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Seeking the Family of God

  1. Am I In Christ?
    7  Digging Deeper
  2. What is the Kingdom of God?
    3  Digging Deeper
  3. What is the Church?
    5  Digging Deeper
  4. Why Are There So Many Different Christian Religions?
    6  Digging Deeper
  5. How Can I Know the Will of God?
    4  Digging Deeper
  6. How Do I Pray?
    5  Digging Deeper
  7. What is Worship?
    6  Digging Deeper
  8. What is the Significance of the Lord’s Supper?
    5  Digging Deeper
  9. How Do I Become Like Christ?
    6  Digging Deeper
  10. What if there is no New Testament Church Near Me?
    5  Digging Deeper
Lesson 7, Digging Deeper 3
In Progress

What does worship to God look like in a church that worships like the believers did in New Testament times according to the teachings and pattern established by Jesus and his apostles?

God desires that we worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). We are to “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). We want to worship God the way he desires to be worshiped. The writer of Hebrews urges believers to “offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28-29). This means that not everything man chooses to do in worship is acceptable to God. Jesus condemned “vain worship” that followed “the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Since God revealed himself through Jesus and his word, we do not worship in ignorance as the Athenians did (Acts 17:30).

We do not want to worship as some did in the church at Colossae. They worshiped God following Old Covenant (Old Testament) practices in “food and drink, festivals, new moons and Sabbaths” which “are a shadow of the things to come.” Christ is the real substance (Colossians 2:16-17). They were “not holding fast to the Head” (Jesus) because they were adding to their worship “asceticism, the worship of angels, visions, and arrogant sensuality” (2:18-19). The Apostle Paul called these practices “self-made religion” because they were based on “human precepts and teachings” (2:22-23).

Since we want to avoid “ignorant worship,” “vain worship,” “self-willed worship,” and “offer to God acceptable worship,” how are we to worship God? The only way we can know that our worship is acceptable to God is to read the teachings of Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament and see how believers worshiped in approved ways back then. The following paragraphs describe what we know believers did in their assemblies.

Teaching, giving, fellowshipping, breaking of bread and praying were a part of the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42). This church began on the day of Pentecost which always occurred on the first day of the week in New Testament times. “Breaking of bread” here in a worship context is a reference to “the communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” (20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 23-26). Jesus commanded his disciples to remember him in “the breaking of bread” and drinking of the cup, the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:17-20). The believers gave generously to help those in need among them (2:44-45; 4:34-35). They loved one another, shared their homes and meals together and more and more people were saved and added to their number (Acts 2:46-47).

Giving to help other believers was a ministry of the church at Antioch of Syria (11:27-30). Paul commanded the churches of Galatia and the Corinthians to help the poor among the saints at Jerusalem (I Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9). Churches also gave to support preachers and teachers in their work of evangelism and in the spiritual building up of the church (2 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Timothy 5:17; Galatians 6:6).

At Corinth, the believers assembled as a church (1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34) to eat common meals and to participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus (11:23-26; 10:16-18, 21). This is probably the same assembly described in chapter 14. God was concerned how the assemblies were conducted. Since he is “not a God of confusion but of peace,” he wanted assemblies “done decently and in order” (14:33, 40). The assembly was participatory. “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (14:27). “Building up” or “edifying” was an essential ingredient of the assembly. It is mentioned a dozen times in this chapter.

In New Testament times, miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were active among the believers. Some at Corinth exercised the spiritual gifts of prophesy and tongue speaking in the assemblies. Since the death of the apostles and the complete revelation and confirmation of his word, it appears that God is no longer endowing believers with these special gifts (Hebrews 2:3-4; and in 16:20 of the longer reading of Mark 16). However, in the teaching about the use of these gifts while they were operative, some principles are still applicable.

The local church prophesy was exercised by both men and women (Acts 2:18; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13) for the purpose of “upbuilding, encouragement and consolation” and “learning and encouragement” (14:3, 31). This prophesy is not the same as “teaching” because they are named as different gifts in 12:27-29. When the prophets spoke, they were to speak in turn by two or three and the congregation was to evaluate (that is, “weigh the accuracy of”) what was said (14:29) in light of scripture.

Tongue speaking is defined in Acts as speaking in foreign languages (Acts 2:4-11). It appears to have the same meaning here (14:10, 11, 21). This gift was not to be exercised without an interpreter to give the meaning (14: 5, 6-11, 27-28).

Both tongue speakers and prophets were to be silent at times (14;28, 30). The spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets (14:32). Women were to keep silent when the messages of the prophets were being weighed or evaluated. Their questioning or arguing with the male prophets could subvert male leadership (14:29, 33-35; as taught in 11:3. 8-9; Genesis 2:20-24; and the general pattern of male leadership in the Old Testament).

Paul’s teaching about the role of women is in accord to what he wrote later in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. He addressed the roles of men and women in “every place” (that is, “every church”). He instructed men to pray by “lifting up holy hands without quarrelling or anger.” He asked women to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” He then wrote about the role of the women:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

According to Paul, in the church women were not to teach over men or to have authority over men. He based this on the order of creation and the fall. Paul wrote that overseers (also known as elders) were to be “husbands of one wife.” This indicates that they were males (I Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-6). Preachers of the word like Timothy and Titus were to “preach the word, reprove, rebuke and exhort” (2 Timothy 4:2-3) and “exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). This indicates that preachers were men since Paul prohibited women from speaking with authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).

With the exceptions that Paul names in I Corinthians 14:33-35 and in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, women were otherwise very active in the work and ministry of the church (for example, see Romans 16:1-2, 3-4, 6, 12, 15). Women taught women (Titus 2:2-5) and Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, “explained” to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

The church met on “the first day of the week” (commonly called “Sunday”) “to break bread” (Acts 20:7). The “first day of the week” was significant because on this day Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:1-6). The first day of the week was later referred to as “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). The church at Corinth “came together” in assemblies (I Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). Paul commanded them to lay aside money, either individually at home or when they met together, for the poor on “every first day of the week.” This indicates that this day had some special significance (16:1-2). This is because their assemblies were on that day, like the assembly at Troas (Acts 20:7).

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and commanded that they “be filled with the Spirit.” Obedience to this command (an imperative) was demonstrated by five participles (helping verbs) which he immediately names: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing, making melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always and for everything, and submitting to one another” (Ephesians 5:18-21). He wrote to the church at Colossae that they “taught and admonished” one another in the song lyrics when they sang together: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). The writer of Hebrews urged the believers to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15). The Old Testament commanded the use of instruments of music in the temple. Jesus asks us to use the instrument of our hearts for worship when we are in assembly with one another. Christian worship is intensely spiritual and every member can participate.

The church also conducted church business in the assembly. Sometimes a believer who was living a sinful life needed to be disciplined “when the church assembled” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). At times, problems arose that needed to be discussed by “the whole church” and solutions proposed and agreed upon (Acts 15:2, 4, 12, 22). On special occasions, the church fasted and prayed in conjunction with making an important decision (Acts 13:3; 14:23).

A summary of the above paragraphs describing the activities of the churches in the New Testament shows that in participatory assemblies the believers did the following for worship to God:

  • Taught or received God’s word
  • prayed
  • sang songs, hymns and spiritual songs
  • gave money to help the needy and to support evangelism and teaching
  • fellowshipped with one another
  • partook of the Lord’s supper (“the breaking of the bread,” the communion) on the first day of the week

Today, believers can assemble and worship God in “spirit and truth” as these believers did in New Testament times. The teachings we find in the New Testament are the only way we know what Christianity looks like and how we are to live and worship our God. By following these teachings, we know that our lives and worship will please God.