AUTHORIZED NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP
By Bob Myhan
Introduction: According to W. E. Vine, in his Dictionary of New Testament Words, “the worship of God…may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgement” (pp. 1258,59). Since it is “not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23), surely God has revealed, through the apostles and prophets of the New Covenant, how we are to worship Him. If we, therefore, examine God’s word, we can see how the apostles acknowledged to God “His nature, attributes, ways and claims.” And, since we cannot know God’s “nature, attributes, ways and claims” better than He does, we certainly should limit our worship of Him to those things that we find approved by Him in His word. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). To worship “in spirit” is to worship sincerely, while to worship “in truth” is to worship in accordance with the truth, which is whatever the word of God says about the matter. Even the Israelites were to “serve Him in sincerity and truth” (Joshua 24:14). The first Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). To “continue steadfastly” in something means “to endure in…persevere in…give unremitting care to” that thing. Surely, there can be no doubt that, if we “continue steadfastly” in those same four things, and other things that are authorized, our worship to God will be well pleasing to Him.
I. THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE AND FELLOWSHIP
A. The Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles “into all truth” (John 16:13).
1. The apostles, therefore, certainly knew how to instruct the first Christians in proper worship.
2. The fellowship of the apostles was “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
3. If we want to be in fellowship “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ,” we need to learn what the apostles saw and heard, and allow that to influence us for good.
B. The apostles’ doctrine is not completely revealed in Acts 2:42, but if we begin there, and examine whatever they did and/or taught in the area of worship, we can learn everything that was revealed.
C. If we restrict our worship to what they certified, then our worship is “guaranteed” to be pleasing to God, and we are “guaranteed” to be in fellowship with Him (assuming our lives are morally upright, as well).
D. If, however, we do things, in worship to God, not authorized by the apostles, we will not be pleasing to Him or in fellowship with Him.
II. THE BREAKING OF BREAD
A. “Breaking bread” is a figure of speech for eating, but (in Acts 2:42) they must have been eating something as an act of worship.
B. What might we eat “as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims”?
C. Jesus ordained unleavened bread to be eaten as a symbol of His body (Matthew 26:26).
D. He also ordained the fruit of the vine (grape juice) to be drunk as a symbol of His blood (Matthew 26:27,28).
E. We later learn that the first century disciples did this “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7).
A. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
1. On the surface, one might think that this is a rather extreme request to make of someone. After all, it seems that there is no possible way that we could spend all of our time praying, since there are other duties that demand our attention. Probably, though, Paul was speaking “not of what is not interrupted, but of that which is constantly recurring” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 179).
2. He is speaking of the persistence with which we may approach a loving God (Matthew 15:22-28; Genesis 18:23-32). It is also an indication of our confidence that God will not break His promise to grant our petitions.
3. But we should always remember: He responds to our tenacity according to that which He, in His omniscience, deems appropriate.
B. We should never permit uncertainty, anxiety, skepticism, or depression to prevent us from praying (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8). Neither should we find fault with God when our requests are not granted without delay. And we should reject any suggestion of failure on God’s part. Rather, we should remember that He bears long with us according to His eternal purpose and manifold wisdom, and that any delay gives us another opportunity to examine our petition. If we find that we have been asking for something which is not in harmony with God’s revealed will, we should realize that it will not be given and stop asking for it. On the other hand, if we are certain that the request is compatible with what He has revealed, we should continue making the request until it is granted or until we have learned to live without the thing requested. But we can be sure that He has a good reason for not having bestowed it.
C. Neither should we allow civil rulers to deter us from praying to God (Daniel 6:4-11). When political oppression comes, we should not cease to pray, but pray all the more, especially “for kings, and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2).
IV. SINGING (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) ALSO SEE MUSIC IN NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP
A. Psalms: Songs devoted to the praise of God, extolling His name, power, character, and works.
B. Hymns: Songs of praise, thanksgiving, and supplication, which emphasize our dependence on God.
C. Spiritual Songs: Those intended to arouse and cultivate feelings of spiritual devotion and to bring the spirit of man into harmony with the Spirit of God.
D. While there is, admittedly, no indication that the disciples were singing in Acts 2:42, we see from Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16 that such is now part of “the apostles’ doctrine.”
V. GIVING (1 Corinthians 16:1,2)
A. One is to give on the first day of the week, as he may prosper.
B. One is to give as he purposes in his heart, not reluctantly, but cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
C. Though giving is not specified in Acts 2:42, we do see the early disciples giving shortly after this (Acts 2:44,45; 4:34,35).
D. Again, the act of giving certainly became part of “the apostles’ doctrine” by the time of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
Conclusion: This seems to be the totality of things that may be done “as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims.” Some may be done individually; others may only be done collectively. Some may be done any time; others may only be done on the first day of the week. To add anything else to our worship of God is to usurp authority over Him, or to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.