Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Conflict Over the Symbols

Jesus said that God wants those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23,24). What does this mean? In the Old Testament God very carefully outlined in great detail how He should be worshiped. He also punished those who deviated from this (Leviticus 10:1). But Jesus was saying that the old order in which every detail was prescribed was passing away (John 4:21,22; Colossians 2:16,17; Galatians 4:1-7). This fits with the New Testament, where broad principles are given, but there is no new list of requirements. But we still want to lay down absolute rules as to what can be done in terms of worship. We want to ignore the gift and fight over the nature of the wrappings.

We are to worship in spirit. One thing that is firmly condemned both in the Old and New Testaments is going through the outer motions of worship without the inward reality (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 58:3-12). Now the issue here is not the precise form of worship, but what is in the heart. It is easy to flatter ourselves that if we follow a particular mode of worship, this is proof against doing it by rote. The truth is, the basic issue is whether we mean it. And it is possible to go though the motions of any form of worship in order to please people or call attention to ourselves. We can also go through a wide range of outward forms and mean it. But we need to beware of beating up ourselves and others because we do not have some theoretical perfect attitude of worship (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). All of us are sinners who fall short of perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17). But there is a call here for basic sincerity.

We are to worship in truth. There is a requirement of basic conformity to Biblical teaching (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; John 17:17). There are certain truths that need to be upheld (Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 1 John 4:1-4; Galatians 1:8,9). But we can too easily sit in judgment and forget we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; 13:9-12).  However, the basic issue is content, not form. For example, there is a continual argument over the various types of music used in worship. But the real issue is what is said, not the form of music, which is nowhere mentioned in Scripture.

I would maintain that within these broad boundaries there is plenty of room for people to choose the forms that are meaningful to them. And to allow others to chose what is meaningful for them. I suggest that much of this is a matter of personality and background rather than principle. I have worshiped in the liturgical, charismatic, and baptistic modes and see valuable things in each. I think it is good to learn to appreciate other approaches to worship. And if we cannot really enter in, at least to respect them.

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