Some time back when I blogged about being “written up” in a neighboring church’s bulletin (it was just a mention, mind you), I didn’t understand at the time that my critiqued comments violated a standard tenet of belief for some of my ultraconservative brothers and sisters in Christ …
Namely, that there are only five acts of worship that are authorized by God in scripture, and any more or less than those, performed in gathered worship, is an abomination guaranteed to incur His displeasure and wrath:
Let me hold my hand up before you and let the palm of this hand represent man’s soul – the soul of man lifted up to commune with God in worship. Just as God saw the palm needed something else, and added the fingers to it, so God in the New Testament, seeing man’s condition, said, “Man’s soul as it reaches up to adore me and my son needs some avenues and I am going to point out what these are.”
He did just this very simply and very clearly. Just as there are five fingers there, so in the New Testament the soul of man reaches up in worship and communion with God through five channels, (1) singing, (2) praying, (3) studying, (4) giving of means, and (5) partaking of the Lord’s Supper. All five of these are specified in the New Testament but these are the only five. And, I am sure we will say that as the One who made the palm best knew how to make the fingers, so the one who made man’s soul knew best the avenues which this soul needed to commune with God.~ James Baird, “Why Do Churches of Christ Use Only Vocal Music?”,
Oft-Asked Questions, p. 122
(Western Christian Foundation, Inc.; Wichita Falls, Texas)
You’ll find the same view propounded by James E. Laird in the same book of sermons, p. 152: “The Savior … made it clear that their worship should consist of singing God’s praise, giving of their means, praying unto God, teaching his Word and observing the Lord’s Supper. But that worship had not much more than been given until the devil counterfeited it.”
And, of course, you’ll find it on pp. 393-4 of Goebel Music’s Behold the Pattern.
Now I understand why part of my writing in my own church bulletin was criticized. I had said:
Some ways that you worship God are probably really different than some ways I do. A few of mine wouldn’t make sense to you or ‘speak’ to you at all; and vice-versa. My guess is that I don’t have a right to require you to adopt mine any more than you should expect me to adopt yours.
Simple logic and the five-finger rule will lead you to the conclusion that there are five and only five ways to worship, and if you’re not doing all of them or doing more than five of them, you are sinning, so there can’t be ways that I worship but that you don’t.
There’s an attraction, admittedly, to having only five things to do and being able to check them off on one day out of the week and feel confident you have done all that God requires; that you’re right about it; that you’re saved – and that you don’t have to do anything else because you really shouldn’t.
Plus, you can oppose anything you don’t like – pictorial powerpoints or worship leading teams or videos or drama or clapping – because they are not “authorized.”
But worship is not that simple or easy.
If you’ve read my blog for long – especially the post A Life of Worship – you understand that I cannot accept all worship as being limited to the fingers of one hand nor to only one day of the week.
As Christians, I believe, we are to live out our sacrificial worship all the time (Romans 12:1). If we take that literally – and I believe we’re meant to – then whatever we do in word or act, we are to do it in the name of Jesus and with thanksgiving to the Father (Colossians 3:17. That’s the back half of one of the verses quoted so much about singing. Isn’t our service to God also worship?)
Christians of century one met and served and grew daily (Acts 2:45-47, 6:1, 16:5, 17:11, 17:17, 19:9). A single reference, Acts 20:7, suggests Christians met on the first day of the week to break bread but actually celebrated the Lord’s Supper after midnight on the next day; another, 1 Corinthians 16:2, only advises that “each” set aside a sum of money on that first day, not “all together” or “as an assembly.” Meeting on the first day has a special significance, reflecting Jesus’ victory over the tomb, I grant – but it was not the one and only day Christians met in century one.
I read that we are to continually confess His name and offer a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). In fact, I believe the verse implies that confessing – both our own sins and His sinlessness; our lacks and His sufficiency – is praise and worship to God.
Romans 15:7 leads me to believe that imitating Christ by accepting each other as He accepted us brings glory to God, too. So it would seem that practicing unity is worship.
You’ll find that fasting is connected with worship in the life of the church as well, whether commissioning missionaries (Acts 13:2-4) or appointing elders (Acts 14:23), as well as being something which the Lord practiced (Matthew 4:2), gave instructions about (Matthew 6:15-17) and predicted that His followers would do (Matthew 9:14-15).
I also believe that, in New Testament scripture as well as Old, worship is a verb which stands on its own, as well as being the intention of other verbs like “to pray” or “to sing” or “to confess/share the word.” People in the Bible sometimes felt compelled to worship – and other than the kneeling or prone posture they took, we have little clue what that might involve. These exceptional moments of intimate, private communion with and obeisance before God may well be worship at its purest, since there are no other words describing them. (The New Testament references alone in which the word “worship” is used without modification are too numerous to list here.)
(And while we’re talking about a posture of prayer, is there anything that is prohibiting us from fulfilling Paul’s desire that at least the men among us lift up holy hands while doing so, in every place, whether a place of worship or not (1 Timothy 2:8?)
In larger measure, though, it makes sense to me that whatever we choose to do, whether we all agree on it or not (like eating and drinking or abstaining, I Corinthians 10:31), we should do all to the glory of God. It makes sense to me that when we use whatever gifts He has given, serving Him in any way, we should – and do – give God glory, and it is therefore worship (1 Peter 4:10-11).
So if we’re going to start enumerating all of the possible “acts of worship,” we’re gonna need more fingers than five.
And more than one day out of each week.