Order of Worship
Is there a set order of worship? Some have thought that they have found an order of worship. Some have turned to Acts 2:42. They say the order specified is: (1) apostle’s doctrine. That is preaching and teaching is to come first. (2) fellowship. That is, singing and giving is to come next. How they decide which one of these two comes first, don’t ask me. (3) breaking of bread. That is the next thing to take place is the Lord’s Supper. (4) prayer. The last act of worship in a worship service is to be prayer. However, the text does not say that things were done in this certain order. It only says that they did these things steadfastly.
Others have appealed to the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13-17). It is said that the order is: (1) Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20). (2) Preaching/teaching (Luke 22:24-38; John 13:16). (3) Prayer (John 17). (4) Singing (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). I am not sure where giving is supposed to fit into this. Yet, this appears to be a different order than what is seen in Acts 20:7-ff. It clearly is a different listing than is recorded in Acts 2:42.
Then let us consider 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 11 prayer and prophesying (preaching) is mentioned before the Lord’s Supper. This is clearly different from the supposed order of either Acts 2:42, or the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 prayer is mentioned before singing. In 1 Corinthians 14:26-ff psalm is first mentioned, followed by prophets speaking. This cannot be harmonized in order with either Acts 2:42, or the order of night the Lord’s Supper was instituted.
The truth of the matter is that God has not specified an order of worship. He has told us the acts of worship of which we’re to engage. However, whether to sing should take place before or after prayer has been left to man. Whether, preaching is to occur before or after the Lord’s Supper has been left to man. Whether we close with a song or a prayer has been left to man.
Note: The order that we’re to partake of the elements of the Lord’s Supper (bread then fruit of the vine) has been specified, and it specified that a prayer of thanks should be made before partaking of each element (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).
It is God’s plan for the local church to assemble together upon the first day of the week: Acts 20:7, “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread”; Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (emp. mine). The word used in Hebrews 10:25 means according to Thayer, “a gathering together in one place… assembly.” We’re to be together in song (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), prayer (1 Cor. 14:14-17), in preaching (Acts 20:7), and in the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7). There is no command, example, or implication to divide the assembly. When we come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and to engage additionally in other acts of worship we’re to be together.
What about the children? Gary Colley has written, “Some contend that children cannot learn from public preaching. Let me exhort you, do not be fooled by this argument. I still recall many lessons preached by my faithful father in public worship. My dear mother made me sit still and pay attention. If someone, in misplaced zeal, had taken me out of the assembly, I would have missed hearing and remembering great preachers, men like Foy E. Wallace Jr., C.R. Nichol, J.D. Tant, L.N. Moody, Horace W. Busby. In my preaching I still use many of the doctrinal points and the illustrations of these men. The influence of the solemn service and the impression of seeing my parents engage in an activity that was important to them created an impression on my mind that will never fade” (Should We Add Children’s Church? Firm Foundation, vol. 108, no. 5). Children can learn in the assembly. They may not grasp every point, however, they will learn the reverence and the respect which is to be present in the assembly. They likely will learn something from the sermon. They will see the faith of their parents exercised in the worship assembly. Dave Miller has written, “Children can and should be disciplined to sit still and show respect to adult worship. Such discipline is an essential ingredient in their preparation as responsible adults… The way for children to learn to function in an adult worship assembly is to be in the adult worship assembly. Transferring them to a casual, ‘fun and games’ setting only compounds the problem by accommodating the very childishness that the regular adult assembly will, in time, correct and mature” (Piloting the Strait, p. 278-279). Moreover, let us ask where is the authority for removing certain adults out of the assembly to provide ‘children’s church’ for the children? This is the real issue.
I find no evidence that Israel separated the young (Deut. 31:10-12; Josh. 8:34-35). Jesus didn’t [Matt. 14:13-21 (cf. Mark 6:13-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14); Matt. 15:32-39 (cf. Mark 8:1-9)]. Eutychus was in the assembly (Acts 20:7-12). He is described as “lad” or a “boy.” The original word signifies that he was young. The generations before us reared their children in the assembly, even in this country. Why can’t we?
A word to those without children to watch in the assembly. Don’t grumble about the noise of children. A congregation without such noise is likely on its way to a slow death! Try helping those with several children. Ask if one child may sit with you. Let it be a congregational project to help love and encourage those with children, and to help the children learn and grow in the Lord. Don’t be the grumpy grouch who complains but does nothing to help. Many frustrated parents have stopped attending due to embarrassment, and grouchy reactions of the more ‘mature’ members. Maybe it is not just the children who need to grow up!
Some congregations have grown to such size that a decision has been made to go to two assemblies. It is common for one eldership to continue to try to serve as elders over the two groups. I think such needs to be rethought. It seems to me that what one has is two congregations, which need two elderships.
Some ‘Anglo churches’ have elderships which oversee a ‘Mexican church’ or ‘Samoan church’. These groups meet separately and in at lest some cases are divided by language. This is not one local church, but distinct churches sharing a common building. There is no authority for one eldership to oversee both. This seems like racial paternalism to me. Can they not oversee themselves? If support is needed, give it, but do not try to function as one eldership over multiple churches. This seem like a local church having to ‘report to Rome’. It needs to be rethought.
Some churches are now setting up ‘satellite churches’ across the same city, or in another town. Where is the authority for this? If the group meets separately, then it is not the same congregation.
Must all the saints be together every time teaching takes place? The answer is clearly ‘no’ (Acts 5:42; 20:17-20, 28). Thus if: (1) One can teach without all the members being called together; (2) Meet with a group within a local church without all the members being called together in one place; (3) Can teach on occasions other than the worship assembly; (4) Then, one has proven the component parts of the Bible class.
Let’s approach this another way. Can an eldership send me (or another) to teach someone or a group? The answer is ‘yes’ (Heb. 13:17; Acts 15:22).
Have the elders been given the general command to “feed the flock”? The answer is yes (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Thus if: (1) They can send others to teach; (2) They have the duty of feeding the flock as a generic command. (3) Then, they have been left to their discretion to ask teachers to teach certain groups classes.
In any given congregation there are different needs: (1) There are those in need of milk (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 2:2). This might include: (a) new converts; (b) children; (c) those who haven’t matured though they should have; (2) There are those in need of meat (Heb. 5:12). This is the mature; those ready for deeper understanding. (3) Specialty lessons may be needed for certain groups (Acts 20:17-ff). This might include: (a) Bible class teachers workshops; (b) Men’s training classes; (c) Classes for elders of deacons, etc., etc.
There is absolutely no authority to divide the worship assembly in which we assemble to break bread and worship together in the five acts of worship. However, a Bible class does not divide the assembly. It is just an opportunity to get together and study the Bible in addition to what is done in the assembly. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to more intimately study a subject, or a book and uniquely apply such to the group one is teaching.
Personal Practice of Fasting.
Our emphasis to this point has been upon public worship. We have been studying the five acts of worship in which we’re to publicly engage in the assembly.
Most of the acts mentioned can be and should be done both publicly and privately. (1) Prayer should be done privately (Mark 1:35; Matt. 6:6; Matt. 14:23; Luke 22:39-46; James 5:13a), as well as publicly (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:14-17). (2) Singing should be done privately (Jam. 5:13b; Acts 16:25), as well as publicly (1 Cor. 14:15-16). (3) Giving should be done privately (Matt. 5:42; Luke 10:25-37; 1 John 3:17-18), as well in the assembly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). (4) Preaching should be done privately (Acts 20:20; 18:24-26; 5:42), and it is to be done publicly (Acts 20:7; 20:20; 1 Cor. 14).
Only (5) The Lord’s Supper is to be done exclusively in an assembly, and exclusively upon the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). It alone is unique in this regard.
However (6) fasting is exclusively a private act. It is alone in this respect.
What does the Bible say about fasting? In the Old Testament fasting occurred. (1) In times of great personal sorrow and concern (2 Sam. 1:12; 12:16; Neh. 1:4; Esther 4:1-3; Psalm 35:13); (2) In times of genuine sorrow over sin (1 Sam. 7:3-6; Jon. 3:5; cf. Acts 9:9). (3) Mandatory once per year on the day of atonement (Lev. 16:29-31; Num. 29:7; Isa. 58:3; Jer. 36:6).
In the New Testament fasting occurs: (1) In times of great sorrow (Luke 5:35 cf. 22:62; 23:27); (2) In times of deep concern by non-Christians (Acts 27:34); (3) Before important events, or decisions (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23 cf. Ex. 34:28; Matt. 4:2); (4) Frequently in association with prayer (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 1 Cor. 7:5 cf. Luke 2:37; Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29).
Fasting is not: (1) a substitute for godliness (Isa. 58:5-7); (2) to be used to draw attention to oneself (Matt. 6:16-18); (3) a reason to be self-righteous (Luke 18:9-14).
Wayne Jackson has written, “There does seem to be some benefits in voluntary fasting at certain times… (1) The scripture seems to suggest that God honors fasting when performed as a token of deep and sincere dedication. (2) Physicians indicate that moderate fasting can be a benefit to health, having the effect of allowing our systems to occasionally cleanse themselves. (3) The mind appears to be able to plumb greater depths of contemplation during periods of fasting. (4) Fasting can help one hone a keener edge on self-discipline. (5) Fasting can also have the added effect of re-enforcing our appreciation for those things which we’ve deprived during the periods of abstention today? (Christian Courier, July 25, 2000). I will add (6) it helps keep before us the seriousness of the task before us (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23).
This completes our series on worship. Now go worship the King.