Offering Sacrifices of Praise

And being sure they will be accepted!: 
We've all had the experience of receiving a gift that, well, let's just say was less than satisfactory.  You tried your hardest to match the exuberance of the giver.  Yet, despite your best efforts,  you have a lingering feeling that you couldn't completely cover your disappointment at the reindeer sweater (or other tacky item) that was just handed to you.

The Bible is replete with similar occurrences when it comes to the worship of God.  From time to time you see the Lord expressing great displeasure with the sacrifices that eager worshippers bring.  

Some of this is due to the disposition of the worshipers’ hearts.  If the worship of God is made in a formalistic spirit (i.e. all form, but no heart) or is contrasted with a life of rebellion, it is no surprise that God despises it.  Empty adoration can only be putrid in the eyes of God.

However, their worship was oftentimes rejected because it did not fit with the standard God had established for His praise. 

Take the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.  These two priests were struck down because they offered “strange fire” before the Lord.  The Rabbi’s like to talk about what color the fire was.  However, its hue was not what made it strange.  It was strange in that it was unauthorized

God had specifically laid out how the priests were to worship.  The book of Leviticus has many details describing exactly what they were to do.  You might even say that Leviticus is a manual on how to properly offer a sacrifice and serve in the tabernacle.  Nadab & Abihu overstepped these bounds.  Their fire was not listed among the prescriptions God had set down.  And in the end, the introduction of this new, fun little flare had severe consequences.

This story tells us that God doesn’t just want exuberant worshippers bringing him just any form of praise.  God is only pleased with worship that conforms to his word.

In the following articles, we’ll continue to learn more about this principle and the peculiar character of Reformed worship.

Dive Deeper

What sayth the Scripture?: Ok.  So you probably never really thought about worship like this before.  You were probably one who simply came to church ready to give vent to a joy filled heart.  That’s wonderful!  But now that you’ve got a peek into this new world, let’s think about it some more.

There are two basic views regarding the practice of worship.  They may be stated thusly:  In worship…
  1. Whatever is not forbidden in Scripture is permitted.
  2. Whatever is not prescribed in Scripture is forbidden.
As we have already noted above, the second is the position of the Reformed Tradition.  It’s got to be in the Book to be in the service of worship.  The first one is typically associated with the Lutheran church, but is also the practice of the broader Evangelical church. 

To say “whatever is not forbidden in scripture is permitted” is obviously much broader in its scope.  It would allow for many more practices to be integrated into a worship service than the second.  This is why you can find videos, drama, dance numbers, clowns, candles and so much more decking out any given evangelical service.

In contrast, the Reformed services look extremely plain Jane.

So the question becomes, what gives?  Why are the Reformed so restrictive?  One line of argumentation regards our view of man.  As John Calvin said, our hearts are “a factory of idols.”  Due to our fallen nature we are prone to rebel against God.  But even when we do get the object of our worship right, we tend to conceive of him in faulty and misguided ways.

The same is true when it comes to the manner of our worship.  In our depravity we will corrupt the worship of God by trying to spice it up or make it more “relevant.”   Our innate tendency then, is to defile it by means of our imaginations and innovations. 

To put it another way, because we are sinners we wish to make worship more appealing to ourselves, rather than focusing on what may be pleasing to God.  In order to help prevent this, we must stick to what Scripture has prescribed. 

And when we look into the Bible we find that this is exactly what Scripture itself demands. 

As a matter of fact, it is stated right in the 10 commandments.  The first commandment tells who we ought to worship (“have no other gods before me”).  In sum, it regulates the object of our worship.  In turn, the second commandment (i.e. “make no graven images”) governs how we are to worship.  It is said to regulate the manner of our worship. 

Just take the incident at Mt. Sinai as an example.  While Moses was on the mountain meeting with God, the people got a little rowdy.  So Aaron made them a golden calf.  When he introduced it he said, “these are your gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  Then he proclaimed that there would be “a feast to the LORD.” 

In sum, the golden calf was a new means of worshiping YHWH…and that made God mad!

The prophet Jeremiah also hammers this point home.  In 19:5 Jeremiah is speaking out about the people’s worship of Baal.  He says, “[They] have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind- These practices were not commanded.”  You are right to observe that Jeremiah is speaking about Baal worship.  But what he says is still true for LORD worship because he emphasizes how their worship must be governed by God’s law and not their own whims.

These three passages (the 2nd commandment, Ex. 32, and Jer. 19:5) all help us see why Reformed worship seems very puritan in comparison to many other worship services.  They remind us that we need to worship our God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4).

And some of what that means will be spelled out in the next article.

Soli Deo Gloria 

What God wants in worship:  I know.  Things have sounded a bit negative so far.  That’s unfortunate.  Really it shouldn’t be that way because the regulative principle of worship tells us more what we should do than what we should not do. 

Moreover, the Lord has given us a great amount of liberty in our services.  Yes, he may provide some boundaries.  But he does not set a fixed form.  Within the parameters he outlines there is a great deal of freedom.

All this of course leads to the question:  What then are we to do?  What does God want us to do in worship?

When someone asks me what our services are like, I like to answer in this way, “We read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and sing the Bible.”  That doesn’t cover it all, but it gives a pretty good snapshot.

To put it another way, the worship of God should be centered on God’s Word.  The Bible couldn’t be clearer on this.  We could go to many texts to show this, but one will suffice.  Paul told Timothy to “devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to the teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).  It is safe to say on the basis of that Scripture that God wants a lot of Scripture in His services.

The Bible also exhorts us to pray and sing the Bible.  Jesus directed us to pray for things in his name.  This is another way of saying, “Pray what I directed you to pray.”  Then, when Paul encourages us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, it was for the purpose of teaching and admonishing one another.  If we are going to teach and admonish, it means the Word of God must be the central element of the melodies we make.

These, of course, are the main elements of worship.  However, they are not the only elements. We may also include oaths, sacraments, and presentations of offerings. 

Sacraments should be obvious.  After all, Jesus commanded us to do them.  It is important to remember too that the sacraments are not individualistic in nature.  They are a means of grace for the corporate body.

Offerings might also be a no brainer to you.  That’s the best time to collect the money, right?  Well, it goes beyond simple pragmatics.  The Bible describes offerings as a form of worship.  So we should always remember that we don’t just drop a check in a box.  When we present these financial gifts they are acts of homage.

What might surprise you is that oaths are mentioned as a legitimate act of worship.  It has long been believed among the Reformed that such is Scriptural (some churches used to have their weddings right in their Sunday morning service!). 

We see this in the OT most clearly.  When the people draw near to God, we often see them making public affirmations and taking vows before Him.

Much more could be said on this issue, but we must bring things to a close.  What has been said should provide some basic guidelines for reflection.  Above all, what has been mentioned in this issue should give you a new appreciation for the beauty and simplicity of God honoring worship.

Closing Sunday as It Began

Come join our new study: We are about to embark on a new Sunday evening study.  We will be watching and reflecting on the above DVD, which is put out by Focus on the Family.  
Teacher and author Ray VanderLaan will bring to light the death and resurrection of Christ through his usual methods.  As he brings the light of Jewish and Roman culture, you will see the sacrifice and victory of Christ in new and moving ways.
We meet each Sunday evening at 6:30 at my house and the time is accompanied with singing, prayer, and fellowship.  We'd love to have you join us.  Contact me for more details if you wish.

What We Confess

A snipit from our forefathers:   Here are some little bites from the church's confessions and catechisms on the topic of worship.  If you'd like further study, just google them and look at the Scripture texts that go with them!

The Heidelberg Catechism 
Question 96. What does God require in the second commandment?
Answer: That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word. 

Question 97. Are images then not at all to be made?
Answer: God neither can, nor may be represented by any means: but as to creatures; though they may be represented, yet God forbids to make, or have any resemblance of them, either in order to worship them or to serve God by them. 
Question 98. But may not images be tolerated in the churches, as books to the laity (i.e. helps)?
Answer: No: for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith, 21.1
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is 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 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.

Providence rejoices with the Gunther's on the formal adoption of these three gems!  We had a great time celebrating the Lord's goodness in the matter at Charles Mill on July 8th.  Fellowship continued well into the evening hours and a good time was had by all.


Come & Worship

Experience it for yourself!: Do you like what you are reading?  Do you find it Biblical?  Maybe even refreshing?  

Then why not come and experience it for yourself!  Give God praise by joining with the people of Providence Church each Lord's Day at 10:30 am in the Mifflin Community Center, across from the Trading Post in Mifflin, OH.

Since its beginning Providence Church has sought to proclaim the Biblical standard for faith, family and society within the Ashland, Richland, and Wayne counties.  

We stressed the centrality of Christ crucified, the soveriegnty of God, and the absolute truth revealed in His Scriptures.  Moreover, Providence seeks to renew in the minds of men today the importance of fathers, families, and the distinct virtue of Christian education.  

The elders of Providence Church would like extend a warm greeting in Christ, and invite you to join us for worship if you do not already have a sound evangelical church home.  It is our hope that you find a greater encouragement in the gospel and direction in the ways of God's glorious law.

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