By J. Matthew Pinson
Free Will Baptists have always believed in freedom, simplicity and order in worship, in worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. Thus we have been opposed to the employment of set forms and liturgies, as well as to undue emotionalism, in worship.
While some Free Will Baptists have expressed themselves in worship in a more emotional way, and some in a less emotional way—and while we have given each other that freedom—we have always agreed in our belief in the freedom, simplicity and order of Christian worship.
This belief arises from our concern to be as close to the New Testament as we can. While some denominations believe it is proper to add to the New Testament picture of Christian worship, Free Will Baptists see no need and believe they are on safer ground to imitate the New Covenant worship exemplified in the ministry of Christ and His Apostles.
In this, we agreed with the Anabaptists, who in the 16th century sought to rid themselves of the accretions of extra-biblical tradition over the centuries. Since they acknowledged that the Bible was the only rule of the faith and practice of the church, they thought that it was best, therefore, to attempt to stay as close as they could to what they saw in the New Testament about worship. Our forefathers agreed.
Free Will Baptists have looked to the ministry of Christ, with His unencumbered and unceremonious mode of teaching and worship, which strikes the reader of the Gospels with a singular simplicity and spontaneity. We have also looked to the ministry of the Apostles and their early New Testament churches characterized by a pure and simple freedom and congregational participation in worship balanced by a sense of sincerity and order and a lack of confusion (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:26-33).
Free Will Baptists believe it incumbent upon them to try to emulate this mode of worship. Thus we have shied away from liturgical forms that would make worship a rote practice, hinder the free moving of the Spirit of God, and obstruct the clear communication of the Word.
We find no need to improve upon the scriptural example, and thus have avoided adding our own renovations or refinements to it, as had been done by the Roman Catholic Church as well as some Protestant churches. As one of our English forefathers, Thomas Grantham, said,
It cannot be supposed that the Apostles (or however Christ Himself) would leave the churches without necessary instruction, how to perform this great duty; which they press with Greatest vehemency. . . . Yet we find no such forms or liturgies instituted by them, nor to be instituted by others in pursuance of any trust reposed in any of their successors by them.
By the same token, we have avoided too much emotion. While Free Will Baptists have placed great value on the role of emotion in Christian worship, we have sought not to give it such a place that it could lead to confusion and hinder the worship of God, but have sought to worship “decently and in order,” as the Apostle Paul instructed.
The emphasis of the Apostle was always on rationality and intelligibility in worship-in allowing the unfettered Word to work, by the power of the Spirit, in the minds and hearts of worshippers. Paul saw that freedom and simplicity need not be accompanied by a feelings-based worship which would guide our raw instincts with pure emotion, but rather is most truly characterized by the Word-directed mind and heart responding in worship to God the Creator, Redeemer and Preserver.
Free Will Baptists also see that, even after the death of the Apostles and the writing of the New Testament, the earliest Christians worshiped in the same spirit seen in the New Testament. And while this is not authoritative for them, they believe it further confirms the picture they see in the New Testament.
We do not always emulate as we should the pattern of worship we see in the New Testament. Yet we believe that if we seek to emulate this pattern which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to put before us, we will truly be able to worship God in Spirit and in Truth, thereby learning more of the grace of God in Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit, and most of all giving glory to God almighty.
About the Writer: Dr. J. Matthew Pinson is the president of Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee. Article adapted from Contact magazine, January 1995.