Question: "What are the ingredients to a truly biblical worship service?"
Answer: Humans are instinctively worshiping creatures. The psalmist best expressed this when he wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). As far back as the time of Cicero of the first century B.C., it was observed that religion, regardless of its form, was a universal trait of man. Seeing that men are going to worship something or someone, we must ask what is worship, whom and how shall we worship? What constitutes a biblical worship service, and, most importantly, will we be “true worshipers” (John 4:23) or false worshipers? True worship involves a deep sense of religious awe that expresses itself in acts of devotion and service. The English word “worship” literally means “worth-ship,” denoting a being or object deemed worthy of devotion.
Christ commanded that true worshipers worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The apostle Paul explained that we worship by the Spirit of God (Philippians 3:3), meaning that true worship comes only from those who have been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit living in their hearts. Worshiping in spirit also means with the proper heart attitude, not simply adhering to rites and rituals. To worship in truth means worshiping according to what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. In order for our worship to truly be biblical, it must not go beyond that which is authorized by the Bible (Leviticus 10:1; 1 Corinthians 4:6), abiding within the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9; see also Deuteronomy 4:12, 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19). True worship involves only the instructions given in the Bible and nothing else—not a Book of Confessions, Rules of Order, or other manmade books of instructions or guidance.
The first-century church engaged in several devotional acts in their worship services, from which we can determine what makes up a truly biblical worship service. The communion supper was observed (Acts 20:7), prayers were offered up (1 Corinthians 14:15-16), songs were sung to the glory of God (Ephesians 5:19), a collection was taken (1 Corinthians 16:2), the Scriptures were read (Colossians 4:16), and the Word of God was proclaimed (Acts 20:7).
First, the communion supper commemorates Jesus’ death during our worship as we memorialize His resurrection until He returns again (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). As with the Lord’s Supper, prayer must also conform to the divine pattern taught in the Scriptures. Our prayers should be directed only to God (Nehemiah 4:9; Matthew 6:9), never to any dead person as in the practice of Catholicism. We are not authorized to use devices such as rosary beads or Buddhist “prayer wheels” that supposedly send written requests into the far regions of the universe. Most importantly, our prayers must be in harmony with the will of God.
Third, we are authorized to sing. The apostle Paul commands us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Singing to the Lord and to one another conveys truth set to music as a form of teaching (Colossians 3:16), singing with both the spirit and the mind in order to produce understanding on the part of those involved (1 Corinthians 14:15-16).
Part of true biblical worship is giving of our offering, as Paul instructed the Corinthian church: “Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Our regular giving for the support of the Lord’s work is a serious responsibility and is part of true biblical worship. Our giving should be viewed as a thrilling blessing, not as a burdensome matter for grumbling (2 Corinthians 9:7). Additionally, it must be stressed that giving is the only authorized method for financing the work of the church of Jesus Christ. We are not authorized to operate businesses, conduct bingo parties, hold pay-at-the-door concerts, etc. The church of Christ is not meant to be a commercial enterprise (Matthew 21:12-13).
Finally, preaching and teaching are major ingredients of true worship. Our teaching must be the Scriptures alone, the only means of equipping believers for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The godly preacher or teacher will teach only from the Word and rely on the Spirit of God do His work in the minds and hearts of his listeners. As Paul reminded Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). A church gathering that does not include the Word of God as a major component is not a true biblical worship service.
Without question, God, in His divine wisdom, has provided the perfect model of true biblical worship so that we can worship in a manner pleasing to Him. As we follow the course of true worship, let us worship God with great passion. We must not convey to the world the impression that the worship of our God is a boring, lifeless ritual. We have been redeemed from sin. Let us therefore praise our Creator as His children who are grateful for His bountiful blessings. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28-29).