A Theology of Worship



“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24)

“If Christianity is the transformation of rebels into worshipers of God, then it is imperative for the Christian to know and understand what constitutes biblical worship.”[1]

“With the coming of salvation in Christ and the rule of God in human hearts persons are bound directly to God’s will and can serve him in gratitude.”[2]

“If it is not a body that gathers to praise God, it certainly is not the church. And worship is certainly more than the sacraments, as we shall see. Worship, like the other marks, clearly distinguishes the true church from false churches, for false churches do not worship God in Spirit and truth (John 4:24).”[3]




God spoke of the church in several ways which help us to understand that we are a people whose primary duty is to bring glory to God. Christians are described as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; Rev. 3:12). In the Bible and in ancient near eastern thought, the temple was the home of the deity and the place where he should be worshiped and the place which stood as a physical monument to the god’s glory. That ANE background is perfect for understanding what we are supposed to be as God’s temple.


A priest is one who stands between God and man. He stands for God to mand and he stands for man to God. The New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. We are all servant worshipers. Jesus is the Great High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:5). Each Christian is a priest under the leadership and representation of Christ (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). As priests, Christians are to offer worship to God (Heb. 5:1; 13:15-16; Phil. 2:17; 4:18; Rom. 12:1; 15:16).




God is to be approached with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28). When we come to worship God, we should think about being in his presence. We are not involved in a minor activity. This is as amazing as life gets! We get to worship.


Related to reverence is the concept of humility. God needs nothing. He does not need our worship (Acts 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:6; Acts 17:24-25). On the other hand, we do need to worship. Our hearts are most satisfied when we are at home with God in worship. If we allow our heart to create idols, then we will worship them instead of God. Our hearts are idol factories. As long as we follow those idols, we will never be fully satisfied with God. “For what is idolatry if not this: to worship the gifts in place of the Giver himself?”[4]


Joy and reverence are often seen as contradictory attitudes for worship. The Bible joins these two attitudes for worship. Perhaps, one attitude will dominate the other at various times, but both are appropriate. Paul was full of joy in his worship to God (Rom. 7:24-25; 2 Cor. 4:15; Col. 2:6-7; Eph. 5:20; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 4:9, 7:12, 11:17). “Beyond all question, that formal worship which is not attended with the heart, which is not the worship of the spirit, can never be acceptable with the Most High.”[5]



Our culture is heavily isolated. We have online friends but few real-life friends. Church is a group. Worship can be a private event. Worship is also a corporate event. The Bible speaks of the church coming together (Acts 2:6, 10:27, 16:13; 1 Cor. 11:17, 33-34, 14:26). The Divine plan for worship does not change in private or corporate settings. God is the same if we are alone or together. We have no reason to expect we can worship God differently in private settings than we do in corporate settings.

Corporate worship should be the highlight of our week. The book of Revelation is an excellent place to see the joy of being a participant in corporate worship. The heavenly chorus is “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). The elders surrounding the throne of God join in singing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by tour will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). John can’t describe the awesomeness in passages like Revelation 19:1, “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out.”

We should live for worship. Some have the habit of forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:25). Christians should meditate on why we would ever want to miss an opportunity to worship. What better thing could we do? What better experience could we have? Where would we rather see our family?



The church gathered “day by day.” They studied and worshiped often, but there was a special day that was required as a day of worship for God’s people. This purpose of the first day of the week is alluded to in the Scriptures, but it is never directly spoken.

The phrase, “the first day of the week” is a Jewish description of Sunday. Sabbath was the end of the week, so Sunday[6] was the first. The Christian designation was “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The Bible emphasized the first day of the week or the Lord’s Day. It was the day of the Resurrection. It was the day of the first meeting of Jesus with his disciples. Pentecost was likely, a Sunday. The Lord’s Supper was held on the First Day of the week (Acts 20:7).[7] “The uniform testimony of early church history confirms that the assemblies of the church were on Sunday. Many early Christian texts speak of the custom of meeting on the first day of the week to take the Lord’s supper. These Christian sources regularly connect this day and Christian meetings with the resurrection of Jesus. They stress the joyfulness of the day for Christians.”[8]



“If all voluntary worship which we ourselves devise apart from God’s commandment is hateful to him, it follows that no worship can be acceptable to him except that which is approved by his Word.” [9] When we think about what we are to do in worship, it is easy to see that we are to do something. But the question of what we are to do and how we are to do it is often left unnoticed. Many sincere and deep thinkers give this concept very little attention. Some focus so much on this principle of regulation that they forget about other great doctrines of Scripture. Be balanced.

The principle which helps us to know what we are to do in worship and how we are to do it is called the regulative principle of worship. The “regulative principle” is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship, which holds that whatever is not prohibited is permitted. John Calvin held to the regulatory principle and spoke of it beautifully:

Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.[10]

Because of this principle, Calvin refused instrumental music in worship. Likewise, the  Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 states,  “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (22.1).

The principle is aptly described here:

Where does the Bible teach this? In more places than is commonly imagined, including the constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle that everything be done “after the pattern … shown you” (Ex. 25:40); the judgment pronounced upon Cain’s offering, suggestive as it is that his offering (or his heart) was deficient according to God’s requirement (Gen. 4:3–8); the first and second commandments showing God’s particular care with regard to worship (Ex. 20:2–6); the incident of the golden calf, teaching as it does that worship cannot be offered merely in accord with our own values and tastes; the story of Nadab and Abihu and the offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10); God’s rejection of Saul’s non-prescribed worship — God said, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22); and Jesus’ rejection of Pharisaical worship according to the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–14). All of these indicate a rejection of worship offered according to values and directions other than those specified in Scripture.

Of particular significance are Paul’s responses to errant public worship at Colossae and Corinth. At one point, Paul characterizes the public worship in Colossae as ethelothreskia (Col. 2:23), variously translated as “will worship” (KJV) or “self-made religion” (ESV). The Colossians had introduced elements that were clearly unacceptable (even if they were claiming an angelic source for their actions — one possible interpretation of Col. 2:18, the “worship of angels”). Perhaps it is in the Corinthian use (abuse) of tongues and prophecy that we find the clearest indication of the apostle’s willingness to “regulate” corporate worship. He regulates both the number and order of the use of spiritual gifts in a way that does not apply to “all of life”: no tongue is to be employed without an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27–28) and only two or three prophets may speak, in turn (vv. 29–32). At the very least, Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians underlines that corporate worship is to be regulated and in a manner that applies differently from that which is to be true for all of life.

The result? Particular elements of worship are highlighted: reading the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13); preaching the Bible (2 Tim. 4:2); singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19Col. 3:16) — the Psalms as well as Scripture songs that reflect the development of redemptive history in the birth-life-death-resurrection- ascension of Jesus; praying the Bible — the Father’s house is “a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13); and seeing the Bible in the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19Acts 2:38–391 Cor. 11:23–26Col. 2:11–12).[11]

The regulative principle may not be the practice of the majority today, but it remains a Biblical principle. “For, however the flesh may judge it, God hates nothing more than counterfeit worship.”[12]




The regular assembly on the Lord’s Day was to glorify God just as every moment should be dedicated. There were ways the church glorified or worshiped God as they were assembled. These ways to worship were commanded by God to be practiced in the church setting.

The Lord’s Supper

“Both theologically and sociologically, the Lord’s supper was the central act of the weekly assemblies of the early church. There were meetings to take the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:20-21, 33), and these occurred on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The Lord’s supper is expressive of the central realities of the Christian faith and of what the church is all about.”[13]


“The readiness to give is a constant feature of the individual Christian life (Rom. 12:13; James 2:14-17). Giving is also done corporately through the church (Acts 4:34-35; 11:29-30). This activity finds specific expression in the Christian meeting. It has been argued above (p. 240) that 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 indicates the collection of a contribution at the weekly assembly. This passage is talking about church giving to meet church needs. Paul’s instructions indicate that giving is to be periodic (“on the first day of every week”), personal (“each one of you”), planned (“whatever one may prosper”), preventive (“so that contributions need not be taken when I come”), and purposeful (“to take your gift to Jerusalem”).”[14]


“In the assembly, the word of the Lord is dispensed. Scripture reading has to do with the nature of the church and its gathering together. The church is a people called by the word of God, and that word continues to call the people together in assembly. Timothy was instructed, “Give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13, NRSV). Reading the scriptures and bringing a lesson based on them was part of the synagogue service in Jesus’ time (Luke 4:16-2 1). Presumably this continued in Christian con- gregations.’07 In addition to the Jewish scriptures, Christian writings were read. First attested in this regard are the letters of Paul (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27); for the Gospels, Mark 13:14 may refer to such public reading; for Revelation, see 1:3; 22:18. The assembled people of God are gathered, among other reasons, to hear the word from God.[15]


“Singing was closely related to prayer in ancient times (cf. 1 Cor. 14:15; James 5:13) and so belongs to the daily religious life as well as to the assembly. The same elements of prayer noted above are applicable to singing. The distinctiveness of Christian song is that it, like prayer, is done “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19; cf. Col. 3:16-17), that is, with reference to him and in worship of him.”[17]


“The New Testament offers several indications of prayer in a congregational setting (e.g., Acts 4:23-31; 12:12; 1 Cor. 14:14-15, which is discussing the assembly; so also 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Many features of private prayer and congregational prayer are the same, but the group setting gives a distinctive color to the prayers.”[18]



We are worshipers. “Because God is zealous for his glory (Isa. 48:9–11; cf. Isa. 43:6–7; 49:3), his people should likewise be consumed with a desire to glorify and exalt him (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. 6:20). Consequently, a faithful church is God centered, not man centered. The church has been redeemed so that believers might glorify him both by serving one another (1 Pet. 4:11) and by proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).[19] Prayerfully, let us determine to worship God appropriately and lovingly.

[1] Andrew E. Hill, “Worship,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 837.

[2] Everett Fergusson The Church of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

[3] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 242.

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1413.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, “True Worship,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 61 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1915), 290.

[6] Sunday is a pagan designation. It is “the day of the sun.”

[7] “There were daily meetings of Christians in the early days, and it has been widely held on the basis of Acts 2:46 that there was daily communion. If so, this is the only evidence in the early centuries for the practice. It is not certain that the “breaking of bread” here is a reference to communion (cf. the usage for beginning an ordinary meal in Acts 27:33-36); nor is the construction unambiguous that “daily” modifies “breaking bread” as well as “being together in the temple.” Whatever is made of Acts 2:46, weekly communion munion early established itself as the norm throughout the Christian world. There were assemblies especially for the purpose of taking the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:20, 24, 25-26, 33).” Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Kindle Locations 3108-3113). Kindle Edition.

[8] Everett Ferguson. (Kindle Locations 3131-3133). Kindle Edition.

[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1255–1256.

[10] (John CalvinThe Necessity of Reforming the Church)

[11] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/regulative-principle-worship/

[12] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1260.

[13] Everett Ferguson. (Kindle Locations 3223-3225). Kindle Edition.

[14] Everett Ferguson. (Kindle Locations 3516-3520). Kindle Edition

[15] Everett Ferguson. (Kindle Locations 3571-3572). Kindle Edition.

[16] “Musical instruments occur in the New Testament as part of everyday life (Matt. 9:23; 11:17; Rev. 18:22) and as illustrations (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:7- 8),101 but they are never mentioned as part of the assemblies of the church or accompanying Christian religious music. Their only appearance in a worship context is in the book of Revelation, where, drawing on the imagery of the temple, the voices of the heavenly singers are compared to stringed instruments (Rev. 14:2-3); the instruments symbolize singing (cf. Rev. 15:2-3) in the same way that incense does prayer (Rev. 5:8-9). The testimony of early Christian literature is expressly to the absence of instruments from the church for approximately the first thousand years of Christian history.” Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Kindle Locations 3497-3501). Kindle Edition.

[17] Everett Ferguson. (Kindle Locations 3456-3458). Kindle Edition.

[18] Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Kindle Locations 3379-3381). Kindle Edition.

[19] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 751.



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