Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 23, Worship

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With the mention of the Person to be worshipped, and the character of true worship (these both taught directly), and the class of people who can be worshippers (this taught indirectly from the Lord thus conversing with the woman), His instructions on this important question ended. Scripture, however, gives us more about it, and makes it very plain that true Christian worship is different from anything ever before known. Paul, once zealous for the law, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, knew well what Judaism was, and the evil of Judaizing teaching in the Church of God. So warning his beloved Philippians against such, he sets forth, in a simple way, the true Christian position in contrast with all such teaching. " We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God" (so we should probably read the clause), " and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)) The Holy Ghost then is the power of true Christian worship. Now this was both new and distinctive. It characterized Christian worship then. It must characterize it still. We are to worship by the Spirit of God. Forms and ceremonies God gave to Israel, in conformity with which they worshipped Jehovah. Forms and ceremonies have not been given to us. We know not even the words in which the Lord gave thanks at the institution of the Supper. We have no description of an apostle breaking bread. We have not a single hymn, that we know of, which was in use in any Christian assembly in apostolic days. Nothing of this has been handed down to us in the Word. We have no book of Christian psalms; for we are to worship by the Spirit of God. Now if we go back to Old Testament forms, and mold Christian worship in conformity with them, we lose this distinctive feature of Christianity, worshipping by the Spirit of God.
And herein lies a danger arising from ignorance of dispensational teaching. It may seem very plausible to say we use Scripture language, and can point to precedents in the Word for our ways in worship. But if Scripture is used unintelligently, and dispensational teaching is not known, the soul may be beguiled, by using words of Scripture, to surrender distinctive teaching of Christianity. This is a very serious matter, and one which concerns all Christians; for have not most of us had part in such confusion? But have all seen the evil of it? Do all understand what it is to worship by the Spirit of God, allowing Him, who is in the assembly, to guide in worship, when Christians meet together for that purpose?
Now the word of God takes such pains to point out the distinction between the two dispensations; whereas Christians, through ignorance of New Testament teaching, have practically sought to mingle them-attempting to put the wine of Christian truth into bottles of Jewish forms. The mistake of this, to say nothing more, is further apparent when we consider, thirdly, what the place is in which we now worship God. It is the sanctuary on high, into which the great Priest has entered by His own blood, a sanctuary, into which Israel never had access, and never will. Now into the holiest are we permitted to enter "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh." (Heb. 10:19,2019Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; (Hebrews 10:19‑20)) But for us to be there, three things are requisite. The Lord Jesus must have died, else the veil could not have been rent; atonement by His blood must have been made, otherwise we should not have boldness to enter in, nor have known of a living way into the presence-chamber of God; and thirdly, those only can enter in, without judgment overtaking them, who acknowledge the death of Christ to be their ground and way of entry into the holiest. It is, then, both a new and a living way, and the only one that God has ever sanctioned for those who have sinned against Him. " Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh." None, then, are entitled to draw nigh, who do not own the atoning death of Christ to be their way of entrance there.
Now this is an important point; for thus carefully does God guard the way into His presence. The veil was rent, and through it, as rent, we pass into the holiest, Had God removed it because the Lord had died, anybody might get into His presence, whether owning the Lord's death or not; for what barred the way into the holiest would have barred it no longer. But we go through it, as it were, because rent by the Lord's death upon the cross. None, then, who refuse to acknowledge His death as their way of entry, can ever get in there. To all who do there is no barrier now; to those who do not, there is no way into the divine presence, by which they can enter, and be sheltered from judgment.
But all this is in direct contrast with Judaism. Atonement by blood not really made, the way into the holiest not yet manifested, the veil intact; these were characteristic features of Jewish worship. Atonement made, the veil rent, through which, by the blood of Jesus, we approach God; these are features of true Christian worship. And the mention of them is enough to make any see at a glance, that acceptable worship now must be very different in its characteristics from acceptable worship of old. An earthly sanctuary, too, they had. Into the heavenly one we enter; hence the language of saints in heaven (Rev. 5) is the language we can take up now. And further, as there is no altar of burnt-offering in heaven, nor are sacrificial victims there offered up, so we approach not now to an altar, nor do we present any sacrificial victims to God. We worship in person on earth as we shall worship in heaven by-and-by, except that now in these bodies, with sin within us, and the world around us, we are often distracted in thought, when we should have the mind wholly concentrated on Him we are worshipping. But Israel will again approach the altar of burnt-offering, and bring their victims with them, because they will worship in the earthly sanctuary, with which such a service is inseparably connected. We do neither, because we worship in the holiest in heaven, and according to the tabernacle order have left the altar behind us.
Thus it was, that the Christian assembly met for worship was to conduct itself in a manner very different from that of the congregation of Israel. The latter had priests and Levites to do the service at the altar and in the tabernacle, or temple; but all believers now are priests. There are no true worshippers who are not priests; for though sacrificial service at the altar has for us ceased, sacrifices we do offer up, even praise and thanksgivings to God. Had we then visited the service in the temple, and looked in on an assembly gathered together for worship in accordance with the direction given us by St. Paul, how great would have been the difference! Both would have called themselves the people of the Lord; but the latter would have let us know that they were individually children of God. In the temple we should have seen a marked difference between the sexes. The men had a place to which no woman had access; and the notice warning a Gentile of death, if he obtruded himself into the court of the males, would have met us probably full in the face. In the Christian assembly there would have been seen no such separation of sexes, nor any distinction of races; those once Jews, with those once Gentiles, would have been seen together worshipping God. And whereas in the temple we might have witnessed sacrificial rites to deal with sins committed, in the assembly we should have heard sacrifices of praise and thanksgivings for their sins forgiven, atonement accomplished, and redemption known and enjoyed. Had we asked a Jew for the house of God, he would have directed us to the temple on mount Moriah; but on visiting it we should not have found God there present, for He did not dwell in it after the Babylonish captivity. Had we asked a Christian for the house of God, he would have told us of the assembly of the living God (1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)); and going to it, we might have learned, through the instrumentality of any prophet exercising his gift at the moment, that God was among them. (1 Cor. 14:2525And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (1 Corinthians 14:25)) The temple, we should have found, was desolate; but God was present in the assembly.
Surveying the company gathered together no president would have been discernible; yet, if all were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no disorder would have been perceived. Order would have reigned, not because they had drawn up a set of human rules, or had instituted a hierarchy of human appointment-for neither the one nor the other had a place in the assembly at the beginning-but gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, His presence would have been owned, and the guidance of the Holy Ghost in every act of worship distinctly recognized. As the meeting went on, hearts, full of grace enjoyed, would have poured themselves out in worship, either by one voice expressing the common feelings of the assembly, or by a hymn raised and sung with heartiness by all. The notes of praise having died away, silence would perhaps have reigned till broken by the voice of a prophet speaking to edification, exhortation, or comfort. Not a word uttered for show, not a thing done but what the Spirit of God directed; no haste in taking part in the guidance of the assembly in worship, nor interruption of any speaker, would have been noticed, save when a revelation from God demanded the immediate attention of all. For the Spirit of God never acts out of season; and if He vouchsafed a revelation, it was because the saints had need of it at the moment. Nothing else, however, but a direct revelation from God would have been allowed to check a prophet in his service at that moment. And though all the males might prophesy, not too many would have done it, lest the profit of some or all might have been marred. Further, no prophet would have been observed to speak, as if impelled by a divine afflatus which he could not resist; for the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, and no one would have opened his mouth in a tongue unless there was some one to interpret. The women would have been silent, save when the strain of a hymn permitted them to join in concert, or the responsive Amen could fittingly come from the heart and lips. And, what would surely have struck one accustomed to the synagogue or temple, whilst the women had their heads covered, the men would have been seen with theirs uniformly uncovered. (1 Cor. 11)
Now is this an ideal picture? Let the reader study 1 Cor. 14, and see if the mark has been overstepped; for in it we have the Spirit of God correcting by the apostle disorders which had appeared in the Corinthian assembly, and telling them likewise what was admissible, as well as what was forbidden, in the assemblies of God's saints. Shall Scripture in this, as in other things, be our guide, or the rules and regulations devised by the wit of men? " If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge [or recognize] that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." (1 Cor. 14:3737If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37)) Thus wrote the apostle Paul. Have these injunctions and directions been superseded by a more recent divine revelation? Can they lose their force by the lapse of time, or the change of locality? (1 Cor. 1:2;14. 33) Are they not for our guidance, whenever and wherever Christians are gathered in assembly for worship, in this the nineteenth century, as much as they were in the first? " The hour now is," said the Lord, " when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (John 4:2323But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (John 4:23))
C. E. S.