While leaving a more detailed definition to another article in these pages, we may generally define worship as man’s expression to God of his love, exaltation, praise, and thanksgivings. God has never left men to their own devices and innovations regarding worship. No human being has ever known one thing about what pleases God in worship apart from His revelation of this information. He revealed this information to His Old Testament chosen people through Moses, requiring them to strictly adhere to it (Deu. 4:2; 12:32; etc.). Millions of Israelites perished under God’s wrath because of their unauthorized/forbidden behaviors, many of them relating to God-ordained worship.
The Lord Jesus declared that He and His Father demand the same strict adherence concerning worship on the part of His New Testament people, Christ’s church: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24; cf. Rev. 22:18–19). Another article in this edition of The Gospel Preceptor fully discusses, the worship in truth injunction of John 4:24, meaning according to the truth (which Christ identified as His Father’s revealed Word [John 17:17]). Jesus stated it plainly: “But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Mat. 15:9). What we do in worship to God and His Son surely falls under the purview of Paul’s inspired command: “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). This mandate proscribes the innumerable “worship” innovations.
The Bible is God’s means of addressing men through words (1 Cor. 2:4, 6, 10, 13). Prayer is the sublime privilege God provides to His children to “make [y]our requests known unto God” by “draw[ing] near…unto the throne of grace…” by our words (Phi. 4:6b; Heb. 4:16; emph. DM). It involves, praise, intercessions, supplications, thanksgivings, and requests (Acts 4:24; Eph. 3:14–19; Phi. 4:6; et al.). It is one of the most significant and frequent subjects of Scripture. It is not merely a thread in the fabric of Holy Writ; it is a major pattern of that fabric. Obviously, worship and prayer are intimately related. Whether uttered in privacy, engaged in by a family in a daily devotional period, or led by some brother in a meeting of the church, prayer is innately an act of worship.
A Brief Biblical “History” of Prayer
The pre-Mosaic Biblical history preserves comparatively few instances of prayer (e.g., Abraham’s intercession for Sodom [Gen. 18:23–32]). The Mosaic era, however, is rife with records of it, uttered both publicly and privately. These begin with Moses and Joshua and proceed through many of the judges, prophets, and kings, as well as “ordinary” persons (e.g., Manoah [Jud. 13:8], Hannah [1 Sam. 1:10–15], et al.). Prayers dominate the book of Psalms.
We should thus not be surprised to find that the Father’s only begotten Son was a man of prayer. Although He lived and died under the Law of Moses, His examples and instructions on prayer most certainly apply to His disciples this side of the Cross. The Gospel accounts tell of His prayers in numerous and varied settings, involving both public and private occasions. He often stole away to some remote and private place to address His Father. He also prayed in the presence of others, both few and many (e.g., some or all his apostles, those gathered at Lazarus’ tomb, before He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000, in the presence of those who witnessed His agony at Calvary, et al.). He not only taught His disciples to pray by His example; He also taught them both the way not to and the way to pray (Mat. 6:5–13; 18:10–14; etc.). He exhorted His hearers “…always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
The authority of the Law of Moses and the age it controlled ended with Jesus’ death (Eph. 2:13–16; Col. 2:12–14; etc.). As prayer was a frequent activity of God’s people in that obsolete era, it is no less significant in the age of the resurrected Christ and His kingdom/church. Acts through Revelation is replete with records of the saints praying. These records include examples, exhortations, and instructions, and they involve prayers uttered in private and in both large and small groups of brethren—and often involving one or more of the apostles (Acts 2:42; 4:23–31; 6:6; 9:12, 40; 12:5, 12; 13:3; 14:23; ad infinitum).
Prayer and the Church’s Meetings for Worship
Undeniably, from its beginning, the church in all its locales had gatherings for worship, edification, and fellowship. These assemblies occurred at vari-ous times and for various purposes. The church in Jerusalem began meeting immediately upon its beginning, and it met daily for some time thereafter; its meetings specifically included prayer (Acts 2:41–42, 46).
The book of Acts and the epistles gradually unfold the history of the church’s numerical growth and geographical spread. This history reveals that, while brethren met at various times with apostolic sanction (as indicated above), the Divinely authorized, ordered, and universally observed day of assembling for worship was “…upon the first day of the week….” The special significance of this day for the church should come as no surprise when we learn that the Lord’s resurrection occurred on that day (Mat. 28:1–6; Mark 16:1–2, 9; Luke 24:1–3; John 20:1–9). Further, Pentecost, the day of the church’s establishment and of its first meeting (Acts 2:1), was always “on the morrow after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15–16).
It is certain that prayer was a God-ordained part of those Lord’s Day assemblies. The description of the first meeting of the church, as mentioned above, included the following:
They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the, of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:41–42, emph. DM).
Another article in this special issue on worship will concentrate specifically on the Lord’s Supper. However, since that sacred memorial involves prayer in the church’s worship assemblies, I can’t avoid giving considerable attention to it, also. If there were no further evidence that prayer was an innate part of the Lord’s Day assemblies, the Christ-ordained observance of the Lord’s Supper would be evidence aplenty, for it involved prayer. The Lord’s Supper was observed by the church each Lord’s Day from its beginning, as the following establishes:
1. The church’s initial assembly on the first day of the week not only particularly included prayers; it also included the Lord’s Supper. This fact is seen by the reference to its “…continuing stedfastly…in the breaking of bread…” (Acts 2:42). This phrase doesn’t refer to a meal of physical food. All the activities of that first meeting are spiritual in nature, including “the breaking of bread,” which is a synecdoche for the Lord’s Supper in its entirety.
2. In instituting His Supper, Jesus prefaced the partaking of each element of the supper by the apostles with a prayer of thanksgiving (Mat. 26:26–27; Mark 14:22–23; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25). Note: The prayer-phrases, Father, bless this bread…, bless this fruit of the vine, so often heard at the Lord’s Table in our assemblies, display a woeful misconception of the phrase, Jesus took bread, and blessed (“blessed it…,” KJV) (Mat. 26:26). (The KJV contributes to this misconception by adding the impersonal pronoun it, absent in the Greek text.) Jesus didn’t ask the Father’s “blessing” on the bread and what it symbolizes; these most certainly already had His blessing! Verse 27 is an inspired “commentary” on the meaning of blessed in v. 26: “And he took a cup and gave thanks… (emph. DM).” Moreover, both Luke and Paul say plainly that the Lord gave thanks for the bread, even as He did for the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23–24). The Lord’s prayers at His Table were prayers of thanksgiving—as ours should also be, following His example. Ironically, over many years, I have observed in my travels about the nation in Gospel meetings and lectureships that thanksgiving is seldom mentioned by those who lead prayers at the Table of the Lord.
3. The first explicit reference to the saints’ meeting on the first day of the week is in Acts 20:7 in the city of Troas: “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight.” As the breaking of bread in the church’s first assembly in Jerusalem is a synecdoche for the Lord’s Supper (2:42), so it is here. It is also in a setting of spiritual activities in both instances.
4. The Corinthian church observed the Lord’s Supper, although it was corrupting this sacred memorial (1 Cor. 11:17–34). By implication they were doing so on “the first day of the week.” Near the close of Paul’s letter to them, he wrote:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come (1 Cor. 16:1–2).
Note that he didn’t order them to meet on the Lord’s Day, only to give their money on the first day of the week, the day on which he knew that they were already meeting—and observing the Lord’s Supper—including its attendant prayers. Significantly, the NASB and other versions render verse 2 above, “On the first day of every week,” which the Greek text supports, and which Paul’s statement implies, even without the inclusion of the word, every.
Jerusalem, Troas, and Corinth were by no means the only early churches that observed the Lord’s Supper as they met every first day of the week. What Paul ordered the Corinthian church to do, he had already ordered the churches of Galatia to do (1 Cor. 16:1). Moreover, other Scriptural evidence indicates the universality of the first day of the week meetings of the apostolic churches. Paul taught the same things “…everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. 11:16; 14:33; Col. 4:16;). Prayer to our heavenly Father, in the name of His Son (Col. 3:17) was indisputably a part of every Lord’s Day assembly of the saints under the direct teaching and leadership of the inspired apostles.
The early saints were a prayerful people, both individually and collectively. Any member of the Lord’s church can pray by himself or herself, and we can pray in our homes or with groups of brethren on any day of the week. Our study has shown beyond doubt, however that prayer is a basic and inherent avenue of worship in the Christ-ordained/mandated worship assembly of His people each first day of the week.