[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]

WE shall now inquire what was the ancient order of worship in the Christian church. Preparatory to this it may be expedient to consider whether there be any divinely authorized worship in the assembly of saints. As this is a theme of great importance, and of much difficulty with some, we shall bestow, some attention to it. And in the first instance we shall attempt to demonstrate from rational principles, that there is a divinely instituted worship for the assemblies of the disciples. In order to do this as convincingly as possible, and to circumscribe the arena of conjecture, we shall take but two positions, which we hope to hold as impregnable fortresses against all assault. These we shall exhibit in the form of dilemmas. The first is, either there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, or there is not. This every man must admit, or cease to be a man. Now to remove all ambiguity from the terms of this dilemma, we shall explicitly state that, by a Christian assembly, we mean a congregation or assembly of disciples meeting in one place for social worship. The day agreed upon by Christians for this meeting is the first day of every week. The authority that ordains this day we have already noticed in this work, and it is not now a subject of inquiry. It is also unnecessary to our present purpose, inasmuch as this day is agreed upon by all Christians, with the exception of some Sabbatarians, for whose consideration we have something to say at another time. By the phrase, “order of Christian worship,” we do not mean the position of the bodies of the worshippers, nor the hour of the day in which certain things are to be done, nor whether one action shall be always performed first, another always second, and another always third, &c. &c. though in these there is an order which is comely, apposite, or congruous with the genius of the religion, and concerning which some things are said by the apostles; and, perhaps, even in some respects, these things may be determined with certainty as respects the practice of the first congregations of disciples; but that there are certain social acts of Christian worship, all of which are to be attended to in the Christian assembly, and each of which is essential to the perfection of the whole as every member of the human body is essential to the perfect man–is that which we wish to convey by the phrase, “order of Christian worship.” These remarks may suffice in the mean time to prevent misapprehensions; but in the prosecution of our inquiries every ambiguity will be completely removed. We shall now repeat the first position we have taken–either there is a 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. Far these reasons, viz. where there is no order established there can be no disorder, for disorder is acting contrary to established order; where there is no standard there can be no error, for error is a departure or a wandering from a standard; where there is nothing fixed there can be no innovation, for to innovate is to introduce new things amongst those already fixed and established; and where there is no law there can be no transgression, for a transgression is a leaping over or a violating of legal restraints. Those, then, who contend that there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, do at the same time, and must inevitably maintain, that there is no disorder, no error, no innovation, no transgression in the worship of the Christian church–no, nor ever can be. This is reducing one side of the dilemma to what may be called a perfect absurdity.

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. Now in this there is no disorder, error, innovation, or transgression, for there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship. The reader will observe that we do not suppose human laws or regulations of any consequence in this matter. Men may regulate the worship they require for themselves and for one another; and in relation to those regulations there may be disorder, error, innovation, and transgression. But as none but the Lord can prescribe or regulate the worship due to himself and profitable to us; so, if he have done it, human regulations are as vain and useless as attempts to prevent the ebbing of the sea or the waxing and waning of the moon. But to proceed: 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; and it is all equally right, lawful, orderly, and acceptable; for there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship. We are then, on the principles of reason, constrained to abandon this side of the dilemma, and give up the hypothesis that there is no divinely authorized order of Christian worship. Now as one of the only two supposable cases must be abandoned, it follows by undeniable consequence, that there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies.

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. To clear this position of ambiguity, it will be observed that we speak of the assembling of the disciples on the day agreed upon for the purpose of social worship, and that the same acts of religious worship are to be performed on every first day in every assembly of disciples, or they are not. If the same acts of worship, or religious ordinances, or observances, be attended to in every assembling of the saints, then their worship is uniformly the same; but if not, then it is not uniformly the same. The position we again repeat, this exposition being given, Either the christian worship in christian assemblies is uniformly the same, or it is not.

We shall follow the same method of demonstration as in the preceding dilemma. We shall take the last of the only two supposable cases and try its merits. 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. Now differences that are no where limited or pointed out are unlimited, and consequently may be carried ad infinitum, which is to say there is no order appointed, and thus we are again encompassed with the same absurdities.

To level this to every apprehension, it may be remarked that the worship of the Jews, though divinely authorized, was not uniformly the same. The worship at the feast of Tabernacles, at Pentecost, at the Passover, and in different seasons of the year, and even of the Moon, varied from what was attended to on ordinary occasions. These varieties and differences were pointed out in their standard of worship. But no such varieties are pointed out, no such differences are ordained in any part of the standard of christian worship. Yet we find amongst the professed christians as great variety existing as amongst the Jews–though with this difference, that divine authority ordained the one, and human authority the other. The worship of a class meeting, of a camp-meeting, of a monthly concert, of an association, of a sacramental occasion, of a preparation, and of an “ordinary Sabbath,” differ as much as the Jewish Passover, Pentecost, annual atonement, or daily sacrifice. Now there were in the Jewish state solid and substantial reasons for all these varieties, but in the christian state there is no reason for any variety. The changing types of the Jews religion have received their consummation, and now there exists at all times the same reasons for the same observances. There is no reason why a society of disciples should commemorate the death or resurrection of Jesus on one first day more than another. All the logic and philosophy of the age, as well as the New Testament, fails in producing one reason. He that invents or discovers it, has discovered a new principle. But we are only establishing or demonstrating on rational principles that the worship of a christian assembly is uniformly the same, and the method we have chosen is that of supposing the contrary and reducing the hypothesis to an absurdity, or a series of absurdities. In brief, the sum of our remarks on this position is, that if the worship of the christian church is not uniformly the same, then it is either occasionally or uniformly different. If uniformly different, then there is no established order, as proved in the first dilemma; and if occasionally different, there must be some reason for these varieties; but no reason exists, therefore a difference without reason is irrational and absurd. It follows then that there is a divinely authorized order of christian worship in christian assemblies, and that this worship is uniformly the same, which was to be demonstrated on principles of reason.

These positions are capable of rational demonstration on other grounds than those adopted; but this plan was preferred because it was the shortest, and, as we supposed, the most convincing.

This is only preparative or introductory to the essays which are to follow upon the ancient worship of the christian church. We are hastening through the outlines and shall fill up the interior after we have given an essay on each of the following topics. They continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine–in breaking of bread–in fellowship–in prayers–praising God. As we have paid more attention in the general to the apostles’ doctrine than to the other items, our next essays will be on the breaking of bread, the fellowship, and prayers of the primitive church.

Hoping that the christian reader will bring all things to the test, and hold fast that which is good, we bid him adieu for the present.