The True Worship of God

 

The Regulative Principle of Worship

COPYRIGHT ©2018 - James M. Frye

All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold, and words within brackets are the author's.

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How are we to Worship God?

How are we to worship God? Does it matter? Can we worship God in any way we wish, or is there a restriction upon what is acceptable and what is not acceptable? When it comes to the matter of worship, there are two possibilities.

  1. Whatever is not forbidden in scripture is permitted.
  2. Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden.

The second statement is often referred to as, “The Regulative Principle of Worship”.

Which of these two views is correct? Which does the Bible teach? Scripture has a lot to say about worship. Once we take a look at some of those things, it will be immediately clear which view is right.

 

Worshipping Only as God Commands

Deut. 12:30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve [worship] their gods? even so will I do likewise.

Deut. 12:31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

This passage deals with our exact question, how may God be worshipped? After informing them that they may not worship Him in the way that the heathen worshipped their false gods, God then lays down the following restriction in regard to worship.

 

Deut. 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

In other words, worship is limited to the way in which God commands it to be done. Man may not add his own ways of doing it, nor may he fail to do it God’s way.

At the beginning of this article, we set forth two possibilities concerning worship.

  1. Whatever is not forbidden in scripture is permitted.
  2. Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden.

The above passage clearly affirms number 2. If we may only do what God has commanded and are not free to come up with our own ways of worshipping God, then clearlyWhatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden”.

 

Strange Fire

Lev. 10:1-2 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange [different] fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

The phrase "which he commanded them not" is saying that God had not commanded them to do these things. They just came up with the idea of how to doing things apart from scripture and God judged them for it. They presented the fire before God in a strange/different way which He had not commanded them to do.

Once again, does this teaching line up with view number 1 or view number 2 above? It clearly aligns with view number 2, Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden”. There is no place in scripture where God forbade them to do this. But it was something that God had not instructed them to do, therefore, it was forbidden.

 

The Unacceptable Worship of Cain

Gen. 4:3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

Gen. 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

Gen. 4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.  

Here we see both Cain and Able worshipping God. Although God accepted Abel’s offering, He would not receive Cain’s. Why? Let’s look at the context.

Gen. 4:6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

Gen. 4:7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

God informed Cain that if He would do well (do things properly) his offering would be accepted as well. In other words, Cain was doing something wrong regarding His offering. The book of Hebrews provides us with more information regarding these things.

Heb. 11:4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.  

This verse tells us that the way Abel brought his sacrifice bore testimony that he was righteous. It also tells us that he offered it by faith. How does one get faith?

Rom. 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  

We can only have faith in what God says. So, in order for Abel to have made his offering by faith, then God must have told him how worship was to be done. You can only have faith regarding something if God has spoken concerning it. We don’t know all that God told Cain and Abel about worship, but we do know the following.

  1. God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins after they sinned thus typifying that blood must be shed for the covering of sins (Gen. 3:21).
  2. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith which only comes by hearing the word of God. So God must have told them how their worship was to be performed.
  3. Scripture implies that Cain already knew how he was to do things, for God did not tell Him how to do things but only reminds him that he would be accepted also if he would just do that which was right.
  4. Cain chose to worship God in a way which was not according to God’s word (otherwise Cain’s offering would have been by faith as well) and God would not receive it.

So, once again we see that worship is not acceptable unless it is done according to the word of God. And which of the two views of worship does this passage affirm? It affirms number 2, “Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden”.

1 John 3:12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

The verse above tells us two things. First, it tells us that Cain was not saved but was a child of the devil (John 8:44). Secondly, it tells us that Cain’s works prior to killing his brother were evil. Since the only work of Cain recorded prior to killing his brother was his unacceptable worship of God, this passage is saying that such worship is evil (sinful). So, according to the word of God, it is evil (sinful) to worship God in any way that is our own invention and not according to His word.

Jude 1:11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.

Scripture also warns us that false teachers walk in the way of Cain. This would mean that they too worship God however they want, instead of how God’s word says.

The Due Order

1 Chronicles 13:6-10

6 And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up thence the ark of God the LORD, that dwelleth between the cherubims, whose name is called on it.

7 And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart.

8 And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets.

9 And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.

10 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

In the above passage, we see King David and his men attempting to bring the ark of God unto Jerusalem. This was a good thing to do, but there was a problem with the way they tried to do it. They put the ark on a cart in order to transport it. But, this is not the way it was to be done and Uzza paid for their error with his life. Please notice that David and his men were sincere, playing music and singing unto the Lord with all their might. But sincerity alone is not enough, we must also worship God according to His word or our worship is not acceptable.

Later David and his men discover what they did wrong.

1 Chronicles 15:2 Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever.

1 Chronicles 15:13 For because ye did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order.

The due order is limiting our religious practices to those which are authorized by the Bible. We simply are not permitted to come up with our own man-made religious practices. God had said that the Levites were to transport the ark with staves (poles) which they were to put through the rings on the sides of the ark (Exod. 37:4-5; Deut. 10:8). God did not have to list every other possible way the ark might be carried and forbid them all. He simply told them how to do it in scripture and every other way was automatically forbidden.

Which of the two ways of worship does this passage teach us?

  1. Whatever is not forbidden in scripture is permitted.
  2. Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden.

The above passage clearly affirms number 2. They were to do things the way God said and in no other way.

Vain Worship

It is at this point that people will often object, “But those verses are all from the Old Testament, don’t you have any verses from the New Testament?” Such a statement reveals a lack of understanding about how the Old Testament scriptures apply to believers under the New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11; Matt. 5:17-19). It is beyond the scope of this article to explain what the Bible teaches regarding that matter in detail, but it should be noted that both principles (such as The Regulative Principle) and morals from the Old Covenant remain intact under the New Covenant. Morals and principles do not pass away.

Was it wrong to steal, tell a lie, murder, and commit adultery under the Old Covenant? It is still wrong under the New Covenant? Yes it is. Why?, because morals and principles stated in the Old Testament scriptures are still valid now. Morals and principles do not pass away. The principle stated in Deut. 25:4 is still valid in 1 Cor. 9:9 and 1 Tim. 5:18. The principle stated in Job 4:8 is still valid in Gal. 6:7, etc. etc.

But, in answer to the question, yes, this principle is affirmed in the New Testament scriptures as well.

Mark 7:6-8 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing'of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

The subject matter of this passage is the worship of God. Jesus says that those who worship God according to the traditions of men (in ways which don’t come from scripture) are worshipping Him in vain. God will not receive their worship. For worship to be acceptable to God, it must be according to God’s commandments (His word). That is the same thing we found in the Old Testament scriptures. This principle remains intact.

Some would object at the point and say that all this talk of commandments belong under the Old Covenant and not under the New Covenant. Once again, such a response reveals a complete lack of understanding regarding the New Covenant (1 Cor. 7:10, 19; 1 Cor. 14:37; Col. 4:10; 1 Thess. 4:2; 2 Thess. 3:4, 6, 12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 2:3-4). Let’s look at just one of those passages.

1 Cor. 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

Paul says that if a person is truly spiritual they will acknowledge that the things he wrote (his epistles – much of the New Testament scriptures) are the commandments of the Lord. Before we leave this passage in Mark, I would like to point out one final thing.

Mark 7:6-8 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing'of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

As an example of a man made tradition, Jesus mentions the Pharisee’s (whom He is rebuking here) religious practice of washing pots and cups (ceremonially)

Let me ask you a question. Where does the Bible forbid doing such things? It doesn't. But Jesus still rebuked them for it anyway. Why? He rebuked them because we are not permitted to create our own religious practices. All religious practices must be authorized by scripture or they are forbidden. Once again, view number 2, Whatever is not authorized by scripture is forbidden”. Apparently, Jesus didn’t think that “The Bible doesn’t say you can’t” would be a legitimate excuse for creating our own religious practices. That is view number 1, by the way.

True Versus False Worship

John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

The above verse speaks of “true worshippers”. If there are “true worshippers” (those whose worship God does accept), does that not also imply that there are also “false worshippers” (those whose worship God doesn’t accept)? Yes, it does. The passage goes on to tell us the difference between the two.

John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

In the above passage, Jesus lays down two essentials (musts) for worshipping God.

  1. It must be done in spirit.
  2. It must be done in truth.

Worshipping God “in spirit” has to do with worshipping God sincerely from the heart (Rom. 6:17; Eph. 6:6). It is not enough to just go through a bunch of outward rituals.

Worshipping God “in truth” has to do with worshipping God according to His word which is the source of truth.

John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Once again we see that God must be worshipped according to His word. To be acceptable, worship must be according to the word of God.

 

Summary

We have seen over and over again, from scripture, that God may only be worshipped in the way He instructs us to worship Him in His word. The Regulative Principle of worship is nothing more than this principle which scripture itself teaches us regarding how God must be worshipped. Here is a more complete statement of this principle.

“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God has been instituted by Himself and, therefore, our method of worship is limited by his own revealed will. He may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” (From the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689)

As we have seen in this article, this principle is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, all of our religious/church practices are limited to those which are authorized by scripture. The “imagination of men” refers to men coming up with religious/church practices out of their own heart instead of from scripture. As we have already seen, we are clearly forbidden to do so.