Is Christian Worship Regulated by New Testament Law?

By Wayne Jackson

A recent article from a gentleman affiliated with the Independent Christian Church contends that the New Testament is not a “set of laws” to which the Christian is obligated. He argues that the essence of the New Testament is love and grace, and “love is not law” and “grace is not law.” One of the conclusions our friend draws, therefore, is this. There is no “worship” ritual to which the child of God is bound on a weekly basis in this age.

Sadly, this student is quite mistaken. He, and others of his persuasion, have been driven to this unscriptural and illogical position due to the fact that they have been unable to find New Testament authority for some of the acts in which they participate. Accordingly, they have simply dismissed the idea that the New Testament regime is buttressed with law, and they have opted for a humanly-devised worship program. But consider the following brief points which fly in the face of this theory.

Does Grace and Love Preclude Law?

The notion that the New Testament system is all “love” and “grace,” and therefore it is bereft of “law” is a serious error. The Old Testament prophets declared that the new administration would constitute a “law” from God (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 31:31-34). The sacred New Testament writers spoke of the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. 1 Cor. 9:21).

While the New economy is not a legal system completely analogous to the Old, one should never conclude that the New is void of a pattern of teaching, worship, or conduct regulation. Romans 6:17 speaks of that “form” (“pattern,” ASV fn; “standard,” ESV) of teaching to which we have been committed. If the New Testament is not law, one could never sin today, because sin, by definition, is a transgression of law (1 Jn. 3:4; cf. Rom. 4:15).

Worshipping in Truth

The novel notion that no worship format is bound upon Christians today stands in bold contradiction to the teaching of Jesus and his inspired penmen. It was the Lord himself who said that worship must be rendered to God “in truth” (Jn. 4:24), which, elsewhere, he indicated was embodied within the word of God (Jn. 17:17).

Similarly, Paul affirmed that the true people of the Lord are those who “worship by the Spirit” (Phil. 3:3), which means by the Spirit’s instruction (as conveyed through the Scriptures — Eph. 6:17).

“Will-worship” Is Condemned

If there is not a prescribed worship ritual for the Lord’s day, then one is free to do nothing at all, or, if he elects to worship, he has the license to improvise his own procedures. He thus would be allowed to practice an “arbitrary” worship. But this is exactly what the Bible condemns as “will-worship” (Col. 2:23).

J.H. Thayer comments on the Greek term that is rendered “will-worship” (ethelo-threskeia). He says it denotes “worship which one devises and prescribes for himself” (Greek-English Lexicon, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 168). This is precisely what our erring friend argues in favor of in the article sited above.

F.W. Danker defines “will-worship” as a “self-made” or “do-it-yourself religion” (Greek-English Lexicon, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 276; cf. NIV; ESV).

Sound Hermeneutics Rejected

The ideology defended by the gentleman under review is the result of an abandonment of the full complement of sound hermeneutical principles by which biblical authority is established. It rejects, for example, the force of binding examples and logical inferences deduced from scriptural premises.

In summary, the “unregulated worship” dogma is symptomatic of a serious misunderstanding of New Testament truth — if one views the ideology in the best possible light. At worst, it could reflect a disposition of arrogant presumption.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.