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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


ORDER--of the Church as respects Worship.

      The worship of false gods is a scene of superlative tumult, confusion, and disorder. So is much of the corrupt worship of some who acknowledge the only living and true God.

      In the antecedent economy the tabernacle and temple worship was a perfect model of good order. Every thing was done according to a divine pattern, which was itself an image of the perfect order of the Supreme Intelligence. So exact was the obedience required, even to the utmost minutia, that Moses and the Prophets used all diligence to have the people understand all its details. To this effect spake the Holy Spirit to Ezekiel--"Son of man, show the house to the house of Israel; and let them measure the pattern." "Show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the laws thereof; and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them."

      Such was the discipline of the Jewish institution as preparatory to the Christian age. Now as the Christian church is God's earthly house, it would be rationally and analogically expected that the worship of the Lord's day would be a display of the most rational and religious arrangement--a model, indeed, of the utility and beauty of perfect order. So sensitive was our Apostle Paul on this subject, that he besought the Gentile congregations to have "all things done decently and in order."

      The Apostle carries his ideas of decency to the minutia of a brother's uncovered head, and of a sister's veil; therefore, may we not infer that even the dress of Christians in the public assembly is either decent or indecent, according to the standard of Christian simplicity and decorum? If this be true of a Christian's dress, it is equally true of his manners. The dress and manners of God's house ought not to be after the model of the dress and manners of the forum, the theatre, or the carousals of a public entertainment.

      When the heirs of heaven present themselves in the presence of the Lord, and meet around that sacred board which commemorates the ignominy, reproach, and sufferings of him who redeemed them to God by offering up himself a sacrifice for their sins; that gaiety of dress and flippancy of manners, so fascinating amongst the sons and daughters of fashion, festivity, and song, are wholly indecent, in the good sense of all the admirers of the fitness of things, or of the innocence and simplicity which adorned the ancient Christians. [128]

      In the solemn assembly simplicity of dress and manners--gravity, sobriety, and serious cheerfulness, equidistant from the morose austerity of Pharisaic sanctity and the thoughtless gaiety of Sadducean levity, are essential elements of Christian decency and good order.

      But we must attend to good order as well as to decency. The congregation thus organized, with its bishops and deacons being assembled on the Lord's day, in all its movements ought never to lose sight of that dignity and decorum which accord with its high and holy relations to its exalted head. The church must view herself, if sincere in her professions, as "an habitation of God through the Spirit," as "the pillar and support of the truth," as "the temple of God," and as "the gate of heaven." Every one that speaks or acts must feel himself specially in the presence of the Lord, not as on other days or in other places. Not a thought must be entertained, not a word spoken, not an action performed, that would make the disciple blush, if the Lord Jesus was personally present. The Lord, indeed, "is in the midst of them" if they have met in his name and according to his word.

      We need not repeat what is so clearly written in all the addresses to the churches, that there are certain ordinances delivered to the church by her exalted Redeemer, which she is constantly to observe in all her meetings to worship him; that songs of praise, that prayers, supplications, and thanksgivings are to be preserved before the throne of grace, in the name of our great High Priest; that the Scriptures are to be read--that the word is to be inculcated, and exhortations tendered--that the Lord's death is to be commemorated--that the poor saints are to be remembered--and that discipline, when necessary, is to be attended to--are so fully and authoritatively delivered to us in the apostolic epistles, as to leave no doubt on the mind of any devoted and diligent disciple concerning the duties incumbent on every church.

      But at what hour of the day, and in what sort of a house, and how often on the Lord's day the church should assemble; and whether she should first pray, sing or read the Living Oracles; and at what period of her worship she should do this, or that, are matters left to the discretion of the brotherhood, and to that expediency which a thousand contingencies in human lot and circumstances must suggest, and for which no unchangeable ritual or formulary could possibly have been instituted. The Jews' religion was given and adapted to one nation, whose temple was fixed in Jerusalem; but Christianity is designed for all nations, and is adapted to all the varieties of human circumstances, from east to west, and from pole to pole.

      Whether, then, the church shall meet once, twice, or thrice on the Lord's day; and at what hours, and how long she shall continue each meeting; whether she shall sing first or pray first; whether she shall [129] commemorate the Lord's death in the morning, at noon, or in the evening, etc., etc., must be decided by the voice of the brethren. But that all the ordinances shall be solemnly attended to, and that perfect order shall be preserved in all her worship, are matters clearly and positively propounded and enjoined.

      The members of a church, when strangers are present, should always, if possible, sit together during their meetings for worship. It is impossible to preserve good order through the day if they are dispersed among strangers or occasional visitors.

      In attending upon the supper, which is the great ordinance of the day of the Resurrection, every previous arrangement to avoid distraction to those who minister to the brethren, should be made. The disciples in this our day are very generally culpably deficient in this essential point of order. Sometimes they are so scattered over the house, as to occasion great embarrassment to wait upon them; and, indeed, on this account, are sometimes passed by. At no other eating or social repast is there so much disorder as we often witness in the Lord's house. Who on any other occasion of social eating would place himself at a distance from the guests, as if to give trouble to those who minister?

      Kneeling in prayer is always to be preferred, if it can be made convenient. Standing up in the celebration of praise is more rational and Scriptural than sitting, especially in the solemn and social hymns and songs which are sung by all the congregations.

      The Scriptures should always be read with all possible accuracy, distinctness, emphasis, and solemnity. Every disciple should carry his book to the School of Christ, and use it in all the readings and references.

      Every one that addresses another, whether in salutation, in the way of inquiry, or exhortation, should do it in the most affectionate manner. No indication of levity, of passion, or bad feeling is to be tolerated in the house of God. Laughing in the church is most disorderly. Jests, witticisms, and tart replies are not to be endured. No person in discussion is authorized to impugn the motives of another. Debates, whether on doctrine, or discipline, or decorum, are not admissible in a worshipping assembly. Gravity, sincerity, and profound reverence for the divine name are to be conspicuous in every disciple. Speaking fast in the church is most uncomely: so is muttering and low speaking.1 The names, attributes, and words of God are not to [130] be spoken or pronounced as the common expletives of language.

      No business pertaining to this life, however connected with the church, is to be attended to at the hours for worship. Special meetings, either on the Lord's day, or on other days, ought to be called for matters purely temporal, however intimately allied to the prosperity of the church. "There is a time for every purpose and for every work;" and every thing is beautiful and orderly at that time, but at no other. So common sense and all the fundamental principles of Christianity, in our judgment, decrees.

      The edification and comfort of the brotherhood; their growth in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord; their increase in knowledge of things divine, spiritual, and eternal--in faith, in love, in hope, and in spiritual joy, are the points to be kept supremely in view in all the business of the Lord's day in the Lord's house. There are some very small matters, and even some of these already noted are so small as to, be almost beneath the dignity of our subject; yet as much of the comfort and improvement of the brotherhood depends upon them, we must, however undignified they may by some be regarded, condescend to notice them.

      To be habitually late in attending the appointments of the brethren, is most indecorous; and, except in cases of sickness, to withdraw from any meeting before the final amen, is a violation of the most obvious rules of good order. Next to those who permit barking and fighting dogs and screaming children to torment the audience, I know of none more obnoxious to censure than those disturbers of the peace, who are ever and anon on foot, going out and coming in, as if to arrest attention, or disturb the speaker and the audience. These, and they who whisper and mutter to their companions while one is addressing the audience, except on some paramount occasion, belong to the first class of transgressors of the plainest principles of good education and good order. Such persons have as little respect for the credit of their parents and tutors as they have for their own reputation, and ought to be publicly reproved by every good bishop. For ourselves, in twenty-five years we have had but once to reprove an unfriendly alien for rudeness in a public assembly; but we have witnessed many occasions, not only amongst aliens, but friends, and, with shame be it recorded, sometimes amongst brethren, which called for the sharpest rebukes which Christian love authorizes.

      At the close of all social prayers the whole congregation that unites in the petitions, should, like the primitive Christians say, with an audible and clear voice, Amen. This is of more importance to the animation and devotion of the social worship than most Christians seem to think. Among the Jews, on all great occasions of public and solemn petition or thanksgiving, the whole congregation said with a [131] loud voice, Amen! Paul intimates that every private person in the primitive church was to say amen at the end of all petitions and thanksgivings expressed in the public assembly.2 Every one feels the value of the signs of sympathy and fellow feeling, of union, harmony, and love at some time of his life; and in the Christian church every one feels the power of all the signs of fellowship and accord which indicate that unity of spirit, of desire, and aim--the very essence of social worship--without which all the forms of Christian communion are a dead letter.

[A. C.]      

      1 Some speak so loud as if they regarded loud sound as great sense; always on the top of their voice, regardless of the number or distance of their auditors. But there are others that mutter and whisper, especially their prayers, as if they were ashamed to be heard. Even in giving thanks at table, they speak so low, and so fast, as if resolved that their next neighbor should not know whether to say Amen. This is most uncourteous and uncomely. [130]
      2 I. Cor. xiv. 16, 17. [132]

      Alexander Campbell. "Order of the Church as Respects Worship." The Millennial Harbinger Extra 6
(October 1835): 507-511.


[MHA2 128-132]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)