Lesson Seven: Worship Him in Spirit and in Truth
Work, Worship, and Organization of the Church
By Paul R. Blake
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
The Lord Jesus has not changed His will for the Church and its purpose. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His disciples must follow the pattern He authorized. “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2Timothy 1:13). The apostle Paul instructed believers to refuse to consider changing the Lord’s plan for His Church. “That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written” (1Corinthians 4:6).
Local churches must practice sound doctrine in all matters related to the work, worship, and organization of the Church as commanded by the Lord who purchased it with His blood. “Sound” simply means free from flaws and defects, undamaged, unimpaired, healthy, firm, strong, safe, trustworthy, stable, founded in truth and rightness, not fallacious or faulty, thorough, and orthodox. “Doctrine” is the body of truth on any given Bible matter. That body of truth is called “the faith” (Jude 3). “My faith” must grow to measure up to “the faith,” the doctrine of Christ revealed and recorded in scripture (2John 9-11). A sound church is a church that follows the doctrine of Christ in a thorough, valid, uncorrupted, systematic, Biblically authorized pattern without any defect in truth.
A sound church is organized with Bible based leadership. “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). The bishops or elders are the servants of Christ and His Church. The elders are a plurality of experienced Christian men in a local church who are appointed to serve as overseers of the work of that church. They must meet the qualifications given in the inspired word of God (1Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-13; Acts 14:23). They bear the responsibility of leading by example as well as watching for souls (Hebrews 13:7, 17). They must direct the work and worship only in the local church in which they are members (1Peter 5:1-3). They must be vigilant in preventing false doctrine from being taught to the disciples (Acts 20:28). The members of the local church are to respect the elders and willingly follow their leadership (1Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1Timothy 5:17-20).
The deacons serve under the guidance of the elders. They engage in the works necessary to the healthy function of a local congregation, but which may be of a more secular nature, thus freeing the elders to focus on attending to the spiritual needs of the members. Deacons, too, must measure up to the qualifications outlined in scripture before they can be appointed to the work (Acts 6:1-4; 1Timothy 3:8-13). It is interesting to note that in the doctrine of Christ for the Church, deacon means servant. This highlights the fact that for elders and deacons alike, leadership is a service on behalf of Christ in waiting on the needs of Christians who need care (1Timothy 3:1, 13; James 5:14).
A sound church is also organized with Bible based follow-ship; that is, the members of the local church understand and fulfill their roles and responsibilities under the guidance of the elders. Assemblies of “saints” are congregations of members of the Lord’s Church in which every member has a part in the growth and success of the church in their community. Members have duties to the local church collectively (Ephesians 4:1-3, 7, 11-16), and they must be present and active when called upon to do their part (Hebrews 10:24-25). In addition, members have obligations to each other individually (Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:1-4); obligations that may not be neglected without the consequence of local church discipline (1Corinthians 5; 2Thessalonians 3:6-12). Furthermore, members of a local church have duties to unbelievers in the community, primarily to be active in sharing the Gospel with them (1Peter 3:15), as well as doing good works for them (Galatians 6:10).
A sound church is also organized with Bible based fellowship; that is, sharing in the preaching of the word of God with teachers and preachers. The local evangelist is one of the members; and, as one of the members, he is subject to the oversight of the elders, too. At the same time, he does not work for the elders or the local church; he works for Jesus Christ as a servant of the Lord and His will. He is accountable to the Lord for how he preaches, he is answerable to the elders for what he preaches, and he is subject to the members for the manner of his preaching (1Corinthians 2:2, 1:10, 21; Romans 10:13-15, 9:1-3; Acts 20:26-27, 31; James 3:1; 1Peter 4:11; 2John 9-11; Ephesians 5:11).
What are the God ordained works of a sound local church? Perhaps not nearly as many as are currently practiced in contemporary denominations. The Lord built His Church to be a soul saving institution, but it appears that His will has been set aside in our time for other agendas, such as: political advocacy, social engineering, or general charity. What does the Bible tell us about the authorized work of the Lord’s Church?
The first and primary work of the Church is evangelism of the lost -- teaching the Gospel of salvation to a lost, dying world. There is no higher, more important need for humankind that the remission of sins and the death sentence they bring. It only makes sense that this greatest need should be the focus of the work of the people of God (Acts 8:4; 1Thessalonians 1:8; 2Timothy 4:1-2, 2:2; Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).
The second work is similar to the first -- edification of the saved. This is the work of teaching the saved how to remain saved, strengthening and encouraging them, increasing their understanding of God’s word, and teaching them how to wisely apply it in their own lives; and especially, preparing them to become part of the first work of the church, evangelizing the lost (Acts 9:26-31; 1Corinthians 14:15-17; 2Corinthians 12:19, 13:10; Ephesians 4:16, 29; Hebrews 10:23-25).
The third authorized work of a local church is limited benevolence -- financial assistance given to disciples in distress. In scripture, benevolence or charity taken from the local church treasury is limited to those who are Christians in need and to widows who are without family to help them (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35, 6:1-3, 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-27; 1Corinthians 16:1-3; 2Corinthians 8:3-7, 9:1-15, 11:8-9; 1Timothy 5:4-16; Philippians 4:10, 15-18). All other persons (orphans, non-Christians, etc.) are to be helped by Christians on an individual basis (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27). There is NO authority in scripture for the Lord’s Church to do this any other way, regardless of how fair or wise it may seem to others. These are the works of the Lord for the local church, no more and no less.
What are the God ordained worship activities of a sound local church? It must be understood by those who come before God to worship Him that worship is for God, not man (Psalms 95:1-3, 122:1; Habakkuk 2:20; John 4:23-24). Often what is esthetically pleasing and emotionally stirring to human beings differs dramatically from what God specified for His worship. There has never been a time when God indulgently overlooked changes to what He commanded in worship. In the beginning, God was not pleased with Cain’s personal choice for sacrifice because it was not what He required. When the sons of Aaron the high priest offered strange fire on the altar of God, fire came from Him and consumed them. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah when condemning unauthorized forms of worship: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9; Isaiah 29:13). God has not granted contemporary worshipers the right to change what He commanded in worship.
God requires prayer in the worship services of a local church (Acts 12:5; Colossians 4:2-3). The Lord authorized singing hymns and songs of praise. He never permitted proxy singing (choirs, solos, etc.) or mechanized music (accompaniment by any musical instrument). God specified singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), and that excludes all other forms of music. The Savior established the communion service, the eating of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, which consists of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine; items readily available around the world (Acts 20:7; 1Corinthians 11:18-24). He instructed individual Christians to contribute monetarily to the work of the local church (1Corinthians 16:1-2). Sunday is the only day of the week when the church may gather this abundance for the Lord, and free will offerings of Christians is the only authorized means by which the church may be funded. God certified teaching and preaching of His word in worship assemblies for edification purposes. Christians are instructed to come together for this and to consider it part of the worship they offer to Deity (Acts 20:7, 2:42, 6:2; Hebrews 10:24-25).
These scripturally mandated worship activities seem simple and unadorned when compared to the worship practices engaged by most mainstream religious organizations. But this, too, manifests the wisdom of God, in that it enables everyone everywhere, regardless of skill and knowledge, to worship God in spirit and truth without depending on the aid of a trained, specialized class of religious practitioners. In spirit and in truth, in the simplicity that is in Christ, from the heart and acceptable by God -- this is true worship.
When a local church is organized with elders, deacons, members and teachers, when it engages in the scriptural work of evangelism, edification, and limited benevolence, and when it worships God as He has commanded, it is a sound, faithful congregation of Christians, in fellowship with God and His faithful children everywhere.
Scriptures Used In Text
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