A very tragic incident takes place in Leviticus 10:1-4. We read:
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.
This account of Nadab and Abihu conveys a very important principal. That is that God is a holy God and cannot be approached and worshiped in any way a person so desires. The Lord Himself issues the commandments of how His creatures are to come before Him. As noble and sincere as our own desires to do things and classify them as “worship” they will not stand if not commissioned by God . For man did not command nor institute worship. God did. In modern times, for such a serious thing to happen to Abihu and Nadab would be lamented. After all- the sentiment goes- they were just two men “worshiping” God how they were so moved to do so. They were sincere and honest in lighting that fire before the Lord. Who are we or anyone else to tell them that they could not worship God in such a manner?
The answer to such assertions,sentiments and objections is God. Note what the passage says. It reads that Nadab and Abihu did not do something God commanded them not to do but that they did something which was not commanded by God. Simply put, they took it upon themselves to approach God in their own terms. I believe they were sincere and they may have had the best intentions in mind. I see no evidence in the text to indicate other wise. However, our best intentions and sincerest desires do not determine how we approach God and how He receives worship. Approaching God in worship is no small thing. It is not something we can treat flippantly or irreverently. It is not a matter of worship Him in whatever ever way that pleases you. Perhaps it is the wrong question to ask who are we to say that a person cannot worship God in such a such way? Maybe we should be asking ourselves, in light of what passes for worship in modern times, who are we to tell God how we are going to worship Him and what He is to accept- because we are sincere in doing it?
I never thought that I would hear singing God Bless America, the National Anthem or the Star Spangled Banner or even applauding special singing in church service classified as as “worship.” What a grievous thing! To take a time where we are commanded by God (the Sabbath say) to set aside for corporate worship of Him and use it to honor people is, to me, a very dangerous and grievous thing to do. And the practice is not justified because our motives are sincere (we could be sincerely wrong just like Nadab and Abihu) or that we mention the name of God once or twice in a song.
Neither does it follow that just because we are in Christ and that he paid our debt in full that God has somehow made Himself less holy in approaching Him. Sure we no longer need, priests and continual high priests. We have access to His Majesty ourselves. This only means that we should be that much more reverent and in awe as we come before Him. Take Moses for example. He approached God without a priest or high priest and yet he was still told:
“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.(Ex 3:5–6).
Worship in modern times has become far too subjective. It has become about how individuals feel and are moved subjectively. It has become about our personal self-expressions of worship. Yet worship has always been objective with subjectivity involved but not determined by it. We are emotive people. That much is clear and yet God is the one being worshiped. God has the supremacy not our subjectivity. Worship is about Him and His Word determines how worship is to be. Our self-expressions are subordinate to the Word of God. They are indeed inferior.
It seems many people have a tradition of practice they wish to defend and they do so in many ways. One is to appeal to the Word of God by asserting that the practice itself is not explicitly forbidden by Scripture. I think that is a very wrong way to argue. One can have a fun time with that argumentation. How about shouting in service? Or loud wailing when moved by a song or sermon? None of these are explicitly forbidden in the Bible. Nothing says “Thou shall not shout” or “Thou shall not wail.”
That is why is the authors of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith in chapter twenty two, article one write:
The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the HolyScriptures (emphasis mine).*
And the Heidelberg Catechism says:
Question 96. What does God require in the second command?
Answer. That we in nowise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.*
And from his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Urinus expounds:
Two things are comprehended in this commandment: the commandment itself, and an exhortation to obedience. The end, or design of this commandment is, that the true God, who in the first precept commanded that he alone should be worshipped, be worshipped under a proper form, or with such worship as it is right and proper that intelligent creatures should pay unto him—such as is pleasing to him, and not with such worship as that which is according to the imagination and device of man: Or, we may say that the design of this commandment is, that the worship of God as prescribed be preserved pure and uncorrupted, and not be violated by any form of superstitious worship. The true worship of God is, therefore, here enjoyed, and a rule at the same time given, that we sacredly and conscientiously keep ourselves within the bounds which God has prescribed, and that we do not add anything to that worship which has been divinely instituted, or corrupt it in any part, even the most unimportant; which the Scriptures also expressly enjoin in many other places. The true worship of God now consists in every internal or external work commanded by God, done in faith, which rests fully assured that both the person and work please God, for the mediator’s sake, and with the design that we may glorify God thereby. To worship God truly, is to worship him in the manner which he himself has prescribed in his word.*
Great effort was exerted to prevent worship from being defined from subjectivity. It is my contention that many of today’s churches have a very improper understanding of worship. I think Dr. James White says it aptly:
The fact that each writer in this work has taken time to enunciate his understanding of the proper form of church government speaks to the shared commitment to the truth that Christ is the Lord of the church and hence has the right-no, the duty- to order the church under his lordship so as o bring glory and honor to God. While this may seem a given, in today’s ecclesiastical climate, it is a truth that needs to be stated forcefully. Many people in today’s church believe form, mission, and worship of the church are pliable, undefined entities that are best determined on the basis of survey’s and pragmatic “results.” The idea that there is a divine blueprint, a heaven -sent mandate regarding the form of the church is not so widespread as today as it was not so very long ago. And the idea that God’s worship is circumscribed by his own revealed will, and that we are not free to simply do “what feels good” and call it worship, is even less popular.*
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (517). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.
*Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman, Perspectives on Church Government (Nashville, TN: B&H , 2004), p. 257