Why Are Primitive Baptist Worship Services So Simple?
Primitive Baptists believe that Jesus’ church still belongs to Jesus. He built His church: I will build my church. (Mat 16:18) He bought His church: The church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Act 20:28) He gave Himself for His church: Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. (Eph 5:25) He is the head of His church: He is the head of the body, the church. (Col 1:18) He is the husband of His church: For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32) A Primitive Baptist church wants to defend her husband’s honor, to lift up the one who is her head, to return love to the one who gave Himself for her, to praise the one who bought her, and to stand for the one who built her.
Jesus said: I am…the truth. (Joh 14:6) He said: Thy word is truth. (Joh 17:17) Jesus’ church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. (1Ti 3:15) Primitive Baptists not only feel the duty to defend the doctrinal truths of Jesus’ church, but also to maintain the church practices that Jesus established. In one single verse, Paul not only taught that the church should defend Jesus’ truths, but he also taught that she should know how to behave in the house of God. That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1Ti 3:15)
Since Jesus is the head, the husband, the redeemer, the builder and the possessor of His church, Primitive Baptists believe we should ‘do church’ His way. We should know how we ought to behave in the house God. Jesus’ church is not only to hold to His doctrines, but also hold to His practices. Thus we attempt to pattern, not only our doctrinal beliefs, but also our manner of worship after New Testament teachings. The New Testament describes a very simple and unadorned style of worship, even a worship service that could easily be practiced in a cave, but could easily become lost in a cathedral.
So what do we find in the New Testament about the proper behavior that is befitting to the worship service in Jesus’ church? It might surprise many, but the New Testament worship service was comprised of only three simple things: singing, praying and preaching. The lists of things, which modern day worshippers have added to the simplicity of New Testament worship, far exceeds the short list of singing, praying and preaching.
First of all, we find that New Testament worshippers sang hymns and songs. Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Eph 5:19) We see from this verse that singing hymns in the worship service is for the purpose of speaking to yourselves. As we further think about this simple statement, we question if musical instruments can fulfill this Bible-stated purpose. It is reasonable to think that vocalized psalms and hymns and spiritual songs can speak to those who sing and hear the words. Yet it is quite impossible for musical instruments to speak to the ones who are worshipping. Moreover, it is hard to imagine a piano being able to pull off making melody in your heart. Yet God blesses His children to be fully equipped, not only to make music with their lips, but also to make melody with the feelings of their hearts.
Let us look at another verse. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Col 3:16) Just as it is impossible to accomplish speaking to yourselves with musical instruments, it is also absurd to think that a musical instrument can carry out the task of teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Just as a piano is not up to the task of making melody in your heart, it is also not likely to find a piano singing with grace in your hearts. On the other hand, human voices and Spirit-filled hearts are quite capable of all these things.
What is it to speak to yourselves in songs, or to teach and admonish one another through singing? The words of hymns speak messages. Some songs speak peace to troubled souls. Some songs proclaim the gospel message. Some songs tell us of scriptural teachings. So how can one worshipper speak to, teach, and admonish other worshippers? Primitive Baptists try to accomplish this in a rather unusual way. Our pastors and song leaders do not select the hymns. The leader simply pauses after the singing of each hymn, so as to allow individual worshippers the opportunity to request the next hymn. They may either call out the name of the hymn, or they may call out the number of the hymn in the hymnal. This promotes the Bible’s idea of speaking to yourselves in hymns and spiritual songs. If a worshipper has some special feeling in his heart, he (or she) may request a song that would speak the feeling to other worshippers. Or if a worshipper is thinking of some Bible truth, he (or she) may call for a song that would teach and admonish others in regards to that particular truth. The singing of the words of well-written hymns is truly an important part of New Testament worship.
As we come back to the idea of adding musical instruments to New Testament worship, let us look at one more verse. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. (1Co 14:15) Surely no one would think that a guitar could pray with the spirit and pray with the understanding. Well if the guitar cannot do the first part of the verse, it seems strange that people might imagine that it can do the second part, even that a guitar might be able to sing with the spirit or sing with the understanding. Yet a worshipper is able to do both the praying and the singing, with both the spirit and the understanding.
Some protest that Old Testament worship included many kinds of musical instruments. That is a true statement. Yet it is an invalid argument. To claim the Old Testament manner of worship as the basis, authority, or pattern for the New Testament manner of worship is not a justifiable defense. Old Testament worship required the worshippers to assemble at the tabernacle or in the temple. Jesus made it clear to the woman at the well that the place of worship no longer matters. Old Testament worship required a priest in Aaron’s lineage. We no longer need Aaron’s sons in order to worship. Jesus is our High Priest. Old Testament worship required animal blood. It would be an insult to the blood of Christ for New Testament worshippers to bring the blood of a goat before God.
At Jesus’ death the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The Old Testament manner of worship was finished. New Testament worship does not need ritual and animal sacrifice. New Testament worship does not require pomp and ceremony. New Testament worship does not need priests in simulated Old Testament costumes. Altars with smoldering incense are no longer necessary. The seven lamps of the candlestick no longer need to burn. The Holy of Holies is no longer present. The Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat is no longer the designated dwelling place of God.
If we honestly attempt to look at the full picture of Old Testament worship, we find that there is very little from the Old Testament worship service that belongs in the New Testament worship service. To try to justify the addition of musical instruments to the worship service, by arguing that they used them in the Old Testament, goes beyond common sense, and beyond scriptural reasoning. There is no mention of musical instruments when the saints assembled to worship in the New Testament. Let us not think that we can improve upon the church that Jesus built, even the church that He promised to sustain.
From a historical point of view, many great Bible men of the past attempted to stand against those who would add musical instruments to the worship service. Around 670 AD Pope Vitalian introduced the organ, but his newfangled addition to the worship service came with much objection from the monks.
Centuries later, John Calvin said, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praise of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jews.” John Wesley retorted, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” Martin Luther called the organ “an ensign of Baal”. Charles H. Spurgeon preached for twenty years to thousands of people weekly in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle, London, England, but they did not have musical instruments in the worship.
The learned Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke, wrote, “I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them (musical instruments) productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.”
In his book, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, the Missionary Baptist preacher, David Benedict, wrote, “In my earliest intercourse among this people, congregational singing generally prevailed among them… This instrument (i.e. the organ), which from time immemorial has been associated with cathedral pomp…at length found its way into Baptist sanctuaries… Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them… How far this modern organ fever will extend among our people, and whether it will on the whole work be a RE-formation, or DE-formation in their singing service, time will more fully develop.”
Some say that Primitive Baptists are inconsistent in their stand against additions to a worship service. They say, “You people have heat and air conditioning in your buildings. Where is the New Testament pattern for that? What’s the difference in adding a piano and adding a furnace?” To this we say that some things are merely ‘aids’ to worship, while others are ‘additions’ to worship. Perhaps the distinction between the two can best be seen through illustrations. God told Moses to use gopher wood to build the Ark of the Covenant. A hammer would have been an ‘aid’ to doing what God said to do. Trimming the Ark in oak would have been an ‘addition’ to doing what God said to do. Jesus used unleavened bread in the Lord’s supper. Using a plate to serve the bread is an ‘aid’ to the service. Serving beans with the bread is an ‘addition’ to the service. Burning natural gas is an ‘aid’ to worship. Burning incense is an ‘addition’ to worship. Songbooks are an ‘aid’ to worship. Seventy-six trombones are an ‘addition’ to worship. May God give us wisdom.
We further note that the New Testament makes no mention of choirs or ‘specials’. The entertainment of others is not a stated purpose for singing. The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the qualities in the heart while singing, but fails to mention the quality of the voice. Displaying the superiority of some singers (and thus implying the inferiority of others) may violate Bible principles, in that it could lead to pride in some, and discouragement of others. The singing part of worship is where all are invited to actively participate. Let us never hinder God’s children from their rightful part of the worship service.
In addition to singing, the New Testament worship service included prayer. The New Testament church united in prayer immediately after Jesus’ ascension. These all continued with one accord in prayer… (Act 1:14) The New Testament church continued steadfastly in prayers. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Act 2:42) When the people of the New Testament church met together in prayer, the Holy Ghost honored them with His presence. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Act 4:31) If one from the church was in need, the church met together and prayed. But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. (Act 12:5) Paul ceased not to pray for the churches, and he encouraged the churches to pray for him. Prayer was an essential part of New Testament worship. They met together, and they prayed together when they met.
Beyond singing and praying, preaching (and/or teaching) was the centerpiece of a New Testament worship service. Paul told Timothy: Preach the word. (2Ti 4:2) Jesus said: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. (Mat 18:19) The apostles ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Act 5:42) Paul reasoned with them out of the scriptures. Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (Act 17:2-3) Paul went into the synagogue, and spake boldly. (Act 19:8) Paul preached unto them…and continued his speech until midnight. (Act 20:7) Paul persuaded them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. (Act 28:23) Day and night, anywhere and everywhere, anytime and all the time, preaching was the focus of the New Testament church. The mission of the New Testament church hinged around preaching the gospel of the resurrected Savior. New Testament preachers proclaimed the salvation that Jesus had successfully accomplished.
God uses the foolishness of preaching to spread the story of Jesus. God sent an angel to Cornelius, not so the angel could tell the story. The angel told Cornelius to send for the preacher, who would tell him the story. The story of the salvation of sinners spreads from preachers to hearers, from one sinner to another, even from faith to faith. New Testament preachers felt an urgency to preach. New Testament churches heard all night preaching, everyday preaching, lots of preaching. Many of today’s churches are truly out of step with the New Testament church. They have added so much to the worship service, that they leave little time for preaching God’s inspired word to God’s struggling children. They put what the New Testament church considered to be the centerpiece of the worship service, somewhere on the periphery. In Jesus’ church, simple preaching beats pompous pomp.
A few months ago, a good friend asked for recordings of my sermons. After having listened to a couple of sermons, she began a conversation with words of encouragement about the messages. Then she hesitated, as if she was trying to find words that would not be offensive, and she asked me if all my sermons were over fifty minutes long. I tried to explain how Primitive Baptists put a lot of emphasis on preaching God’s word to God’s children. (Yet at the same time, I realized that Paul would have been ashamed of me for stopping at slightly less than an hour of preaching.) She told me that with all the extras, which are added to her church’s worship services, there is only enough time for about a ten-minute message from the pastor.
I am thankful that this friend continues to listen to my long sermons, and actually seems to enjoy discussing them with me. Yet as a whole, I fear that we live in a time, when even the church-going people are starved for the word of God. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. (Amo 8:11)
As we consider that preaching is central to the New Testament worship service, let us interject the New Testament instructions that women are not allowed to teach, or preach, in the worship service. We look at a chapter where Paul is specifically teaching the proper behavior during a worship service, even when the whole church be come together into one place. (1Co 14:23) In this chapter, and in the context of how to properly behave in a worship service, Paul stated: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak. (1Co 14:34)
At first glance, Paul seems to be commanding women to maintain total silence in church. If this be the case, women could not sing, nor greet others upon arrival, nor whisper to a crying baby, nor speak a word in any way. Surely Paul does not teach total silence. The purpose and context of this Corinthian chapter is to teach the proper way to conduct a worship service, more specifically the proper way to prophesy (preach and teach) during the worship service. In the context of preaching and teaching during the church worship service, women are to be silent.
This idea of women not teaching in the church very much agrees with Paul’s words to Timothy: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1Ti 2:11-12) Here women are specifically barred from teaching men, and also from taking a role of authority over men. Come let us reason together. The New Testament recognizes that preachers have at least some level of authority over the churches that they serve. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. (Tit 2:15) [Emphasis added.] Thus if women are not allowed to have authority over men, and if the role of pastor includes rebuking with all authority, then the scriptures restrict women from fulfilling the New Testament requirements associated with being a pastor.
Furthermore, the New Testament recognizes only men, and not women, as bishops, or elders (the Bible’s words for preachers). A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…apt to teach. (1Ti 3:2) [Emphasis added.] Ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee, if any be blameless, the husband of one wife… (Tit 1:5-6) [Emphasis added.] Surely preachers are to come from among the husbands, and not from the wives.
Though the New Testament precludes women as preachers, it recognizes the importance of women in the church. Outside of the worship service, the older women are to teach the younger women. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women… (Tit 2:3-4) Young women are to guide the house, which means to teach the children in the home. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house… (1Ti 5:14) Women may prophesy (proclaim spiritual truths) outside the church worship service. The same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. (Act 21:9) The angel sent women to tell of Jesus’ resurrection. Go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead… (Mat 28:7) Jesus followed up with the same command to the women. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Mat 28:10) Women may even instruct a preacher concerning the truth of the gospel, but just not in the worship service. And he (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. (Act 18:26) [Emphasis added.]
Our last point is that the New Testament does not recognize segregation in the worship service. There is no scriptural basis for having separate places for different individuals who come to worship. The New Testament recognizes the church as one body. Now are they many members, yet but one body. (1Co 12:20) The New Testament acknowledges that at least some children have spiritual understanding. As soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. (Luk 1:44) Children praised Jesus in His day. The children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David… (Mat 21:15) Jesus proclaimed that the Father reveals His truths, even to babes. Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. (Mat 11:25) Jesus further said that the mouths of babies are able to praise God. Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? (Mat 21:16) (Surely I have heard babies singing along with other worshippers. They usually sing an extra note or two after the song ends, bringing smiles to all.)
The New Testament does not recognize excluding children from the worship service. Jesus said: Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 19:14) I know that having children in the worship service can be a struggle for moms and dads. Yet, should Christian parents deny their children the opportunities of hearing God’s word spoken by a God-gifted preacher? Let the same pastor teach the same things to the one body. Jesus said to the preacher: Feed my lambs… (Joh 21:15) Jesus said to the preacher: Feed my sheep. (Joh 21:16) Surely, Jesus’ intention was for the same God-called preacher to preach to the entire flock.
Primitive Baptists believe that Jesus’ church belongs to Jesus, and that Jesus’ church should ‘do church’ Jesus’ way. Let the simplicity of the gospel be proclaimed in a simple worship service, so that the full focus of the gospel, and of the full focus of the service, is only on Jesus.