Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ


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[This is chapter 7.  Remember that these are extremely rough drafts.  Tell me what you think]

The next subject that I would like to draw our attention to is worship. Christian worship is a subject that has really gained popularity in the last hundred years and the church of Christ has been very interested in it from the very beginning of our movement.

Church of Christ worship has always been quite formal, yet still non-liturgical. We have generally used a formula called “the five acts of worship” as our guide in conducting worship services. We have trusted this five act method because it easily falls in line with our CENI hermeneutic and gives us a basic pattern for acceptable worship.

The five acts are: singing, praying, communion, giving, and preaching and we have generally stuck with this formula. If you go to any church of Christ in the country you can expect to see these five acts (and only these five) practiced in the worship service.

Although the church of Christ has always encouraged private worship, the corporate Sunday morning worship service has been the main worship event for church of Christ members. These services are basically the same as they were one hundred years ago. We generally sing hymns (although some churches have gone contemporary), males lead spontaneous prayers (non-liturgical), communion is served, the collection is taken, and then a sermon is given by the preacher. We call this the worship service and it is always the same week after week and year after year.


If we use our new concept on how to read the Scriptures, we will realize that the New Testament writers had a much different view of worship than the churches of Christ have today.

To start, worship in the New Testament (and even in the Old Testament) is not always formal in the same way that church of Christ worship is. Instead, it is spontaneous. When the heart of a person was led to worship by the greatness of God, that person worshiped. They didn’t wait until Sunday came around. They fell on their knees (another act of worship) and worshiped right there because that was the appropriate place and time for worship. They did not have to wait until the next scheduled worship service.

In the New Testament, we never see anything even resembling the worship service of the church of Christ. We may think that they had them but this is due to our tendency to read our current practices back into the Bible instead of letting it shape our practice.

In Scripture, there are not just five acts of worship, there are an unlimited number of acts. Anything that a person does as an expression of the love of God is an act of worship (even if its not mentioned in Scripture). Our CENI hermeneutic has caused us to limit the physical expressions that are allowed in worship. This is wrong.


It seems to me that in discussions about worship, it is often singing that is brought to the forefront and I would like to challenge the assumption that singing is the main worship act. Although singing can be used as an act of worship, it is not done for this purpose in the New Testament (at least not in a Church context anyway). Where singing appears, its purpose is horizontal and not vertical. Its purpose is to encourage, teach, and admonish other Christians. The idea of singing as vertical worship is certainly biblical, but we are never told to get together for this purpose in the entirety of Scripture. Because this is so, maybe singing as an act of vertical worship should not play such a big role in our worship services.


The key to true worship lies in a passage that we have often quoted but have not quite understood. Jesus was once asked by a Samaritan women if God accepted worship in the Jewish Temple only or if He also accepted it at Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritans had made a temple because they were not allowed to worship in the Jewish Temple). Jesus response was “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24)

I’m sure that you have heard this verse before but you may have been given a different explanation of its meaning. In the churches of Christ, we have generally interpreted this entire passage through the word “truth”. We have explained Jesus’ words here by stating that what He is concerned with here is correct worship. This would be worship that is according to the CENI pattern which we basically claim to hold the patent on. If you want to be a “true worshiper” then you have to come to the church of Christ to get your true worship.

The problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the context of the passage. If this interpretation were true, Jesus would have said: “The Temple in Jerusalem is the right Temple and you are not allowed in it so you cannot worship. You temple at Mount Gerizim is fake”. This is technically the right answer. This conversation is taking place under the Old Covenant and the Temple in Jerusalem is where God had taken up residence. Mount Gerizim was a fraud, but this isn’t the point that Jesus is making in these verses.

If we want to rightly understand Jesus’ meaning, we have to interpret the verse through the word “spirit”. Jesus is actually saying: “The time is coming (and now is) where God won’t be worshiped through a Temple at all, He will be worshiped Spiritually because God is Spirit. True worshipers will worship in Spirit”.

The “truth” in this passage is not in the sense of factual truth but in the truth of character. Its like if I said “that man is truly a Christian” you would know what I meant. I would not be saying that the man had met the minimum requirements for being a Christian (factual truth). I would be saying that the man had a truly Christ-like character. The truth in these verses is more like the words “integrity” or “sincerity” than it is doctrinal truth. Doctrinal truth is important, but not the point of this saying.

True worship is Spiritual. It is from the heart. It is the way that our hearts move when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God. It cannot be manufactured and put inside of a service. We can have as many services as we like and still not have any real worship taking place.


I have already said that there can be any number of acts of worship. An act of worship is anything that a person does when their heart is moved by the glory of God. While the five acts of worship are certainly appropriate, there are many other acts that are appropriate as well. If you look through the Scriptures, you will find many acts of worship that have not traditionally been practiced in the churches of Christ.

Knowing which worship acts to practice is a matter of being led by the Spirit into worship. Whatever the Spirit leads you to do will always be pleasing and honorable to God. If an act is not according to the will of God, it cannot be the Spirit leading you into it. This will protect us from error. Any evil act cannot be from the Spirit of God and is thus inappropriate for worship. All acts that are good and edifying to the Church, must be deemed appropriate.


As we go on into the future, the churches of Christ should focus more on the Spiritual nature of worship instead of on a pattern of acts. We should also stop thinking that we can manufacture through having services. Our meetings should be more about encouraging one another more than being about vertical worship. As we encourage our brethren, we ourselves will be encouraged and that may lead us to worship our Father in Heaven. Corporate worship can be very beautiful but only when it is real and from the heart.


Written by freeinchrist

February 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

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