14 August 2005

Ongoing Worship

In continuing my personal exercise of critical thinking about worship, I found myself covering the Old Testament laws again. This raised the question of whether we have been given New Testament laws concerning worship. Primarily this came on becausethe more I pondered it the more I realized that in our efforts to love and obey God we have somehow changed worship into a legal system of salvation. We have not recognized the new covenant as a covenant of forgiveness enabling us to obey God's eternal law of love. The new covenant is not anew law, but rather a release from the penalty of God's eternal law.

We know that God's eternal law was first expressed in the old covenant (the ten commandments) and ultimately revealed in the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ. The detailed laws of worship are far from an arbitrary test of faith. On the contrary, every holy day, every form of sacrifice, and every ordinance of the priesthood related in some way to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, willingly obeying God's why, how, when, and where of worship was a means to honor Him as the Holy God. They were trusting in His mercy and forgiveness. Before the cross, fellowship with God was only possible through the worship that God had commanded. In the Old Testament, worship taught that we must approach God on His terms if we are to be acceptable to Him. The New Testament equivalent is not a new set of laws of worship, but rather the fulfillment of the symbolism of the Old Testament laws of worship. We must always approach God on His terms, by surrendering our lives to Christ and trusting and depending upon His forgiveness. There is only one way to God and that is through the atoning blood of our Lord Jesus. Prior to the cross, this was an exercise of worship both in form and function. When Christ gave His life for us, he freed us from the exercise of worship as a form and instead allows us to accept the function solely by faith. Old Testament worship was never intended to be an end in itself, but the expression of complete trust and dependence in God. So to, the sacraments we observe even today are not an end in themselves, but rather an avenue to extend our worship.

The tithe is a good example of the difference between the covenant of law and the covenant of forgiveness. In the Old Testament we were commanded to give one tenth of all our increase to God. Understandably this had a practical side, but it also taught a deeper truth. Everything we have not only comes from God, but also belongs to Him. In the New Testament we are not commanded to give a specific tithe, but rather are exhorted to be a cheerful, and thoughtful giver. We give not one tenth, but everything to God. Our homes, our cars, our T.V's, belong to God and must be used in His service. It was love that motivated the early Christians to purposefully put aside money each week to send to the destitute Christians in Judea. We have taken this example of love and turned it into a "law" of giving every first day of the week. Actually, the people were to put aside the money "that there be no gatherings" when Paul came (I Cor. 16:2). No gatherings! Can you see how easily the intents can be perverted by ignorance and greed? The central idea is that giving should be purposeful, and not a last minute scrounging around. It is worth noting in that same passage that there are several indicators that this collection was a special response to a great need, and not part of the regular worship. When we consider the intent of these admonitions, should we condemn those who pass the collection plate on Wednesday in order to buy food for a hungry family of Christians? Does God really care if we pass the plate on Sunday instead of collecting resources outside the building after the assembly?

This is but one of many examples where searching for a law of worship will soon leave us missing the intent of salvation and worship...a wonderful, lasting relationship with God our Father.

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