Hard line Churches of Christ from the Restoration Movement (about 10% to 20% of Churches of Christ) have theology that is based on the belief that all the early churches recorded in the New Testament writings adhered to a rigid worship format that was standardized across all congregations. No variation from this format was tolerated according to this belief. Furthermore Churches of Christ interpret phrases in the scriptures like “obeying Christ”, “the sound doctrine”, “the pattern of sound teaching” and “pleasing to God” as adhering to the congregational worship formats:
2. singing (a capella only)
3. giving money (Sunday only)
4. praying, and
5. eating the Lord’s Supper (Sunday only)
The idea that all the congregations had a standardized worship format is reinforced by the observation that the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have standardized worship services, prescribing when to stand, kneel, pray, sing, respond, cross yourself, shake your neighbor’s hand, and take communion.
But proving that all the congregations recorded in the New Testament were supposed to adhere to a standardized worship format is not easily proven. In fact I would put forth the idea that there were no standardized worship format rules in the early church. And the only time worship formats are mentioned in the New Testament writings they are mentioned either as incidental to the story being told, or they are mentioned because people were becoming selfish in the way they were worshipping, losing the focus of God and love as the center of worship.
Because the church at Ephesus “broke bread” together on one Sunday of one week, that means to the hard line Churches of Christ that the “oft” Jesus commanded implied that all the early churches took the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Because the apostle Paul commanded the Ephesians and Colossians to sing and make melody in the heart, only the instruments of the voice and the heart are permitted, no other instruments of music are permitted in the hard line Churches of Christ. These rules are baffling to those who are not privy to the premise the Churches of Christ bring to the New Testament writings: all worship and organization must be standardized and authorized in the New Testament writings.
In the Law of Moses there are clearly laid out rules about the feast days (like the Passover) and how God wanted to be worshipped at the tabernacle: sacrifice a cow, cut it open like this, lay it out like that upon the burning altar, eat the cow while standing in front of the tabernacle gate, etc. In the New Testament writings there is no such format laid out. In fact it seems to me like some of the writers of the letters to the churches might be surprised that their letters made it into the canon of the Christian Bible. If they had known they were going to be read for 2,000 years they might have made a couple of things clearer. Even the Jews when they came up with the synagogue system, had very little to go on in coming up with a format for their meetings. (The oldest excavated synagogue building dates to 150 BCE.) There is no “authorization” for the synagogue in the Bible comparable to the way the hard line Churches of Christ demand authorization for corporate worship practices. There is no “authorization” for appointing elders in each synagogue, and there is no authorization for how to format the worship service of the synagogue. The Jews who were in captivity in Babylonian (597 – 538 BCE) just decided to build their own synagogues to preserve and teach their beliefs while in a strange land. And they brought the synagogue system back with them when they returned to Jerusalem years later.
The fact that most of the early church probably co-opted the worship and organizational format of the synagogue never seems to have crossed the minds of the hard line Churches of Christ. Instead there was a diligent searching of the New Testament letters to piecemeal a rigidly legislated format and organization together: elders and deacons, five acts of worship.
But that is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught about fasting, praying, giving to the poor, paying taxes, loving your neighbor, obeying Moses, avoiding hypocrisy, attitudes toward money, sex, power and forgiveness. He taught against praying for show in the synagogue and striving to sit in the seats of honor at the synagogues. He even talked about taking a brother before the congregation (synagogue) if you had a problem with him/her. He asked his disciples to remember him as often as they ate the bread and drank the cup. Other than that Jesus was not interested in the organization of the early church, or the worship format of the early church.
So if we were to truly imitate Jesus we also would not be interested in the worship format or the organization of the early church. Jesus was largely anarchic: ignoring the power structures of his day. Yes, he said to give to the social structures what was their due, but he also ignored the religious rulers and the social rules of his day, cleansing the temple even in the face of the temple police guard, and accusing the temple rulers of making it a den of thieves. When he was kicked out of all the synagogues, he just kept on teaching what he believed right up until his government killed him.
So the hard line Churches of Christ have taken the opposite tack: never oppose the government (except when the government takes our hard earned tax dollars and feeds the poor with it), but insist on a rigid organizational and worship format for the congregation. This is the opposite of what Jesus did and taught in his life.