Saturday, June 5, 2010

New Testament Worship and Today’s Church

From top to bottom the veil was rent, ushering in the fulfillment of the Old Testament's legal code of ordinances. No longer would Levitical priests enter into the holiest of the places within the Tabernacle to perform worship unto God. It is now Christ who has entered into the true and permanent Holy of Holies to sit at the right hand of the throne of God, not only as our Atonement but also as our Great High Priest. The mere types have yielded to the real thing: The Great High Priest. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ changed everything.

The Resurrected Christ brought a change in Priesthoods. The Levitical priesthood was no longer needed in light of Christ's eternal one. With the Old Testament Tabernacle worship ceremonies having been fulfilled, what was left in terms of a public worship service? A continuity of certain components of worship did carry over from the Old Testament to the New Testament dispensation that would form the church. I would suggest that though not a complete list, the following were the main components of the formation and continuation of the New Testament's worship.


From ancient times, Moses, in the Old Testament Scriptures, had been preached and read in Old Testament worship services. Similarly, the Apostles' letters were read to the church as part of Scripture.

"Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea."


"I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren."


The New Testament church taught and preached scripture through the venue of public address. Jesus was Himself an example of this in that He went into the public venues for Jewish worship, the Synagogues, preaching the Word of God. His disciples, after His ascension, mimicked this practice by going into people's homes and into their temples in the cities and villages.


Where people came to faith and trust in their Savior, the Lord Christ, assemblies or churches were formed. No longer was worship relegated to a city, Jerusalem, but to wherever there were Saints to form corporate worship. In Acts 2:42, there were four things to which the New Testament was devoted: 1) teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) breaking of bread, and 4) prayer.
These assemblies also were composed of gifted men and women who exercised these gifts given by the Holy Spirit of God unto the edification of the Assembly of the Saints. Some of these fellowships, as in the case of the church at Corinth, had fallen into the misuse of the gifts (among other atrocities) and had to be re-instructed in their proper and orderly uses.


The New Testament church also observed two sacraments, Breaking of Bread (the Lord's Supper) and Baptism. The New Testament was to exercise two outward signs of the New Covenant. Christ commanded the observance of the Lord's Supper and Paul expounded its meaning, "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." This sign of the New Covenant was to be an ongoing observance within the New Testament church as was baptism.
Christ commanded this outward sign of the New Creation relationship the believer has with his identification in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to be practiced.

"Though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory" than the old ordinances, the New Testament sacraments hold forth Christ "in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles."


The New Testament church was an assembly of prayer warriors. In the Old Testament, prayer was not solely Temple-bound. There were numerous venues in which prayer was made. Within the New Testament setting, there was congregational prayer. The doctrine or teaching of the Apostles to which the word says the Saints were devoted made much emphasis on prayer.


Another aspect of the New Testament Church was that its polity, or its operational and governing structure, was that of a plurality of leadership. There was no paid, professional clergy versus laity structure. Elders and deacons ruled the local assemblies. The word elder, or overseer, and its application to the leadership of the church are mentioned over 25 times in the New Testament.

The foundation for an elder-ruled church, how an elder is selected, the responsibilities within this church office, the moral and behavioral qualifications for elder are specifically spelled out in scripture, offering more insight into this New Testament church component that almost any other.

Today's worship within Evangelicalism tends to fall within three umbrellas of church order: 1) The Regulative Principle, 2) The Normative Principle, and 3) The Informed Principle.

The Regulative Principle idea of the order of church worship came into being sometime in the 20th century. Its basic meaning, when applied to the order of church worship, is "that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command, precept or example in or by good and necessary consequence from the Bible are permissible in worship, or in other words, that God institutes in the Scriptures everything he requires for worship in the Church and that everything else is prohibited."

In other words, since those components mentioned above appeared in the New Testament church, they should also be the components of today's Christian church worship. Controversy exists in churches today in exactly how to apply the Regulative principle with special application to the use of musical instruments during congregational singing. The criteria for the rejecting or accepting of musical instruments used for the accompaniment of the singing seems to hinge on whether or not something mechanically-made by man is some sort of evil thing that should be ousted from the church's worship service.

I find the position by those who would oust the use of musical instruments an argument from silence and specious. Most of the "Regulative principle" adherents I know do not have a church polity in which Elders and deacons rule. Rather, they have a professionally paid clergy, a pastor, and he or "she" is usually the one who runs the church program from start to finish. I find this inconsistent that they would not apply the Regulative principle to church government but would chuck a fit over the use of musical instruments in the church.

The Normative Principle is a theological position, which posits that anything not specifically and directly forbidden in Scripture, like the use of musical instruments, can be incorporated as a part of a modern worship service. Moderation and common sense would be a ruling factor.

The Informed Principle is the idea of trying to strike a balance between the Regulative and the Normative Principles. This idea says that what is commanded in Scripture is required and what is forbidden in the Bible is prohibited in a worship service. Again, moderation, common sense, and logic can be ruling factors in what to allow and not to allow in those things to which Scripture does not speak.

Most of the Plymouth Brethren churches I have attended come close to applying the Regulative principle of worship. The worship service begins with a "call to worship," then there is a period of quiet in which the congregation is silently meditating on the Lord's Table, which is celebrated weekly. Men within the assembly may get up and share scripture or have a five- to ten-minute exposition of the Word. Songs encompassing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are sung. The song choice is impromptu and is suggested from the congregation.

At some unplanned point, a man will ask God's blessing upon the bread and cup. After partaking of the bread and cup, a period of fellowship ensues. Then come a period of corporate prayer and, afterwards, a longer, planned period of exposition of the Word.

Because these churches or assemblies are traditionally cessionists, there would not be speaking in tongues in these gatherings. There can be, however, the laying on of hands by the Elders for healing of the sick. I have never seen this in the Mexican Plymouth Brethren I attend, but, in theory, it is supposed to be permissible.