Jump Start # 2129
Titus 1:5 “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.”
As I stood in the back of the auditorium last evening, as our services were coming to an end, it occurred to me that there are many things, in the practical fashion, that the New Testament doesn’t detail how we are to conduct them. The principles of worship are there. We see the early church being instructed to gather to take the Lord’s Supper. We see that preaching was done. We see singing praises. Those are the principles. What’s missing is just how these things were conducted.
On a larger scale, the New Testament, is not a manual, detailing every exact and specific thing. For instance, you buy a baby bed. It comes in a large box. You open it up and there are zillions of parts and a manual that seems as thick as a phone book. Step by step, you follow the instructions. You must do it in order. There’s no skipping a few pages. When you stay with it, you will have a sturdy baby bed ready to be used. The New Testament isn’t like that. There are several things that require our judgment.
- The appointing of elders. This is what our verse states that Titus was to do. Just how did he do that? Did the congregation submit names? What was the process? Was the congregation given a couple of weeks to think about all this? Was Titus supposed to preach about the role of elders before they were selected?
- The Lord’s Supper. Were the men who pass the Lord’s Supper supposed to stand before the congregation? Was there supposed to be a song before the Lord’s Supper? Are the people in the front to be served first?
- The contribution. Are plates supposed to be passed through the audience so money could be dropped in, or are the members to pass by and individually put the money in? Should there be a song before we give? Should the giving and the Lord’s Supper be done at different times during the worship?
- How is the support or the pay of a preacher to be determined? Do we average up what the men in the congregation make for a living and give that to the preacher? Do we contact area preachers and ask them what they make? Do we base it upon his years of experience or the size of his family? Should he be paid monthly, weekly or in some other fashion?
- How does a congregation go about finding a preacher and what is the process to “hire” him? Should he come in just one Sunday, preach a couple of times and then, based upon that, be offered the opportunity to come and work with the congregation? Should there be a series of meetings before that? Should he “try out?” Is the basis of a congregation making an offer determined by how well he does that one Sunday?
- How often should deacons meet with elders? Should they even meet with elders at all? Who decides what deacons ought to be doing? The elders? The deacons? The church? How many deacons should a church have?
- Does the preacher have to stand in the water with the person being baptized? Can the preacher stand outside of the water and lean over? Should the preacher where a tie and jacket when he is baptizing someone? Should he hold one hand up in the air before he immerses a person?
- How many songs ought to be sung during a Sunday service? Should the services end with a prayer or a song? Or, either? Should the announcements be made at the beginning of services or the end of services? Who should give the announcements? Elders only? Any male member? What should be announced? Do “Non-church” items, such as potlucks, baby showers, graduation open houses, get included in the announcements? Do Gospel meetings at other congregations get announced? Everyone has a friend, co-worker, or neighbor, who is sick or in the hospital. Do those names get included in the public announcements? How long ought the announcements be? If the announcements fall at the end of the service, should a recap of the sermon be given? Should anything about the sermon be said? Can anyone speak out from the audience to add an announcement that was not included?
I expect, to most of these questions, we all have our thoughts and opinions. Some may even get upset if someone suggested doing something different than what they were accustomed to. Some may even feel that others are wrong, if they do things differently than what they do in their congregation. But can you see all the decisions, choices and judgments that take place. The New Testament isn’t a step-by-step manual, like what comes with putting a baby bed together. In some ways, it would be nice if it was detailed that way. We can fuss and get upset about many things that are simply not detailed in the New Testament.
When I preached in India, all the women sat on one side of the auditorium and all the men on the other side. A long time ago, most church buildings had side by side front doors. One was for the women and the other for the men.
Now, comes the real important part of these thoughts. Just who is going to make these judgments? Who is going to decide how all of these things are going to be decided? Tradition? Which tradition? Whose tradition? Take up a vote? That’s subject to change all the time. The elders. The men in a business meeting? One person? A group of people? Can those judgments, or how they do things, ever be changed? This is happening more and more, and for some, they have to work these things out in their minds. What is the principle and what is left to our judgment on how to fulfill those principles? How many services on Sunday? One service or two? If one, do we have two preaching segments or just one?
It seems that each congregation must work out these judgments for what is best for them. Leadership ought to lead and help reason through why changes are being made in these judgments and why we do what we are doing. At the end of the day, God is to be worshipped, and we are to be encouraged. People should not leave upset over how worship was conducted. So, when visiting another congregation, keep in mind the difference between the principles we are to follow in the Bible and the judgments which allows a congregation to fulfill those principles. Keep in mind, if you move and want to fellowship with a congregation, we use the term “place membership,” you come in to a place that is already doing things. You agree to be a part of that fellowship. Don’t come in with the sprit of wanting to change how they do things. Judgments are just that, judgments. If you don’t like how they do the Lord’s Supper, the order of the worship, how they do announcements, maybe you ought to look for another congregation. If I came into your house, and started moving the furniture around to my liking and taste, you’d probably show me the door. Your house is the way you want it to be. A lot of friction comes when someone moves in and they try to turn the congregation into the way the last one operated. You can’t do that. As long as it is Biblical, judgments will vary and we need to be open to that.
Sometimes it’s good to make changes in these judgments. I once worshipped in a congregation that had a Wednesday song service once a month. But it wasn’t the first Wednesday of the month. It was the first Wednesday that followed a first Monday of the month. So, if the new month started on a Wednesday, that would not be singing night. The singing night had to follow the first Monday. I never did get that. I was always confused. Long ago, they used to have a visitation night on the first Monday of the month. The singing followed that. The visitation Monday was dropped long ago, but they kept the singing. They kept the singing on the first Wednesday that followed the first Monday of the month. That eventually got changed. It needed to be changed. Few people understood it. Judgments. They help us do what we do. But don’t put the judgments before the principle. Don’t treat the judgments as unchangeable like the principle.
Openness, good communication, and explaining why goes a long way to help folks understand what is being done. It’s interesting to stand in the back of the auditorium and see just how a worship is conducted. A person learns a lot of lessons.