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Catechism Class – LD35A, Q96 How to Worship God

24/07/2020

Catechism Class – H/C LD35A, Q96

How (NOT?) to Worship God!

Text. Exodus 20:4.   

In our last lesson we looked at the sin of idolatry – dealing with the true object of our worship. But there is a serious danger that idolatry can enter into our worship, and render our worship unacceptable to God.  There is no better to place to see this that Sinai itself.  While Moses was on the mountain meeting with God, receiving these very commandments, the people of Israel, his own covenant people, the slaves who had been set free by an act of God’s grace alone, were busy melting down their jewellery to build for themselves an idol, a golden calf, which they would then bow down to and worship. This incident would cause the divine wrath of God to be executed upon these ungrateful and shameful people.  Exodus 32:33  

Psalm 81:11-16, (Tune Stuttgart)

11 But my people would not listen, would not do what I required.
12 So I gave them up to follow, what their stubborn hearts desired.

13 If my people would but heed me, Isr’el follow my command,
14 I would soon subdue their en’mies, and against them turn my hand.

15 Those who hate the LORD would cower, and their doom would never end.16 But with finest wheat I’d feed you, honey from the rock I’d send.

(Sing Psalms)

So the second commandment is a rule to help us to keep the first commandment. There is a danger that if we invent some image of God, using our own imagination, that we will be deflected from worshipping the One True God who reveals himself to us in Scripture.  Because this is so serious, after all our very soul’s salvation is at stake, our instructor warns us about the danger of any form of idolatry slipping into our worship.

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He asks…

Q96. What does God require in the second commandment?

There are two aspects to his reply:-  A. We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.   So the catechist instructs us that…

Screenshot 2020-07-24 at 22.23.13

  • To attempt to portray God in any way is idolatry.  This is a particular challenge in this modern technological age – especially in view of our modern preoccupation with moving imagery. There is an honest desire among Christians, even the soundest evangelical Christians to reach the modern generation, the millennials, with the gospel, and to use, in that effort, all the technological tools that the modern world has given us.  Movies, visual learning, whatever, – we use images that could be idolatrous – picture books for children that contain images of Jesus, films where actors play the part of Christ,  we want to teach our people using educational psychology, the best practice in teaching methods, the latest teaching aids – after all, we reason – why shouldn’t Christian learning, so vital that our souls depend upon it, be any less effective than secular education?  Yet many of the teaching practices of the modern age will fall under the commandment of God that we are not to make any likeness of God.  The catechist emphasised the breath of this command. We are not to make ANY representation of God IN ANY WAY. God is a spirit and he CANNOT BE SEEN or even imagined in the human mind.  Deuteronomy 4:15-16   Romans 1:23   To attempt to portray any likeness of God, or his Son Jesus is so wrong!  It will create a god of our own imagination, made in our image, and will be an idol.  The same applies to God the Holy Spirit.  To attempt to portray God is idolatry.
  • To worship without divine authorisation is idolatry.  The catechist again is emphatic. “nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.  At the Reformation, the reformers were concerned that the worship of God would be pleasing to him.  They fell broadly into two camps.  Luther and perhaps the anglicans, were of the opinion that Christians should not worship God using any method that is forbidden in Scripture.  So Lutheranism encouraged music and orchestras and art.  John Calvin and the other great magisterial reformers in the Reformed Tradition took the opposite view, – that nothing should reintroduced into the public worship of God that was not specifically commanded in the Bible. So, in the Calvinstic or Reformed churches at that time, choirs were abolished, organs destroyed, feast days (including Christmas) were banned, statues and icons were broken down, monasteries and converts closed.    
    • The Regulative Principle. We call this ‘the Regulative Principle of Worship’ and this is why in our reformed churches we are so careful about what we introduce into our worship services New Testament worship in the gathered church is characterised by five things: prayer (for the living but not for the dead), reading of Scripture, sound preaching, singing psalms, sacraments (those instituted by Christ, limiting these to two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and occasionally, vows and thanksgivings.  So we don’t have mimes, or dramas, we don’t have clowns or ‘gospel tight-rope artists’ or gimmicks, we don’t have smoke machines or light shows, we don’t have symbols or statues or icons.  We don’t have woman ministers, or woman preachers, for these are expressly forbidden in Scripture.   
    • Where do we draw the line? Some reformed churches differ over whether we should have psalms only, or psalms and some hymns, but in those churches which do allow hymns, we very carefully check them to make sure that no man-made doctrines or beliefs are being introduced, that the words are not man centred (I mean, not all about me!) And we sometimes disagree a little on whether we should have an organ, or sing without music altogether. So, where do we draw the line?  Derek Thomas writes, “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God… which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence.” Common sense should guide us in addressing certain questions bearing in mind that a circumstance of worship does not constitute a constituent act of worship.

When it comes to worship, it is our responsibility to seek to obey the Lord and to please him.  1 Samuel 15:22  

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