Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Defense of the Regulative Principle of Worship: Part 2

(posts in this series: part 1, part 2, part 3)

When we do not adhere to God’s commands in worship, we adhere to our own commandments.  And adhering to our own commandments is vain worship.  Consider Matthew 15:8, 9, where Jesus says the following in indicting the Pharisees and the scribes:
"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" 
 Thus, to the extent that one adheres to his own commandments, then one's worship is in vain.  One must follow God's commandments alone.  (This applies to any area of life.) To worship God in vain is not to worship God at all, but something else, a false god.  Thus denying the regulative principle of worship is idolatry.  

Since following God's commandments and worshiping God are linked, the 2nd commandment applies to how we worship God.  The commandment itself reads:
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:4-6)
Many have a hard time seeing how this commandment applies to how we worship God.  They think the commandment is limited to forbidding the worship of false gods.  However, one can just as easily commit idolatry in worshiping God in a way not permitted in the Bible as in knowingly worshiping a false god (cf. Matthew 15:8, 9).

Indeed, idolatry can be committed not only immediately (i.e., bowing before an object as if it was a god), but mediately (i.e, using an object or some other unbiblical worship practice as a conduit to reach God).  

Or, as James Durham puts it, “there is an immediate worshipping of images as idols, when they in themselves, or for themselves, are worshipped: And, secondly, There is a mediate worshipping of images for that which they represent, when men worship something in them, or signified by them.”  (James Durham, The Law Unsealed, p. 49). 

The 2nd commandment affirms the necessity of making God's commandments the standard of worship practices.  On this Matthew Henry writes:
The favour God would show to his faithful worshippers: Keeping mercy for thousands of persons, thousands of generations of those that love me, and keep my commandments. This intimates that the second commandment, though, in the letter of it, it is only a prohibition of false worships, yet includes a precept of worshipping God in all those ordinances which he has instituted.

As the first commandment requires the inward worship of love, desire, joy, hope, and admiration, so the second requires the outward worship of prayer and praise, and solemn attendance on God's word. Note, First, Those that truly love God will make it their constant care and endeavour to keep his commandments, particularly those that relate to his worship.

Those that love God, and keep those commandments, shall receive grace to keep his other commandments. Gospel worship will have a good influence upon all manner of gospel obedience. Secondly, God has mercy in store for such. Even they need mercy, and cannot plead merit; and mercy they shall find with God, merciful protection in their obedience and a merciful recompence of it.  

Thirdly, This mercy shall extend to thousands, much further than the wrath threatened to those that hate him, for that reaches but to the third or fourth generation. The streams of mercy run now as full, as free, and as fresh, as ever.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume One, Exodus Chapter 20)
In the 2nd Commandment, we see the seriousness of denying the regulative principle of worship.  Those who do so are considered haters of God, and threatened with generational curses upon their household:   
"You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me..."

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