For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to His own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish His authority that we do not follow our own pleasures but depend entirely on His sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what He wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with His command. Justly, too, does He, in express terms, define our limits that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke His anger against us.
I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” “In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” (1 Samuel 15:22; Matthew 15:9).
John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church 1554
As I read the above quotation, I find myself nodding in agreement with Calvin. Yes indeed, it is a difficult thing to convince well meaning and well intentioned people that their good intentions may, in fact, be an offense to God. The sad part of this work is that rather than searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so, the correction or reproof is seen as one of a personal or traditional preference rather than a studied exegesis of God’s Word. After all, we are commanded to ” be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15. That being said as a basis for our inquiry, let us set aside our preconceptions and examine them in the light of what we will learn in Scripture.
It has been well said that worship is “the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.” Calvin wrote the quotation above some 450 years ago and it rings true even today where the focus and design of worship is thought of as a way to meet a felt need, or to express zeal and sincerity rather than to glorify God. Unfortunately, in Calvin’s time and today, there is much misunderstanding about worship that has resulted in division as debate over worship styles and preferences that please individuals creates strife. Worship is a work which should unify Christians, not divide them (see Romans 15:6 & Eph. 5:19-21). Jon D. Payne, in his book In the Splendor of Holiness, outlines eight points that help show that God has provided clear instruction regarding how His people should (and should not) worship Him. Each of the following points will be the subject of future posts as we examine what it means to worship “in spirit and truth”:
- Biblical worship is…Biblical
- Biblical worship is God-centered not man-centered
- Biblical worship is dialogical
- Biblical worship is simple
- Biblical worship is expressed in all of life AND at sacred times
- Biblical worship is reverent
- Biblical worship is Trinitarian
- Biblical worship sets forth the Person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ
Grace and peace,
the shepherds crook