Participation in worship
Should we encourage large-scale congregational participation in public worship?
By large-scale congregational participation in worship I understand such things as Scripture reading by lay-persons, perhaps even preaching at times, prayer being led by women and such things that are common in charismatic circles today.
Certainly the service should be oriented towards the edification and spiritual growth and comfort of the people. The elders should see that the saints gathered together are being fed and led in a proper way to worship God.
But this does not mean delegating certain duties to members which should be handled by the leaders. Leaders are there to lead, because God ordains them, and are furnished with the appropriate gifts and abilities. They should determine from Scripture where and to what extent the congregation should actively and vocally participate in worship.
For instance, in singing I am convinced that the whole congregation should join in, men, women, and children. This is the right and privilege of every Christian. Choirs should be abolished. They have no biblical precedent or example. The levitical singing in the Old Testament is superseded by the larger privilege in the New Testament of every believer being a priest unto God. Ephesians, Colossians and James 5 all indicate that every Christian is to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In attempting to have regular times for solos or giving an opportunity for people to get "up front" for whatever reason backfires on the very idea of community worship, for then the soloist becomes "an actor" and the congregation "an audience."
As for Scripture reading, even the way Scripture is read, the nuances in pronunciation, the pauses, the speed, etc., all involve some interpretation, and sometimes it is mandatory for the reader to pause and explain briefly some word or words which without explanation would make it difficult for the hearer to understand. Thus I think the reading should be handed by qualified men, even perhaps one or other of the elders.
Prayer is usually led by the pastor, but room should be given for men in the congregation to lead in prayer too. I think it is too restrictive to reserve prayer for the pastor alone. Mature men may, after standing up, lead in prayer too.
The preaching of the Word is to be reserved to the pastor, who is set apart for this very purpose, studying it and making it his aim to present it without adulteration to God's people.
Having said all this, it does not mean that the congregation is largely passive. Not at all! In hearing the Word read and preached, they are active enough; you need concentration and an attentive mind to listen, and in listening you would be listening to the Word of God. How we need that!