Proper Christian Worship

What is Worship

o long as they are sincere, their intent is good, and it comes from the heart? What does it matter if one person prefers a loud concert-like service while another prefers a solemn scripted ceremony? But does the Bible have any clear instruction on what kind of worship God wants? After all, what is pleasing to us may not be pleasing to Him.

First, let's focus on three elements of worship:


  1. STRUCTURE -- How it should be formatted (leader/leaderless)
  2. PARTICIPANTS -- Who should be included (leaders/congregation)
  3. BEHAVIOR -- What it should include (singing/praying)

The Bible indicates that there are true worshipers and false worshipers, so there must be true and false worship.

" But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." -- John 4:23

Jesus goes on to say:

"God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." -- John 4:24

So now we must determine what is meant by spirit and truth. Again, perhaps someone will say this means we just need to be sincere in our intentions. But the Bible shows a case where sincerity and good intentions actually offended God and resulted in the death of the practitioners.

"Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer [container] and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." -- Leviticus 10:1-2

Or another account:

"[As King David was having the Ark of Covenant, which contained Moses' staff, Manna from Heaven and tablets upon which the Ten Commandments are written] Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God." -- 1 Chronicles 13:9-10

Here we have two accounts where people in service to God (ie worship) did it wrong and were punished even though they may have been sincere and had good intentions. So sincerity and a well intended heart aren't enough.
Let's turn our attention back to the three elements:


While the Old Testament is clear about offices or positions of priest and High Priest and such as leaders of the religious community, the New Testament seems to allow for all Christians being part of the "priesthood of believers" (1 Pet 2:1-6) with only one direct High Priest; Christ Himself.

"And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God" -- Hebrews 10:11-12

The elders, pastors, preachers, ministers in the New Testament are less like leaders and more like representatives of the people. The most clear text on this is found in Ephesians 4:11-12, often called the "Five-Fold Ministry" because five positions or offices are mentioned:.

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ"

Most mainline Protestant denominations no longer hold that apostles or prophets are active today, especially in light of a completed, closed Bible and in light of the rest of Ephesians 4 which reads:

"till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." -- Ephesians 4:13-16

What is the purpose of apostles and prophets except to speak direct revelation from God, which in turn is codified as part of the Bible. So, unless people are willing to say that the Bible needs to be continued with more content, they can hardly point to Ephesians 4 as support for the continued activity of apostles and prophets, which in turn makes us question the other the "offices"; but that is a study for another time. However, no matter how much the Protestants point out the priesthood of the believers, it is simply natural for some people to "pastor" or take care of other people and for some to teach and some to evangelize; spread the Gospel more than others -- these are roles or perhaps gifts as discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-13.

Lastly on the issue of structure, we know that the Church has latitude to develop a structure or role that fits a need. For example, when the Church had a need to help the poor Christians among them, the role of deacon was created. This is a role not before outlined in the Bible.

"Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” -- Acts 6:1-4


When we speak of participants in worship, we mean things like congregational singing versus choirs only or perhaps whether a woman is allowed to lead men in study. In many congregations, there is an individual pastor that stands at a lectern and lectures while the people passively listen. While the New Testament has patterns of who participated in Christian gatherings, there is nothing specific as to who can or can't participate except for verses like:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." -- 1 Timothy 2:11-12

This would seem to exclude women from teaching men in a formal church setting. This is not merely a "cultural" thing that is perhaps no longer in effect. This is a direct and clear command. Otherwise, participants in worship are not limited to clergy or officiants but the entire congregation. Of course, simply for convention, there would need to be some order, otherwise there would be chaos. But that order is up to the congregation.


Directions on how worshipers are to behave is outlined in places like this:

"I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." -- 1 Timothy 2:8-10

The general conduct of Christians inside and outside of the assembly of believers is the same; honorable, a good representative of Christ, not vain; blameless before men. So, while sincerity and a well intended heart may be a part of the proper behavior of a Christian; there is more to consider such as being a reverent, honorable testimony. If someone needs to spell out what this means, then chances are the conduct of the participant is the least of his or her worries. But to contrast, we see these unacceptable behaviors next to desired behaviors:

"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." -- Galatians 5:19-21

Compared to:

" But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." -- Galatians 5:22-26

While behavior must be practiced, since by nature we are sinners and prone to sin; if you find yourself more desirous of the bad behavior, you might consider whether you are even regenerated. The Christian isn't perfect, but rather being perfected. There is a difference between justification (being declared holy) and sanctification (being made holy).