the laws of worship: Deuteronomy 12

As a unit, Deuteronomy 12 and 13 focus on the theme of worship. Chapter 13 falls into an outline with the greatest of ease in warning of three common threats to acceptable worship: false prophets (13:1-5), family and friends (13:6-11), and popular movements (13:12-18). In each instance the divine Word offers a radical cure: put to death all those in error. As it precedes these instructions, chapter 12 is given to aid the community of faith to know how to gage error. While chapter 12 does not fall as easily into the linear outline that our Western minds prefer, it nevertheless clearly presents the three laws of worship.

Moses proclaims the first law in 12:8, "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today–every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes…" The first law, then, is autonomy: the law of self. Such a concept is stated in a similar way in Judges 17:5 and 21:25 where God says, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Autonomous worshipers worship in whatever way they deem best.

The second law is given in 12:30, "Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’" The second law is heteronomy: the law of others. Heteronomous worshipers seek the approval and adopt the worship-methods of others.

Broadly speaking, those obeying the first law would include the emergent church and many evangelicals and fundamentalists. The inability of those outside the movement, and the refusal of its own leaders to define the movement demonstrates that the emergent churches have no set "law," but worship in whatever way they feel is most "spiritual." Evangelicals and fundamentalist would certainly protest this designation, but I remain unconvinced. It seems that these groups with a strong emphasis on the priesthood of the believer are lust as likely to harbor Nadabs and Abihus rather than Melchizedeks or Aarons.

The second law speaks so directly to, and clearly against, the seeker sensitive and ecumenical movements that it scarcely needs comment. It would not be difficult to include Moses’ hypothetical question as a very real part of a mission statement in any Willow Creek-like church today.

The third law is the last verse of the chapter, 12:32, "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." The third law is theonomy: the law of God. While the term has certain problems due to the movement that has been labeled with it, "theonomy" properly defines this law. Theonomous worshipers seek to worship God in strict adherence to His proscribed standards.

This causes somewhat of a problem, for the same groups that champion the priesthood of the believer, also usually emphasize the authority of Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice. After the broadside of my previous accusation, I suppose some support for the charge should be offered.

The easiest element to attack in the liturgy of many evangelical and fundamentalist churches is the time set aside for announcements. It has been my (limited) experience that on most occasions the announcements are given toward the beginning or middle of the service. A song or two is sung, a prayer or two is prayed and the announcements are given. (Before proceeding, it may be beneficial for you to read once again the third law of worship.) The issue I have with such an order of service is that one searches in vain to find God’s command to give announcements regarding the ladies Bible study, men’s softball game, and teen pizza party.

The third law is very precise in its legislation: only those things God commands are to be included in worship. To God’s dictates on worship there are to be no additions nor any subtractions. Broadly speaking, those churches which adopt the regulative principle have the greatest potential of following the third law of worship.

God’s law is the only law of worship. Unfortunately, many churches and denominations have abandoned the only infallible guide for laws of their own crafting. What hope is there for believers when their very act of worship is in contradiction to the will of the God they seek to serve?

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