What does the New Testament say that churches should do when they gather?
The New Testament says that when churches gather they should read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible.
- Read the Bible: Paul told Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). Churches should read Scripture, out loud, in their gatherings.
- Preach the Bible: Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul himself declared “the whole counsel of God” to the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:27). Church gatherings today should center on sermons that take the main point of a passage of Scripture, make it the main point of the sermon, and apply it to life today.
- Pray the Bible: Paul urges that prayers be made in the gathered church (1 Tim. 2:8, 3:14-15). The content of these prayers should be biblical in order to edify all present (1 Cor. 14:12, 26). This doesn’t mean that the prayers in a church service should be dry and formal, but they should be biblically rich.
- Sing the Bible: Paul told the church in Colossae, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). This doesn’t mean that churches should sing only Psalms or only the words of the Bible, but it does mean that churches should sing songs that are soaked in the language and theology of the Bible.
- See the Bible: We say “see the Bible” because the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are, to use Augustine’s phrase, “visible words.” In baptism and the Lord’s Supper we see, smell, touch, and taste the Word. Christian churches should celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper during their gathered, public services (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
(This material has been adapted from Ligon Duncan’s chapter, “Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, ed. Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W.H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan, III [Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Co., 2003], pages 65-68)