Did God give His people new laws of worship after the cross? Must the Lord's Supper be taken on every first day of the week, and only on the first day of the week? Does God now forbid instrumental music in worship? Dare we pass the collection plate on a Wednesday night? Will God condemn us if we only partake of the Lord's Supper and pray during some Sunday worship services? Are there new laws of worship commanded in the New Testament?
In our efforts to love and obey God we have somehow changed worship into a legal system of salvation. We have not recognized the new covenant as a covenant of forgiveness enabling us to obey God's eternal law of love. The new covenant is not a new law, hut a release from the penalty of God's eternal law.
God's eternal law was first expressed in the old covenant (the ten commandments) and ultimately revealed in the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses is encompassed by his covenant. The detailed laws of worship are far from an arbitrary test of faith. Every holy day, every form of sacrifice, and every ordinance of the priesthood relates in some way to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moses was warned repeatedly to construct the tabernacle in accordance with the pattern God had shown him. This was because the tabernacle was to be a shadow-picture of Jesus and his work of forgiveness (Heb. 10:1). We see the eternal will of God safely enshrined in the ark (Jesus), and covered by the blood-splattered mercy seat (Jesus). Jesus shines in the darkness (the golden lampstand), and we have become the light of the world in Him. Jesus presents us to the Father, and there are no longer twelve loaves, but one loaf, one body in Him. Our prayers rise as a sweet savor (altar of incense) to the Father before the throne of grace, because we have been made one in Him (Heb. 9:1-5). The New Testament fulfillment of this pattern is not the worship (and work and organization) of the church. It is Christ Jesus, and the church reconciled to God in Him.
The Jews were told why, how, when, and where to worship. The why was based on their deliverance from Egypt, the promised forgiveness of sins through animal sacrifices, and the revealed nature of God. The Holy God would curse those who broke His laws, and bless those who kept them. There was only one how of worship, the way that God had commanded. Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu were condemned for offering strange fire. They thought nothing of substituting their own fire for the fire provided by God (Lev. 10:1-3). A short time later Aaron's surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar burnt all of the sin offering instead of saving the portion designated to be eaten. Moses was angry. Aaron explained that because of the disobedience of Nadab and Abihu, he had felt too unworthy to have communion with God through this sin offering. Moses was satisfied (Lev. 10:12-20). Nadab and Abihu did not respect the holiness of God; Eleazar and Ithmar had such great respect that they felt unworthy to have fellowship with Him. Worship was not an end in itself, but rather an expression of the attitude of the heart. The when of worship was very detailed indeed. There were morning and evening sacrifices, and double these sacrifices on the Sabbath. There was an elaborate calendar of worship for the whole year. The Sabbath, and all the holy days, months, and years were a symbol-picture of Jesus and His work of grace. The Sabbath called the people to trust and depend upon God. God was a loving Creator who had created mankind to share in His first rest. More than that, God was a loving Deliverer who had rescued a people from slavery so that they might once more share in His rest through trust and dependence upon Him (faith). The New Testament fulfillment is God as the ultimate Deliverer, rescuing us from slavery to sin by grace through faith. The Passover was a shadowpicture of Christ's sacrifice (I Cor. 5:17). The wave-offering of the sheaf of the first fruit occurred the third day of the Passover as a picture of Christ's resurrection (Lev. 23:10-11; Rom. 11:16; I Cor. 15:23). Fifty days later came the wave-offering of the "firstfruits," the one grain sacrifice that called for leaven (Lev. 23:16-17). The church began on Pentecost, reconciled to God, declared righteous in Christ, but always tainted with the leaven of sin (I Cor. 16:15; James 1:18). In the same way, all the detailed when of the Jewish calendar relates in some way to Jesus and his work of grace.
The where of Old Testament worship centered for the most part around the tabernacle (and subsequent temple). This is where God symbolically dwelt among His people. Yet the tabernacle was surrounded by a white linen fence, representing the holiness of God, and only those priests who were ceremonially clean could serve in His tabernacle. Once a year the High Priest was commanded to enter into the Most Holy place, but never without blood. How blessed are we, who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. We are free to approach the ark and mercy seat - God's throne of grace -with confidence. More than that, we are God's temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Jesus has promised us that "where two or three are gathered in My name, there I will be with them" (Matt. 18:20).
As the Jews willingly obeyed God's why, how, when, and where of worship they were honoring Him as the Holy God. They were trusting in His mercy and forgiveness. They knew that fellowship with God was only possible through the worship that God had commanded. What the Jews could not know was the deeper purpose of these detailed laws. All the ordained worship symbolized some aspect of Jesus and his work of forgiveness (grace). ' It is a great mistake to look for another code of worship in the New Testament. The Old Testament worship taught that we must approach God on His terms if we are to be acceptable to Him. The New Testament equivalent is not a new set of laws of worship, but rather the fulfillment of the symbolism of the Old Testament laws of worship. We must approach God on His terms, by surrendering our lives to Christ and trusting and depending upon His forgiveness. There is only one way to God and that is through the atoning blood of our Lord Jesus.
Old Testament worship was never intended to be an end in itself, but the expression of great trust and dependence on the Lord of Israel (faith). Today, believers can know their God in a way impossible to Old Testament Jews. The fathomless depths of God's holiness and love are revealed in Christ Jesus. Knowing God as both Just and Justifier, and trusting in His love and forgiveness causes us to love Him and our fellow-man. It is significant that the only New Testament "ordinance" of worship centers around the sacrifice of Christ. I am speaking here of the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper was inaugurated at the Passover, but it is related also to the shewbread in the tabernacle and the portion of sacrifice given to the priests. To take the Lord's Supper worthily we must recognize the body of Christ, that is, his church, and act in love toward our brother (I Cor. 10:17; 11:29). We recognize the body of Christ, not by defining it in terms of new "laws" of worship that do not exist in the scriptures, but by accepting one another in Christ.
It must be said that even the "ordinance'' of the Lord's Supper is not so much a law, as a gift. The King has invited us to his feast, and He has promised to be there with us. Would we be honored if the President of our country invited us to tea? How much more eagerly should we approach our Saviour's table, not out of fear of punishment, but because we love Him. It would have been supremely easy for Jesus to tell us the day and frequency of the Lord's Supper. Instead He said, "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 11:25)... We know that the early Christians met (at least once, and probably on a regular basis) on the first day of the week to share in the Lord's Supper. God calls us to love our brother, and we are to meet regularly to encourage one another and good deeds. The first day of the week reminds us of our Lord's resurrection, but the Lord's Supper was never limited to that day. Paul clearly tells us to accept our brother who esteems every day, as well as the one who esteems one day above another (Rom. 14).
Jesus has given us the elements of the Lord's Supper. We do not add lamb to the Lord's table, because we recognize that animal sacrifices cannot adequately reflect the supreme sacrifice of Christ. We do not replace the elements with cookies and kool-aid because Jesus has given us bread as His body, and fruit of the vine as His blood. We are not having a party of our own, but are joining our Saviour as honored guests at His table. We eat what He offers us.
There is nothing in the New Testament that forbids us taking the Lord's Supper wherever, and whenever two or three are gathered in His name. This, however, is a privilege and not to be taken lightly. It is not an end in itself. We dishonor God if we participate in the Lord's Supper out of fear of punishment, rather than out of love. The Lord's Supper was given as an avenue of worship, not as part of a checklist to make us acceptable to God. The same was true of all the Old Testament ordinances of worship. Only Jesus' sacrifice can make us acceptable to God. The new covenant is a covenant of forgiveness. We love God and our brother because He first loved us.
As someone once said,, "It would only have taken a few pages for God to have written down all his commands concerning New Testament worship. But if God had done that, we would not have anything to figure out, and we would be bored. Others have told me that God expects us to figure out His laws of worship so that He can see how sincere we are in obedience, as a test of faith. These same people assert that the apostles did have new laws of worship revealed to them, and that is the reason we must bind approved apostolic examples of worship today. In the first place, this seems to be more a test of knowledge or intellectual ability, than of faith (faith is, after all, trust in God and His forgiveness). In the second place, the early church did not have the benefit of all the New Testament scriptures. Did the apostles reveal new laws of worship to them? Did the Holy Spirit instruct the people in new laws of worship? Was the early church blessed with a clear revelation of the laws of worship while we are left to fight and divide over musical instruments, and the frequency of the Lord's Supper? God is not a God of confusion or division.
We have searched the scriptures to find the new "laws" of worship, while neglecting to love God and our neighbor. We cannot love God if we refuse to accept the reality of His covenant of forgiveness, or refuse to have mercy on others. Some actually believe that they are showing love by withdrawing fellowship from those who use instrumental music in worship. They judge their brother's heart as insincere and disobedient to God.
The tithe is a good example of the difference between the covenant of law and the covenant of forgiveness. In the Old Testament the Jews were commanded to give one tenth of all their increase to God (and His priests). This had a practical side, but also taught a deeper truth. Everything we have not only comes from God, but also belongs to Him. In the New Testament we are not commanded to give a tithe, but rather are exhorted to be a cheerful, and thoughtful giver. We give not one tenth, but all to God. Our homes, our cars, our T.V's, belong to God and must be used in His service. Love motivated the early Christians to purposefully put aside money each week to send to the destitute Christians in Judea. We have taken this example of love and turned it into a "law" of giving every first day of the week. Actually, the people were to put aside the money "that there be no gatherings" when Paul came (I Cor. 16:2). No gatherings! The idea here is that the giving should be purposeful, and not a last minute scrounging around. The passage also indicates that this collection was a special response to a great need, and not part of the regular worship. In view of this, should we condemn those who pass the collection plate on Wednesday in order to buy food for a hungry family of Christians? Does God really care if we pass the plate on Wednesday instead of collecting outside the building after the assembly?
I have used a few examples here, but the principle applies to any and all "laws" of worship we think we have found in the New Testament. If we keep on searching for the right church in a new set of laws, our search will turn and devour us. We will miss Jesus Christ our Lord.