This particular thesis assumes that you, the reader, have absorbed the material found in the paper, Men Who Would Be Kings -- a book written by John Bland. This work attempts to take the next logical step from where "Kings" leaves off. If one accepts the notions in "Kings," then the Christian is left with several questions:
More directly, if we accept the notion in "Kings" that all Christians are equals, then what do we do if we're not doing what the churches do? We will attempt to provide answers to those questions, in a manner that can be clearly understood.
Summarizing certain points made by John Bland, we quote from Men Who Would be Kings:
Ever since early times (1 Sam 8-10), God's people have wanted -- out of weakness -- to become like everyone else. We have wanted to give authority to others, our "kings," that they would serve as intermediaries. The laity give to the clergy certain of their own responsibilities in exchange for also granting authority to the clergy.
As Bland points out, the role of herald ("preacher") was intended for the first century only, and even in that role, no one had authority over any other person. If we are to be the priesthood of believers that God intended (Ex 19) and Jesus attempted to restore, then we must "call no one on earth father" by allowing them to mediate our relationship with God. Likewise, it is necessary not to "be called rabbi" by allowing ourselves to become "clergy" while others are "laity."
It is also divisive for groups to organize themselves around shared opinions -- no matter how right we believe those opinions to be. The existence of creeds, oral or written statements that express what the members of the group believe, is one indication of "lines of fellowship" that assume the veracity of certain opinions. All such creeds are wrong and are indicative of authoritarian structures.
And this is the point where people often ask that first question, "If there is no human authority structure in "the church" today, how do we conduct services?" That's a most interesting question, and for the answer we must examine what we mean by "services."
What are the components of a worship service (or mass) in an organized religious group today?
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of worship:
This is not the place to show that Christian worship is a worship at once interior and exterior, public and private. It should be interior, otherwise it would be mere comedy, a purely pharisaical worship such as Christ condemned when He told His disciples that they should worship in spirit and the truth. But it should not be purely interior worship...for man is not a pure spirit but composed of body and soul, and he should adore God not only in his soul but also in his body. This is the justification of all external manifestations of worship -- genuflexion, prostration, kneeling, standing, the sign of the cross, the lifting-up or imposition of hands. Worship in private or even individual worship in public, is not sufficient. Society as such should also render to God the honour due to Him. Furthermore, it is natural that men who believe in the same God and experience towards Him the same sentiments of adoration, gratitude, and love should assemble to praise and thank Him.
"But even if this principle of a natural right did not exist to prove the necessity and legitmacy of a social worship, the fact that Christ founded a Church, that is, a society of men professing the same faith, obeying the same laws, united with one another by the closest bonds, implies the existence of the same worship.
Notice that their justification for "social worship," that is, "worship" in a social "church" setting, is first that "worship in private or even individual worship in public is not sufficient." In other words, they reason that it is simply necessary to worship in public, although they provide no Biblical support for the concept. They also add that the existence of a church society is alone a justification for the mass or worship service, as though our existence necessitates structure.
The United Methodist Church indicates that their clergy direct the worship services as follows:
"Elders are ordained to a lifetime ministry of service, word, sacrament and order. They are authorized to preach and teach Godís word, to administer the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, and to order the life of the church for mission and ministry. As members of the order of elder, they make themselves available for appointment by the bishop and serve both within the local church and in settings which extend the ministry of the church. They are full members of the annual conference. "Local pastors are licensed by the bishop to perform all pastoral duties including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion while appointed to a particular church. They are clergy members of the annual conference with limited voting rights while under appointment as full-time or part-time local pastors. Licensing is for one year at a time." (http://www.umc.org/churchleadership/ordainedministry/pastors/)
Michael Morrison, a conservative evangelical and member of the Worldwide Church of God, gives his perspective this way:
Now, we can worship God all by ourself. But it is also something that we do together. God has revealed himself to many people, and we join together to praise him. God puts us in a community, he reveals himself to a community and through a community, and the community together responds to him in worship, in declaring that he is worth all honor and praise. (http://www.angelfire.com/md/mdmorrison/worship.html)
In simpler terms, he too assumes that "worship" extends to a social or group setting. He also makes assumptions as to what constitutes "worship," assumptions that many others make:
"One of the primary methods we use to worship God is that of music.... That doesn't mean that we have absolutely no rituals. Jesus himself gave us some. It is inevitable that we will also develop some customs in worship. ... In Corinthians, Paul talks about the church coming together. In Hebrews 10:25, we are commanded to meet together. ..."
Morrison notes various things that he observes Christians did, then collectivizes those things, calling them all "worship" -- a term that the Bible never applies to those things. And so, he continues:
"Prayer was also part of the worship....Scripture would be an important part of the church meeting, too. ... So there is a hymn, there is a time of instruction, and there is a time when spiritual gifts may be used.... The New Testament has many commands about what we should do with and for one another. ... A third major part of our worship services is the sermon. ...."
And finally, Morrison mentions "sacraments" -- certain ritual acts such as baptism.
For another perspective, the churches of Christ generally teach of five "acts of worship" that take place every Sunday morning at congregations which are "scripturally organized." These are: prayer; singing; the Lord's Supper; the sermon (including Bible reading); and the contribution. This is often called the "Pattern of Worship," a term used also by other groups.
Let's collect these things together now to see what we can observe about what takes place in "worship services."
Let us examine every one of these items in more detail.
The justification for the existence of worship services comes from Hebrews 10:25. In the context of that passage, we read:
"Therefore, brothers, since we have freedom of speech by the blood of Jesus to the point of entering the holy places (by this blood he made new for us a recent and living way through the veil, that is, his flesh), and since we have a great priest over God's house, we should come near with a true heart, wearing our trust fully, having our hearts sprinkled from a consciousness of evil, and having our bodies washed in clean water, we should hold fast to the acknowledgment of hope without nodding our heads. For the one who promised is reliable. We should also bear one another in mind out of a stimulation of love and nice deeds and not abandon gathering together (as it is the custom of some people). On the contrary, we should comfort one another, and rather a lot, as you see the day drawing near." (Heb 10:19-25)
Yes, there is a saying there that says that "we" (whoever that means) should not "abandon gathering together." But was the author talking about worship services when she wrote that? Looking at the context of Hebrews 10, we see that the author means...
Since the metaphorical barrier between the non-priest and God is now broken, since Jesus (the "great high priest" came), we should approach God "with a true heart." We should trust God fully. The reference to the sprinkling of hearts hearkens back to the Jewish rituals of purification. Here, our hearts have been sprinkled--cleansed. From what? From a consciousness of evil--i.e., from the guilt accompanying sin. The washing of bodies is a reference to the OT cleansings and probably also to Christian baptism, which separated the Jews who had accepted Jesus as God's Anointed from those who did not.
The author reminds the readers of the dependability of God: "God is reliable."
Why? Because the promises belong to the reader who will accept them. More
will follow later in Hebrews on this topic. What should the readers do, then?
"We should draw near" was the first thing.
"We should hold fast" is the second. Hold fast to what? To "the acknowledgement of hope"; that is, to the fact that Jesus is who he is and that he brought an end to the system of ritual religion. Do this "without nodding our heads"--without any wavering of any kind.
Third, "We should bear one another in mind." In other words, times were rough. Judaism did not accept the Christians, and many Jewish people were considering rebelling against the Roman Empire. After Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the Christians, they began to see persecution from both the Jewish leaders and the imperial government. Others around the readers may be stumbling. They too may be prepared to give up what they know to be true in order to avoid persecution. The readers were advised to help them, so that they will not fall away. Get together with people. Don't abandon them, because we Christian Jews all need one another in this time of Roman and Jewish persecution -- for strength.
"Comfort one another." Why? Because there is persecution from your own (Jewish) people, maybe even from your own relatives. And you will need comfort, especially "as you see the day drawing near"--the closer we get to the time of the destruction of the Temple and siege on Jerusalem and Masada.
There is nothing here indicating that Christians ought to "worship" in a "social atmosphere." Instead, Christian friends are being urged to continue to get together. Their relationships with one another, and especially their concern toward helping one another, would strengthen them as the end of the Jewish state approached. It only made sense that they should keep participating in one another's lives; otherwise, the persecution might be too tough for them. But there was strength in numbers.
So, the author of Hebrews did not tell them to get together because God commanded it but because they were being persecuted. Did the author tell the readers to get together "for worship"? No. The term "worship" is never used in this particular discussion, nor are the things on the list above mentioned as things that they should do. Instead, because of their troubles, they were being urged to get with their friends to provide comfort for them.
And so, Christians are not "commanded" to participate in "worship services." In general, there isn't even a "command" to have any kind of meeting at all. We see that Christians did do things together, but what things they did appears to have varied from city to city, and there is nowhere to be found a "pattern of worship."
Danny Shumacher writes, "The fact that there is no pattern for an institution is obvious. Where is the pattern? What are its essential points? How detailed must our pattern be? Must there be a command for each detail? Which historical details are necessary and which are incidental? The fact that none of the Patternists can agree as to the answers to these questions assures us that there is no pattern." ("Behold the Pattern," The Examiner, Vol. 8, No. 2)
Some Christian groups practice a more detailed liturgical calendar than others observe. Check out the Lutheran Calendar as an example of a more thorough calendar. There are fasting days, feast days, and days of observance for every sort of person and event. You might ask, "Didn't the Jewish people observe all sorts of holidays?" And the answer is that they did indeed, and most of all, they kept the Sabbath. But let's read what Paul wrote:
"Someone indeed judges a day better than another day, but someone else judges every day to be the same. Each one should be fully assured in his own mind. The one who minds the day minds for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord, for he thanks to God. And the one who does not eat, does his not eating for the Lord, and he thanks God. For none of us lives for himself, and none dies for himself. For both if we should live, we are living for the Lord, and if we should die, we are dying for the Lord. Therefore, both if we should live and if we should die, we are the Lord's. For the Anointed One died and lived from this reason: so that he might be lord both of dead and living." (Rm 14:5-9)
Contextually, there were certain Jewish Christians who wished to observe the Sabbath, the dietary code, and possibly the feast days. Their ancestors had done this for several centuries. And yet...
The "strong" position is that all days are alike, so that keeping the Sabbath and feast days has become unimportant in the New Covenant. There was a principle in each of the feast days, and there was a principle behind the Sabbath, which showed honor to God. Neither the strong nor the weak can let go of that principle. However, the two positions are both honest convictions, and each should be allowed to coexist with the other. After all, every honest conviction is a conviction based on God: the purpose of the action is to honor God. Each of us must allow one another to live for God according to his own convictions, without trying to make him conform to our opinions.
But if we are to live by our own convictions, then does that mean we are not commanded to meet on the Sabbath? Or on Sunday? Or on other days? The people who advocate Sunday meetings often quote Acts 20:
"Now we sailed out from Filippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and we came to Troas to them in five days, where we remained for seven days. Now during the first day of the week, while we were gathered together to break bread, Paulus held a discussion with them, since he was about to depart on the next day. And he continued the talk until midnight. (Now there was a considerable number of lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.) "
Doesn't this show that the early Christians always met on Sunday, the "first day of the week"? No. Actually, it only demonstrates that Paul and his friends were preparing to leave town on Sunday. It was the evening of the first day of the week, which is our Saturday night, and the group gathered to talk with Paul about his travels. Instead of being a command to meet on Sunday, this is a classic example of Christians choosing to get together for their own purposes at whatever time they chose.
Did they get together for a "worship service"? No. Instead, they gathered to talk with a traveling envoy, who was about to head out to another town. They ate together and discussed Paul's travels, but they did not do the ritual acts described earlier by the organized groups as "worship".
And what about the Sabbath, or Sunday, or weekly observance? Don't we read...?
"Remember the Sabbath day; keep it holy. You will labor for six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You will not do any work during it -- neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your cattle, nor the traveler who is staying within your gates. For Yahweh made heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them in six days, and he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, making it holy." (Ex 20:8-11)
Deut 5:15 also adds: "You will remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that Yahweh your god brought you out from there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Therefore, Yahweh your god directed you to keep the Sabbath day."
What was the purpose for keeping the Sabbath under the First Covenant? Lk 6:1f. points this out:
Now during a Sabbath it happened that he went through the wheat fields. And his students also picked off the heads of wheat and rubbed them in their hands and ate. Now some of the Perushim said, "Why are you doing what is not legal on the Sabbath?" And Jesus answered, saying to them, "Haven't you even read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he entered into God's house, and he took the loaves of design, and he ate, and he gave to those who were with him. It was illegal to eat this, except for the priests alone." And he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."
As to what could and could not be done on the Sabbath, the Torah itself is rather silent, and Jesus implies that there is a principle of what it means to "keep the day holy." The rabbis had a great many things to say on this subject. There are 39 acts listed in the Mishnah that were forbidden on the Sabbath, and there are still more recommendations and precautions. The 39 forbidden acts are found at Shabbat 97b. Details are added to activities like "bread making," and there are even minimal amounts of work specified that are to be considered violations of the Sabbath (Shabbat 74a). In extreme cases, one could be stoned to death for deliberately violating the Sabbath.
Jesus' retort is based on what happened in 1 Sam 21:2-7, wherein David proclaimed that his men had been consecrated to God and therefore could eat of the holy bread. Normally, only the priests could eat this bread (Lev 24:5-9). Jesus' point was that since the men who traveled with David were holy enough to be allowed to eat the loaves of design ("showbread"), then those who traveled with Jesus were holy enough to eat food that had not been set apart for God. The interpretations of the Perushim regarding the Sabbath were so strict that they should have condemned David for his actions, but since David was not to be blamed, then neither should they blame Jesus and his students.
The stronger principle here answers the question, "What makes something holy?" Do we meet in "churches" for "worship"? Is that how we keep a day holy? And should we keep only one day a week holy? Although David and his men were not priests, they were still consecrated to God (in going to fight his war). Jesus and his students were also doing God's work. Therefore, they were keeping the Sabbath day holy -- by devoting themselves to God. In terms that apply for ourselves, Jesus says that by doing what God wants us to do, we are honoring God and therefore are keeping the day holy.
Does that apply only to the Sabbath? No, for as Paul indicates, the strong position is to realize that Jesus' principle applies all of the time. We ought to treat all days equally, keeping them all holy by practicing God's principles of trust and love.
The quotations that I have provided from various organized groups all imply that "worship" takes place when a group of Christians gathers to do certain things. In this section, we will examine the term "worship" as it is used in the New Testament.
Most of the time, the Greek word proskunew (proskunew) indicates an act of bowing down. Even in the Septuagint (LXX), we read of the Egyptians bowing down to Moses (Ex 11:8), and indeed the word means "bow down to." Bowing to someone was a public recognition that someone had a superior rank, status, knowledge, or ability. When approaching someone perceived as superior, bowing down was an appropriate greeting.
When the term is used internally, as an attitude of recognition that God is superior, then the translation "worship" is appropriate. There are a few passages that describe what worship is and is not:
"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Now, they revere me worthlessly, teaching as teachings human precepts." (Mt 15:8-9, citing Isa 29:13)
The people about whom Jesus was speaking were certainly holding
meetings on the prescribed day in the prescribed place. The rituals
in those meetings were widely accepted. Yet Jesus said that they
were not revering (fearing, worshipping) God at all.
The word used here is not proskunew, however. This reverence is a "tremble in fear" reverence. Rather than tremble in fear of God, they preferred to follow that which was familiar: their own traditional opinions. Jesus called for "restoration"--for a look back at what God originally said, and not at the human opinions and interpretations that had created the Jewish paradigm of his time.
In the story of Jesus' life according to Johannes, the author there cites several instances of proskunew as "worship". Consider Jn 4:19ff.:
The woman said to him, "Sir, I observe that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship."
While the woman could have been talking about the physical act of bowing down, the nature of her question more naturally reflects worship. Where do we worship God?
Since at least 400 BCE, the Samaritans had been constructing shrines on Mt. Gerizim. Gerizim held such a high place of import that it appeared on Samaritan coins. Possessing only the Torah, the Samaritans reasoned that the proper place to worship God was on the mountain. Judeans taught that the temple in Jerusalem was the place where God wanted people to worship. Knowing now that Jesus was a true prophet, she asked a hotbutton question that underlied the foundations of her people's beliefs: "what is the proper place of worship?"
Jesus said to her, "Woman, trust me: an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is of the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit; that is, truth. For the Father is also seeking those who worship him that way.
"God is a spirit, and it is necessary for those who worship him to worship in spirit; that is, truth."
Here, Jesus supercedes not only Jacob but all forms of locational worship. When asked, "What is the place of worship?" Jesus did not say, "the temple," or "that mountain," or "a church building." Instead, Jesus made the first truly controversial statement of his career. In saying, "neither," Jesus removed the very concept of "places of worship"!
The use of "in spirit" signifies "spiritually," and so Jesus indicates that all worship must be done spiritually, that is, truthfully. Jesus equates spiritual and truthful later on (as Johannes records), so that following the internal Torah is "truthful worship". "An hour is coming" he said, because the end of Priestly Judaism was quickly approaching. "An hour is coming, and now is" because God has always regarded only worship from within. Where is the proper place of worship? Inside. No building or place is a "place of worship," but a heart devoted to God is the only place of worship. Not only is this how "it is necessary to worship the Father," but also God is seeking for people who worship him internally. Imagine the intimacy involved in true worship, when God actively seeks people with a worshipful attitude! For following the internal Torah, we shall see, does not mean obeying various rules; instead, it necessitates the right attitudes in the heart.
"Worship" -- literally the act of bowing down -- must be done internally. We cannot kneel at an altar externally. It is not worship to sing praises unless you mean those words. It is not worship to sit in a synagogue or church as part of a ritual. For worship is not external but internal. It is not "both" internal and external, for Jesus has said that the ONLY place of worship is inside.
Stefanos (Stephen) had more to say about the Jewish place of worship, the Temple:
"The tent of testimony belonged to our ancestors in the desert, just as the one who spoke to Moses arranged it, according to the type which he had seen. This also our ancestors with Joshua received and brought in from the possession of the gentiles, whom God put out from the presence of our ancestors until the days of David. He found favor before God and asked to find a tent for the House of Jacob, and Solomon constructed a house for him." (Ac 7:44-47)
God had arranged a tent of meeting while they were in the desert, but when they settled down, David wanted to build God a house. The OT intimates (see Psa 132, for example) that this was David's idea and not God's. Solomon (1 Kings 6) continued his father's pledge to build a house for God.
"However, the Highest One does not dwell in handmade places, as the prophet says, "'Heaven is my throne, and the land is my footstool. What house will you construct for me?', says Yahweh. 'Or what is my place of rest? Hasn't my hand made all of these things?'""
But God never wanted nor needed an earthly house. In fact, he "does not dwell in handmade places." I.e., what the Jews knew as the temple in Stefanos' day was not, in fact, God's house. Neither are church buildings today God's house, becuase God still does not live in any handmade temple.
Stefanos cites Isa 66:1f. as God's clear statement on the subject. God could not possibly dwell in something that was merely his physical creation. The passage in Isaiah goes on to indicate that "it is the man to whom I will look, the one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at my declaration." This hearkens to Jesus' sayings about the true nature of worship being personal and from within (John 4).
Paul continues to address the same topic from a different angle in Acts 17:
"Therefore, since you don't know whom you are worshiping, I announce this to you: The god who made the creation and everything in it, the one who is Lord of Heaven and Earth, does not dwell in handmade temples, nor is he served by human hands (as though he lacked something). He gave to all creatures life and breath and all things, and he made from one every nation of people to dwell on the face of the land, fixing the seasons and the limits of their habitation, for them to seek God, if indeed they might feel after him and find him.
Paulus also added, "nor is he served by human hands." God desires nothing physical that we could give him. As possessor of "the cattle on a thousand hills," God would rather have mercy than sacrifices, and here, all ritual activities are entirely meaningless to such an almighty god. This Highest God made everything and everyone, and yet this god is so personal that he wants everyone to "feel after him and find him." In short, this Yahweh is both more vast and more personal than anything that the Athenians knew. What God wants is personal relationships and not ritualized activities, and again, the only worship is internal.
If we're not supposed to worship anywhere but within, then what about the so-called "acts of worship"? Didn't Paul perform these actions when he told Governor Felix..."I went up to worship in Jerusalem" (Ac 24:11)? No. In that discourse with Felix, Paul deliberately used language throughout his statement that connected with and appealed to the Jewish way of thinking. Something similar happens in Acts 22. In fact, what had Paul been doing in Jerusalem? According to Lukas, he told his fellow Christians about his travels (Ac 21:17), then performed certain ritual cleansings with the purpose of placating the Jewish leaders (vv. 23-24). Paul had actually been warned not to go to Jerusalem at all (Ac 21:4, 11), and when he was there, he didn't participate in the "acts of worship" at all. Instead, he continued living his own life -- living it for God.
Some translate the word latreuw as "worship." That word signifies serving someone or something. In Jewish usage, the term frequently applied to performing an act of religious service. Paul does say:
For my witness is God, to whom I give religious service in my spirit in the good message of his son, as I make unceasing remembrance of you. (Rm 1:8f.)
Is his recollection of the Roman Christians considered "worship"? In a way it is. His love toward the Romans is "worship" and takes place not externally but internally. In that same letter, he writes:
Therefore, brothers, I am advising you, through God's deep feelings, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy, well-pleasing to God, your rational religious service. (Rm 12:1)
Here, Paul intentionally replaces the idea of "acts of religious service" with something internal. Instead of making sacrifices, Paul's gentile readers should become sacrifices. The term "well-pleasing" reminds us of the praise given of Henoch (Gen 5:22). Henoch "walked with God," or "was well-pleasing," and Paulus reminds his gentile readers that even though they were not part of the first covenant, they (like Henoch) can be "well-pleasing" -- not through the perfection of their own deeds but by committing themselves fully to God in trust. Thus, the gentiles would be "acceptable sacrifices" if they performed the "religious service" of trusting God. And so, in the new covenant, trust is considered "religious service" (or "worship"), and love is religious service.
In the proskunew sense, worship takes place only internally and consists of proper reverence toward God. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you are worshipping if you are revering God. In the latreuw sense, you are worshipping not by participating in ritual acts but by practicing trust and love. This is what is reasonable, or rational, or logical. Practicing love and trust is true religious service, for God said, "I want mercy, and not sacrifice."
So, what of these "acts"?
Clearly, some of the actions mentioned on our list are good things to do. A Christian can hardly have a relationship with God if she does not pray. Prayer consists of communicating with God and committing one's self, problems, and questions to him in trust. This is a central core of any relationship. Yes, of course, we should trust God.
But are Christians generally commanded to gather together to pray together? We are to "pray unceasingly," but not necessarily together. We CAN pray together with our friends, and benefit comes with trusting one another as well as trusting God, but Christians are nowhere told that prayer is part of a worship service.
Instead, prayer is part of a relationship between two of God's people. People who trust one another and who love one another will pray together. During a service? No, but whenever and wherever the need or mood arises. In the New Testament, Christians prayed (alone and together) for many reasons. They took turns speaking their concerns aloud and spoke freely of the matters that affected them. But we do not read of a scheduled time of public prayer wherein one person spoke while others merely listened.
We see the following instruction regarding prayer: "And when you pray, don't be like the hypocrites, because they are affectionate toward standing up to pray in the gatherings and in the corners of the open places, so that they may appear to people.
"Indeed I am telling you, they have their full reward. But you, when you are praying, enter into your private place and pray to your Father in secret after locking your door. And your Father, who sees in the secret place, will repay you." (Mt 6:6-7)
We also read that Jesus often went by himself to pray. Now, this should not be construed that prayer is to be done entirely in secret with no one else present, for we do read of specific occasions on which prayer took place in public, such as when the Eleven prayed together regarding Judah's replacement (Acts 1), or when the group prayed for strength for the envoys after the release of Johannes and Peter (Acts 4). We clearly read that public prayer is acceptable (1C 11; possibly 1T 2:8-10); however, since prayer is a communication between two friends (the Christian and God), it normally takes place alone unless there is a matter that necessitates group prayer. In such cases, the people would take turns praying.
Allowing for people to gather and pray together, we recognize that this activity is not a "worship service."
Singing is a beautiful thing, but it is not "worship" as the Bible defines worship. Should Christians sing together? Sure, if they want to. Did Christians in the New Testament sing together? At least some of them did; we don't know whether or not they all did. Does God like singing? Sure! Half of the psalms favor us making emotional outpourings to God, alone and in the presence of others. But nowhere in the New Testament do we find singing as part of a worship service or ritual activity.
The Corinthian group sang together. "What then, brothers? When you come together, each person has music, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. All things should be for edification." (1C 14:26) But it is one thing to choose to sing together and another thing to be setting a pattern for Christians worldwide. In fact, from Paul's choice of words it appears otherwise. He appears to be saying that when they gathered together, everyone had things that they wanted to do. His judgment was that they could do whatever they wished if it was "for edification." Were they holding "services"? No. They were meeting together as a growing group of friends.
Sing if you want to. Express your emotions to God in whatever means comes naturally. If you want to do that alone, do it alone. If you want to do that with others, do it with others. Like Prayer, there are many good things that people can do, but they are not "worship" and are not intended to be part of a "service."
In fact, the description in 1 Corinthians is the most detailed given of any typical meeting between Christians, and what they appear to have done is to do whatever came naturally while they were together. If something interesting had happened, they shared it with one another. If God spoke through one or more of them, they shared those prophecies. They had dinner together. If people wanted to sing, they sang. This is not a worship service but a simple friendly gathering of people who had certain things in common. For all we know, they met daily (Acts 2), or as often as they could, viewing their meetings as social events.
Once again, we have something that is certainly acceptable but which was not part of a "service" of any kind in New Testament times. In the descriptions that we read of NT Christian gatherings, no one reads from the Bible. Does this mean that we shouldn't do it? No. But it does point once again to the claim that there were no worship services or formalized Christian activities in the New Testament.
Now we turn to a different area entirely. Instead of being entirely silent on the mode of communication between Christians, we do have descriptions of how that communication took place. Simply put, there were no sermons. Christians never lectured one another.
The word group for "lecture" or "sermon" is the same word group from which we obtain the English word "rhetoric." That word group never appears in connection with Christian meetings in the New Testament. In fact, the only place that we see it is in Acts 24:1, where an orator (lecturer) was hired to dispute Paul.
People often point to Acts 2 as being about sermons: "Now they were attending to the teachings of the envoys and to the sharing, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers."
First of all, "the sharing" refers to the shared lifestyle of having everything in common. We read of this later in Acts 2 and also in Acts 4, Acts 5, and in the letters. Sharing everything with one another was not an element of a "service"; it was merely part of their lifestyle. Prayer and eating together were also part of their lifestyle. These people were Jewish converts who had just learned that Jesus, their Messiah, had been there and had been crucified. Rather than returning immediately to their home nations (as, for instance, the Ethiopian treasurer did -- Acts 8), they chose to stay in Jerusalem for a while and hear more about Jesus from the people who had been with him. The passage says nothing about holding "services."
But many people point to Acts 20, wherein Paul talks with the Christians in Troas. Not only do we NOT read of him lecturing the group, but also a different word is used, dialegomai (dialegomai). That word indicates a discussion, not a lecture. The word appears 74 times in Josephus, with "discussion" being the clear meaning at least 49 times and a military discussion being the meaning another 23 times. The other two times, the word refers to a statement of argument or objection, and in fact, "argue" can be a meaning of the Greek word. Clearly, though, "argue" is not intended in Acts 20.
In fact, those who contend that the word ever means anything other than "discuss" are forced to argue that although the meaning of the word is "discuss" outside the NT, it means "preach" in the NT. But even the related words point to "discuss" as the meaning, for the dialegomai word group gives us our English word "dialog." It is not the meaning of the word that gives us a translation of "preach" but the projection of an ecclesiastical paradigm onto the New Testament writings.
A good example of this is found in Acts 17:17 -- "So indeed, he started discussions with the Jews in the synagogue, and with the pious people, and in the market every day with those he happened to meet."
Promoters of the clergy/laity system would have you
believe that Paul was going around lecturing everyone,
but the use of dialegomai indicates that he began
discussions with them. Rather than assume authority,
he spoke with them as equals, allowing them the
freedom to speak up, ask questions, or even
dispute him. Trying to avoid the notion of a
free discussion or of no formalized activities,
some traditionalist groups reason that everyone is
somehow "equal" when one ordained person speaks and
everyone else listens. Of the "sermon," Morrison writes:
"In the sermon, we are not just an audience --- we should also be participants. We should actively think about the Scriptures, think about the sermon, think about what it means in our lives. This is not just information about God --- it is information about how God wants to change our lives. Part of our worship, part of our respectful response to God, is listening for what he wants to teach us and how he wants to change us.
We have to listen with the expectation that somewhere in that sermon, is something that God wants to tell us. It may be different for you than it is for me. But the point is that we have to participate in the listening. Just as we participate in the music, and we participate in the prayers, we are also supposed to participate in the sermon."
Notice that Morrison transforms a non-participating audience into equal participants with his words. Instead of asking questions or talking about the matter, as the early Christians did, try to find something useful in the lecture. The last thing that an organized group wants is to hold a discussion wherein their dogma might be challenged. Yet Jesus was free to challenge the dogma of the synagogues, and so was Paul, for discussion was allowed. While discussion was acceptable among Jewish people, it was practically mandatory among the gentiles, among whom discussion was considered a primary means of learning.
Thus, in Acts 19:8f., we do not read of "preaching" but of Paul's holding discussions with people about Jesus. The people were free to dispute him if they were able, but since Paul's points were stronger, he was able to persuade people to his view. Some of them even badmouthed Paul during the discussions in the synagogues (Acts 19:9). They were free to do this, and Paul was free to hold discussions elsewhere.
Even moreso, when we read in Acts 20 of Paul's discussion with his fellow Christians, he was not presenting a point or debating it but probably talking about his travels. In fact, he held this discussion "since he was about to depart," and not because it was worship service time. The details of the discussions themselves indicate that there were no services wherein lectures (or even discussions) took place.
Looking at the Corinthians again, we see that there isn't even any mention of Christians lecturing Christians, or of a formal discussion, or of the necessity of doing certain things together.
For Christians to lecture one another would be a violation of the stipulation in Matthew 23 not to "call anyone Rabbi." Calling someone Rabbi means allowing someone to take on a teaching role, a role as a superior in a spiritual setting. In fact, Johannes wrote, "And you have no need for someone to teach you. But just as this same anointing is teaching you about all things (and is truth and is not a lie), just as it taught you, remain in him." (1J 2:27) What they had heard was about love, and they could observe love in others and knew what it was. There was no need for anyone to teach them about it. If necessary, they had "holy breath" as divine guidance, but Paul wrote that even this was unnecessary:
"For his invisible qualities have been clearly seen, from the creation of the universe, being perceived in the things that were made--even both his everlasting power and divine nature...." (Rm 1:19-20)
And why were those gentiles who rejected God without excuse? Because EVERYTHING about God could be learned through nature alone. They needed nothing more. The Jews had more, and so they too were without excuse when they chose not to follow God. In fact, religious teachers are entirely unnecessary under the new covenant, as Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews point out:
"'Because this is the covenant that I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days,' says Yahweh. 'Giving my codes into their minds, I will also write them on their hearts. And I will be to them for a god, and they will be to me for a people.
"'And by no means will each one teach his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," because all will know me, from the smallest even to the greatest of them. Because I will be merciful to their wrong, and I will by no means still remember their sins.'" In saying "new," he has aged the first one. Now the one which is aging and growing old is near to disappearing. (Heb 8:10-13)
With the first covenant removed, access to God is direct. There is no human intermediary in the temple. But some will ask, "How can we learn without sermons?" Well, first of all, I will claim that discussion provides better learning than lectures. But secondly, those who want to learn about scholarly matters have books, but those who want to learn about the important things -- trust and love -- have the primary means of instruction: example.
"You are the light of creation. It is impossible
to hide a city that is located on a hill. Nor do they
light a lamp and place it under a measure of grain, but
on the lampstand. And it lights all those who are in the house.
"Let your light shine in this way in the presence of people, so that they might notice your good deeds and might glorify that Father of yours in the heavens." (Mt 5:14f.)
Notice that the passage above is not about "preaching" but example. It is also not about what words a mythical preacher said, but about trust and love that Timothy reported to Paul about the Thessalonikans:
But at the moment, Timotheos came to us from you and brought a good message to us about your trust and your love... (1 Thess 3:6)
In fact, how did they learn about brotherly love? From preaching?
"But concerning brotherly love, you have no need for us to write to you. For you yourselves were taught by God to love one another. For also, you do this same thing to all those brothers in the whole of Makedonia." (1 Thess 4:9)
Notice again that it is their example of love whose fame spread, and not the words of a preacher.
It is the core elements of trust and love that Paul praises of them: "We are bound to thank God always about you, brothers, just as it is worthy, because your trust is growing up, and love for one another is abundant in each one of all of you." (2 Thess 1:3)
The envoys (apostles) themselves held discussions, and not lectures. The primary means of teaching was not words but actions that demonstrated love and trust. There are no examples of Christians lecturing Christians, and in the details of the Corinthian meetings, we read of no "preacher" or "preaching." In a nutshell, the notion of the "sermon" is unbiblical. Christians ought to teach one another by demonstrating examples of godliness to one another.
Some of you will say, "Surely he does not object to communion? After all, didn't Jesus say, 'Do this in remembrance of me?'" But in order to understand the Lord's Supper we have to examine it within its social context. The Lord's Supper had a particular meaning for the people of that time.
One passage indicates a context for the
time of remembrance called the eucharist:
"For just as frequently as you eat up this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he should come, so that whoever eats up the bread or drinks the Lord's cup unworthily will be guilty of the Lord's body and blood." (1C 11:26-27)
Now, Paul certainly did not say that the Corinthians should hold weekly services and perform this remembrance ceremony every week, or every month, or at any particular time. He only said that whenever they had their meals together, they needed to do so with love for one another. The passage is actually not talking about a ritual communion. Paul uses Jesus' last supper as a metaphor. "This bread and this cup" signify not a ritualized communion but the common meal shared by the Corinthian Christians.
How do we know this? Because Paul himself provides the
details: "When you come together in the same place,
it is not the Lord's dinner that you are eating. For each
one is grabbing his own dinner to eat: and one indeed is
famished; now one is drunk." (1C 11:20-21) These
were not people eating matzoh and taking a
sip of berry juice. They were having dinner. Although
Paul uses the Last Supper as a metaphor, he is still
talking about a meal at the end of his statements:
"So then, my brothers, those who come together to eat should wait for one another. If someone is famished, he should eat at home, so that you would not come together into judgment." (1C 11:33-4)
Paul brings up the Last Supper as a metaphor, TWICE. Both times (1C 10 and 11), the context and application are to regular meals. Paul understood "Do this in remembrance of me" to be referring to the Christian meals. Whenever they shared a meal, they were to do it in a way that proclaimed Jesus. In other words, they were to do it lovingly. This remembrance served to separate Christians from non-Christian Jews until the Lord's return; that is, until AD 70, when the Temple was destroyed and Priestly Judaism ceased to exist. (For more on the "end times," see the paper, It's ALL Over).
The fact that regular meals were intended explains why we never read of "communion" elsewhere in the letters. It also explains why their common meals were nicknamed "love meals." As part of their shared lifestyle, Jesus' followers ate dinner together, and whenever they did so, they were supposed to cooperate lovingly. In fact, three of the four accounts of Jesus' life downplay elements of the communion. Johannes omits it entirely. Matthew has:
"Now as they were dining, Jesus took bread, and he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the students, saying, "This is my body." And taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "All of you drink from it. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is being poured out concerning many people for the forgiveness of sins. Now I am telling you, from now on I will by no means drink from this product of the vine until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Mt 26:26-29)
In Matthew's version, the Twelve were not told to eat or drink more than the one time. No mention is made of remembrance of Jesus.
Markus' wording is similar:
And as they dined, he took and blessed a loaf, and he broke it and gave it to them. And he said, "Take. This is my body." And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he gave to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out on behalf of many. Indeed I am telling you that by no means will I drink any longer of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in God's kingdom." (Mk 14:22-25)
If they were trying to communicate that the Lord's Supper was to be a permanent ritual for all Christians, they certainly didn't do it! Lukas alone adds "Do this for my remembrance" after the statement about his body, not indicating exactly what was meant by "do this." Did Jesus mean "eat matzoh"? Or "celebrate Passover"? Or "have a meal"? Paul understood it to signify any common meal that Christians shared. This is why we find no other references to "communion" in the NT writings, but we do see references to Christians sharing meals.
Christians were supposed to share meals with one another in love. Demonstrating love for one another in recognition of Jesus' teaching proclaimed Jesus among the other Jews. It served as a point of separation between Christians and non-Christian Jews until Priestly Judaism stopped existing. But it was not part of a worship service or religious ceremony.
Collecting "contributions" to support the various activities
of the group is also a part of the typical church service.
Please read John Bland's paper, Muzzle that Ox!,
for instruction in the Biblical purpose of giving, for early Christians
never gave finances to support a business. This was a construction
of the later church institutions. The existence of a "contribution"
is another indicator of a group that is authoritarian in nature. Early
Christians collected food and funding as necessary to support the
poor Christians among them. But judge for yourselves: what percentage
of collected contributions in the organized groups actually helps the poor?
Evangelical Lutheran budget
The business contribution serves to support the political structure of the corporation, with its hired businessmen, assistants, and corporate property. No such idea is found in the New Testament. Again, for the details on this subject, please consult John's paper.
Frank P. DeSiano calls the sacraments "the official acts of worship in the Christian community" and defines the term as "sacred rites by which, through signs and gestures, God communicates his grace and love to us and we respond with praise and thanks." (Presenting the Catholic Faith, Paulist Press, 1987, p. 62) Not every group recognizes all of the same sacraments as the Catholic Church, which are as follows: baptism; the Eucharist; confirmation; penance; holy orders; matrimony; extreme unction (anointing of the sick). Among these, two are recognized as "principal" sacraments -- baptism and the Eucharist -- and it is these that are generally recognized as holy rites (sacraments) by other Christian groups. Therefore, let us examine the role of baptism in the New Testament -- however brief our probe will be.
The rite of baptism was not initiated by Jesus but by his students, who began baptizing because John had baptized. Baptism for John the Baptizer served as a means of publically identifying with his movement. So also, baptism into the New Covenant served to publically identify one's self with the Messianic movement within Judaism.
Judaism contained many ritual washings and cleansings, and so participating in a ritual cleansing when identifying with a reformation made sense. Baptism served as a point that distinguished between Jesus' followers and the other Jews. And so, it became a public indicator that someone was following Jesus' teachings.
What was the scope of baptism? Its significance, as different from John's baptism, was that it carried with it the promise of the holy breath -- the miraculous signs that confirmed Jesus' message and established that his followers were God's people. This can be seen in Acts 19:
Now it happened while Apollos was in Korinth that Paulus was passing through the upper parts and came into Ephesus. And when he found some students, he said to them, "Did you receive holy breath after trusting?" Now they said to him, "We haven't heard if there is holy breath." And he said, "Into what were you baptized?" Now they said, "Into John's baptism."
These citizens were already Jesus' students. They were following his teachings, but they did not have the holy breath. Why not? Because although John's baptism had identified them with a reformation, it did not carry with it the promise of the spiritual gifts. Later in the context, the Ephesians were baptized into Jesus' name and received Paul's blessing and the gifts.
Where is this promise found? We read of it first in Acts 2:17ff.
""And it will be in the last days," says God, "I will pour out from my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young will see visions, and your elderly will dream dreams.
""And indeed on my male slaves and on my female slaves I will pour out from my spirit in those days," and they will prophesy.
""And I will give wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and majestic day of Yahweh comes. And it shall be that each one who may call on the name of Yahweh will be saved."
The citation made by Peter comes from the end of Joel 2. That same passage continues:
"For look, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered among the nations, and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have given a boy for a harlot, and have sold a girl for wine, and have drunk it....Proclaim this among the nations: prepare war, stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears." (Joel 3:1-3; 9-10)
Joel's prophecy was contained within a prediction of a judgment on Israel, which was called "the great and majestic day of Yahweh". Historically, this took place during what was called the First Revolt, from c. 66 to c. 74 CE. This promise was referred to by Peter later in the same speech:
"Then when he was exalted to the right hand of God and received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father, he poured out this, which you see and hear."
The Messiah had come. Therefore, the Messianic prophecy made by Joel was being fulfilled. In fact, God's granting the Twelve spiritual gifts at that very time was the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. Peter then made a direct connection between identifying with the Messianic movement, including baptism, and the promise made by Joel:
Now Peter to them: "Change your minds", he said, "and each of you be baptized on the name of Anointed Jesus into forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the holy breath, for to you is the promise--and to your children, and to all those who are far away--as many as Yahweh our god may call."
The PROMISE -- Joel's promise -- would apply to all who entered Jesus' covenant; well, to all those Jews who were listening, and their descendants ... all the way up until the "great and notable day" mentioned by Joel. The miracles would be available to as many as God would call during that time. Peter then concluded them by warning them about their generation -- the Jewish people who were about to be judged. The temple was about to be destroyed in that judgment.
Baptism marked a public separation between Christianity and Priestly Judaism. It triggered the Joel promise, which lapsed when Priestly Judaism ceased to exist in 70 CE. Consequently, baptism is not for Christians today.
However, even if you are unwilling to accept that, we still see that baptism was not part of a "worship service." There are cases on record -- such as that of the Ethiopian treasurer -- where we see clearly that someone was simply baptized after identifying himself with Jesus. There was no ceremony recorded, nor was a "service" called for the purpose. People were simply baptized whenever they could be.
More could be written about the absence of religious wedding ceremonies in Biblical days, the lack of ceremony associated with Jesus' healings, and the other supposed sacraments, but it is enough to note that none of these things were part of any religious ritual service in the New Testament. In summary: there were no religious services associated with New Testament Christianity. The so-called elements of such services were either elements of everyday life that could be practiced at any time or have been fabricated into rituals by the later church institutions as they developed. When Christians met together, they lived their lives. They shared themselves with one another. Quickly and simply, Jesus taught the principles of love and trust, and those principles were put into practice by the early Christians. Jesus eliminated the notion of "religion," replacing their ideas about religion with emphases on trust and love. Thus, Jacob ("James") wrote:
This is clean and undefiled devotion with God (that is, the Father): to oversee orphans and widows in their affliction; to keep one's self unspotted by the creation. (Ja 1:27)
Or, as John put it:
Everyone who trusts that Jesus is the Anointed One has been fathered by God. And everyone who loves the one who fathers a child also loves the one who is fathered by him. In this way we know that we love God's children: when we love God and are doing his precepts. For this is God's love: that we keep his precepts, and his precepts are not burdensome, because everyone who was fathered by God is victorious over creation. And this is the victory which is victorious over creation: our trust. (1J 5:1ff.)
In that letter, John also explains that by "doing his precepts," he means "loving one another."
Live your lives.
Work on your relationships with one another, so that every day they may be more and more characterized by love and trust. Your love and trust will be visible to others, who will want to understand how you are able to live such lives. Paul actually gives us models for Christian relationships:
If anything I say has deep feelings and compassions, then make my joy complete, so that you would have the same attitude, having the same love, having united souls, having this one thing in mind: to do nothing out of bigotry or worthless conceit. On the contrary, with a humble attitude regard one another as being superior to yourselves. Each person should not look after his own interests, but also the interests of others. (Ph 2:1-4)
Put others first, just as Jesus himself put others' needs first. Don't put yourself first (which would be worthlessly conceited) or your own group first (which would be bigoted), but put others first.
Paul characterizes love in 1C 12:31 through
chapter 13. Here is what loving behavior is like:
Love suffers long; it is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not promote itself. It is not puffed up. It is not showy. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily provoked. It does not record bad things. It does not rejoice over injustice, but it rejoices together with the truth. It covers all, trusts all, hopes all, endures all. (13:4f.).
Paul explains in certain circumstances how to assist others by making them a priority (consider Romans 14-15, for example). Christianity is all about "Who's on first?" God should be first -- the top priority -- in every Christian's life. After that, "What's on second?" Your fellow Christian's needs. You should be friends. You should share your lives with one another. You ought to care about one another.
That, folks, is what Christian living is all about. What do you do when you get together? Whatever you feel like doing -- as long as it's not sinful, of course. Do things together that help you bond together, and you'll be pleasing God, who wants "mercy, and not sacrifice." He's not interested in seeing you perform some sort of ritual, or sit in a lecture, or sip cups solemnly, or stand and bow at the right time. He wants to see you love others. Leave religion behind, and start living the teachings of Jesus about trust and love.
Do you like to play games? Watch wrestling? Go swimming? Hike? Fly kites? There aren't any limitations in how you develop your relationships. As they become deeper, you share successes, failures, struggles, and dreams with one another. And of course, when you're helping each other, you apply the principles that you have learned from the Bible. If you're constantly working on your relationships, then the Bible isn't a dead book anymore. It's active because you're APPLYING it. Get out there and do likewise.