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Accidental Worship

Accidental Worship
By Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
November  2006

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Although the brotherhood remains committed to keeping the New Testament pattern of worship, through the years, we have seen slight changes in how we proceed.  If something is a matter of preference and we agree there is a better way, we make a change.  We have been where they sing three songs and then read; other places they start with four.  Years ago we met a sister who said, “Somebody is going to have to pay for scattering all these songs here and there in the worship.”  The congregation had a song after reading and another after the teaching.  In another place a brother said, “We don’t have Scripture for a closing song.”  He was reminded, “The Bible says in the upper room, after Jesus had set up the Lord’s supper with the disciples, ‘when they had sung an hymn, they went out...’”
In one place a brother became very concerned over someone laying his Bible on the table when he offered thanks for the Communion.  Later that brother told us, “Nothing ought to be on the table but the bread and the cup.”  He was reminded that the Lord’s supper was instituted during the Passover supper and many vessels were on that table.  He said, “Oh, I guess I was thinking about it wrong.”  Brethren, we need to humbly consider what others point out to us. Furthermore, brethren need to be careful how they handle matters that arise.  Do not disrupt the worship of God’s people to debate things!

Once in a while, a brother will get it in his head that because we have proceeded in a particular way we must continue to do it this way.  Through the years in some places the congregation stood to offer thanks for the Lord’s supper, while other congregations did not.  Years ago, in some places nearly the whole congregation knelt to pray.  Now, you see very few kneel.  In some places the worshippers went up to the front and laid their contribution on the table.  One man demanded that it must be done that way because the Bible says to lay it “by Him” and referred to 1 Corinthians 16:1,2.  We need to be careful that we don’t turn our preferences into rules that we demand others obey.
The Pharisees turned their traditions, such as washing one’s hands before eating, into rules that they forced others to obey.  They made their own traditions more important than the commandments of God.  Jesus told them that they had even “made the commandment of God of none effect” by their traditions, and then applied the words of Isaiah to them saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8,9).

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, at Siskiyou Street in Los Angeles, the worship services were never prearranged.  No one was appointed to lead a song or word a prayer or wait on the Lord’s table.  Brethren were called on during the course of the services.  On Lord’s day the speaking was done by faithful brethren who were willing to participate.  Sometimes the brethren would be seen at the back of the building discussing the teaching before the worship began.  One brother would “take the lead” and call out the name of another to take part in the services and so on.  Ordinarily, the members of the church would know the passage of Scriptures which would be taught the next Lord’s day morning.  This would afford them opportunity to study before hand to gain more from the teaching.
Some brethren would feel the need to speak, others didn’t, but the faithful men from service to service handled the teaching.  Two or more brethren always taught in the worship on Lord’s day morning unless a meeting was in progress.  Evidently, someone came along and convinced them that it might be better to make arrangements ahead of time and they began to do that.  If a group today does not prearranged their services, we have no quarrel with them, even though we prefer the service be arranged ahead of time.

Before moving to L.A., our family worshiped where they had “a special breaking” of the bread before the congregation partook.  Those who saw it this way read that when Jesus took the bread and, “had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).  They reasoned, in order to make it His “broken body,” Jesus must have broken the loaf in two.
Our family studied the apostle Paul’s account, comparing it with the other accounts of the Lord’s supper, and concluded that the breaking which Jesus did must have been for His partaking.  He said to the disciples, “this do”– they were to do what He had done.  If Jesus just “broke”, then they must simply break.  If He did not eat, then the disciples were not to eat.  But they were told to “take eat” as well as “this do,” therefore, His breaking must have been to eat.  As the family studied, they saw that there was no special act to symbolize the “shedding” of Jesus blood to make the fruit of the vine His “shed blood.”  They then realized that they had been doing something different from the pattern with a “special breaking” so they made a change.  Each communicant breaks and partakes.  This was not a matter of preference! 

During our early days at Siskiyou Street the congregation used a matzo loaf for the communion bread.  Matzo bread is unleavened bread used in the modern Jewish Passover Supper.  You may not be familiar with it but it is on grocery shelves even today.  We’re not sure who came along and convinced the brethren to do differently, but someone in the congregation began to make an unleavened loaf at home to take to worship each Lord’s day.  Was it wrong to purchase proper bread for the Communion?  Of course not!   Brethren, we cannot find where it is wrong to buy it, so we must be very careful not to bind upon others our opinion in such matters.  If we can buy grape juice to use in the Communion it would certainly be all right to buy the bread, but we prefer that someone in the congregation bake it.
Through the centuries, the Roman Catholics made many changes to the teaching found in the New Testament.  They invented various new doctrines, like auricular confession – whispering of your sin into a priests ear causes it to be automatically forgiven; like penance – the infliction of various punishments on the those who confess sins; like indulgences – the priest, for a price or act of penance, would forgive a sin before it is committed.  (Incidently, this was invented as a money making scheme to raise funds to finish the Basilica in Rome).  The Roman Catholics invented still another doctrine called Transubstantiation.  In all of these doctrines and practices the priest is elevated to a position to exercise power over the masses.

In Transubstantiation it is believed that when the priest pronounces the appropriate prayer over the bread in worship it becomes the literal body of Jesus.  The record tells us that when Jesus met with His disciples He took a loaf, offered thanks, gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you...”  They saw Him before their eyes, they heard His voice, they felt His touch as He had washed their feet.  Were the disciples in the upper room to believe that Jesus was saying that the bread that He took and gave to them was His actual, literal body or did He mean for them to understand that it was to represent His body?  Honest people will agree that the loaf which Jesus took and gave to them was to represent His body.
We recall the story told us by our family members about a girl we will call Lupe.  She must have been a devout Roman Catholic.  Lupe worked as a maid at a hotel in El Paso in the early 1900's. She probably attended mass often and believed all the doctrines the Catholics taught.  Her job was to clean the guests’ hotel rooms and make their beds.  While going about her work in a certain priest’s room curiosity got the better of Lupe as she spied a small box on the chest of drawers.  She decided to peek inside and attempting to open the lid she slipped and the contents of the box fell out.  Soon the priest returned to his room finding poor Lupe totally distraught because she had dropped “The Host”.  You see, Lupe superstitiously believed she had caused the literal body of Christ to fall into the chamber pot by the bed.  Well, the priest “absolved Lupe of her sin” and consoled the miserable girl by performing some ritual over what they both believed was the literal flesh of Jesus.  Oh, how sad!
We know that the only time a loaf of unleavened bread is the Lord’s body, is when it is sanctified, that is, placed in the worship for the purpose of representing the Lord’s body and the prayer of our thanks and for the Lord’s blessing is asked.  Then and only then is it the Lord’s body to the Christians in that worship.  It is literal bread before it is placed there; it is literal bread during the time it is there; it is literal bread after the prayer; it is literal bread when eaten by the members of the Church, but with a spiritual meaning – to those who commune it is the Lord’s body.  After the worship is it something other than literal bread?  No!  Should Christians, after the worship, continue to see what is left of the loaf as the Lord’s body?  No!  Is there any direction given in the New Testament on how to dispose of it?  No!  One person said that it ought to be burned, but the New Testament doesn’t teach that.  We simply say, it is our opinion that we need to be respectful when disposing of it.

If you think that the loaf is a sacred object before the worship or after the worship, are you not as superstitious as Lupe?  You have no Scripture for that idea and you need to abandon it.  Suppose a Christian baked several loaves of unleavened bread, one to be used in the worship and the others to be eaten at home.  Would that be wrong?  Why, no!  As you know, the people in some cultures eat unleavened bread every day.  Although you offer thanks for your food at home, even if it includes unleavened bread you are not worshiping!  We must present our bodies a living sacrifice wholly acceptable unto God, living daily for the Lord as well as carrying out the ordinances of worship.  All these elements are necessary for the Christian to please God.  If you want to set aside a day for personal meditation, prayer, and fasting keep it to yourself (Romans 14:5,6).  Others should leave you alone.
Jesus taught, “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”  All our prayers, both public and private, are to be said with childlike faith in the Father.  James also taught us to, “Ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6).  Again he said, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray?  Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (5:13).  What Christian hasn’t been so happy and thankful that they’ve bursted into song?   Who hasn’t been so anxious or distraught that they’ve cast themselves on the bed or on the ground and poured out their heart to God.  These are for every righteous man and woman private occasions.
Your giving of thanks for your food is a private prayer.  Once in a preacher’s home, while eating a common meal, the brother said, “Let’s sing; we like to sing at the table.”  He struck up a song and we all sang, and then continued to eat.  We had already prayed for the food and then we were singing.  It seems like someone might have already talked about a Bible subject.  Did it turn into a worship service?  Why, no!  We were still eating a common meal.  If all of a sudden we were engaged in worship, our eating food would have to stop, the women would have to be silent and men only would be permitted to speak one by one (1 Corinthians 14).
Was it wrong to pray at that meal?  Of course not.  Faithful Christians pray at meals.  Was it wrong to talk about the Scriptures while eating a common meal?  You know it wasn’t!  Was it wrong to sing a gospel song during the meal?  Why, no!   We can’t recall doing it ever again but it was not wrong.  In the New Testament sense of the word, does a Christian with a merry heart begin to “worship” if they sing while taking a shower?   No!  Neither does any Christian “worship” by meditating on the word of God day and night.

Remember the inspired apostle drew a line of distinction between what a woman is permitted to do at home and prohibited from doing in the worship services.  She cannot speak in public worship, but she may speak about the word of God in private.  That is a clear distinction.  Aquila and Priscilla were well aware of this line of distinction between public worship and the private instruction which they felt compelled to give to the preacher, Apollos.  (Please read Acts 19:24-26).  Women are not idle observers at worship but are worshiping God, too.  Although they cannot speak, they are participants even in the teaching and learning as listeners.  One might say they are “ears” in the assembly who later can speak (1 Corinthians 12:16).
How often have you seen denominational people pray loudly in restaurants, in hospital rooms, and on the street.  Our private prayers should not be displayed for men to see.  Jesus said, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly”  (Matthew 6:5,6). 

Just as with unleavened bread, grape juice is just grape juice until it is put to use in our worship, then it is to the Christian the Lord’s blood.  What is left is grape juice; it has not been transformed into the actual blood of Christ.  Honesty demands that we recognize that the worship is a different setting from our everyday activities.  We may eat unleavened bread and drink fruit of the vine every day and we are not worshiping.  We may pray with the proper spirit in our “closet” morning, noon and night but this does not constitute worship.  Only when the church assembles to worship God does ordinary unleavened bread and grape juice take on the spiritual meaning of worship.
Worship does not occur by accident to a child of God.  Worship is not something that a Christian inadvertently does.  It is an occasion in which acts are performed, ordinances are observed to honor the Father.  The heart of the worshiper must choose to do it and be fully involved in it. May we all strive to please God daily and in our private prayers and songs reverentially say with David,  “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalms 19:13,14).