and drink the fruit of the vine, allowing our minds to go back to Calvary and the blood that Jesus poured out for our salvation (Eph. 1:7)? We think not. Remember, God is the One that planned this memorial for our benefit!
Maybe the fault lies with praying to God.
Is it really that dry and boring to pour out our hearts to God with supplication and thanksgiving so that the peace of God will keep our hearts (Phil. 4:6,7)? Not for the spiritually minded!
Maybe the culprit is our spiritual songs. "Is any merry, let him sing psalms"
(James 5:13). When we joyfully sing about the death of Jesus, the love of God, the need to work for the Lord, the day of judgment and scores of other Bible themes, is this really boredom gone to seed? Such songs of praise are far from being boring to those who sing from the heart in order to praise their God. So if we are going to stand up and cry for change in our worship, then surely it won't be a cry for getting away from Scriptural songs that stir our souls.
Could it be that boring and dry factor #1 is the preaching and study of God's word?
My friends, the word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), it lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23,25). If we are bored by its message, then we kindly suggest that what needs a serious overhaul is not the worship of the church, but the heart within us!
Oh yes, in many cases we probably ought to sing with more enthusiasm. We ought to greet one another and our guests with more enthusiasm. We can probably find room for improvement in the way that we as individuals approach our prayers, the supper, and hearing the Bible preached. For sure, we must worship God from the heart.
But making personal improvements such as these does not mean we need to bring changes into our worship that are without Biblical authority. Brethren, let's stick with the Book and keep on worshipping God His way!
4865 Bates Pike SE
Cleveland, TN 37323
Seek The Old Paths, Vol. 11, No. 11