Relevance and Preference or Reverence and Prescription: The Posture of True Worship

One of the quickest ways to get “Christians” arguing with one another, accusing one another, and ultimately writing one another off is to talk about worship style. One person believes he may worship in whatever way seems best to him, while another only wants to worship by singing hymns, and others still meet in the middle with a praise band, or choir. Some calk this issue up to nothing more than the popular cliché, “to each their own”, but really they don’t believe that. This is exemplified in the truthfulness of the opening statement, namely that fighting and name-calling begin when one’s preferred worship style is condemned. What is it that should determine the way we worship? Relevance or reverence? Preference or prescription?

The first thing to establish is Christ’s rule and ownership over the Church. Acts 20:28 tells us very plainly the Church is not independent of God, but rather it is owned by God, for He purchased it with His own blood, hence the reference to Christ, being God the Son, shed His blood to purchase the Church for Himself. Contrary to popular belief, the teaching of Scripture does not present the Church as a building, a social club, a group of “believing” guys hanging out on the lake, a business or a theater, but it is a people. It is the called out assembly of God, those who have been called effectually by His grace, called out from the world and separated wholly unto Christ as His possession, the prize for which He died, and assembled together in the congregation, united into one body, one people. This Church, this assembly, this people, belong to Christ. He has said as much in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church”. Therefore, principal number one, Christ owns the Church. As the owner of the Church, Christ has a unique relationship to the Church, typified in the following ways in Scripture:

    • A Body – Christ the Head (Ephesians 4:1-16)
    • A Building – Christ the Builder, and the Cornerstone in the Foundation  (Ephesians 2:11-22)
    • A Sheepfold – Christ the Shepherd (John 10:1-18)
    • Branches – Christ the Vine (John 15:1-11)
    • Bride – Christ the Groom (Ephesians 5:22-32)
    • Temple – Christ the High Priest, and God of the Temple (1 Corinthians 3:10-22 / Hebrews 2:10-18)

All of these relationships hold up one great truth: the relationship of Christ to the Church is one of authority.

At this point, many people agree. However, it is over the rule Christ has given to the Church to govern her over which people disagree. Again, shall we be guided by relevance or reverence, preference or prescription?

We read very clearly that Jesus is going to build His church. There is certainty, absoluteness, confidence. However, the Bible does not stop there; there is more revelation. In Ephesians 2, we read that the Church will be built, “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”. What does the phrase “apostles and prophets” point to? Scripture. What is the foundation of the revelation of Scripture? Christ Himself. Scripture then, is the rule over the Church. It is the guide for how Christ has established His Church to function in every way, including worship!

We have heard the testimony of Scripture telling us the foundation upon which the Church will be built is Scripture alone, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone; the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture alone come together and form the foundation upon which the Church is built. We have heard the the promise of Jesus Himself, that He will build His Church, and nothing, not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. There is a certainty to the Church, not because of our methods, or style, or gifts, but because the promise of Christ we know the Church will be built. We have also considered the relationship of the Church to Christ in the various pictures given in Scripture to help us understand what the Church is like. With all of this in mind we move on now to consider the posture of worship.

The writer of Hebrews proclaims these words:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:18-29.

As we approach this passage, we notice the theme of the passage is the severity of God, and worship. It begins with the picture of the severity of God in giving the Law on Mt. Sinai. As the congregation of God’s people is completely isolated from the rest of the world, in the desert, God gives them the revelation of His law. The passage describes this experience in words like: a blazing fire, darkness, gloom, tempest, the sound of a trumpet. Indeed, so severe the hearers begged to be free from hearing it any longer. So serious was this encounter with the Living God, the command was given if even an animal touches the mountain, stone it to death. So serious, that Moses trembled with fear! How’s that for a worship experience? Verse 22, begins with a contrast, namely that through Christ, we don’t come to Mt Sinai any more, we come to Mt. Zion, the city of the Living God, to the assembly, to the festal gathering, to God the judge of all, through the blood of Christ, through the better covenant, through Christ as our Mediator! Oh what joy. What access we have. What grace through Christ, what fellowship! Then the passage, gets back to being serious. In light of all this, “see that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from Heaven”. Hebrews 12:25-26. He is saying, the severity of hearing God’s voice, even in Christ, and the response to what He says, namely faith and obedience, hasn’t changed. God is still God, and He is still the same. We see this as He points to how God’s thundering voice shook the earth on Sinai, and how He has promised to do it again. But the Kingdom to which we belong, will not be shaken, the Kingdom of God in Christ is an everlasting Kingdom it can’t be shaken. Rejoice, give praise for belonging to such a kingdom! Then the realization and the application of this entire passage comes in verse 28, Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29. The theme is worship, and just as the passage began with the severity of God on Sinai in a blazing fire, it ends with reminding us God is still a consuming fire! It tells us there is an acceptable worship, which means there is also an unacceptable worship. It tells us how to worship, which means there is a requirement to worship. And it tells us who to worship, which means there is an object of worship. We are not left wondering about worship, Scripture has clearly laid out for us its definition, its object and its mode. 

  1. The Definition of Worship – Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29. The word worship in the Greek is λατρεύω (lat-ryoo-o)  and the Hebrew word is עָבַד (aww-bad) and they both have the same meaning, they both convey the same ideas:                                      – to bow down or prostrate oneself – to serve  – to work for – as slaves for a master- to pay homage – as subjects to the Sovereign – to show reverence – to show devotion – as to God

The idea here is complete devotion, complete obedience, complete reverence, carefulness to obey, concern for devotion, expression of worth. In fact the word “worship” in English comes from the old English “worth-ship” meaning to ascribe worth, to acknowledge worthiness. Notice it doesn’t say singing. Nor does it say lifting our hands, or shouting. Those things may happen, and we may be moved to do them, but in and of themselves they are not worship. They may be said to be expressions of worship, but not worship in themselves. We do however express worship. We express our inward worship to God, outwardly through devotion and obedience to His Word, through expressing thanksgiving, praise and dependency upon Him in prayer, and through rejoicing and praising His excellent greatness in singing together. Obedience, devotion, love, submission, thanksgiving, praise, joy, dependency, these are just some of the ways we worship, according to Scripture. When we understand what worship is, we begin understanding the severity of doing it rightly. Because as it says here in Hebrews, there is an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. Only when we understand what worship is, do we move closer to acceptable worship. As we see the definition of worship we also see…

2. The Object of Worship – Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29. Worship is offered to God, and God alone. We notice here in this passage, the reference to Sinai. In was on Mt. Sinai where God gave the moral law, the never changing, once for all, applicable and obligatory to all people moral law, known as the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments. What we often forget, the first table of the ten commandments is about worship. We read this in Exodus 20,

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6.

These words from God Himself begin with a reminder of His exclusivity! He alone is Yahweh, He alone is God, He alone brought His people out of Egypt, He alone delivered them from slavery, therefore, when it comes to worship, He alone is to be worshipped. He alone is to be served, He alone is to be bowed down before, He alone is to be obeyed, He alone is to be praised, He has spoken, and He has said “Have no other Gods before me, literally besides me”.  There is one object of worship, God alone. Again, most people are in agreement, however these commandments are not just about the object of worship but also the mode of worship. 

3. The Mode of Worship – The thought of “acceptable worship” is a completely foreign concept to the evangelical mind of our time. The mindset of most people is, as long as the Bible doesn’t forbid it, then it must be ok. For that reason if you visit 100 different churches, on 100 different weeks, you will probably walk away thinking, there are 100’s of way of worshipping, and everyone has the freedom to do whatever suits them, as long as the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid it. However, if we are all servants of the same God and are worshipping the same God, then why would our worship look so differently? Why do all Christian worship services not, according to general principle, look the same? If the Bible is our authority and Christ our Head, why is there so much distinction, and often, so much disagreement and argument over what takes place when we gather for worship? Here in Hebrews 12, the passage begins with the severity of God as it relates to faithful obedience. God takes obedience to Him so seriously, that if even an animal disobeys Him and touches the mountain, it is to be stoned. And the point of this passage is to communicate, the severity of God, and His demand for obedience has not changed. Thus the passage ends, Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29. Acceptable worship. I wonder has the thought of what constitutes acceptable worship ever crossed your mind? There is worship that is acceptable, and worship that is unacceptable. As we mentioned concerning the object of worship, the language of Sinai takes us back to when God gave His moral law to His people on the mountain. I want to share those first two commandments again:

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6.

These two commandments are not just repeating the same concept. The first commandment is concerning the object of worship, and the second commandment is concerning the mode of our worship. Many assume that this command simply means you may not make graven images of other gods to worship but to think this way is to completely misunderstand the context of the giving of these 10 Commandments and also to think God gave us two commandments saying the same thing. During this time period, the way that the pagan nations worshipped their gods was through making images. Their gods were not near, or present, they were concepts of their imaginations believed to dwell  somewhere in the sky or in some far off realm. In an attempt to bring these gods into the realm of tangibility and worship them in a meaningful way, they would make images or idols. No one ever literally worshipped the image as if the image was their god, they viewed images simply as a MODE of worship. The gods of the nations had given no revelation about themselves, so those who worshipped them just made it up, in whatever way seemed best to them; their images, the rituals, their modes all arising from their own imaginations. In this second commandment God is saying, “You must NOT worship me in the way those pagans worship their so-called gods”. Without revelation the nations were left to use modes of their own devices but, God’s people were NOT to be like the nations. In the preface to the 10 Commandments, God made it very clear that He was dealing with a different people. He was giving His law to a called-out assembly of His own. He had rescued them, brought them to Sinai, and was now giving them His Law, to set them apart from the people of the false gods. The One True God HAD revealed Himself to His people. He HAD spoken, He HAD communicated and was still communicating. He’s telling them that the modes by which those false gods are worshipped are not acceptable.  God’s people would not need to concoct their own ways of worshipping because God had told them to what acceptable worship is; God had already revealed Himself to them. In essence, this 2 commandment is saying, “You will not create, of your own imagination, the ways in which you think I should be worshipped. (commandment 1)You must worship ONLY Me, and (commandment 2) you must worship ONLY in the way I reveal to you”.

This point is reiterated in Deuteronomy, as the people of God arrive at the promise land and the law is given again. We read,

“Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24.

Notice the language? Consuming fire. God takes the mode of worship seriously, He is a consuming fire! God’s people are to worship Him the way He commanded, the way He has revealed Himself, they are not free to worship according to their own imaginations, or ideas. So we want to ask, “How has God revealed Himself? In His Word”, How then are we to worship Him? In obedience to the revelation of Himself, namely in obedience to His Word. The mode of the worship of the One True God, according to Scripture, has three simple principles. When it comes to worshipping the God of the Bible: 1. Anything forbidden in scripture is forbidden. 2. Anything commanded in scripture is required. 3. Anything NOT commanded in scripture is FORBIDDEN. This means the the mode of Biblical worship, is not like the general consensus that anything not forbidden is acceptable, but rather we are only to worship in the way God has commanded. I want to show you some examples from Scripture showing the severity of obedience to God’s commandments concerning worship.

  • Cain and Abel – After God had covered Adam and Eve’s sin with the skin of an animal, and implicitly through the sacrifice of an animal, Genesis 4 opens with Cain and Abel offering their sacrifices to God. “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” Genesis 4:3-5. Abel followed the pattern established by the revelation of God (God has used an animal as a covering for the sin and nakedness of Adam and Eve) and it was accepted, Cain offered worship based on his own ideas, and it was rejected.

 

  • Nadab and Abihu – “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.  Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” Leviticus 10:1-3 Their goal was worship, and notice they come not doing something God had necessarily forbidden, but something which He had not commanded, and they were consumed by God who is a consuming fire. And the gist of it all, is God’s taking His own glory seriously, “I will be glorified among the people”.

 

  • Jeroboam – “And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”  And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.” 1 Kings 12:25-33. He was not trying to worship a different God, he was trying to worship the true God in a way invented in his own mind, and if you go on to read through chapters 13 and 14, Jeroboam’s family was cursed, and he ultimately dies for his sin.

 

  • People of Israel – During the time of the prophet Jeremiah, as God is pronouncing the judgment of occupation and exile against His own people, He gives this as one of the reasons to Jeremiah the prophet: “They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” Jeremiah 32:35. They did what they were not commanded, worshipping not only the wrong god, but also in a way not commanded!

 

  • Pharisees“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:1-9.  Now is there anything wrong with washing? No. Is there anything wrong with giving to God? No. Is there something wrong with turning traditions into commandments about how we worship? Yes. Because the principle is clearly established, you worship God as He has commanded. This addition to God’s commands and perceiving it as acceptable to God, as it almost always does, had lead them to become MORE fond of their inventions than of God’s instructions. This is the problem in many of the groups that call themselves churches today. The addition of traditions as worship breaks the commandment given by God concerning the mode of worship: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” Deuteronomy 12:32.

 

  • Woman at the well – “The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24. We see here God is spirit – that is His nature, His essence, that is how He has revealed Himself. We must worship in spirit – we must worship according to His essence, according to the His revelation concerning Himself, not according to man-made images, not according to our own inventions And in truth – What is truth? Where do we find truth – God’s WORD. You see, the pattern has not changed. There is a mandate for acceptable worship, and it is determined by God, not us. We must worship God alone, and only in the way He has commanded.

As we hear these words from Scripture concerning the definition of worship, the object of worship and the mode of worship, and as we see one of the marks of a true church is to offer to God acceptable worship we want to conclude with…

4. A Call for Biblical WorshipTherefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29. I am convinced that we are guilty of misunderstanding worship because we have neglected God’s Word on the subject. Our neglect of God’s commands concerning acceptable worship has led us to ignorance as to what sin is, as to what is sin, and to the severity of sin. Our worship reflects our view of God, and when we don’t esteem His holiness, and take seriously His commands, even the concept of acceptable and unacceptable worship is completely foreign to us. This passage in Hebrews is telling us that while some of the expressions of worship have changed because of the High Priestly work of Christ, the seriousness of our obedience to God’s commands concerning worship has not changed. Just because Jesus offered a once and for all sacrifice, just because He is our High Priest, just because the Church is now the temple of the Living God, just because the Spirit has been given as a guarantee of our eternal inheritance, just because we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken, does not mean we just worship however we think is best suited to us. We are to offer to God acceptable worship, the worship He has commanded, and we do so with reverence, that is a proper understanding of who we are in comparison to Him, and with awe, that is a proper understanding of who He is, He is a consuming fire, and He will have worship His way! If we are to be a true Church, with Christ as the Head, the Scripture as our sufficient authority, then we worship God’s way, not our own. We preach how God says, we pray how God says, we sing how God says, we give how God says, and we stay in the Scriptures not presuming to add anything from our own minds or traditions that we think are acceptable. No Church ever arises higher than it’s view of God, therefore, brothers and sisters, let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, in obedience to God as He has revealed Himself, and in accordance to the way He has prescribed, for our God is a consuming fire.

** Special thanks to Pastor Paul White who graciously and faithfully led me in the Word to consider true worship, and who taught me that I may teach others. **

Advertisements

One thought on “Relevance and Preference or Reverence and Prescription: The Posture of True Worship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s