“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”CHAPTER XXI. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day, The Westminster Confession of Faith, Edinburgh edition.
What are the limitations of acceptable worship to God? In other words, what is allowable and not allowable when we go before the Lord in corporate worship. This question has been answered by many in the past under what has been called the “regulative principle.”
As a Christian who comes from a stream of the conservative Bible Church movement, there have been some who have decried the use of creeds such as the above Westminster Confession, instead desiring to have “no creed but the Bible.” Those of my Christian brethren that are creedal would respond that the place of confessions such as the WCF does not supersede or have any authority apart from Scripture, but organizes, categorizes, and systematizes the great biblical themes of Scripture for ease of learning and memorization. For this, I am grateful and can appreciate the beauty of such statements.
The issue of what is allowable and what is not is a good example of why such statements can be a help and benefit to the church. Today the evangelical church is awash with self-made men and ministries that are part vaudeville acts and entrepreneurial businesses. Whereas God does give us liberty in many areas regarding how He would have His Church worship, we are not given a blank check to conduct worship in any way we see fit as if God does not care so long as we are sincere. Freedom in some things does not equate to freedom in all things.
If the Lord was detailed in His prescription for Israel, it doesn’t make any sense that the Church of the New Testament was given absolutely no parameters. And although many godly men have disagreements over specific areas of worship, the point is that they are seeking to know God’s desire and not simply worshipping according to popularity or emotional responses by the congregation.
Covid-19 has pushed a lot of churches, pastors, and elders to re-examine their ecclesiology. Some started the shut-down of their churches by touting that online church is the same as in-person services, but simply an online version. But as things have dragged on, I have noticed that some of those same voices are now worried that people are not going to come back, and they are now trying to convince their congregation that online church is not the same! Of course, it is not the same.
The same is true for the ordinances. How can the Lord’s Supper be given via video? Doesn’t it represent the gathered Body of Christ? How can that be represented when we are not gathered? Some pastors have gone so far as to suggest that at-home communion include substitutes of grape soda pop or another fruit juice, and snack foods for the bread if nothing else is available!
These are not small things, dear brethren. Many in Church history have died over the sacredness of the Lord’s Table and the proper use of it. And more importantly, these things involve the worship of our God. When I hear or see the flippant and worldly worship of our God, I am reminded of God’s judgment upon Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire upon the altar. I am reminded of God striking Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. I think of God’s judgment of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Spirit. God takes worship seriously! So should we.
Whether you subscribe to a creedal statement or not, it cannot be denied that we must worship God according to His desire, not our own.