Sometimes sincere and well-intentioned people want to introduce practices in the worship of God that were not commanded or practiced by Jesus, the apostles, or the church in the New Testament. Often they will counter the request for New Testament authorization that we are free to do what we want in service to God because it would honor Him and it seems like a good thing to do.
Before embracing this philosophy, consider these important lessons from Scripture.
David and Nathan
David, before his sin with Bathsheba was called “a man after God’s own heart” and after that sin, Nathan was the faithful prophet who confronted the king with his sin. After securing peace for Israel through military power, establishing Jerusalem as the city of the king, and building a fine palace for himself, it occurred to David that he was living in luxury while the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence was manifested for Israel, was “dwelling in a tent.” Religious students know that the “tent” was the tabernacle built according to the specific pattern that God gave Moses.
When righteous David expressed his concern to faithful Nathan, the prophet told David “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you“ (2 Samuel 7:3). Since two faithful and sincere men of God came up with what seemed like a good thing to do for God, the Lord must be pleased, correct?
Before he left the palace grounds, God sent Nathan back to David to tell him that He did not want David to build him a house (temple). In fact, God argued, through Nathan:
In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 2 Samuel 7:7
God had the power and means to command what He wanted and never commanded this. And God made that clear to Nathan and David that they conceived this in their hearts (no matter how sincere they were) but it was not in the heart or plans of God.
Though Nathan was a godly man, he was presumptuous to say that God supported David’s plan. Though David was a godly man, he was presumptuous to suppose that God would be pleased with something that He never commanded. God did allow the construction of the temple, but on His terms and instructions.
Jeroboam’s innovations (1 Kings 12:25-33)
Some changes are not introduced with noble intentions. When the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, King Jeroboam feared that people leaving the northern kingdom to worship in Jerusalem, according to the commands of God, would lead to instability in his kingdom. In order to prevent this he made some changes to to the worship God commanded. Some changes seemed minor but God considered it abominable:
- Jeroboam built calves at Dan and Bethel and told the people that “these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Note: this sentance sermon also preached by Aaron was not acceptable in his time either – Exodus 32:4).
- Instead of appointing priests from Levi as commanded by the Law, he appointed anyone who wanted to be a priest. The book of Hebrews notes that by commanding tribes from the tribe of Levi it excluded priests from any other tribe: Hebrews 7:14.
- He changed the days of worship commanded by the Law to days of his own choosing. Similar to those who forsake the Lord’s Day–the first day of the week–as was the pattern of the New Testament church to days that are more convenient to them.
The effect of this sin is that in addition to the sins the kings of Israel committed, they are also condemned for “following the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.”
The Pharisees, mentioned often in the gospels, were a religous/political party in the New Testament. They tried to be faithful to the law but introduced practices and condemned men for not following their man-made decrees. In rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus said “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” Matthew 15:9. It is vain worship to follow the practices introduced by the wisdom of man and not the command of God–no matter how sincere or well-intentioned those men might be.
God has given us commands for how to worship. It is presumption and arrogance to think God will just accept whatever we want to worship. It is true sincerity and humility to worship as God instructed.