The Extent of Biblical Authority over Worship
For the past couple of weeks I have been establishing the need to root our theology and practice of worship in the authoritative and sufficient Word of God. So what would it mean, then for our worship to be truly governed by the authority and sufficiency of Scripture? This emphasis upon biblical authority over our corporate worship applies in at least four areas
First, the elements of our worship must be derived from the Word of God. The sufficient Word has given those ordinary means of grace that are necessary for worship:
Paul commands Timothy, in the context of teaching him how to behave in the house of God, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13). He repeats similar commands in Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27.
Paul also commands Timothy to “devote yourself . . . to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13) and “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
Third, Paul commands that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and for all who are in high positions (1 Tim 2:1). He commands the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer (4:2), and to the Ephesians he admonishes, “praying at all time in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication . . . making supplication for all the saints” (6:18).
A fourth biblically-prescribed element might not actually be a separate element at all, but rather a form of Scripture reading or prayer, and that is singing. In both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, Paul commands gathered believers to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, thereby “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16).
Fifth, Paul commanded the Corinthian church, “On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor 16:2). Although in its immediate context this refers to giving that was taken to needy believers in Jerusalem (v. 3), Paul indicates that elders should be paid (1 Tim 5:17–18), and so it is fitting that such regular, weekly giving be used for that purpose as well, in addition to caring for the particular needs of members in the congregation (Acts 6:1, 1 Tim 5:3) and other material functions of the church.
Sixth, Christ commanded in his Great Commission to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And finally, Paul told the Corinthian church that he passed on “the Lord’s Supper” to the church, having received it from the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:20, 23).
These are the only corporate worship elements given to the church in the NT for worship—they are all we need. To add or subtract from these God-ordained elements would be to distrust the sufficiency of God’s Word in giving us what we need to equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). So the first way our worship is shaped by Scripture is in the elements we choose to include.
Second, the content of our worship elements must be derived from the Word of God. Paul said to preach the Word. He said that when we sing, we must “let the Word of Christ dwell richly within us.” Even our prayers to God should be saturated with Scripture. Put simply, in corporate worship we read the Word, sing the Word, preach the Word, pray the Word, and act out the Word. Again, our worship is born of, built on, fueled by, governed by, filled with, and sanctified by the truth of God’s Word.
Third, the forms of our worship should be derived from the Word of God. We must remember that the Bible is not simply a static collection of theological propositions. Rather, Scripture is a collection of God-inspired literary forms that express his truth, and all of Scripture, including its aesthetic aspects, carry the weigh of divine authority. Therefore, as we choose artistic forms of expression in our modern cultural context, we must be sure that the way in which those forms communicate truth correspond to the way in which Scripture itself aesthetically communicates truth. For example, even the modern music that we chose for our worship must carry the same reverence and weight that the songs of Scripture express.
I’ll tackle the fourth aspect of corporate worship that should be governed by Scripture next week.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.