Last time we talked about the more general patterns of worship found in the New Testament: location doesn’t matter now, it must be in spirit and truth, it must be a reflection of daily life, it must be God-oriented, it is a together sort of thing, it should be done for edification, men should lead, it should be done decently and in order, and it must originate with the New Testament. Altogether there are 5 specific acts of worship that are listed in the New Testament as happening in the assembly — preaching, giving, singing, praying, and communion. In this article we’ll be looking at two, communion and singing. We’ll take a look at the remain specific patterns next time.
The New Testament talks about singing as worship a number of times. For example, we read in Paul writing to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 14:15 “…I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also,” and there are others (Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13).
But not just any song is appropriate; Paul tells us that the appropriate sort of songs needs to be psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in both Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16. This may seem self evident, but it is not unusual in the modern era to occasionally hear “Dust in the Wind” or “Reach and Touch Somebody’s Hand”. Praise to the Lord in song needs to be more than a catchy tune (in the classic sense of American Bandstand’s standard: “I like the beat and it’s easy to dance to”). The songs need to build us up, need to praise God, thank Him, give us encouragement, and teach us right doctrine and right living.
And not just any kind of singing is appropriate; yes, it needs to be a cappella, without instrumental accompaniment. There are several strong reasons why; I’ll share two. 1) The Greek words in the New Testament mean a cappella singing. Both the Greek words ado and psallo carry the meaning of singing without accompaniment. Greek lexicons will show this convincingly, but one need only take a look at the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church, which reads the Greek text — a cappella. 2) The historical practice of the church from the 1st century through the 11th century was uniformly a cappella. Some Catholic churches began to use instruments about the 11th century, but even so it was universal. Protestant groups throughout Europe and American not only did not use instruments, but actually actively preached against it until approximately the mid-1800’s. Calvin, the Wesley’s, Luther, and others were adamantly opposed to them on biblical grounds. The proof of the ancient roots of this sort of singing (founded on biblical premises and apostolic teaching) is the very meaning of the Latin phrase a cappella, “in the manner of the church”.
Also called the Lord’s Supper, it has always been a central part of the worship of the church. The pattern of this facet of Christian worship includes 1) that it happen on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7); 2) that it be done in assembly with others (Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 11:17-34); 3) that it include unleavened bread (Lk. 22:7-20; 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 5:7,8; and 1 Cor. 11:24) representing and reminding us of both the physical body Jesus sacrificed on the cross and spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17) of which we are all members; and 4) a cup of wine (fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29) representing and reminding us of the new covenant (with God and our fellow disciples — the adopted children of God) inaugurated in His blood. And it must be done with true remembrance, seeing the spiritual realities that it symbolizes; this is the primary focus of Paul’s exhortation, (1 Corinthians 11:28) “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Worshipping God is an important and (when you think about it) awesome human act. We must never approach it too casually, unfocused, or too loosely. The pattern given us guides us into the sort of worship that not only glorifies God appropriately, but also builds us up the right way. Anything else is disobedience and puts the focus on men rather than the proper place — God.