The Reverence of Church Worship
“They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst.”
– Exodus 25:8
In the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus God give very explicit instructions to Moses for building both the Ark of the Covenant and for building a temple. Everything in that temple was made from gold or gold-plated. (cf. Ex. 25:17-30) Images or statues of cherubim were everywhere. (Exodus 25:18; 26:1,31)
The plates and cups made of pure gold.
There were lampstands also made of gold which burned regularly and there was also a table where showbread was kept constantly before the Lord.
When Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests they were given specific vestments to wear.
“…such vestments for Aaron as will set him apart for his sacred service as my
priest. These are the vestments they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a
brocaded tunic, a miter and a sash. In making these sacred vestments which your
brother Aaron and his sons are to wear in serving as my priests, they shall use gold, violet,
purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” – Exodus 28: 4,5
God also states, “There, at the altar, I will meet the Israelites; hence, it will be made sacred by my glory. Thus I will consecrate the meeting tent and the altar, just as I also consecrate Aaron and his sons to be my priests. I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will be their God.” (Ex. 29:43-45)
In Exodus 30 God speaks of Aaron burning incense before the Lord. The item used for the incense was not used for anything else and no sacrifices. It was solely used to burn incense before God. It was partly made of frankincense and was considered sacred.
Before entering the meeting place, Aaron and his sons washed themselves to purify themselves before the Lord.
God also gave specific instructions for making oil used as sacred anointing oil for consecration making everything touched by it sacred.
In one of the Lord’s final exhortations to Moses on Mt. Sinai, He says to Moses, “Take care to keep my sabbaths, for that is to be the token between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the LORD, who make you holy. Therefore, you must keep the sabbath as something sacred. Whoever desecrates it shall be put to death.”
The New Testament comprises only about 1/4 of the entire Bible. It also does not contain the exhaustive schematics of temporal design for worship obligations like the Old Testament does. Although this is the case, there lies varying degrees of interpreting the relevance of Old Testament laws, obligations and the like into Christian living today.
Most would agree that things such as dietary laws, blending fabrics for clothing, or even getting tattoos isn’t forbidden anymore. (cf. Lev, spec chap 19) (Although, there are certain Protestant churches that will pronounce tattoos as being ‘of the devil’.) However, many Protestants will strictly abide by the Old Testament examples of tithing 10% of their money every Sunday as an absolute necessity or, at the least, the proper rule-of-thumb for giving, which most, if not all, certainly still call the act ‘tithing’ even if their contribution is less than 10%. The point shown by example here is: to what level does the Old Testament and its laws traverse into the New Covenant standard of worship? Certainly, many may point out, the examples cited above applied solely to the Old Testament standard of worship and are inapplicable today as it “complicates” the simple process created by Jesus Christ that reconciles the soul of the individual to God.
I would point out that the example cited above showing the verses of the Old Testament compared with the visual similarities (pictured) that are present in the Catholic Church to this day demonstrate an extraordinary stream of continuance in God’s design for His people in their regard and approach to Him by a means that He’d already dictated from His first Covenant. It seems consistent with the mind of God to create a stream of continuance consistent with His Will that connects one form of governance to another throughout the ages. It is a renew of the original or a reproduction of the original in a perfected form. An example of this type of renewal is demonstrated in the typological understanding of the Passover lamb serving as precursor to Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice.
The process created by the work of Christ to reconcile the soul to God isn’t complicated by acknowledging the manner with which God asked His people to regard their approach to Him. The simplification of adherence to certain aspects of ritual and its obligations created by God did not eliminate the entire Law. The works of the Law were ineffectual because they did not affect an interior spiritual cleansing to make one righteous. That is what changed with Christ’s deliverance from what is regarded as the works of the Law, which is why Paul dismisses them as being ineffective in Romans by stating that they cannot justify anyone. (cf Romans 3:28) However, the adhearance to the specific instructions God gave His people to follow regarding their worship of him only heightens the process which was delivered to us in its perfected form by Christ; highlights it into the creation of what is the full expression of faith.
A continuance of God’s design for worship plays out throughout the entire Bible and into the early and ancient tradition of Church. In examination of the Old Testament designs for the Temple, the language of the verses of the New Testament and its call for specific redefined Sacramental acts (ie – ritual washing being replaced with Baptism), to the early historical documents of the ancient Church, one can clearly draw a line of a consistent lineage of God’s plan for man’s religious worship. The lineage is undeniable and the fullest expression of it architecturally, vernacular-ly, and historically is visible in only one Church today.
“For Protestant Christians whose discipline, piety, spirituality, and doctrine have all been primarily verbal and interior, and, hence, whose public worship has taken the form of the misgiving they have felt with respect to highly ceremonial worship. Ceremony belongs to the essential fabric of what we are. We do not need verses from the Bible to validate ceremony for us any more than we need verses to tell us to eat our meals or to have sex. The Bible is not a handbook for everything. It opens up the vision of God for us mortals, and this vision comes upon our mortal life and redeems it and transfigures it and glorifies it, so that all we are springs into new vigor. The question, then, is not so much ‘where did all this ceremony come from?’ as ‘How can it possibly have come about that when some Christians come to the very center of everything, they prohibit ceremony?’ To prohibit ceremony, or even to distrust it, and to reduce the worship of God Himself to the meager resources available to verbalism, is surely to have dealt Christendom a dolorous blow. To have substituted a meeting, no matter how formal it might be, with robed clergy and ministerial tones, for the ancient liturgy of the Church, is like having removed all of a man’s viscera because he was covered with sores and putrescence. The surgery is too drastic.” (emphasis mine)1
There is, as I have always stated, varying degrees of difference in Protestant churches, thus the emphasis on ceremony also shares varying degrees of importance or status. For instance, in many of the more traditional churches such as many Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian sects, ceremony, ritual, and certain rites are used to emphasis and underscore the importance of the event at hand. Particularly on important days such as Easter and Christmas. On the other hand, however, one would see a very minimalistic approach to worship in a Baptist church, for instance, regardless of the occasion. Easter looks like New Years and Christmas Eve might as well be July 23rd. There is an unspoken emphasis on making no true thrust of any kind that might resemble anything akin to ceremony, ritual, or rite.
As Thomas Howard mentions in his book, Evangelical is not Enough, there is a whole myriad of ceremony attached with birth as there is with marriage. For instance, taking the marriage ceremony, as Howard points out, the focal point becomes the bride who is escorted down the aisle with much pomp. Guests stand at her appearance and music appropriate to the occasion accompanies her down the aisle. Therefore, how much more should regal ceremony, rich music, and appropriate postures accompany the nature of worshiping the Lord in His Sanctuary? Especially for Catholics who literally kneel in the presence of God. Most often one might hear of Protestant churches that, ‘they are just a building. The church is the people.’ For Catholics, the church is not just a building. It houses the very presence of our Lord and Savior in the Tabernacle. It is truly the House of the Lord, for the Lord God is present within its walls. This, again, is exactly how we find the Lord in the Old Testament. His presence within the midst of His people.
The differences and varying degrees of approach to the worship of God has taken very extreme angles over the last two hundred years or so as individuals strive to disassociate themselves from their parent denominations and create and reinvent the worship service in order to, “appeal to a certain ‘audience'” or “capture a certain type of person.” This leads to an endless parade of what becomes religious “marketing campaigns” by churches in order to “draw in” people. Endless efforts to make church attractive, hip, appealing, relevant, cool, and any other myriad of adjectives, phrases, and words to appeal to the cultural fad of the moment. An effort to recruit new blood into the church in order to aid every level of society and its dwindling association with God. Pitch a gimmick, maybe it’ll work. Make church entertaining, put on a show, keep people interested. An example of this type of mentality was shown in the movie Sister Act. The mostly empty church of disinterested parishioners can only be resurrected and saved by the updating of the music into something hip, funny, and (ultimately irreverent – something very akin to evangelical music) relevant. The new, “fun” way to entertain the parishioners saves the church and gets the blessing of the Pope. Movie land rejoices. Yet, while this would never, ever happen in a Catholic church as portrayed, it does offer an insightful example of the belief that the only way to keep or gain a posterior in the seats is to make worship relevant to the entertainment desires of the people. Every sense of reverence and worship is removed as being “stale” and “boring”. Forget the incense, chanting, and somberness distinct to the Catholic Church. It doesn’t even have to be nearly that distinct. Let’s simply point to t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops being acceptable attire (even Catholics in ever-increasing numbers are finding this perfectly fine to attend church in and I sharply disagree). Children becoming “ordained ministers” of the church able to perform baptisms, weddings, and the like. Collections being taken up in cowboy boots and baptisms being performed in horse troughs. If that isn’t offensive to the nostrils of Christian sensibilities then I don’t know what would be!
In essence it changes God from a Being of such a fearful awe-striking brilliant Source of all that is so much so that men fall down as dead when confronted with His Presence. Men falling prostrate and burying their faces in the ground out of the sheer terror that engulfed them by being in the presence of the Living God. It changes God into a buddy… Not so much a Father as a Pop. Instead of lying prostrate on the ground in terror, one can just hop up in His lap like a little kid and hug on Dad. One doesn’t need to be afraid of God. God no longer cares how you approach Him in worship. Any old thing will do. The extreme nature of minimalistic Protestantism creates such a disavowment of anything remotely familiar with exterior worship that all exterior expressions become anything individuals want them to be since the only real thing that matters is the internal soul.
This is not to say that those who attend these types of churches cannot have a true and sincere love and desire for God at the deepest levels as much as it is possible there. It simply means that, by eliminating all external forms of reverent worship of God, the individual voluntarily and deliberately denies themselves full expressions of faith and the ability, by external forms of ceremony and celebration, to call to mind, with visual aids that honor the awesome reverence for which God is still due.
“The phrase worship experience misses the point. Worship, in the ancient tradition [of the Church], was not thought of as an experience at all; it was an act. Or, if there was an experience, that part of it was a mere corollary to the main point. [Catholics] come together to make the act of worship. They [have] come to do something, not to get something. They [do] not come to a meeting… the worship of the Church… is not a meeting or a program to which we come only to receive something. It is an act, to which we come as participants, indeed as celebrants, if the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers means anything.
“The worship of the Church is an act – a most ancient and noble mystery – and almost nothing is gained by endlessly updating it, streamlining it, personalizing it, and altering it. The “ministers of worship” retained on the staffs of big churches have their work already cut out for them if they only knew it. Worship is not something like an automotive engine or a computer, which can be perpetually improved upon.”2
1, 2 – Evangelical is not Enough, Thomas Howard. Link available on the Recommended Reading tab of this blog.