Sunday, May 24, 2020

Worship by the Word

What is worship? The earliest mention of public worship is found in Genesis 4:26, in the days of Seth and Enos: “Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” Psalm 100:2 exhorts us to “serve the LORD with gladness, and come into his presence with thanksgiving.” James urges us to “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). The apostle Paul also speaks of drawing near to God, by the “new and living way” consecrated for us in the person of Christ crucified, risen, and ascended into heaven as our High Priest (Heb. 10:19–22). Christ Himself said, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

What kind of worship is acceptable to God? This question lives throughout Scripture, beginning with the sacrifices of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). One man’s offering was accepted, while the other’s was not. Why? Like all good works, true worship must proceed from faith and be performed according to God’s law and to His glory. God is worshiped whenever and wherever His Word is believed, His commands are obeyed, and His glory is exalted by intelligent creatures in heaven and on earth.

The Old Testament church existed in a world rife with polytheism, idolatry, and manmade forms of worship that were abominations in God’s sight. The first and second commandments (Ex. 20:3–6) address all three sins. They bind God’s people to worship Him in no other way than as He commands in His Word, proclaiming the jealousy of God for His worship and His determination to punish all who depart from it, while showing mercy to those who love and obey Him. God inflicted fiery death on Nadab and Abihu for offering “strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not” (Lev. 10:1–2); Hophni and Phinehas were slain in battle (1 Sam. 5:11) after they corrupted the worship of God, exploiting it for their own purposes (1 Sam. 2:17); and later the Lord struck Uzzah dead for his error in touching the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6:7).

The last chapter of the Bible addresses the same concern. In Revelation 22 John records how, in a moment of carelessness, he fell down to worship at the feet of an angel. He was instantly rebuked: “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God” (Rev. 22:9).

These examples have much to teach Christians today. Worship is not a matter of indifference, human tradition, or popular taste. Christ summarizes and confirms the teaching of the Old Testament, declaring that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are still bound by the law of God to follow the acceptable way of worship He has instituted in His Word and regulated by His commandments.

Under the new covenant the ceremonies of the law have ceased and a simpler form of worship has been introduced by Christ and the apostles. Prayer with thanksgiving, the reading of Scripture, sound preaching and the faithful hearing of the Word, the singing of the Psalms, and the administration of the sacraments according to the command and example of Christ are all parts of the worship of God under the gospel.

History shows that the church under both testaments has been prone to corrupt the true worship of God with human innovations, to offer formal worship to God while withholding the love of the heart, or else to neglect true worship, turning aside to gods that are no gods or taking up practices that have no warrant in Scripture. Recent decades have seen the eruption of “worship wars” in many churches, pitting traditionalists against innovators. Many people feel free to do as they please. Errors and abuses will abound until we all agree to test all things by the Word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).