Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’ (Je 6:16).
When it comes to the worship of the thrice holy God, I like to stick to what the Bible calls the “ancient” or “old” paths. That is to say I believe the worship of Christ is to be defined as commanded by Himself; as given in Scripture. To come before the Almighty, whether it be privately or corporately, requires it be done reverently and not flippantly. Nor are we to tack on “worship” to any practice because we are sincere and our hearts are in it.
Of course this is not a popular idea in this day and age, where churches feel it is okay to become “innovative” and “creative” in many church services, in order to keep the people “comfortable,” “interested” and the church “relevant.” It is often brought in, for further support, that to reach the so called “seekers” we must keep them coming back by “contextualizing” not only the Word of God but our services too, so it can relate to them. If I can sum up the argument in another way, it is the view that if it is not forbidden by Scripture than it is acceptable to God.
To complicate matters even further, many of the modern practices of worship, in both the singing and order of services, have been around for sometime and have been a part of some church’s traditions (those that would object to the postmodern, seeker-friendly model) for so long that some believe that it is the “ancient” paths.They believe is the right model. But we must not let such assumptions go untested.
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from I will present one example. I’ve attended churches that will sing the Pledge of Allegiance and/or the Star Spangled Banner on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day to honor the country and men that have fought for our freedom. Many claim they are actually giving the glory to God in doing so, all while publicly thanking the all who served and honoring our country.
As noble as that may be, it has no place in the corporate worship of God among His covenant people. The Sabbath day is resigned for the worship and honor of Christ the Lord and Him alone and for the edification of His people. I believe it is error to take that day and time to honor men.
I often encounter objections (those that are not questioning my patriotism) like “What is so wrong about that. It is harmless. We are not worshiping these people, we are simply acknowledging that how God has blessed us and raised up such people to give us our freedom.” Besides the fact that no one is accusing any one of worshiping people, we would argue that it is not harmless. In fact it is distracting. Attention is being shifted from Christ to men and then back to Christ. People have a hard time focusing on Christ as it is and to add one more distraction can hardly be harmless. Anytime we come into the presence of God distracted, it shows a lack of reverence or fear of God. Not only that it, stifles the work of the Spirit in our lives that we benefit from in the worship of God both in singing unto Him and the proclamation of His Word. I say this as one who always felt this way before I believed in the Regulative Principle of Worship (if it is not commanded in Scripture then it is forbidden).
Perhaps by now people are saying to themselves “Scripture, please?” Very well then. A case can and has been made from Leviticus 10:1-3. 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.” If you notice, the text says that Nadab and Abihu were killed by the Lord, not for doing something that was expressly forbidden nor for doing something drunkenly (as some commentators suggest from v. 9) but for approaching the Lord in a way that He had not commanded. They attempted the worship of God with “strange” or “unauthorized” fire. They took it upon themselves to irreverently approach God (a form of worship). Seemed pretty harmless. Their motives, most likely, were even genuine and sincere. They seemed to be passionate. In modern words their “hearts were into it.” There is one problem. It didn’t matter, it was unacceptable to God. The sanctification of God’s name and His glory is ultimate and He prescribes how that is to be accomplished. His very own words, after He consumed Nadab and Abihu with fire, are “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified (emphasis mine). It follows, then, that our sincerity and genuineness do not justify everything we tack on “worship” to, as worship.
Here is some commentary on the passage:
For moderns this incident is strange and enigmatic. At first blush it appears that Yahweh is a capricious, vengeful deity, unworthy of human devotion, but it must be remembered that Yahweh is a holy and jealous God, consuming all who profane his glory (cf. Deut 4:24). The manner of the death of these two men accords with the epithet of Yahweh: “Yahweh your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24). Yahweh, the true God, is holy. His holiness is powerful, affecting all that comes into his presence. It cleanses, consumes, or transforms. Its power might be compared to electricity. Electricity is a useful, wonderful source of energy, but in order to work with it safely one must be very careful and astute. Whoever touches uninsulated, hot wires is severely shocked, burned, or, depending on the voltage, instantly killed. When a person approaches God properly, his holiness imparts life (cf. Isa 57:15) and inspires wonder (cf. Exod 3:3–4). But should anything that is profane or unclean enter God’s presence, it is consumed.*
The default objection tends to be “But that is the Old Testament” (or similar sympathies). To this I simply direct the readers attention to Mark 7:1-13, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and Rev. 2-3:22.
I am not attempting to “stifle” anyone’s “worship.” For worship to be “stifled” it must be proven that our practices in church are indeed worship. Un-biblical traditions must not go unchallenged.
I end with a final quote from Malcolm Watts:
Worship is the reverence and homage that we render to the Supreme Being, through the means such as praise, prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the preaching of the Word of God. “Reformed worship” is worship that is strictly according to God’s written Word, which is “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” It includes everything authorized by Scripture, and excludes everything not authorized by Scripture. Calvin stated the biblical and Reformed view of worship when he wrote this: “We are not to seek from men the doctrine of the true worship of God, for the Lord has faithfully and fully instructed us how he is to be worshiped.”*
And the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21, article 1:
I. The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
I believe there is a very real reason the WCF, Savoy Declaration and the LBCF 1689 all say the same thing in this area.
Soli Deo Gloria!
*Hartley, J. E. (2002). Vol. 4: Word Biblical Commentary : Leviticus. Word Biblical Commentary (133). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
* Malcolm Watts, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 47-48