Great Stuff — Thoughts on Personal Preferences and Worship of God
Found on Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church website, written by Pastor Rich Futrell:
From the beginning, when we first see God give His people instructions on worship, we find worship to be liturgical (following prescribed patterns, not free form of one’s own choosing). After giving His people the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), God told them to how to build an altar (Exodus 20:24-26). Then, He told them about keeping the Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-13), the annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-19), and various offerings and furnishings in the Sanctuary (Exodus 25:1-40). God then directed them on the design of the tabernacle, the altar, the outer court, priest vestments, and instructions for daily offerings (Exodus 26-30).
Yet, the worship that took place on earth was not in isolation. The book of Hebrews tells us that a relationship exists between our worship and the worship that takes place in heaven. Hebrews 8:1-5 says (see also Exodus 25:40 and Wisdom 9:8):
[Jesus] is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord and not by any human…. Now if [Jesus] were [still] on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest at all, because others offer the gifts prescribed by the Law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain.”
The Old Covenant served as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” That means God told His people to worship in a specific way because how they worshiped on earth was to mirror what was taking place in heaven. If God’s Old Covenant people violated this, God was not pleased.
We see God’s displeasure shortly after He rescued His people in Egypt. In the wilderness, they wanted to worship God—but shaped by their own preferences. So, they made a golden calf and decided to worship God through that. How do we know? Of this worship preference, Aaron says, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the LORD [Yahweh]” (Exodus 32:5). About the Israelite’s preference to worship Him in the way of the Egyptians, God said, “And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).
God called their worship preference “play,” even idolatry. The Israelites thought they were worshiping God, but they were only playing. For they were not worshiping the way God wanted them to do so.
Well, that was the Old Covenant. What about us in the New Covenant? Are we fully free to do whatever we want? You would think so based on all the different styles on worship taking place on Sunday morning.
To this Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth disappear, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything has been accomplished. So, whoever sets aside one of the least of these commands, and teaches others to do the same, will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Old Covenant, but to fulfill it. And so our worship is to reflect that. And, thus, worship in the New Covenant is still a copy and shadow of what takes place in heaven! That’s why when we gather as God’s people, the Church’s liturgy tells us that we also worship with the “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” With them, “we laud and magnify” God’s glorious name.
And what does Revelation show us about heavenly worship, which we are to mirror? In Revelation, whenever John sees active, heavenly worship, two words describe what he sees: pipto (fall down) and proskeneuo (in a position of prostration) (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 11:1, 11:16, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10). Although they are the sinless saints in heaven, they still fall prostrate before God in worship. If worship is reverential for them, how much more so should it be for us?
It’s not until after Jesus returns on the Last Day, and the bodies and souls of the saints are reunited, when the description of worship changes. The saints are no longer worshiping God in the form of pipto and proskeneuo. Revelation 22:3-5 reads:
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship [latreuo] him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Now the saints worship God in the form of latreuo. But more than that, they will also reign with God in eternity!
Well, back to worship here in the Church Militant. From the beginning, the New Testament Church took God’s commanded forms of worship in the Old Covenant and adapted them to show their fulfillment in the New. Synagogue worship became the Service of the Word. Temple Sacrifices became the Lord’s Supper. That shape developed into what today we call the “historic liturgy.” This worship form still exists in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and traditional Lutheran worship services.
Worship is not a matter of preference. Our preferences are irrelevant, just as the preferences of the Israelites were irrelevant in the wilderness. In the end, it’s not about what we want. It’s about what God wants for us.
It is a presumptuous and arrogant people who take their preferences and then demand to be shown where they cannot do what they want in their worship of God. That happened in the Old Covenant, when the people of Israel wanted to worship God using forms they were comfortable with: a golden calf (Exodus 32:5). God called such worship idolatry–and this was even before His people received the Ten Commandments. Beginning with such a human-centered approach begins with an idolatrous worldview of self at the center instead of God.