Leviticus 10: Thoughts on the long obedience of the Regulative Principle

Leviticus 10:1-3  Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

I am a proponent of the regulative principle of worship.[1] I believe we should only approach God in worship on his terms. I believe the worship “it truth” means doing what God says: not doing more, and not doing less. Nevertheless, this ethos can be presented in a less than ethical way. Those who hold to the regulative principle can certainly include Leviticus 10 in their arsenal of passages. And I am afraid that this passage, and others like it, is too often used in just that way: as a weapon to bludgeon the opposition.

God is particular about how e is worshipped. He did not really leave anything to the imagination. God’s instructions for worship even included the recipe for the incense he wanted to be burned in his presence (Ex. 30:34-38). God was concerned about the smell of the place of worship. Selah.

For some reason Nadab and Abihu decided to innovate. Any probing into why they made such a decision is pure conjecture. Scripture simply gives us no indication why Aaron’s sons did such a thing. Outside of this passage there is no indication they were scoundrels like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.[2] In fact, Nadab and Abihu were given the privilege of going up Mount Horeb with Moses and seeing God (Ex. 24:9-10). The only possible hint as to the reason for their sin in Leviticus might be in 10:8-11 where Moses institutes the command that serving priests are not to drink any alcohol. Perhaps Nadab and Abihu entered their service drunk and offered their worship in a stupor.

Whether it was because of drunkenness or not, this account serves to remind us of one of the greatest dangers in worship: complacency. I do not think Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire for any nefarious purposes. I do not think they were trying to worship idols. I think they were simply bored with the mundane-ness of it all. Even if the reason for their sin was drunkenness, why would you get drunk before doing your job? You do not think your job is important enough to be sober for. Nadab and Abihu had seen indescribable things; they had unbelievable experiences. They ate meals with God! (Ex. 24:11) Then they had to- literally- come back down to earth. Perhaps they just got bored with the routine of it all.

In my mind this is one of the greatest dangers for those who hold to the regulative principle. How long can one continue to just sing, pray, give, read, and preach? You look around and see groups of people using skits, movies, performances, bands, etc. and their tribe only increases. People get worn down. How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long do we have to sing the same tired old songs? How long do we have to listen to the preacher drone on…and on? We have been doing this forever and nothing happens. Everything is stale.

Why do people offer strange fire to the Lord? Why do they seek to be innovators in worship? There are times when people simply need to be told to toe the line. But wouldn’t it be more effective to get them to love the line instead? I am not sure how helpful it is to use Leviticus 10 to teach people to worship God God’s way, or else. Especially when they can look around and see that God is clearly not sending fire to consume everyone who worships him in ways he has not prescribed. In worship, as in life, we need to walk by faith not sight.

I pray that I never become bored with obedience. I pray that I never succumb to the allurement of relevance; the comfort of success; the excitement of innovation. But how is this going to happen? I must walk by faith and not by sight. I must content myself with the knowledge of God’s approval. His applause in my spirit must be reckoned louder than the applause of man in my ears. Apparently, God is not too interested in innovation. If he is not, why should I be?

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” Love is the issue. Following the regulative principle is to worship what marriage is to a man and woman. Many fall to the temptation of the excitement of an affair; to the freedom of non-commitment. It is no different in worship. Following the regulative principle is settling in for a lifetime of commitment. It is a determination to love: a determination to love the law of God and follow it. The road of faithfulness is long. It can be tiresome. It can be boring. But it ends in a good place.


[1] The regulative principle is the idea that God should only be worshipped according to the explicit instruction of Scripture: worship should only include what God has specifically commanded. This is in contrast to the normative principle which states that can be worshipped in any way as long as he has not given a command against it. And in contrast to the seeker-sensitive movement which states God can be worshipped in any way that attracts a crowd.

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Do I have to go to church?

Here is a link to a 12 page .pdf file that attempts to answer the question whether or not Christians have to go to church. I would simply post it here, but it is in outline format and that is something that would take me too long to do at the moment!

Do I have to go to church?

The Importance of Church Part 7: Who does not go to church & Conclusion

For my final post in “the importance of the church” series, I would like to approach the subject from a somewhat different angle. I thought I would take something of an apophatic approach[1] to the subject via the question, “Who does not go to church?” Perhaps in answering this question, we will also discover the New Testament expectation of who does go to church.

 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14

The New Testament does not expect those who are physically unable to attend the normal meetings of the church. This is making an assumption based on James 5:14, but I think it is a pretty safe one. The apostle James instructs those who are sick to call for the elders. This seems to indicate that they sick person is not able to attend the church meetings. The picture this verse clearly presents is elders going to the location of a sick person; not a sick person going to the location of the elders. The Lord is tender and gracious; he remembers our frame, that we are dust. When a case is made for faithful church attendance by Christians, the old and infirm are often put forth as exceptions that are meant to destroy the argument. But those who are legitimately physically unable to attend are not expected to do so.[2]

 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 7

A second person who is not expected to go to church is the professing believer who is living in open, flagrant, abhorrent, unconfessed sin. In fact, the apostle Paul goes so far as to command the church at Corinth to not allow such a person to worship with them. The church is given an explicit command to exclude so-called brothers and sisters who are living in open sin. People who call themselves Christians, but continue to live a life dominated by sin do not go to church. In fact, they are not even to be allowed in the church meeting unless it is to repent.[3]

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is teaching us that we cannot expect unbelievers to live like Christians, but we must expect Christians to live like Christians. A “Christian” who lives like an unbeliever dishonors the Lord and His church. It is the responsibility of the church to show to the surrounding community that such a person is not accepted as being a true believer.

 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 1 Corinthians 5:11-12

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all… 1 Corinthians 14:23-24

1 Corinthians 5 also offers a third person who does not attend the church assembly: the unbeliever. As he offers his counsel to have nothing to do with so-called believers living in sin, Paul reminds the believers that this does not mean they should not have any contact with unbelievers. Sinning “believers” should be shunned and removed from the church, but sinning unbelievers should be evangelized and brought into the church. Later on in the same book, Paul again indicates that unbelievers are not expected to attend the assembly of the church. Paul’s repeated use of “if” in 1 Cor. 14:23-24 indicate that an unbeliever might come to the church meeting, but it should not be expected.

So from the negative perspective, these people do not go to church: the unable, the unfaithful, and the unbeliever. According to the New Testament, these are three kinds of people who are not expected to be in church on Sunday morning. So, turning this teaching around and looking at it from the opposite perspective; who is expected to be in church every Sunday morning? The able, the faithful, the believer. If “your” church is meeting and you are not there, one of these things must be true about you: you are unable (something in the circumstances of your life has physically prevented you from attending); you are unfaithful; you are an unbeliever.

Conclusion:
In this entire series of posts my design has been to show that true Christians are faithful to attend and serve their local church. It has not been my intention to say that going to church makes someone a Christian. Such a statement has the matter exactly backwards.  If I have ever said that going to church makes someone a Christian I repent in sackcloth and ashes. My point is that Christians go to church. This is the only reality the New Testament recognizes. The New Testament simply does not speak of someone who professes to be saved, is physically able to go to church, yet does not do so, and is still on “good terms” with God. For all intents and purposes we might as well speak of unicorns and centaurs.

 

Perhaps an illustration is in order. Summer is drawing to a close; autumn is approaching. For many people this can only mean one thing: football. Whether high school on Friday night, college on Saturday, or professional on Sunday; the next 5 months will be marked by football. Millions of people will attend football games. Millions of people will spend millions of dollars to do so. They will cheer, scream, and cry for their team. But they are not football players. Likewise, there are many people who go to church. There are many people who give their money and time to serve the church, but they are not Christians. Not everyone at a game is a football player. Not everyone at church is a Christian.

But let us suppose you were out for a drive some fine fall night when your school was playing and you saw some students who are not at the game. You would know this: they are not football players. Let us suppose you were out shopping some Sunday afternoon when your team was playing and saw a man 6’4” and 320 pounds. You might not know him, but you would know this: he is not a football player. How could you make this judgment? Because a football player would be at the game with his team. Going to a football game does not get you on the team, but if you are on the team you go to the game.

Going to church does not get you into heaven, but if you are going to heaven you will be with everyone else who is going.

NOTE:

For previous posts in this series see:
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/is-going-to-church-really-that-important/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/why-is-church-important/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/why-is-the-church-important-part-2/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/why-is-church-important-or-the-trinitarian-heresy-of-not-going-to-church/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-importance-of-the-church-part-5-why-should-i-be-faithful-to-the-church/
https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/the-importance-of-the-church-part-6-how-to-not-live-a-wasted-life/

 

 

 

 


[1] The apophatic method, also known as the via negativa, asserts that positive statements of God’s identity cannot be made. Because God is incomprehensible and beyond our understanding, we cannot say what God is but only what God is not. While such a method is ultimately insufficient, it is a helpful reminder that things that are so can be discovered by knowing things that are not so.

[2] By “physically” I am speaking of the health of the body. But physically could also be applied in the related way of “providentially.” Obviously, it does not have to be sickness that prevents a person from attending the church meeting. I doubt the Lord expects the woman in labor to stop what she is doing so she can sing in the choir. Nor does it necessarily have to involve the health of the body at all. When believers are imprisoned for their faith, whether in Acts or today, they should not expect their captors to release them so that they might go to church. Sometimes, occasionally, things happen that truly prevent us from going to church. The Lord knows.

[3] In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul seems to be addressing this same situation, but after the man in question has repented of sin. Paul commands the church to welcome the man back into the assembly.

The Importance of the Church Part 6: How to not live a wasted life.

(This is the sixth post in a series addressing the importance of the church in the life of the believer. Some time has transpired since the first post, but there have not been many intervening posts: so previous installments should not be too hard for you to find.)

 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

 While I have never preached on them myself, these verses strike me as one those “preacher’s texts.” It is a text that is somewhat well-known, has powerful imagery, persuasive in nature, something that a preacher could go to when he wanted to press for a decision. It is a text that I imagine would be popular with evangelists and those preaching revival-type services. Unfortunately, as I have heard it preached, taught, and discussed, the text seldom given the true weight of its context.

 It is easy to just rip these verses out of 1 Corinthians 3 and apply them to the rather general theme of “building one’s life.” They are applied in a moralistic manner of living the Christian life in obedience to the Bible. There is some support for the idea of your life being a building in Jesus’ conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. But this idea is completely missing from 1 Corinthians 3. Paul is not talking about your life as a building, living morally, or getting rewarded for the general way in which you lead your life. Paul’s application is much more specific. In fact, Paul is speaking against building up your own personal life.

 Paul introduces the building thought in verse 9 with the statement that Peter, Paul, Apollos, and any other apostle are only workers for God trying to do their part in the edification of God’s building: the church. The church is God’s building, more than that it is God’s temple (3:9, 16). The Corinthians had fallen prey to the party spirit of exalting men and identifying themselves by their earthly teachers. “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas.” Paul identifies this as foolishness because God is only building one building: his church. Peter, Paul, and Apollos were not cult leaders trying to form their own club. All worked together for the building up of the church.

 After calling the church God’s building in verse 9, Paul continues: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation…” In verse 9 the church is called God’s building. In verse 16 the church is called God’s temple. Verses 10-15 address the subject of rewards for the way one builds. So in the context of 1 Corinthians 3, what is the building being specifically addressed in verses 12-15? Clearly it is the church.

 Preachers dazzle their crowds with a false hope of receiving  gold, silver, precious stones if they will only live a good Christian life, but that is not at all what Paul is teaching. The basis for rewards in heaven, at least according to this passage, is what one did to build up the church of God. What is the work that is examined on that Great Day (3:13)? It is the work of building (3:14). The work of building what? The work of building God’s building (3:9), God’s temple (3:16): the church of Jesus Christ. The value of your life is determined by what you have spent to build up the church.

 Jesus died for the church. The apostles labored for the church. God rewards labors for the church. In short, the question this text asks is not, “How are you living?” but “What are you doing for the church?” As Gordon Fee comments, “This text has singular relevance to the contemporary church. It is neither a challenge to the individual believer to build his or her life well on the foundation of Christ, nor is it grist for theological debate. Rather, it is one of the most significant passages in the NT that warn—and encourage—those responsible for ‘building’ the church of Christ.”

 If you are not building the church of Christ you are not living well.

 

 

 

The Importance of the church part 5: Why should I be faithful to the church?

Previous posts in this little series on the importance of the church have addressed: the fact of its importance- providing several patristic quotations indicating those who are not a part of the church cannot be saved. Then we had three posts on the nature of the church: what it is. It is the body of Christ, the building of God, the “place “the Spirit blesses. The next several posts will transition from foundational to motivational reasons for faithful church membership.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

God and the forces of hell are engaged in constant warfare. It is not eternal because it has not always existed, and it not always will: so it is persistent, but not eternal. If the Bible is to believed, and I think that is always a good place to start. Satan is actually somewhat successful in his campaign against the Lord of hosts. He is so successful in fact, that the entire world is going to be dissolved in fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10). God wins, but he does so be completely destroying this creation and making it anew.

In college I often heard the only things on earth that are eternal are the souls of men and the word of God. The cliché left out one important thing though: the church. If Jesus is to believed, and, again, I think that is always a very good place to start, the church will never fail. The church will not die. There is no other group, institution, nation, any kind of any collection of any people in all the world that has this promise.

Denominations will fail. If Luther or Wesley walked into one of “their” churches today each would probably leave in fit of rage. Denominations will fail. Jesus did not promise to build a denomination. He promised to build his church.

Schools and seminaries will fail. Did you know that almost every single Ivy League School started as an institution to train men for the ministry? Why are none of them faithful to Scripture any longer? Because Jesus promised to build his church, not a school.

Conferences will whither up and blow away. Whether the Student Volunteer Movement, Promise Keepers, or Together for the Gospel. Jesus did not promise to build a conference. He promised to build a church.

Your radio stations, TV networks, blogs (!), will all end in emptiness. Jesus did not promise to build a media conglomerate. Jesus promised to build a church.

Your bands, actors, movies, comedians, will all perform their last and be remembered no more. Jesus did not promise to build an entertainment empire. HE promised to build a church.

It is rumored that somewhere in the hidden recesses of man’s nobility there is a desire for things that matter, a life that matters, a life that makes a difference with lasting impact. It is the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90:17,  “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Establish the work of our hands. If this is your prayer, if you want a life that matters, Jesus has already given you the answer. It is a promise. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Do you want a successful life? Do what Jesus is doing. The kingdom of Jesus will last. Yours will not.

Why is Church Important? Or, The Trinitarian heresy of not going to church

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

We began this series with a post on the importance of the church: a number of quotations from early fathers and apologists proclaiming those outside of the church are not and cannot be saved. Then we began seeking Scriptural support for this idea. We saw that Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the body of Christ. Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the building of God. Today we see that Christians must be involved with the church because of the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is impossible without the Trinity. While it is true that God is one and wills and accomplishes everything as one, the Bible does present Trinitarian distinctions in the accomplishment of salvation. It is impossible to adequately summarize this in one sentence, but this sentence comes as close as any: “Salvation is thought by the Father, bought by the Son, and wrought by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit actualizes contemporaneously everything the Father has planned eternally and the Son accomplished historically.

It is the Holy Spirit who immerses believers into the body of Christ and the benefits of his death and resurrection (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom 6:3-6). It is the Holy Spirit who builds believers up into the building of God (Eph. 2:22). But the Bible teaches that this building process is not something that happens apart from the efforts and service of believers themselves.

The church is a building- teaching us that in some sense we are passive and totally under the control of the Builder. But the church is also a body- teaching us in another sense that we must make a personal effort to care, nourish, and provide for it. In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul teaches us that even this process of self-care is made possible by God: the Father (12:6); the Son (12:5); and particularly the Spirit (12:4, 7-11). Those abilities we call spiritual gifts must be recognized as Spiritual gifts.

When a person is saved, he is sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30); and he is gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-13). The purpose of these gifts of the Spirit is plain: to serve other Christians.

 1 Cor. 12:7: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Peter 4:10: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…

So when a person is saved he receives the Holy Spirit. When he receives the Holy Spirit he is gifted by the Holy Spirit. When he is gifted by the Holy Spirit he is gifted in order to serve the church. It seems obvious that if he is gifted to serve the church he must be “in the church” to exercise that gift. The Spirit does not gift you for your benefit, but for the benefit of others. If you are not fellowshipping with others, they are not benefitting from your gift. The Bible clearly teaches what the Spirit does (gifts believers) and why he does it (to benefit other believers); so if you are not allowing other believers to benefit from your gift you are not walking in the Spirit.

Taking a step back and considering all these things, the serious nature of not attending church must be recognized for what it is: an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit engrafts believers into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit builds believers into the building of God. The Holy Spirit gifts believers to serve other believers. For a person to say he is a Christian but to have no interest in faithful, active, church membership is an attack on God himself. Specifically, it is an attack on the Holy Spirit and the unity of the Trinity.

The “stay-at-home” Christian proclaims that the Holy Spirit is in rebellion against the Father and Son. The Father has made complete provision for a holy temple, with all the stones perfectly joined and fit together. But the Holy Spirit is content to leave the rocks in a field. Covered by moss. Surrounded by weeds. The Son has done everything to become the Head of a body fearfully and wonderfully made to accomplish the will of God. The Spirit is content with severed ears and dismembered fingers. The Spirit is a disinterested Dr. Frankenstein with a freakish laboratory with formaldehyde-filled jars of parts. Rather than accomplishing his role of gifting believers to serve, the Spirit has become a stingy Scrooge.

The New Testament presents the actual building up of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit. So if you are able to go to church, but regularly chose not to I can see only two options:

  1. Either you do not have the Holy Spirit. In which case you are not a Christian (Rom. 8:9).
  2. Or, the Holy Spirit has decided to do his own thing. In which case the Trinity is undone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the Church Important? (part 2)

(Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the importance of the church. See also: Is the Church important?; Why is the church important?)

Scripture expects us to believe truths that seemingly contradict. God is entirely sovereign and has from eternity chosen all those will be saved. Man is entirely responsible and is commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. No man knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be preceded by clearly recognizable signs so that his followers will not be surprised. These truths, and others, are like parallel roads stretching on into the horizon; always getting closer but never seeming to meet. We are not told to reconcile these truths (for, indeed, friends do not need reconciling), but to live according to them. Another such set of truths is that God is everywhere, but he is only met in certain places.

God is everywhere: he is omnipresent.

Psalm 139:7-8- Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Jeremiah 23:23‑24- “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.

Proverbs 15:3- The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Acts 17:26‑28- And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “In him we live and move and have our being”…

Since God is everywhere, one would think that God could be worshipped anywhere. If God is in the mountains, we can worship him in the mountains. If God is in the valleys, we can worship him in the plains. It makes sense. It is wrong.

The Bible is very clear that God is only to be worshipped in the place and ways he determines. As the nation of Israel was about to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that he was only to be worshipped in the place he determined. The phrase “the place the Lord your God will choose” occurs 22 times in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 23:16; 26:2; 31:11). That place turned out to be the Tabernacle, and then the Temple.

The people of Israel did not obey this command and built “high places.” They built their own places of worship for God and idols. God hated this practice and vowed to judge the people for it (Jer. 17:1-4; Ezek. 6:1-7). This practice of private worship, or even public worship in the place God had not chosen, was so significant that on multiple occasions it was the criteria by which kings are judged in Kings and Chronicles. Wicked kings set up high places (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33; 2 Kings 17:9); good kings failed in not taking away high places (1 Kings 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35); the best kings removed the high places (2 Kings 18:4; 23:19). One of the key criteria by which God evaluated the kings was what the kings did about private worship and their neglect or their building up of Temple worship at “the place the Lord your God chooses.” God is everywhere, but he is worshipped where he chooses.

The blessings of the New Covenant overflow the Old Covenant. No longer must every worshipper of God go to Jerusalem three times a year or whenever else an offering is made. The temple is no more! We are free to worship God everywhere! Right?

Wrong. The truth has not changed, even if the outworking of it has. The church is important because it is the new building of God. God repeatedly claimed that he was only to be worshipped in the place he chose, the place where he caused his name to dwell in. That place is now the church- the true temple of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

2 Corinthians 6:16  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ephesians 2:19-22  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-5  As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What is the significance of the temple? The temple is where God dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). Yes, God is everywhere. But he dwells in his temple. Wherever God dwells is where his people are to meet him. If someone does not go to the meeting of the church, they are not worshipping God in the way or place he has chosen. Peter states as much in 1 Peter 2:5 with a mind-bending metaphor. We are being built up as the temple to offer the spiritual sacrifices of that temple. During the Old Testament, God only accepted sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament God accepts sacrifices offered at the temple: the church.

Previously, we saw that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the body of Christ. A member not connected to the body dies. There is no life apart from the body. Now we see that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the building of God. As God’s temple, the church is where God is met and worshipped. Christians are stones in that temple. They are connected with everything else (i.e. everyone else) beneath, beside, and above them. God does not leave his people as stones in a field. God builds his people into the place where he is. That place is the church. If you are not in the church you are not where God is. You are not God’s building.

Why is church important?

My previous post on the importance of the church was meant to support the proposition that unless a person is a faithful member of local church, he cannot be saved. Each of the patristic quotations indicated this sentiment: if a person is not connected to the church, he is not saved. This post, and following ones, will discuss the biblical basis for such an opinion. Why is active, faithful, membership in a local church so important? It is so important because of what the church is.

The church is the body of Christ. The church as the body of Christ is Paul’s favorite metaphor to describe the nature of the church (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-13, 18, 20, 27; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:29-30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). The metaphor is so important to Paul because of the wonderful picture it provides to the truth that is often identified as central to Paul’s theology: union with Christ. A body is one. Though it is one, its strength and ability come from its diversity. If the whole body was an ear, it would only be good for hearing; and even then not for very long since there would be no hand with fingers to keep it clean! Yet the body can only work properly, when it works orderly. The body needs a head to provide organization, structure, leadership. That Head is Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18; 2:19).

So while Paul uses the analogy of the body to teach truths concerning unity, diversity, and authority; the presupposition of the metaphor is life. Individual body parts do not live when they are severed from the body. Individual “Christians” do not live when they are separated from the Body of Christ.

Jesus does not use the body metaphor, but He teaches the same truth in John 15:5-6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” If there is no union with Christ, there is no life.

But some might say, “Jesus says I must abide in Him, not in His church.” It completely misses the point to assert that one can be united to Christ and not be united to His church because the Church is His body. Can Paul be any more provocative when he writes in Ephesians 1:23 that the church is the very fullness of Christ? A body without a head is as useless as a head without a body is abhorrent.

But some might say, “Paul is speaking of the church as people, not an institution. Since I am a person I can be a part of Christ’s body without being part of a church.” But that misses the entire point of the analogy. Paul never says “I am” Christ’s body, but “we are” members of Christ’s body. A body needs members. A finger connected to the base of the neck is not a body, it is a monstrosity.

Why is the church important? Because the church is Christ’s body and things not connected to a body have no life.

 

 

Is going to church really that important?

Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matt. 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. (Ignatius, To the Ephesians 5)

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. (Ignatius, To the Philadelphians 3)

And as in the sea there are islands, some of them habitable, and well-watered, and fruitful, with havens and harbors in which the storm-tossed may find refuge,—so God has given to the world which is driven and tempest-tossed by sins, assemblies—we mean holy churches—in which survive the doctrines of the truth, as in the island-harbors of good anchorage; and into these run those who desire to be saved, being lovers of the truth, and wishing to escape the wrath and judgment of God. And as, again, there are other islands, rocky and without water, and barren, and infested by wild beasts, and uninhabitable, and serving only to injure navigators and the storm-tossed, on which ships are wrecked, and those driven among them perish,—so there are doctrines of error—I mean heresies—which destroy those who approach them. For they are not guided by the word of truth; but as pirates, when they have filled their vessels, drive them on the fore-mentioned places, that they may spoil them: so also it happens in the case of those who err from the truth, that they are all totally ruined by their error. (Theophilus, To Autolycus II, 14)

The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If anyone could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. (Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church 6)

But, moreover, the very interrogation which is put in baptism is a witness of the truth. For when we say, “Dost thou believe in eternal life and remission of sins through the holy Church?” we mean that remission of sins is not granted except in the Church, and that among heretics, where there is no Church, sins cannot be put away. (Cyprian, Epistle 69.2)

Moreover, all other heretics, if they have separated themselves from the Church of God, can have nothing of power or of grace, since all power and grace are established in the Church where the elders453 preside, who possess the power both of baptizing, and of imposition of hands, and of ordaining. (Cyprian, Epistle 74.7)

But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, “Whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) (Cyprian, Epistle 74.16)

Obviously, the fathers have quite a bit more in mind than simply “going to church.” But none of what they have in mind happens without a person first going to church…faithfully.

Worship Wars: When did they start? Is it really worth it?

I have commented before about the Bible reading program that I use- reading a chapter a day in ten different places- and how it can alert you to connections between passages of Scripture you may never have noticed before. Today, my readings included the following passages:

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:16-19)

So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the LORD your God. But which ones are to go?” Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.” But he said to them, “The LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the LORD our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there.” But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. (Exodus 10:8-11, 24-27)

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:3-4, 17-21)

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. (Esther 3:1-6)

There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. (Daniel 3:12-23)

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:12-13)

A common criticism of Christians is that they can be contentious, petty, quarrelsome. I am not sure how many churches have split over the color of the carpet, the curtains, or the pew cushions; whether we sing from a hymnal or screen; whether there is a piano and organ or praise band; whether to use whipped cream or whipping cream on desserts (and yes, I have actually heard of this); but the very first church to split over such matters was one split too many. Nevertheless there are some things worth fighting for.

We used to hear a lot about the “worship wars” within American Christianity. They certainly are not over, as evidenced by issues of Christianity Today in the past several months, but the furor seems to have more or less subsided. Now, we usually hear things along the lines of “agreeing to disagree,” or “is this worth ‘fighting’ over?”

What struck me in today’s readings was that worship has been fought over for thousands of years and will continue to be fought over until the end of time. The reason for the Exodus was not liberation from an oppressive government: it was worship. God rescued Israel to make his name known (Ex. 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:22; 11:7; 14:4, 18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put into the fire because they worshipped God and not Nebuchadnezzar. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai only reverenced God, not man. Jesus warned that his followers would be hated by the world because the world would hate Jesus. Paul was brought to court by the Jews because of worship. Jude warned his readers that persecution and scoffers were not something relegated to the end times, but were present now. The faith, therefore, is always in need of Christians who will contend for it. There have always been, and always will be, those who would seek to undo the right worship of God.

Whether or not “worship wars” was the right term to use; whether or not the war was fought honorably; whether or not the “right” side “won”; worship is worth fighting over.

John Calvin gave two fundamental reasons for the Reformation: “a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is obtained.”[i] If you are unfamiliar with that rather well-known quote, you should probably stop, go back, and read it again. The most important thing in the Christian religion is the right worship of God. The second most important thing is the salvation of man.

In reply to Roman Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto who was trying to bring Geneva back into the arms of Rome, Calvin wrote, “…there is nothing more perilous to our salvation than a preposterous and perverse worship of God. The primary rudiments by which we are wont to train to piety those whom we wish to gain as disciples to Christ are these; viz., not to frame any new worship of God for themselves at random, and after their own pleasure, but to know that the only legitimate worship is that which He himself approved from the beginning.”[ii]

Worship is not a philosophy. It is not an attitude or feeling. Worship is not a tool. It is not a method. Worship is life or death. Just ask Moses and Pharaoh; Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Nebuchadnezzar; Mordecai and Haman; Jesus and Satan; Paul and the Jews; Jude and apostates. Worship is worth fighting for.

 


[i] John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544; repr. Audobon, N.J.: Old Paths, 1994), 4.

[ii] John C. Olin ed., A Reformation Debate John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), 59.