By Mike Willis
On several occasions, I have visited the worship services of various denominations. At the Roman Catholic Church, I tried to follow the lesson from the book which I picked up in the pew. Although I tried to follow the lesson from the book, I hardly knew when to rise and when to sit. At these services, I heard responsive readings and the priest read his lesson from some kind of book. I did not hear any congregational singing. When the time came for the observance of the Lord’s Supper, the participants went forward to the front of the building and knelt down in a row. The priest .placed a wafer of unleavened bread on the tongue of the participants and took one himself. Afterward, he alone drank of the fruit of the vine. I witnessed the members, as they entered and departed from the building, bow before the cross and make the sign of the cross on their body.
On another occasion, I attended a Primitive Baptist Church in Eastern Kentucky where my wife’s grandfather attends and sometimes preaches. The services were altogether different. The songs were sung spontaneously without musical accompaniment: Sometimes a “caller” (you might have to ask an older person what a “caller” is) was used in conjunction with the songs which were sung. The song books had no notes and all sounded very much alike to me. Three different preachers spoke “under the influence of the Spirit.” When the invitation was offered, a rather large gentleman came forward to “pray through.” The remainder of the time was spent in prayer as this gentleman begged God to forgive him, using great tears and loud groans.
If I attended several other religious groups, I would have observed different methods of worship. These suffice to raise the question, “Why do differences appear in worship?” Has God allowed this much freedom in worship that services so different from each other could both be acceptable to Him? Do we have the liberty to change the worship to make it fit ourselves? Let us try to answer some of these questions in this article.
God Prescribed The Kind Of Worship Which Pleases Him
As God, Jehovah has the right to prescribe the kind of worship which He will accept. He created us and can, therefore, make whatever demands of us He chooses with reference to the type of worship which He will accept. He is One with the authority to legislate the type of worship which He expects from man. Man has no authority to dictate to God the kind of worship which God must accept. Rather, God dictates to man the kind of worship which He is pleased to accept.
In every age, God has commanded of man the kind of worship which He expects from Him. Abel’s worship pleased God and Cain’s did not; the difference was that Abel acted out of faith and Cain did not (Heb. 11:4). Faith is man’s response to God’s revelation; hence, Abel offered the kind of worship which God commanded and Cain did not. God, therefore, must have revealed the pattern of worship which He would accept. Abel followed God’s instructions and Cain did not.
The events which transpired at Mt. Sinai largely concerned themselves with the type of worship which God revealed would please Him. The most minute detail regarding the worship was legislated. God revealed His choice for the priesthood (the Levites) and even legislated the garments which they should wear when offering worship to Him. He revealed the place of worship (the tabernacle) and gave the dimensions and materials for constructing the place of worship. He legislated the feast days which were to be observed in Israel. The types of sacrifices which He would accept and how they were to be offered were also legislated.
Several events which transpired in the later history of Israel reveal that God would not accept any changes in the pattern for worship which He revealed to man. Nadab and Abihu were stricken dead on the spot for offering to God “strange fire, which He had not commanded” (Lev. 10:1-2). Their sin was a violation of the pattern of worship revealed by God. Later, Saul was found to be displeasing to God for violating God’s pattern for worship when he personally offered worship to God instead of waiting for Samuel, the priest of God, to offer that worship (1 Sam. 13:8-14). When the division between Israel and Judah occurred, Jeroboam sinned against God by rejecting the pattern for worship which God had instituted and building idols and temples for worship in Dan and Bethel. In addition to this, Jeroboam allowed priests to be chosen from every Israelite tribe and made feasts days other than the ones which God legislated. (1 Kgs. 12:25 -13:10). God condemned each of these persons because he did not respect the authority of God which was manifest in the commandments He had given pertaining to the worship which He would accept.
The same principles which are manifested in these Old Testament examples are still applicable today. God has revealed to man the kind of worship which pleases Him and still expects men to worship in that fashion. Actually, the only way that man can know that His worship pleases God is for God to reveal to man what He wants. We cannot know God’s will except as it is revealed to us; however, through revelation, we can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Apart from God revealing to man the kind of worship which He will accept, man could never know what pleases God. We would be in the same predicament as is the husband who tries to buy a gift for his wife which will please her when he does not know what she wants. However, since God has revealed to man the kind of worship which pleases Him, we can know assuredly what worship God will accept.
When man is left to worship according to his own desires, the worship which he generally offers is remarkabley similar to the things which please man. For example, the pagans in Corinth during the New Testament era offered worship to God at their sacred temple by putting one thousand sacred prostitutes in their temple in order that fornication could be committed there. Though the morality of the worship is superior, much of the worship which is offered today is similarly geared to that which pleases man instead of that which pleases God. Watch the papers and look at what is being done in the name of religion. Singing groups with their guitars, cymbals, drums, piano and organ are being used in worship; the audience to which they play is generally entertained by music which appeals to the easy listening or country western style of secular music. Consequently, the music which is presented in these programs has this kind of flavor as well. Or, consider the buildings of many Catholic churches. They display ornate buildings; some churches even have very valuable jewels embedded on the crosses in the buildings. Such things appeal to man’s desire for show. When man is left to worship according to his own desires, he offers as worship to God what pleases the man. For this reason, God found it absolutely necessary to reveal to man the kind of worship which pleases Him.
Unauthorized Items of Worship Displease God
Not only must we realize that God has prescribed the type of worship which He wants, we must also realize that God has revealed that unauthorized items of worship are displeasing to Him. Some act as if we cannot know whether such things as counting beads in prayer, burning candles, and instrumental music in worship please or displease God. My friends, God has not left us in doubt as to His attitude toward such changes in divine worship.
He has revealed that any human additions to divine worship displease Him. Jesus said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrine the precepts of men” (Mt. 15:9). Anything done or practiced in worship which is authorized by man instead of by God displeases Him. Prohibitions imposed by men instead of by God are described as “self-made religion” (Col. 2:21-23). Paul commanded that the church is not to recognize the man who does not recognize the Lord’s commandments pertaining to worship (1 Cor. 14:37-38). Furthermore, God has commanded that whatever we do in word or in deed must be done in the name (by the authority) of the Lord (Col. 3:17). Any deviations from divinely revealed worship are altogether displeasing to the Lord God. A part of divine revelation is that God will not accept those things which are offered in worship to Him which are not authorized by Him.
But, a man comes along and says that he cannot be sure whether or not instrumental music in worship pleases or displeases God. He will frequently even admit that there is no New Testament authority for using instrumental music in worship. Yet, he will state that he does not know whether God approves or disapproves of the worship which uses them. This is a precise example of infidelity: the man simply does not believe what God has revealed about adding to God’s divinely revealed worship. He may say that he believes God’s word; however, if he believed God’s word he would believe what God said about those who pervert the divinely revealed pattern of worship.
Items of Divinely Revealed Worship
The items of divinely revealed worship are not difficult to find. We only need to look at the items of worship which the early church used and do the same in order to know what kind of worship God will accept. The apostles were commissioned to teach the early church all things that God had commanded them (Mt. 28:18-20); hence, when we read of the worship of the early church under the authority of the apostles, we can know what kind of worship pleases God.
The early church assembled upon the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34). During this same period of worship, gospel preaching occurred (Acts 20:7), prayer was offered (1 Cor. 14:15) and congregational singing was engaged in (1 Cor. 14:15). At this gathering, a collection was taken (1 Cor. 16:1-2) which was used for such things as benevolence (1 Cor. 16:1-2) and supporting preachers (2 Cor. 11:8). If there were other approved items of worship, I am not aware of them. Those who are seeking to walk in the ways of the Lord will seek to offer the kind of worship which pleases God. They will confine themselves to the boundaries imposed by God’s word. They will imitate the example of the early church which was “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Questions – Lesson II
- Has God allowed man to decide how he will worship God?
- Can man know what kind of worship pleases God?
- How can man know what kind of worship pleases God?
- Name several examples of worship which demonstrate that humanly devised systems of worship are displeasing to God.
- From a study of 1 Kings 12:25-13:10, answer the following questions: What departures did Jeroboam make in worship? b. What did God think about them? c. Was there a divinely revealed pattern for worship in the Old Testament?
- Cite examples of “will-worship” (Col. 2:21-23) today.
- Name the items of divinely revealed worship for the New Testament church.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 43, pp. 693-694
November 1, 1979