Worship: A Matter of Preference?

This is our pastor’s latest article for the Stone County Gazette, the local paper for Kimberling City.  The article is woefully short because of length restrictions.  But it does get to the gist of the matter about how we worship.


Today, we think that personal preference shapes our worship of God.  If I like emotional, enthusiastic worship, I go to a Pentecostal church.  If I like reverential, formal worship, I go to a Roman Catholic church.  But what may be missing from our preferences is what God has to say on this matter.

The book of Hebrews tells us the relationship of our worship with the worship that takes place in heaven.  Hebrews 8:1-5 says:

[Jesus] is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord and not by any human….  Now if [Jesus] were [still] on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest at all, because others offer the gifts prescribed by the Law.  They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.  That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain.”

 The Old Covenant served “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”  That means God told His people to worship in a specific way because it mirrored on earth what was taking place in heaven.  If God’s Old Covenant people violated this, God was not pleased.

We see God’s displeasure shortly after He rescued His people in Egypt.  In the wilderness, they wanted to worship God–but following their own preferences.  So, they made a golden calf and decided to worship God through that.  How do we know?  Of this worship preference, Aaron says, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the LORD [Yahweh]” (Exodus 32:5).  About the Israelite’s preference to worship Him in the way of the Egyptians, God said, “And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).

God called their worship preference, “play.”  The Israelites thought they were worshiping God, but they were only playing.  For they were not worshiping the way God wanted them to do so.

Well, what of us in the New Covenant?  Are we fully free to do whatever we want?  You would think so based on all the different styles on worship taking place on Sunday morning.

To this Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  For I assure you: Until heaven and earth disappear, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything has been accomplished.  So, whoever sets aside one of the least of these commands, and teaches others to do the same, will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

 Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Old Covenant, but to fulfill it.  And so our worship is to reflect that.  But how do we worship in a way that reflects that Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, when most of us have never learned how to do this?

In short, Baptism fulfills Old Covenant circumcision.  The Lord’s Supper fulfills the Old Covenant Passover and sacrifices.  The service of the Word and preaching fulfills the old synagogue service.  We the see the first New Testament Church shape Christian worship realizing this.  Acts 2:42 says the first Christians “devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread and the prayer.”  The “breaking of the bread” is the Lord’s Supper.  “The prayer” was a Jewish expression referring to the service of the Word.

The first New Testament Church realized that their worship was a fulfillment of the Old Covenant.  That shaped Christian worship from the beginning.  This shape developed into what today we call the “historic liturgy.”  This worship form still exists in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and traditional Lutheran worship services.

Worship is not a matter of preference.  Our preferences are irrelevant, just as the preferences of the Israelites were irrelevant in the wilderness.  In the end, it’s not about what we want.  It’s about what God wants for us.