Do we need it today?
Emmaus Home Bible Studies
© Emmaus Correspondence School, New Zealand.
What is Open Worship?
Open worship is worship that is open to be led by the Holy
Spirit working through different members of the group. There
is no pre-arranged human leader.
The Holy Spirit may prompt members of the group to lead in
prayer, Bible reading, Bible teaching, encouragement,
personal testimony, spiritual songs and in other ways. In
effect, there are many worship leaders.
The balance of activities will vary according to the
circumstances. For instance if the purpose of the gathering is
to remember the Lord in the Breaking of Bread, then the
emphasis will be on the Lord Jesus rather than on our own
personal experience or testimony.
Unfortunately the practice of open worship is declining. Many
churches have never had open worship in their gatherings,
and in others open worship is gradually being replaced by
pre-planned worship led by skilled "worship leaders".
There seem to be several reasons for the decline of open
Open worship is not taught or encouraged. This is
probably the main reason for the decline of open
worship. If believers are to engage in effective open
worship they must understand the biblical principles on
which open worship is based. They must also know
how to prepare for open worship and what is expected
in open worship. Open worship should be taught at all
levels within the church to both young and old.
Lack of spiritual preparation. Believers must spend
time with the Lord during the week if they are to be
used by the Holy Spirit to lead others in worship.
Effective open worship requires individual spiritual
preparation. Unless believers are "in the Spirit on the
Lord's day" they cannot be expected to lead open
worship in an acceptable fashion.
The growth of professionalism. There is a major
increase in professionalism in the churches. There are
professional preachers, professional pastors,
professional counsellors, professional worship leaders
and numerous other professionals associated with
Open worship may sometimes seem to be amateur
and sub-standard, as it is not led by professionals.
However the promotion of professionalism can be just
another way of creating an unscriptural laity/clergy
distinction in the church.
Professionalism may also remove the need for the
Holy Spirit to work in the lives of ordinary believers as
all the "hard bits" are done for them by professionals.
Professionalism can result in a disempowering of the
average believer and a lack of vitality in the church.
The apparent lack of Biblical guidance. Some people
say that "open worship" is not taught in the Bible.
They say that the New Testament is unclear about the
form of worship used in the early church, and
consequently we are free to organise worship any way
we like. However we will see that this is far from the
What the Bible teaches
A careful study shows that open worship is very much in tune
with Biblical teaching, and it was almost certainly one of the
reasons for the overwhelming vitality of the early church.
Consider the following points:
1. The New Testament teaches that every believer
(man, woman or child) is a priest and is to offer up
2. There is no indication in the New Testament that
some believer-priests are more highly qualified than
others to offer spiritual sacrifices!
3. The only special class of priest specified in the
New Testament is the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the
only High Priest.
4. There is no distinction in the New Testament
between clergy and laity - or between ordained and
non-ordained believers. If every believer is a priest -
as is clearly taught in the New Testament - then every
believer is automatically a member of the clergy! This
means that any clergy-laity distinction has no Biblical
5. There is only one distinction made in Scripture
between the priestly roles of believers. This is the
distinction between the priestly roles of men and
women when the church is gathered for corporate
worship. The leadership of worship through the
spoken word is a priestly role of the male priests. 
6. To put any one person (whether ordained or
otherwise) in a position between a group of believers
and their God is to deny every believer's right of direct
access to the High Priest.
7. From chapters 11-14 of Paul's first letter to the
Corinthians we learn that:
There were many worship leaders in early
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come
together, each of you has a psalm, has a
teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has
an interpretation. Let all things be done for
There was no one specially appointed worship
leader. There is no reference anywhere in the
New Testament to worship being led by a
specially qualified or selected worship leader.
Although this is an argument from silence, it
has weight, because if worship leaders had
the prominence then that they have today, it is
reasonable to expect that they would be
The worship was not planned in advance.
There is no indication in Scripture that worship
was pre-planned. It might be argued that
planning can be under the direction of the
Holy Spirit, and of course this is true.
However there is no evidence that the early
church pre-planned their worship. Pre-
planning worship may prevent the Holy Spirit
from speaking through members of the group
who have not been included in the plan.
8. Although Paul had many things to criticise about
the way the Corinthian church worshiped he did not
criticise their practice of open worship.
9. There is no mention of a special spiritual gift for
leading worship in any of the lists of spiritual gifts.
Worship leaders have great influence in the church
today. Some are famous for their ability to induce
what is thought by some to be "a spirit of worship".
In many churches this leadership role is probably
more important than that of other leadership roles
such as elders or pastors, as it directly influences the
worship of the whole church.
If special worship leaders had existed in the early
church, there would have been a special "gift of the
Spirit" available for them in their unique and
important role of leading others to God in worship.
10. There is no special qualification for elders or
deacons to enable them to lead the church in
worship. If church officials or leaders were meant to
have a special role leading the worship of the church,
we would expect that some special qualification
would be mentioned in the lists of qualifications of
elders and deacons. Perhaps "able to lead
worship" - but no such qualification is mentioned in
The practice of open worship has a strong biblical basis and
should be actively taught and encouraged in the church.
Anything less than open worship is a denial of the doctrine
of the priesthood of all believers, and may mean that the
desire of the Holy Spirit to lead God's people in worship is
impeded. It may also result in the creation of a virtual
clergy/laity distinction that is totally foreign to the New
Testament. This leads to a lack of spiritual vitality in the
church as believers are dis-empowered and cease to
function in the way God intended.
As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
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. And whatever you
do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord
Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through
Lindsay Smith 23/3/02
Gary Inrig. Life in His Body. Harold Shaw Publishers 1975.
James H. Rutz. The Open Church. The SeedSowers 1992.
 Rev. 1:10
 1 Peter 2:5-9 Rev. 1:6.
 1 Peter 2:5.
 Heb. 4:14.
 1 Cor. 14:34,35 1Tim. 2:8, 11,12 This is not a popular
distinction today, however it is taught in Scripture. It applies
only when the local church is gathered with both men and
women present. It is a distinction of role, not a distinction of
status. In Christ, all men and women are of equal status,
 1 Cor. 14:26.
 Rom. 12:3-8 1 Cor. 12-14 Eph. 4:7-16 1 Pet. 4:10,11.
 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Tit. 1:5-9 Acts 20:28 1 Tim. 3:1-13.
 Col. 3:16, 17.