ORDER AND OVERSIGHT IN PUBLIC WORSHIP
1. Order in Worship
The Biblical pattern for worship requires order. We have seen that God seeks worship that is acceptable to Him; also that our worship must be God-centred, doing that which God has appointed rather than what man likes better or judges to be an improvement. Scripture clearly shows us that our worship has to be orderly. Since,
a) The revelation of God’s nature and work proclaims order. The doctrine of the Trinity indicates the harmony and concert among the Persons of the Godhead. Creation and Providence declare the wonderful precision of God. The order of salvation is reflected in the purpose of the Father, the accomplishment of the Son, and the application of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing disorderly about any aspect of the divine activity. Surely we can see from this that worship must reflect the order in God and His works?
b) The examples of Old and New Testament teach order.
i) Patriarchs: worship was simple but ordered, e.g. In Gen. 4
Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat
thereof” as a sacrifice. This was orderly, after the will of God.
Cain chose to disregard the revealed will of God, preferring
worship according to his own judgment.
ii) Tabernacle: notice the elaborate detail in the place and
manner of its use, “according to the pattern shewed to thee in
the mount”. (Heb. 8.5).
iii) Temple: again detailed, intricate ceremonial worship.
Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, we are told was visited by
an Angel of the Lord “while he executed the priest’s office
before God in the order of his course…” (Luke 1.8).
iv) Church of the New Testament: ceremonial approaches
ended, immediacy of access for all believers-the priesthood
of believers – yet still order, not every man pleasing himself
but true worshippers submitting to the Holy Spirit.
Some allege this sets aside order but on the contrary this
establishes the principle. The Holy Spirit is God and
necessarily His presence will not be disorderly – as at Creation
(Gen. 1.2), and in redemption.
Can we show that the New Testament Church was orderly in its
Negatively, in 1 Cor. 14 Paul sets himself to correct the
disorderly worship of the Corinthians. Even in a church conspicuous for the spiritual gifts of the apostolic day, there must be order:
v5 no over-emphasis on tongues speaking.
v28 without an interpreter no tongues speaking.
v29 the prophets are to be orderly and disciplined.
v30 however they might feel the influence of the Holy Spirit
upon them they are not to interrupt others.
v33 confusion does not originate with God!
v34 the women are not permitted to speak.
v37 this order is God’s command. He who is truly spiritual will
not attempt to set aside what God has shown to be His will in
v40″decently”, i.e., with comeliness, beauty akin to Ps. 96.9.
“in order” in the original is used of the discipline and
formation of army units.
If there is this stress on order in the apostles’ day with the
special spiritual gifts of that period, it can be no different for the
churches since the first century although the extraordinary
gifts have ceased.
Positively in Col. 2.5. we see a church commended for its order
as well as its stedfastness of faith in Christ.
What will this principle of order do for our worship? It will
ensure that every service is carefully prepared for and
conducted with dignity and proportion. To worship our precise
God without diligent endeavour after decency and order is
very wrong. Every service will have pattern and form. Though
there is freedom in the sequence of the parts, nothing will be
done haphazardly or to cause confusion. We are not to
imagine that those who refuse order and claim that they
worship just as the Spirit leads them, are one iota more
spiritual than others because of this. Indeed in the more
extreme forms of this so-called “free” worship we might well
wonder if the leading is of the Holy Spirit at all, or whether it is
of the “seducing spirits” of “the latter times”. (1 Tim. 4.1).
2. Oversight in Worship
The church must worship God in an orderly fashion and it is the responsibility of the elders of the church to see that this is done. We are not dealing with the large and important subject of the officers in Christian Churches, but simply saying that however these are viewed in the light of Scripture, those officers have a paramount duty in respect of oversight of worship. They are to promote Scriptural order and maintain it in the churches. The planning and arrangement of the services are under their care. The services themselves should be under
their presidency. The orderly reading and preaching of the Word of God belong to the special responsibilities of the ministers whom God has given to the churches. The decency and order of the services even while they are preceding are under the charge of those called to oversight. What does this mean in practical terms?
Negatively, the situation described in Judges – “in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, (Jud. 21.25). should never occur. In every properly established church of Christ,
(a) He is Head –
And has revealed His order in the Scriptures.
(b) He has appointed elders-to implement His Word and regulate worship so that there will never be the disorderly free-for-all like that at Corinth, “when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” (1 Cor. 14.26).
Positively, the church will be led in the ways of spiritual decency and order in worship. Does this mean that only the elders take part in worship? We do not say this at all. Every spiritual worshipper is taking part in the worship: in the singing of praises, in the prayers, in the Word read and preached, in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper as appropriate. As prayer is offered and these other appointments are attended to, there is spiritual participation by all the Lord’s people engaged in the worship. This is the meaning of the priesthood of all believers. It never is meant to be understood as every person acting as a minister or leading the worship. The need is very great in the churches for us to grasp and accept these basic principles of public worship. Where this is so there will be God-honouring Christian worship every time with no loss of spiritual liberty and certainly no absence of spiritual enjoyment.
K. F. T. Matrunola