“Surely the first foundation of righteousness is the worship of God. When this is overthrown, all the remaining parts of righteousness, like the pieces of a shattered and fallen building, are mangled and scattered. What kind of righteousness will you call it not to harass men with theft and plundering, if through impious sacrilege you at the same time deprive God’s majesty of its glory? Or that you do not defile your body with fornication, if with your blasphemies you profane God’s most holy name? Or that you do not slay a man, if you strive to kill and to quench the remembrance of God? It is vain to cry up righteousness without religion. This is as unreasonable as to display a mutilated, decapitated body as something beautiful. Not only is religion the chief part but the very soul, whereby the whole breathes and thrives. And apart from the fear of God men do not preserve equity and love among themselves. Therefore we call the worship of God the beginning and foundation of righteousness. When it is removed, whatever equity, continence, or temperance men practice among themselves is in God’s sight empty and worthless. We call it source and spirit because from it men learn to live with one another in moderation and without doing injury, if they honor God as Judge of right and wrong. Accordingly, in the First Table, God instructs us in piety and the proper duties of religion, by which we are to worship his majesty” (John Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.2).
“The common doctrine of Christians on this subject is, that the will of God is the ultimate ground of moral obligation to all rational creatures. No higher reason can be assigned why anything is right than that God commands it. This means, (1.) That the divine will is the only rule for deciding what is right and what is wrong. (2.) That his will is that which binds us, or that to which we are bound to be conformed” (Charles Hodge, 1.5.9).
Getting It Right
When we come to worship on Sunday, we should acknowledge that God commands us to worship Him alone and according to His word. There are many things this entails but we can look to see what this does not include. Worshiping God does not include worshiping contra scriptura. What would be against scripture in worship? We must ask this in light of knowing that the first table of the Law deals with worshiping God. If the first table of the Law deals with worshiping God, then worshiping contrary to scripture is worshiping contrary to God’s Law. We see that this is the case in some very important areas of scripture, but I want to focus on two portions specifically: Lev. 10:1-3 and 1 Cor. 11:17-32.
In the first passage we see God’s judgment upon a very specific group of people. Both of these men (Nadab and Abihu) are Levitical priests. They are not only with the people set apart for God but they are the people set apart for the worship of God. As we know, the Levites were separated by God for God (Num. 3:12-13; 8:14; 16:9). They knew what the Law requires of them as Levitical Priests. They knew the rules and regulations by which God commanded them to worship Him. So, not only were they a special group of people separated specifically for the worship of God, but they also knew what was required of them. Also, to add to their “high” status, they were the sons of Aaron! These guys were the cream of the crop. They were not “nobodies” amongst Israel, but they were high on the social class (so to speak). However, what do we read in the passage?
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying,
‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’”
So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. –Lev. 10
The interesting thing about this passage is the offering of “strange fire” that God “had not commanded them” to offer. They were doing something that God had not specifically commanded them to do in worship. When we look at this passage we must see this in light of what happens in modern day churches. People preach sermons, have their own liturgy, and sing or play unbiblical songs which God “had not commanded them” to do.
Looking at the next passage we see that the Lord’s Supper is in view. Specifically, Paul talks about the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. People were falling “asleep” i.e. dying. People were dying because they were abusing this part of worship! Paul tells them a few things that must be obeyed when worshiping, but particularly when partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. -1 Cor. 11
Since the members of this congregation are taking the Supper in an “unworthy” manner they are having physical problems. God is judging them because of their “unworthy” worship. They are not treating God as holy when they are drawing near to Him. They are worshiping according to their own view and thought without any regard to God’s Law. This is why Paul tells them that “many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (V. 30-31). Just like the sons of Arron, the Corinthians are experiencing the judgment of God for unlawful worship. How serious does God take worship? Deathly serious!
Locally Unlawful Worship
Recently, I have come across a video of a church in my home town where they played a song by Noah Gundersen. In this video it is clear that he is mocking Christ. Not only does he mock Christ, but he violates the whole first table of the Law. Granted, he’s not a Christian…Go Figure! However, this video was played and used to open up a sermon. Before the song was played, they made it aware that they believe this is a real cry out to God. It’s unfortunate that such a large church, adamant about discipleship, is leading the disciples away from Christ.
The more important aspect of this situation is their lack of concern for obedience to God in worship. We previously looked at a couple of examples in scripture dealing with worship and the seriousness of worship. Yet, in our day it seems that churches (like this one) are closer to the world than they want to admit. Anything (including worship) that is contrary to God is at enmity with God. Whether you like this or not, it is biblically true.
Throughout the video we hear good things. I have to give credit to this guy. Many of the things he preaches about or speaks of are true. However, in general, if you preach the Word of God accurately you would worship Him accordingly (preaching is part of the liturgy… yes we all have liturgy).
The real question should be this: did they violate God’s Law (sin) or are they free to do as they please? I believe the answer lies in what we previously went over. No one is free to worship as they please. God alone is the one who qualifies worship. God alone is the one who limits worship. God alone is the one who commands who we worship, when we worship, where we worship, and why we worship.
Blame The Leadership
By the grace of God I was recently ordained and installed as a ruling elder. I am so thankful for the calling by God to serve this most precious of flock. There is nothing greater than to serve the flock of the living God. Now, it is my duty to love and protect this flock. It is the duty of every officer to protect God’s flock. I believe this is where many churches (including this Reno church) fail. It is the leadership’s responsibilities to love, protect, and teach the church. Part of protecting the flock is teaching the flock and leading them in the true worship of the living God.
When the leadership fails to uphold their calling and vows as officers, they disobey God. They not only disobey God but they lead the church down the path of destructive (and sinful) worship. When they lead them down this path, anything becomes permissible and the church ceases being the Church (WCF Ch. 25). We would call this the “trickle down” effect. Think of stacking wine glasses on top of each other. You have a huge base, but then every other level gets smaller until you get to the one glass on top. Pour water on that glass and fill it up to the top. Eventually, if you keep pouring, the water will trickle down every other glass. The water “affects” the other glasses by first filling up the top glass. This is the same as with leadership who does not protect its own flock. Pour down a little “who cares how you worship” juice on the top glass, and the rest fill up with “who cares how we worship” juice. Who cares what God says… right?
Calvin, John. Institutes of The Christian Religion. Edit. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2006. Print.
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003. Print