Conserving Biblical Worship – 4

Once we understand that the worship God requires is the worship God has prescribed, we are gaining distance between ourselves and the many errors produced by the idea that we can innovate, improvise and otherwise tinker with biblical worship.

However, at this point we need to insert an important hermeneutical point. The worship God requires of His New Covenant people is found only in the New Testament.

That is not to say that the Old Testament has nothing to teach us about worship. Far from it. After all, the Old Testament contains the Shema itself – the heartbeat of worship. The Old Testament provides us with numerous examples of what pleased and displeased God in worship. The Old Testament contains detailed instructions regarding Israel’s worship.

But that is just the point. Israel is not the church. The church is not Israel. To insist upon the kind of continuity between Israel and the church that Replacement theology advocates have done is a sure-fire way of producing more false worship. After all, how does one read the New Testament and come up with the office of a priest in the church? How does one read the New Testament and emerge with the notion of an ‘altar’? How does one read the New Testament and come away with the idea of a perpetual sacrifice? The truth is, these are not New Testament ideas. They are Old Testament acts of worship – a human priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice- imported into the New Testament chuch by people who thought they had replaced Israel and were the new Israel.

Correct hermeneutics understands the distinctiveness of Israel from the New Testament church.  Therefore, it looks to the New Testament as the worship handbook of the New Testament church. While the Old Testament can teach us volumes about worship, only the New Testament can prescribe the elements of worship for the New Testament church.

What does the New Testament prescribe for the worship of the gathered people of God?

Gathering together (Hebrews 10:25, I Cor 11:18);

the reading of Scripture, (1 Tim 4:13);

exhortation and preaching (I Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 4:2);

corporate prayer (I Tim 2:1-8 )

the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16);

the collection of offerings (2 Cor 8, I Cor 16:1-2);

the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor 11:23-34);

the administration of baptism (Matt 28:19);

and, when necessary, the administration of church discipline (Matthew 18:17-20, I Cor 5:4-5).

These are simple. For many, they are too simple. Thus they feel the need to add, subtract, and otherwise rework God’s design. However, in so doing, they fall into the same trap that so many Old Testament characters fell into.

We do well to familiarise ourselves with these elements until we notice if they are omitted, or recognise the presence of some worship innovation.


3 Responses to “Conserving Biblical Worship – 4”

  1. dandelionsmith Says:

    On this point, David, would we better in pointing to Revelation 5, in promoting the idea of corporate singing (or of a choir), than in pointing to the beautiful, albiet Israelite, practice of antiphonal singing, or any other feature of music found in the Old Testament?

    Put another way, would you suggest that if we want to look at examples in the Old Testament, that we should also ensure we have a pedigree of sorts that is an obvious extension from Old to New?

  2. David Says:


    If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that the exhortations of Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 refer to antiphonal singing. If so, it would seem to me that by their enlistment in New Testament epistles, Paul was sanctioning (and prescribing) their use for the church. And in that sense, yes, if something has an Old Testament origin, it must be directly prescribed again by an apostle for new Testament use.
    Whether or not those Scriptures refer exclusively to antiphonal chant, I’m not sure. The Greek psallontes (“making melody”) is literally ‘strumming’, which would seem to suggest more than the acappella chant of the synagogue.
    Though R.P. advocates might hold this differently, I’m a little nervous about using only an example from a narrative as a worship prescription. It seems to me that there are several other worship elements that could be tacked on by a careless interpretation of the book of Acts. For that reason, if the narrative suggests it as an element of worship, I’m still going to look for an epistolary mandate from an apostle before considering it to be so.

  3. dandelionsmith Says:

    Thanks, David, for the clarification. I’m glad to see your requirement for an epistolary mandate. I know of a brother (a pastor) who disallows “special” music in his church on the basis that a) it was a creation of revivalism, and, more importantly, b) the focus in the New Testament commands for corporate worship is toward participatory music versus leading by the example of a few. Personally, I tend toward this view, as well. In any case, I appreciate the note regarding “strumming”, with regard to instrumental music, since I have some close acquaintance with brethren who prohibit the instruments entirely.

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