Stan Cox


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Worship in the Local Church

The Five Acts of Collective Worship


Quantifying the collective worship of the local church is a rather simple thing to do.  One need only read the New Testament and find out exactly what acts of worship the Christians of that time engaged in.  If we are able to establish what God commanded the disciples to do, or to establish examples of them engaging in worship that was endorsed by God, we can then know what is constituted in God's divine directives for congregational worship.

When this is done, five acts of worship are revealed:

  • Singing

  • Prayer
  • Preaching/Teaching
  • Giving
  • Partaking of the Lord's Supper

Such quantification leads to criticism in our time.  If you speak of the five steps in God's plan of salvation, or the five acts of collective worship, you are in danger of being called a legalist.  "Too much emphasis on form!" it is said, "You are only interested in ritual, and have a dogmatic view of things!"

It is an established principle that our worship must be offered from a tender heart.  Jesus said that "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit..." (John 4:24a).  The Pharisees of Jesus'  time  were  known to  be  interested only in the form or expression of their religion, and did not have a sincere heart.  Concerning them, Jesus said, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:5).  As they were concerned only with how their worship was perceived, they were rightly condemned.  Ritual for ritual's sake has no defense before God.

However, the Pharisees erred not only in having an improper heart, but also in departing from God's revelation in their worship.  That same passage in John 4 reads in full, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (vs. 24).  Not only must our worship be with the proper "spirit", it must also be in accord with "truth."

When these religious people began to substitute their own preferences for God's revealed will in their worship, Jesus condemned them.  "And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).  Those critical of the cataloguing of the acts of worship are because they do not want to be limited.  If there are only five established elements of worship, then the sixth one, of their own devising, is rightfully excluded out of respect for the authority of God's word.

Without being exhaustive, let us quickly note the documentation for each of the acts of collective worship mentioned above.

Singing

We find examples of Christians singing in the scriptures.  Paul and Silas were singing while in prison (Acts 16:25).  Also, we are given explicit instructions to sing in the assembly (cf. Hebrews 2:12), the Hebrew writer pointing out that Christ Himself interacts with us in that worship.  Paul gave instructions to the Ephesians and the Colossians regarding their singing (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).

Prayer

Again, we clearly have instructions given to the first century Christians, not only to pray, but explanations regarding the content of our prayers.  Jesus established his model prayer for the disciples in Mattthew 6:9-13.  Prayer is requested by Paul on his own behalf on several occasions, and he prayed for his brethren always.  We are told to "pray without ceasing" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), and Paul desired that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1).

Preaching/Teaching

One of the primary purposes of assembly is to edify (cf.  Hebrews 10:25).  The Lord established different offices in the church to accomplish that purpose, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12).  Paul came to Troas, and in the assembly, "spoke to them and continued his message until midnight."  Preaching is an important part of the worship.

Giving

Paul established the first day of the week contribution as something the Corinthians "must do" (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  The Christian is instructed to "give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).  Giving is a rewarding and necessary part of Christian worship.

Lord's Supper

The final act of worship revealed in the New Testament is the memorial Christ established to commemorate his death (cf. Matthew 26:26-29).  It is a wonderful opportunity not only to remember the sacrifice of our Savior for our sins, but also to "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 gives instructions regarding the observance of that feast in the assembly, and Acts 20:7 sets the time of its observance to be the first day of the week.

These constitute God's pattern of worship for men.

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