Campbell and the Order of Worship
Campbell began a series of lessons on the order of worship, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things No. V,” by arguing that, logically, there must be a required order of worship from two premises —
The first is, either there is divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, or there is not. …
On the supposition that there is not, then the following absurdities are inevitable: There can be no disorder in the Christian assembly; there can be no error in the acts of social worship; there can be no innovation in the department of observances; there can be no transgression of the laws of the King. …
But, to make this matter evident to children as well as men, we will carry it a little farther. One society of disciples meets on the first day morning and they all dance till evening, under the pretext that this is the happiest way of expressing their joy, and when they have danced themselves down they go home. … Another society meets for worship, and they sing all day; another shouts all day; another runs as in a race all day; another lies prostrate on the ground all day; another reads all day; another hears one man speak all day; another sits silent all day; another waves palm branches all day; another cries in the forenoon and listens to the organ in the afternoon … .
Logical? Actually, no, it’s not. Read more closely. Why do we consider the absurd examples that Campbell gives absurd? What’s the problem with a church running in a race all day? Think about it.
Implicit in Campbell’s argument is the notion — a correct notion — that the assembly has a purpose and some activities violate that purpose. Racing does not fulfill the purpose that we intuitively know must be there. Just so, dancing seems absurd, not because it lacks authority under CENI, but because it doesn’t accomplish the purpose of the assembly.
And in that observation we see Campbell’s error. The dividing line isn’t between 5 acts of worship or no order of worship at all. The line is between activities that fulfill God’s purpose in calling us to assemble and activities that do not. And if we didn’t already realize that there’s a purpose that matters, Campbell’s argument wouldn’t even seem to work.
What’s the purpose? More importantly, where in the Bible are we plainly told the purposes of the assembly?
(Heb 10:23-25) Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What does the writer tell us? We assemble to —
- Help one another hold onto our hope
- Spur one another one to love and good deeds
- Encourage one another
These three should not be taken as independent. They overlap. We assemble to do things that we can’t do apart. And one of those things is help each other remain faithful. But being faithful includes living a life of love and good deeds. It’s a unity.
(1 Cor 14:3-4) But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is confronted with questions regarding how to conduct the assembly. May we prophesy? May we speak in tongues? Paul doesn’t compare the proposals against a short list of pre-approved “acts of worship.” Rather, he asks —
- Does it edify (build up) the church?
- Does it strengthen the church?
- Does it encourage the church?
- Does it comfort the church?
Later in the chapter, Paul also asks —
- Will it cause an unbeliever to glorify God?
And then Paul reasons that prophecy is permitted if done in an edifying way and not permitted if done in a non-edifying way. He concludes the same thing regarding tongues.
The question of authority and CENI never enters Paul’s discussion. His questions are pragmatic: do the proposed activities accomplish God’s purpose for the assembly?
Many activities are neither inherently edifying nor inherently non-edifying. Rather, human wisdom has to be used to plan activities to be edifying. Prophets shouldn’t interrupt each other. Prophets shouldn’t dominate the meeting. Tongue speakers should be translated. Paul prohibits conduct that would look crazy to an unbeliever.
We are blind to these conclusions because we come to the text asking the wrong question: Is it authorized by CENI? Paul doesn’t address that question because it’s the wrong question. The right question is: Does it fulfill the purpose for which we assemble?
Campbell then makes his second argument,
Our second position we hope to make appear equally strong and unassailable. Having now proved that there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, our second dilemma is, Either this Christian worship in Christian assemblies is uniformly the same, or it is not. …
[If] It is not uniformly the same. Then it is different. These differences are either limited or unlimited. If they are unlimited, then it is uniformly different; and what is uniformly different has no order, standard, or rule, and thus we are led to the same absurdities which followed from supposing there was no divinely authorized order of christian worship; for a worship uniformly different is a worship without order. But supposing that those differences are limited, those limitations must be defined or pointed out somewhere. But they are not.
Campbell’s argument proceeds by false dichotomy. Either worship is completely uniform or completely not uninform. Oh, please …
Again, the resolution to Campbell’s logical dilemma is found in God’s purpose in the assembly. If we honor the purposes for which we’re called, the assemblies may not be uniform, but neither will they be utterly without order. Rather, the “limitations” for which Campbell seeks are found in purpose. The assemblies may not be uniform but they’ll be uniformly edifying, comforting, encouraging, and strengthening — and pleasing to God.
Putting the assembly’s purpose at the forefront of our thought changes everything. Rather than worrying about whether a 6th acts slipped in there somewhere, we become concerned about whether our brothers and sisters have been edified and encouraged to love and good works. We become more concerned with getting the members to live as Christ would have us live rather than worship according to some pattern. We shift the focus from following Campbell’s studies in the Patristics and seriously flawed logic as pattern to following Jesus as pattern.