At the end of 2011, my wife and I went to church planting assessment. Then, for the next two years, I attended several cohort meetings and training where I learned the model that other churches successfully followed. Some of the information was truly invaluable, but some of it was disconcerting. Certain topics provided direction, while others were misleading. Unfortunately, many church planting strategies are market-driven techniques that any business might follow. They are oftentimes not adequately grounded in Scripture.
Church Planting Strategies
One of the approaches I learned about was “finding a person of peace.” The idea comes from Luke 10:5-7. A passage where Jesus encouraged his disciples to receive hospitality from folks willing to provide it has become a crucial missionary methodology. In fact, some advocates of this approach go so far as to say that a pastor or missionary should not even begin preaching or sharing the gospel until they have found a “person of peace” through whom to get connected to others.
The point was to find people who were well-connected in the city who would be willing to promote the church to their circle of influence, even if they themselves were not interested in Christianity. While that might be a good marketing strategy it is a far cry from a biblical model for church planting and mission work.
Another approach was to interview as many people as possible. Ask them about their own experience in churches. Do they currently attend somewhere? If not, why not? What kind of church would they want to attend? These questions might be informative in understanding the context in which you are planting, but they should not inform the kind of church that is established.
Pure Worship Is Biblical Worship
The culture does not have the authority to dictate what the church should look like. And, maybe more importantly at this moment in time, neither does the government have the authority to tell the church what they can and cannot do in a worship service. It is nothing more than a worldly compromise to allow the culture or civil authorities to dictate our church model.
We did not plant Grace Clovis in order to accommodate the felt needs of our city. Nor did we plant the church in order to allow the “community guidelines” of YouTube and Facebook to dictate how we would preach and worship. We have seriously lost our way when the core principles that drive our mission is derived from the world rather than from God’s Word.
If the first commandment is about worshiping the right God, the second commandment is about worshiping the one true God rightly. This command is about maintaining pure worship. God has revealed the parameters of pure worship and the consequences of violating His will.
Read Exodus 20:1-6
This morning we will consider how the Second Commandment emphasizes the pure worship that is required by God. Next week, we will see how the Second Commandment teaches us about the false worship that is forbidden.
I. Pure Worship That Is Required
Although the commandment is given in a negative form, like last week, I want to begin with the positive implications of the command upon how we worship God. This commandment points to the foundational importance of Scripture in the way we worship the one true God.
Worship God in Spirit and Truth
Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well:
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:23-24 (ESV)
This is the passage Ray Sanchez addressed in God’s Blueprint for Worship. We learn the fundamental principle that worship must be in spirit and in truth. As he concludes, pure or true worship must be whole-hearted and whole-minded. It involves a vital relationship with the Holy Spirit and it is derived from a true knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself in His Word and through His Son. It is not driven by external realities or internal emotionalism. It is spiritually and genuinely moving, but grounded with Scripture as the authority. It does have to do with our affections as long as they are biblically accurate.
Biblical Elements of Pure Worship
This means that everything we practice in our worship service, all of the elements from beginning to end, ought to be guided by God’s revelation of pure worship. Our prayers and thanksgiving ought to be offered in the name of Christ. We ought to read, preach, and hear the Word of God throughout the service. We need to be able to administer and receive the sacraments, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in a manner that is outlined in Scripture.
Our worship service needs to be overseen by the elders who are commanded to protect and guard the doctrine and practice of the church against becoming corrupted by false teaching and application. That means church discipline will be a necessary mark of a true church. There may be times that call for fasting as was encouraged several weeks ago.
These are all important elements in which we should regularly participate. That being said, there may also be appropriate times for refraining from gathering together, such as when a dangerous virus is spreading through the community.
But the norm for true worship is a robust practice of a weekly Sunday worship service that includes gathering together to sing to one another, pray with and for one another, feed upon His Word alongside every generation, and celebrating the signs and seals of the covenant of grace to the glory of our Triune God.
True Worship Is Flexible But Not Inventive
We do not have the privilege of introducing extra-biblical elements into the worship service such as the strange fire that was offered by Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. For them, the consequences of violating God’s instruction led to their swift death. Because they offered “unauthorized fire” before the Lord, “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them” (Leviticus 10:2).
The Lord delights in our obedience more than He delights in the sacrificial offering itself (1 Samuel 15:22-23). So we ought to prioritize our participation in true worship because that is the kind of worship that God delights to receive from us.
That doesn’t mean that every church worship service must look and sound the same. There is room for flexibility in the order of service, the frequency of certain elements, or even in the style of music.
There is nothing more sacred about an eighteenth-century style of worship than a twentieth-century one. However, the principles of worship never change, regardless of changing applications.Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom
Pure Worship Requires Preparation
The positive side of the Second Commandment is that we highly value worshiping God according to the principles that He has provided. It is not optional to worship God however we want. We must follow the instructions He has given us for how to bring Him glory and honor.
In fact, it is so important that we encourage you to prepare your heart for worship before coming. We even set aside a few moments to quiet our hearts and focus our minds with a proper reverence before hearing the opening call to worship. These might be new elements for many of you, but they are biblical.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.Ecclesiastes 5:1 (ESV)
We gather as the church in order to honor the God who has called us together.
Screens Are Poor Mediums For Pure Worship
We should pause here in order to give some thought to how this relates to our present situation. In his excellent book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman delivers a scathing rebuke to the typical evangelist on television.
Without ensnaring myself in a theological argument for which I am unprepared, I think it both fair and obvious to say that on television, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though His name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the clear message that it is he, not He, who must be worshipped. I do not mean to imply that the preacher wishes it to be so; only that the power of a close-up televised face, in color, makes idolatry a continual hazard. Television is, after all, a form of graven imagery far more alluring than a golden calf.… Jimmy Swaggart plays better than God. For God exists only in our minds, whereas Swaggart is there, to be seen, admired, adored. Which is why he is the star of the show. And why Billy Graham is a celebrity, and why Oral Roberts has his own university, and why Robert Schuller has a crystal cathedral all to himself. If I am not mistaken, the word for this is blasphemy.Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Postman was not a Christian, which is why he could suggest that “God exists only in our minds.” But he was simply elaborating upon the ideas of the media scholar Marshall McLuhan whose famous aphorism stated: “the medium is the message.” The means by which the message is being communicated impacts and even transforms the message itself.
Postman argued that television was a poor means of teaching important information. Had YouTube or Facebook or Tik Tok existed when he wrote the book, they surely would have raised his voice another octave. His point was that the medium of television was turning serious topics such as religion, politics, and news into alternative forms of entertainment.
The Inadequacy of Virtual Worship
If the medium is the message, then our worship is directly impacted by the means in which we participate in worship. To sit under the preaching of the Word, in front of a TV or computer, is to impact the way the message is received. Even when the preacher is hopefully proclaiming the worship of God, the medium of his face on the TV is indicating something different—namely, the worship of the preacher. We can and should do everything we can to safeguard against this perception, but the medium itself will do the work even when our words argue for the opposite.
I don’t say this in order to condemn the worship of everyone who has participated in virtual worship over the past few months. I say it as a warning that virtual worship is lacking essential elements that God has given us for the proper and full participation in corporate worship. Virtual worship is worse than simply not ideal, it is in fact inadequate! We ought to lament what has been lost and do everything we can to get back to giving God proper honor through gathered, in-person worship.
I can understand pastors not wanting to get into politics or controversial matters. I have seen many warnings on social media about getting caught up in the cultural divide and losing sight of the spiritual role we play in society. But, all pastors should recognize that the gathering of the saints for worship is a spiritual matter! The unequal measures that were implemented in this state, and are continuing to bind us, are hindering me from feeding the flock in a manner that fully honors the God we worship. That means I might need to appeal to my earthly citizenship—as Paul did—in order to fight for the more fundamental right to enjoy the privileges of my heavenly citizenship.
But, let me conclude with our only hope for exercising true worship.
The True Image of Pure Worship
If we’re being honest, we know that even when we gather together, we fall short of offering pure worship. As long as we remain in this body of flesh, hindered by our fallen minds and impure motives, we will continue to fall short of bringing to God the perfect honor that He alone is due to receive.
Our worship remains flawed even though it has been enabled by God’s grace. God has revealed Himself to us so that we come before Him and not the false gods of other religions, yet we still introduce selfish thoughts, words, and actions into our worship.
God has created mankind after His own image. But Christ alone was the only human who ever perfectly reflected the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Only Jesus could say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the Second Commandment so that we can enter into communion with God through the work accomplished by the Son. And, there is an opportunity to be visibly reminded of that perfect work whenever we partake of the Lord’s Supper. As we look upon the bread and the cup, we are filled with gratitude. As we partake together in a worthy manner, our faith is strengthened, and our unity as the body of Christ is confirmed. But even this sign and seal of the covenant of grace will become unnecessary when we enter into glory and our faith becomes sight.