Biblical Worship 5: The Principle in Scripture

Biblical Worship 5

Last I introduced the documents that describe the way we understand the Bible’s teaching on worship. Those were the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms and the Directory for Publick Worship. These are summary documents that explain our view, but they don’t make the Biblical argument. That is where this article comes in. I will walk you through the basics of the Bible’s teaching about worship.

Ever since Seth the son of Adam men have “Called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). This means that they formally worshipped the Lord with Seth in the role of Priest. Later on in Genesis there are implicit references to formal worship by the Lord’s people. For example, there was a distinction between clean and unclean animals on the ark (Gen7:8). This is a ceremonial symbol later re-affirmed under Moses (Deut 14). The fact that it existed prior to Moses assumes that God had always had a worshipping remnant who had some form of ceremony. They also had preaching prior to Moses as is clear from 2Peter 2:5 which speaks of Noah as a preacher.  Under Moses the ceremonial system took on a complex and intricate web of laws which governed it. These all pointed to the Lord Jesus by dramatizing the plan God had to bring about salvation by the redeemer (Heb 8:1-5). Under the present New Covenant all of these ceremonial works have been abolished (Col 2:15f, Eph 2:14-16, Heb 7:12). Jesus, having fulfilled all those promises, gave the simplified ceremony of Christian worship to his Church.

That being said, there is a principle that undergirds all the scripture says on the subject of worship.  That principle is that only that which God instituted is valid. The reason for this is that God is the author of the Covenant, the lord of the Kingdom, and the one who is worshiped, thus he has the right to govern worship due to him. The second commandment makes this point. The Commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exo 20:4-6).

Remember the account of the Golden Calf. Aaron made the Golden calf for the people of Israel while Moses was on the mountain. Aaron complied with the desires of the people to worship the Lord but that they wanted to worship him through an image. Since the Lord appeared in an image of fire on Mt. Sinai that God is not against images or communication, or analogies of him per se, but that the principle is that we should never worship God with any image, practice, ceremony, or activity without his direction. The very image of fire speaks of inapproachability, holiness, and authority beyond compare. Yet, we still want to bring imaginative practices into the worship service.

Another account is a helpful illustration of the principle. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, were serving as Priests on the first day when the Temple was consecrated (Lev 10). On that day, they brought what the Bible called strange fire. The strange fire was some form of either incense or oil which was poured on the altar. They were not instructed to do this. They did it anyway. As they placed the strange fire on the altar they fire of the Lord struck them down. This account demonstrates the principle, only what the Lord instituted may be practiced in Worship. This is why our worship services are simple and Biblical. The Lord has attached promises to work through these means. We believe the Lord does and will work today. Thus we stick to what he instituted and leave the results to him.

Biblical Worship

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