Authorized Worship

October 3, 2007

I’ve been enjoying Jay Guin’s series on instrumental music lately. In part 3 of the series, he makes a very astute point about what is authorized in worship, from 1 Cor 14.

Traditionally, the churches of Christ have taught that there are five authorized “acts of worship”: singing, praying, preaching, giving, and communion. Biblical support for these acts of worship in the general assembly can be found in the first Corinthian letter:

  1. Singing (1 Cor 14:26)
  2. Praying (1 Cor 14:14-15)
  3. Preaching (1 Cor 14:26)
  4. Giving (1 Cor 16:2)
  5. Communion (1 Cor 11:20-34)

Of course, since churches of Christ hold that the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues have passed away, Paul’s discussion of those matters has generally been considered not to be relevant to the modern church.

Notice, however, that Paul was answering the question, “What activities are permissible in the assembly?” In each case he applies the rule that whatever is done must build up the church.

1Co 14:12-13 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.

1Co 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Paul applied this principle to tongues and prophecy, but also to singing and to instruction. His entire argument about tongues is this: Whatever does not edify, is worthless in the assembly. It seems that the purpose of the assembly is to edify the Christians.

That is consistent with what the writer of Hebrews taught:

Heb 10:23-25 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Christians come together as a church in order to encourage one another. That is the purpose of the assembly. God gave us the “worship” assembly for our benefit, not His.

Notice also, as Paul answered the question “What activities are permissible in the assembly?” he did not ask “What acts has God authorized?” Instead he asked, “What edifies the church?” Clearly, whatever builds up the church is authorized by God. God wants the church to be edified. In other words, He wants the church to be brought to a better understanding of the gospel of Jesus, and to be urged to respond appropriately to what God has done for us through Jesus. As Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Eph 4:11-16 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

What does all this mean practically? First, it means that we must do everything in a way that builds up the church. The traditional five acts of worship can be done in a manner that builds up the church, or in a manner that bypasses the gospel of Jesus completely. Everything done in worship should be focused on the gospel.

Secondly, other things done in the assembly can build up the church, besides the traditional five. In his article, Jay points out that even the announcements can encourage the church to do good works:

But aren’t [announcements] encouragements to love and good works? Don’t they include messages about who is in the hospital or had a baby or jobs that need to be filled? Or maybe they are celebrations about someone’s work in the church or an anniversary. It’s all encouragement!

Similarly, the fellowship before and after the formal assembly is an opportunity to encourage one another and to urge one another to love and to good works. Surely that kind of fellowship is authorized as an activity of service (worship) in the assembly!

So we need a broader view of what is permissible in the church service. The rule has nothing to do with five authorized acts of worship. Instead it concerns whether or not those things build up the church in the gospel. From the perspective of unity, it means that we certainly shouldn’t be drawing lines of fellowship over things like communion cups, instrumental music, dramatic productions, videos, praise teams, etc. Whatever edifies the church in the gospel is permissible.


  1. Sounds very interesting. I am hoping you are having a great weeekend. 🙂

  2. Hi Preacherman,Hope all is going well with you. I’m currently at the International Leadership Conference in LA. Pretty interesting so far.

  3. When you have time I would love for you to add to the discussion on my blog on “Unity & Uniformity”. As you know I appreciate your wisdom. I hope you are having a great week. God bless you and have a safe trip.

  4. Alan,Oh but there are only "authorized" ways of doing those 5 acts. And those "authorized" ways are as varied as the manifold ignorance of those who insist that something be done precisely a certain way or it is wrong.Everything about a "spiritual" act of worship does not fit neatly into a supposed "pattern" or mold created by church of Christ people.The so called "conservatives" can't even agree among themselves, how in the world should we expect them to agree with those of us who are not so traditional?Royce

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