Decorum in the presence of the King

23 10 2008

I came across this little tract I wrote some years back to help my congregation to think through how we act when we are in God’s presence on the Lord’s Day. I hope it is helpful to you also. Let me know what ya’ll think…

 

 

PASTORAL ADVICE FOR PROPER DECORUM IN THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD

Offered as a help to the congregation as they seek to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.

 

By Pastor Douglas W. Comin

 

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. . . Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:22-25, 28-29)

 

It is to be lamented that in our age the Church of God has lost much of the fear of the Lord in worship. Solemnity, reverence, awe, and humility have largely given way to familiarity, casual-ness, disorder, and even flippancy. That these ungodly qualities have not been the predominant features of the worship assemblies of our own congregation affords us matter for thankfulness to God, who has given us a measure of due reverence in His presence. Yet we must be ever diligent to heed the wise counsel of Solomon who said, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1) In order to encourage you, therefore, in this most important matter, I offer these thoughts for your serious consideration, drawn largely from the passage appearing at the beginning of this pamphlet.

 

Remember that you are in the presence of MAJESTY. Most people would not dream of entering into the presence of a human dignitary, or even a pop culture icon, with the same carelessness in which they invade the courts of the living God. Let the consideration of God’s incomparable majesty result in the following practical behavior:

 

1. Fix your attention on Him alone, not casually conversing with those around you. There will be time enough for fellowship later, but it is insulting to God’s majesty to have His subjects chattering and whispering to one another when He has called for their attention.

 

2. Be on time for worship, which is a divine appointment with the King of kings. The whole service of worship, and not merely the sermon, is appointed by Him for your edification. Wandering in late or leaving early shows contempt for His glory.

 

3. Do not wander in and out of the service, as if you were at liberty to forsake His presence at your whim. There may be times of true necessity, but these should be rare. If you have small children, make a point of arriving early in order to see to their needs. Do all that you can to ensure that the Majestic God before whom you appear will have your undivided attention, as He deserves.

 

4. Show due respect before God with the posture of your body, as well as your heart. Just as the words of your mouth are the overflow of the heart, so “body language” communicates a great deal about the inward thoughts. Attentiveness, eagerness, respect, and reverence are not conveyed through slouching, yawning, or dozing.

 

Remember that you are before the THRONE OF GRACE. The worship of God is an unspeakably great privilege and a means of immeasurable blessing. Jesus Christ suffered and died to give you access to God’s throne of grace. He Himself presents you there before the Father and pleads for spiritual benefits on your behalf. The remembrance of this should move you to serious prayer as you enter the assembly of the saints.

 

1. Come with expectancy, praying in your heart that God will prepare you to enter into His presence. John Willison wrote: “The mariner who intends a voyage, not only provides for his tackling, but he is careful, before he sails, to put his ship off from the land, that he may catch the first fair wind. In like manner, Christian, if you would launch heavenwards upon a Lord’s Day, be concerned to get the vessel of your heart put off from the earth beforehand.”

 

2.  Seek grace through Christ to benefit from every part of the worship service. Not only the preaching, but also the prayers, psalms, Scripture readings and sacraments hold matchless bounty for your soul if only you would apply yourself to seeking them diligently.

 

3. As you hope to receive a blessing from the Lord in worship, determine to concentrate your full attention upon the matter. “Fix your eye on the minister, your ear on the word, and your heart on God.”

 

Remember that you are in the company of THE ANGELIC HOST. It is a peculiar privilege that is ours in worship, that we actually draw near to “an innumerable company of angels” and join our hearts and voices with theirs in pouring out praise to God. Respect for these heavenly beings is urged upon us in Scripture as a motive for hospitality, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2). How much more should our consciousness of their presence with us in worship incite us to take care in regard to our conduct in the heavenly tabernacle.

 

1. The angels are in awe of your salvation, for Peter speaks of the mystery of the Gospel as consisting in “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). And would you be careless, as they look on, concerning the means of so great a salvation that are held before you in the ordinances of worship?

 

2. The angels are not distracted from the praises of God day or night, and yet they have not half the reason to rejoice in Him as we do. We are told in Hebrews 2:16, “He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” Shall they which have never received the infinite gift of grace outdo us in fervency of praise and thankfulness to the God of our salvation?

 

3. The angels watch for order and proper decorum in the worship of the Church. Thus Paul, in arguing the propriety for the woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head in worship says that it is “because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). Matthew Henry, referring this to the order that exists in the ranks of God’s hosts, says, “We should learn from all to behave in the public assemblies of divine worship so as to express a reverence for God, and a content and satisfaction with that rank in which he has placed us.”

 

Remember that you are in the presence of JUST MEN MADE PERFECT. In our worship assemblies we are transported in the spirit to the heavenly tabernacle, where we join in ascribing glory to God with the whole congregation of the invisible Church. By faith we acknowledge that the elect of God who have departed from this world have not passed out of existence, but into glory, and it is our great privilege to gather with them as we worship. Let this spiritual reality direct your thoughts in the assembly.

 

1. Heed the words of David, who is present with you: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him” (Psalm 89:7).

 

2. Think of the prophets, who continually lifted up their voices to turn the people of God away from complacency and vain worship. Will you stand with them in the presence of the Lord and let your hearts wander after the worthless idols of the world?

 

3. As you begin to grow anxious for the conclusion of the service, consider the saints from Troas, who sat attentively listening to Paul until midnight. Or think of Amos, who chided the ungodly of his day for saying: “When will the New Moon be past that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” (Amos 8:5).

 

Remember that you are part of a BODY. We come to “the general assembly of the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” One of the prevailing sins of the church of Corinth was that the people came together without regard for one another. They were individualistic in their approach to worship, just like much of the modern church. But God commands us in our assembling together to be conscious of one another’s spiritual interest. This is the rule that is to direct us when we come together as a church: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:2).

 

1. Take care for the sake of your neighbor’s edification that you do not distract him in any way from his pursuit of spiritual blessing. If you or your children are disorderly in the service of worship, others will be hindered from concentrating upon the means of grace. Do not allow your little ones to wander away from you, or to fidget visibly in their seats, lest those around you be drawn away from fixing their thoughts upon the word and prayer. If they become restless, take your children quietly to the back of the meeting room, or just outside the door, and help them to compose themselves to return to the service. Make it your goal to train them to attend to the worship of God from the earliest age, for their spiritual growth cannot begin too early. Due solemnity in regular daily family worship will do much to prepare them for the corporate assembly.

 

2. See to it that you participate in all of the ordinances of worship, lest your neighbor be distracted by your awkward silence. John Willison offered a reproof to those “who sit dumb in the congregation, while their neighbors are praising God,” saying, “Think not this work below the greatest of you, for it is your honor. Excuse not yourselves by saying you cannot sing musically; for, if you had any delight in the duty, you would sing as you can.”

 

 

May this humble counsel serve to advance our experience of God’s presence, to the glory of Jesus Christ, before whom it is our exceeding joy to gather as a worshipping congregation.





Sabbath Series, Part 3 – Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?

13 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 59 – Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?

Answer – From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

In this lesson we will be discussing the change in Sabbath observance from the seventh day to the first day of the week and examining the biblical evidence for this change.

There are some who deny that this change is legitimate; arguing that the Sabbath should remain on the seventh day and that there is no basis for changing it to the first.

1. The seventh day was the original Sabbath.

Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

It is certainly true that God originally established the seventh day as His holy Sabbath. This is clear from the pattern of His creative work as seen in Genesis 2:1-3, as well as in the words of the 4th commandment. The pattern that was set was one of six days of labor and one day of rest, to be observed by all men while the world lasts.

We have seen that the weekly Sabbath was not part of the ceremonial law of Israel, but is a creation ordinance, built into the very fabric of the world that God made. Later, the Sabbath was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone as part of the unchanging moral law, along with such other unchangeable commands as “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The inclusion of the Sabbath commandment in the decalogue (Ten Commandments) is a strong argument for its permanency. Yet, as we will see, there was to be a change: not in the general pattern of setting apart one day in seven for rest and worship, but in the specific pattern of which day was to be set aside under Christ.

2. The Old Testament anticipates a change to the first day.

Those who favor retaining the seventh day as the Sabbath under Christ argue that there is no indication in the Scriptures of a change to the first day of the week. Yet a careful reading of the Old Testament shows that the anticipation of this change was built into the appointed ceremonies of Israel all along. One place that this anticipation is seen is in the ninth chapter of Leviticus.

Read Leviticus 9:1-24

As the first High Priest in Israel, Aaron was a type of Christ in His High Priestly work. It is therefore highly significant that the consecration of Aaron to his priestly office was performed, not on the seventh day, but on the eighth (that is, the first day of the week). On that day, not only was Aaron consecrated, but he presented the people’s offering. Then, on that same holy day, he turned and blessed the people, pronouncing peace upon them. Fire from the Lord came down that day and consumed the burnt offering and the people were declared clean.

All of this points to the finished work of Christ, who would be exalted as the Great High Priest, securing true peace for His people. He would be received up as an acceptable sacrifice to God in the place of His elect, and would send His Spirit to cleanse them from their sins.

A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that many other significant typological events took place on the eighth day…

Circumcision was performed on the eighth day.

The offering of newborn animals as burnt offering occurred on the eighth day (Lev. 22:27, Ex. 22:30)

The dedication of Solomon’s Temple, according to 2 Chron. 7:9, took place during a sacred assembly on the eighth day. (The Temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God in the Old Covenant system, was dedicated on Sunday)

Ezekiel’s Temple, a picture of the Church, was consecrated on the eighth day. “And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord God.” (Ezek. 43:27)

The Feast of Tabernacles, according to Leviticus 23:39, is marked off by two Sundays in a row, both called Sabbaths. “You shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.”

The sacrifices of the Feast of Tabernacles described in Numbers 29:12-40, provide a clear picture of this anticipation under the Old Covenant. On the first day there are 13 bulls presented, along with several other sacrifices. Each day all the other sacrifices stay the same, but each day the number of bulls decreases by one. On the seventh day, seven bulls (the number of completion/fulfillment) are sacrificed. And then we read, “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no servile work therein; But you shall offer a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord: One bull…(Num. 29:35-36). A single bull becomes a sufficient sacrifice on Sunday… Hmmmmmmmm….

The Feast of Firstfruits is also on Sunday. The sheaf is waved before the Lord and is accepted on behalf of the people (Lev. 23:11). Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20,23; Rom. 11:16) and is accepted on our behalf. Fifty days later (counted from the sabbath preceding the Feast of Firstfruits) another important feast occurs. This is the Feast of Weeks, later known as Pentecost. “And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be a holy convocation unto you; you shall do no servile work therein; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” (Lev. 23:21)

Jesus is raised from the dead on the first day, the eighth day.

He appears to His disciples a second time on that day. (John 20:26)

He sends His Holy Spirit on the first day.

The practice of the Church, as we shall see, almost immediately is to meet on that day.

3. Christ established the New Covenant Sabbath.

Psalm 118:14-24 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Acts 4:10-11 …let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’

The words of Psalm 118 are a prophecy of the work of Christ as the Deliverer and Savior of His people. As such, they anticipate a certain day, which would be known as “the day of salvation.” In Acts 4:10-11, Peter refers to that day as having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who rose for our salvation on the first day of the week. The “day that the Lord has made” is nothing less than the resurrection day of our Lord Jesus.

It is this day, which God has made for us in Christ, that is to be set apart as a day of rejoicing and gladness by those who are the recipients of the benefits of His redemptive work. This is the day to be remembered and celebrated as the fulfillment of deliverance from bondage and rest from our labors under the law. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, consecrated by the authority of Jesus Himself, who is Lord of the Sabbath.

Just as the seventh day Sabbath of the Old Covenant was rooted in God’s work of creation, so the first day Sabbath of the New Covenant is rooted in Christ’s work of re-creation. The first day of the week, identified by the resurrection of Christ, marked the creation of the new heavens and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17. This is why Psalm 118:24 refers to the day “which the Lord has made.” Francis Nigel Lee states, “God instituted both the Edenic sabbath and the New Testament sabbath for man at the time of creation and re-creation respectively, by His own specific example.”

4. The apostles and the early church recognized the change.

Mark 16:2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

John 20:19-26 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”

Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

1 Cor. 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

Given the Old Testament anticipation, and the redemptive significance of the first day of the week, it is not surprising to find in the New Testament Scriptures that the apostles and the early church immediately began to gather together for worship, fellowship, and works of mercy on the first day of the week.

In John 20:19-26 we find that the disciples met together on the first two Sundays after the resurrection.

We are told in Acts 20:7 that the disciples regularly “gathered together” on the first day of the week. This was not a casual or incidental meeting, but a formal assembly with a specific purpose. The reason stated in the text for their assembling is “to break bread,” which refers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper which Christ commanded them to observe in remembrance of Him.

Then, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the apostle gives instructions for the collection of money for the saints in need. Here again, Paul assumes that there would be a regular gathering of the church on the first day of the week. Lenski, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:2, notes “The first day of the week is Sunday, and kata is distributive so that we may translate: ‘Sunday by Sunday let each of you lay something aside…’ It is a fair inference that Sunday was the day which was set aside for the public worship of the Corinthian congregation, and that this custom was also followed in Galatia and in the other churches that had been founded by Paul.”

5. The first day is the Lord’s Day to the end of the world.

Revelation 1:10 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”

We have seen that the disciples of Jesus began to gather together on the first day of the week immediately after the resurrection. As the church grew and became established, the identity of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath became more and more defined. By the time that John, the last living apostle, wrote the book of Revelation, this understanding was so firm that he even used a formal term that he knew would be immediately understood by his readers: the Lord’s Day. This was none other than the day that was particularly sanctified by the Lord, namely, the first day of the week, or the resurrection day.

In John’s vision, Jesus identifies Himself as the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The vision presents an awesome picture of Christ as the Lord of His Church. In verse 18, Christ says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament looks forward to it. The New Testament proclaims its fulfillment. And the Lord’s Day is given to the Church as the lasting commemoration of it until He returns.