Are there Biblical guidelines for what a worship service should contain?
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 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. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.1 Corinthians 14:12-17
If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.1 Corinthians 14:23-25
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.1 Corinthians 14:26-40
The Bible never really gives us a strict service outline for the gathering of the Church, but 1 Corinthians 14 probably gives us the most guidelines. First, the gathering of the church is for the mutual edification of believers. We are gathered to encourage one another and build each other up in the faith. There will be unbelievers in our midst, but this gathering is primarily for believers. The idea of a Sunday morning evangelistic service is foreign to Scripture. Evangelistic services and meetings would not have been considered “worship services” by the early Church.
Perhaps the most striking thing in 1 Corinthians 14 is that the service is portrayed as having being much more of a group effort by the whole church rather than the leader/congregation model most churches employ. The congregation is supposed to say, “Amen” in agreement with the public prayers offered and offer up suggestions for music, doctrine, testimonies, etc. Even more shocking is that there is no “the sermon.” There is supposed to be two or three men speaking and the others are to give feedback and additional thoughts after these men speak.
Testimonies, congregational singing, and doctrinal explanations are supposed to be part of the service as well. The service is to be led by men in a language that the people can understand. If someone is speaking a different language, an interpreter should be present so that the church can be edified. Such a service could very easily descend into chaos, but a Biblical worship service will be conducted in a decent, orderly fashion.
Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.1 Corinthians 11:17-26
Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.1 Corinthians 11:33-34
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.Acts 20:7
The early church would also have a fellowship meal as part of the Lord’s Day gathering. This meal would conclude with the Lord’s Supper.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.1 Corinthians 16:1-2
The Lord’s Day gathering was also when tithes and offerings were collected. The Bible does not tell us how this is to be done. It could be done through the passing of a plate, or it could be done through a box in the back of the room.
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.Colossians 4:16
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.1 Timothy 4:13
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Philemon 1:1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.Ephesians 6:1
Part of the services would include the reading of letters from the Apostles and other Christians, letters of recommendation for membership, the reading of Scripture with explanation given, and teaching on doctrine. The services also included all people; there was no children’s church.