Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Posts Tagged ‘five acts of worship

The Meeting

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When I wrote The Meal, I talked about how we tend to put the focus on the elements (bread and wine) instead of on the meal itself.  My point is that the purpose of communion was in the meal and not in the food.  In the meal we remember the Lord’s death.

I think the same thing is true for Christian meetings.  We tend to focus on what should be done at the meeting more than focusing on being together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The New Testament has a different focus for meetings.  New Testament meetings were focused on encouraging each other.  We are never told how to have a meeting in Scripture but we are told to edify one another.  Build one another up into love and good works.  This means that the things we do in the meeting can change as long as the purpose of the meeting doesn’t.

Too often our purpose in attending meetings has been to fulfill a set of religious obligations instead of the reason that Jesus had in mind.


Written by freeinchrist

March 12, 2010 at 8:00 am


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Music has been a very important topic for church of Christ members from the very beginning of our movement. We have always been concerned that it is only practiced according to God’s will and in a way that is good for the Church.

The churches of Christ that I am addressing in this book have practiced congregational singing without instrumental accompaniment for a few different reasons.

Historical Argument:  The instrument is not seen in the Church for hundreds of years after its beginning and was not popular in America until the late 1800’s.

CENI Argument:  There is no command or example to approve it. Necessary inference demands that we conclude that there was some reason for the early restriction of the instrument that should still obey today.

Pagan Influence Argument: Instruments are tools of the devil. This view is not common among the churches of Christ but has been used throughout Church history.

Mechanical Worship Argument: Instruments violate “heart worship” by being a mechanical means of worshiping.

Entertainment Argument: Instruments are only done for entertainment and not for mutual edification.

Hierarchical Argument: Instruments create a hierarchy between musicians and non-musicians violating the priesthood of all believers.

There are many fine points to be made from these arguments but what would happen if we were being led by the Spirit instead of the Scriptures in deciding this issue.


The historical argument basically says “if the early Church didn’t use instruments, they must have had some reason to restrict them” and this is certainly correct. It cannot be a coincidence that the Church didn’t use instruments for most of its history.

The problem is: Knowing that they had a reason does not help us know what that reason was and if we should still keep this restriction today. The Jews had a reason for keeping the Sabbath and the Christians had a reason to stop keeping it under the New Covenant. Sometimes, things change. We need to make sure that this isn’t one of those times.

Without knowing why the early believers rejected something, we can’t know why we should reject it. It is highly likely that the early Church rejected the instrument because of its role in pagan worship. Every time an early Christian writes against the instrument, it is for this reason and this reason alone. The Jewish synagogue had previously restricted instrumental music for the same reason. The instrument was considered a tool for pagan worship and thus was inappropriate for worshiping the true God.


We have already discussed the problems with CENI and they touch the interpretation of this issue as well. There are no commands (for or against) and no examples of instrumental music in the early Church. So, what does this mean?

Nothing. It means nothing.

When there is no information to base an inference on, it is unwise to draw a conclusion. The Scriptures give no information on this topic and thus shouldn’t be used to decide our practice on it. The Scriptures were written to reveal but, in this case, reveal nothing on whether we should use the instrument or not.


This is really the same argument that was used by the early Church but I can’t see how it still applies. We all listen to secular music that uses the instrument and don’t see it as necessarily wicked. If it is profane, we usually base that judgment on the lyrics and not the instrumentation.

We rightly see instruments as inanimate objects with no inherent moral value at all. They can be neither good nor bad. The people using them can be evil but the instruments themselves cannot.


This argument states that since inanimate objects cannot worship they are inappropriate for Christian worship. It is true that instruments cannot worship, but the instrument is being used as an aid for worship. I have never heard anyone argue that the instrument is worshiping on its own.

Hymnals, video projectors, pews, buildings, and pitch pipes also cannot worship but are frequently used as aids to church of Christ worship without anyone questioning them. If we restrict instruments for this reason, we would have to restrict all worship aids.


The next argument is that the instruments are only used for entertainment and not for mutual edification and this is certainly sometimes true. When instruments are used this way they are inappropriate for worship because they distract from Jesus and are not for the purpose of edifying others (just pleasing ourselves). If worship is self-centered, it is certainly outside of God’s will.

However, this is not always (or even often) the case in instrumental worship. I truly believe that most congregations practice instrumental music with integrity for the true purposes of worship and edification. We should not evaluate the practices of the many based on the few that use the instrument for entertainment purposes.


The same is true for the hierarchical argument. It may be true that sometimes the musicians status could violate the priesthood of all believers but this isn’t always true. Many groups who use the instrument are as concerned with this as we are and have taken steps to prevent it. This is not a good reason for banning the instrument from our assemblies.


If we listen to the Spirit, there is only one place He will lead us: Love. Love of God and love of our brethren. Love should guide our actions in response to this issue. I think love would express itself in these ways.

1.We should not try to introduce the instrument into a congregation that neither wants it or needs it.

2.We should never attempt to stop a congregation from using the instrument that has decided to do so. They have qualified leadership that can make these decisions for themselves.

3.We should accept our brethren who disagree with us on this issue.

4.If the Spirit leads us to use the instrument, we will use it in the capacity in which He leads.

5.Love of God and love of others will be our motivation in making the decision to use them or to restrict them.

When we stop following the Bible and start following the Spirit, we are able to frame issues in a different way. We are now able to choose the most loving option and this is what we should want. Remember what the Apostle John wrote:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

If we want to be “born of God” and “know God” then we must love others. Reading about God will never get us there. We must love to truly know God because He is love.

Written by freeinchrist

March 6, 2010 at 8:00 am


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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

Servants That Became Rulers: Order of Worship

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The second servant that became a ruler (Cecil Hook doesn’t mention this one in his chapter but Frank Viola does in Pagan Christianity)  is the order of worship.

Most institutional churches have an order of worship that varies little from week to week.  There are usually five things that are done: teaching/preaching, prayer, singing, taking communion, and giving.  These are often called “the five acts of worship”.  I really think that we need to reconsider having a set order of worship and this is why:

1.  Stops every member from functioning:  The body of Christ is made up of people with various gifts and these gifts are currently in the seats in the institutional churches.  These gifts were meant for the edification of the body and this doesn’t happen if we leave the gifted out of the worship service.  Some people get to edify others in the traditional churches, but we are supposed to be meeting for mutual edification.  When the “clergy” edifies the “laity” that is not mutual edification.  You are supposed to edify and be edified.

2.  The order of worship (and its acts) are mistaken for true worship:  Worship is not preaching, prayer, singing, Lord’s Supper, and giving.  These are ACTS of worship.  They, also, are not the only acts of worship.  Any good work can be an act of worship when it is done from the heart.  Worship happens in the heart and can happen at any time (not just at a worship service). 

3.  The order of worship, sometimes, replaces true worship:  The order of worship can be done without any real worship taking place in the heart.  It can be fake.  It becomes a routine that is done regardless of whether the people are worshipping in their hearts.  It becomes a law that the people keep so that they can feel good about keeping it.  It distracts from true worship.

4.  The order of worship requires that things be done that may not NEED to be done:  Sometimes we can meet and not need a sermon.  Sometimes we don’t need to sing.  Sometimes prayer is not on our hearts.  Sometimes their is no needy who need support, so no need to give to them.  Sometimes our hearts aren’t in the Lord’s Supper.  In these cases, wouldn’t it be better to not do these things at all than to do them inappropriately?  Isn’t it better to use the gifts and leading of the Holy Spirit to decide how we meet than to determine it beforehand and quench the Holy Spirit from working in a different way if He wishes. 

5.  The order of worship makes our meetings boring and predictable:  I probably don’t need to explain this one.

I think if we were to look at it carefully (with the knowledge that the order of worship is made up by men so can be eliminated) we will reconsider the use of our long-held order of worship and replace it with the leading and gifts of the Holy Spirit.