Leading in Worship

Who, then, is authorized to represent the congregation in corporate worship?

One of the most serious crises facing the church today is the role of men and women in the life of the congregation. On the one hand, there are those who believe that women should have the right to read Scripture or lead in prayer in public worship—some even asserting that women should have the right to deliver exhortations in the public assembly—while, on the other hand, there are those who say that only the minister should lead in worship. In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul gives clear instruction on this matter, as he discusses the role of men and women in corporate worship.

 

Because of the corporate nature of public worship, its leadership is to be representative, namely, one person acts on behalf of all. Many aspects of worship, like singing and reading or reciting the confessions, are done by all. Other times, when the leader prays, he forms words for all. Who, then, is authorized to represent the congregation in corporate worship?

ROLES IN WORSHIP — I Timothy 2:8-15

One of the most serious crises facing the church today is the role of men and women in the life of the congregation. On the one hand, there are those who believe that women should have the right to read Scripture or lead in prayer in public worship—some even asserting that women should have the right to deliver exhortations in the public assembly—while, on the other hand, there are those who say that only the minister should lead in worship. In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul gives clear instruction on this matter, as he discusses the role of men and women in corporate worship.

The Role of Men in Corporate Worship

The Requirement for Male Leadership (v. 8)
In verse 8, the apostle addresses the role of men in corporate worship: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” We rightly infer from verse 1 of 1 Timothy 2 that the term prayer may refer to the work of the church in corporate worship. The context enforces this interpretation. In verses 1-7, he addresses the church with respect to her concern for the world. This concern will be expressed in corporate prayer. In verses 9-11, he deals with women, primarily in the context of corporate worship. (Compare his command in verse 11 with 1 Corinthians 14:33, 34.)

Moreover, his use of the phrase “every place” would suggest that he means in all the places where the church assembles for worship; when the church meets to offer prayers of entreaty, supplication, thanksgiving, praise, and adoration in corporate worship (See 1 Corinthians 4:17; 11:16; 14:33.).
He begins with an apostolic injunction, “I want.” This construction—that is, the verb want or will followed by an infinitive — in this case, the verb to pray — is used in Scripture to indicate an apostolic commandment. (See 1 Timothy 5:14; Philippians 1:12.) Therefore, in every place where the church gathers for worship, the men are to lead.

Is it, however, the work of all men? By implication, the answer is no. It is the work of a special group of men. First, they must be approved men. Otherwise, how else will it be determined whether they possess the character mentioned at the end of the verse: “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension”?

By the first term “holy,” Paul refers to the character of the one who leads in worship. He uses hands as a figure of speech for character. Our hands often are the agents of good or evil. Therefore, the Bible uses hands to describe holiness. For example, the psalmist answers the question — “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His Holy Place?”— with the description— “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3, 4; cf. 26:6). The part is representative of the whole. Hence, the holy hands lifted in prayer is a figure of speech used to indicate the requirement that the man who leads the people of God in worship must be a man who is characterized by holiness. The psalmist emphasizes the importance of this injunction in Psalm 66:18: “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Therefore, if the ungodly are offering prayers on behalf of the congregation, their worship will be hindered.

Paul mentions two things pastorally about the man who leads in worship: he is to be “without wrath and dissension.” He must be a gentle man. The term “wrath” refers to unbridled anger. The man who leads must be gentle, a tender shepherd, who bears long with the congregation.

The word translated “dissension” may mean either doubting or disputatious, and both would be very appropriate here. James instructs us that we are not to pray doubting, wavering in unbelief (1:6). Paul, however, uses the term to mean disputatious, one who is always arguing. Perhaps he has in mind the false teachers (1:6; 6:4). There must be a bond of sympathy between the congregation and the one who leads them in worship. He cannot be a wrathful or a disputatious man, because there will be those in the congregation whom he has alienated by his pugnacious spirit. If he is quick to wrath, he will create a barrier between those for whom he speaks and himself. If he is constantly disputing, he loses the confidence of those whom he leads.

Again, this requirement reminds us why the one who leads in worship is to be ordained or, at least, approved by the session or presbytery. He must be a holy man. Paul will expand on the character of church leaders in the next chapter, but, obviously, the one who leads in worship must be examined with respect to his character. (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.)

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