Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 12, 1955

True Or Vain Worship -- Which?

John T. Hinds

The necessity of worshipping God is conceded, but how shall we worship is usually considered of little importance. "It makes no difference how so we are honest," you may say. Perhaps you so think, but does that make it true? Does the Bible say that? If not, what right have you to say it?

Christ has all authority. He said: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24.) "Must" do so. Then, the "how" is of great importance. Again: "But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:9.) Christ here declared our worship vain when rendered according to the doctrines of men. It is agreed that in becoming Christians we must do what God says. Can it be less important in worshipping him? Surely Christians should have as much respect for God's word as sinners.

1. We must be right in principle. Principle, right or wrong, is the foundation upon which the practice rests. To prune a bad tree will not change the nature of its fruit, but to dig it up will kill the tree and stop fruit-bearing. So, cutting off a wrong practice will not change a bad principle; other evil practices will start; but, if we reject the bad principle, all evil practices based upon it must cease. To cut off one society is useless while we confess it right to have them; others will be formed; to reject denominational peculiarities is foolish while we accept denominationalism as scriptural. The gospel rule of "speaking as the Bible speaks" forces people to reject all human names, creeds, societies and sectarian doctrines. The principle of "doctrines of men" in worship invariably leads to sinful practices. No man can accept it and remain true to God; it is vain to attempt it.

2. There is a clear distinction between common matters and worship. Our worship must be limited or unlimited. If unlimited, nothing can be rejected that men want; if limited, the Bible must do it — men would agree to nothing else. Many things are personal privileges appropriate at home, in society, or State, that would be sinful as a part of worship. The pattern for the tabernacle, worship and all, came from heaven (Heb. 8:5), and Nadab and Abihu lost their lives for adding to that worship. (Lev. 10:1-10.) In Ezekiel 22:26, the priests were condemned because they "put no difference between the holy and the profane." (Rev. Ver. says "holy and common"). In Col. 2:20-23, Paul condemned "will worship" which, according to the best Greek Lexicons, means "self-devised" worship. True worship is God-given.

3. A thing does not have to be sinful in its nature to be sinful in worship. Since worship is divinely prescribed, it is sinful to introduce unauthorized things either good or bad in their nature. To do so is to substitute human for divine wisdom — to act presumptuously. The "strange fire" used by the priests "which God commanded them not," could no doubt have been used innocently for heating and cooking (common things), but not for burning incense (a holy thing). The sin was not in the nature of the fire, but in the hearts of those who used it in worship without authority from God. A lack of authority in any lawful system is equal to a prohibition. Of this fact, the sad death of these priests is ample evidence.

4. The home and the church are different institutions. The home is ours — we control it; the church is God's — He governs it. Nothing sinful in its nature is allowable in either, but many things are right in the home that are not right in the worship. Beefsteak on the home table is right, on the Lord's table it is wrong. A lack of authority makes its use in worship a sin. Patriotic and love songs are right on occasions in the home, but mixed with "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" in worship would be sinful. The babe in the home is one of earth's choicest blessings, but the babe baptized into the church would be a sinful procedure. When Paul condemned the church at Corinth by saying: "If any man hunger, let him eat at home." (1 Cor. 11:34), he showed that common meals at home are right, but sinful when made a religious feast or mixed with the Lord's supper. Likewise instrumental music is appropriate in entertainments, social or political gatherings, but sinful when added to the melody of the heart of sacred songs in worship. A thing is not right in worship because right in the home; neither is a thing wrong in the home because wrong in worship.

5. Laws can be abolished by the power that made them; hence, things legal at one time may be illegal at another. The Jewish law with its rites and ceremonies — incense, bloody sacrifices and all — was once the true way to serve God, but the gospel is God's power to save now. You are not allowed to burn incense, because the law required it. You must find it in Christ's law. Neither can you use instrumental music because the Jews did. If not authorized by the New Testament, it is prohibited. Paul said, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4.)

Some Basic Truths

6. The gospel appeals to the spirit, not the flesh. The Jewish system pertained largely to the flesh. (Heb. 9:13), and could not take away sins (Heb. 10:1-4.) Since they were permitted to try such a system for centuries, only to see its failure fully to meet man's needs, why should we try again? Fifteen centuries of experience should settle the matter. When we appeal to the flesh, we disobey the command "crucify the flesh," and turn from Christ to Moses.

7. Worship and the place of worship are different things. God prescribes the worship, but "dwelleth not in temples made with hands." (Acts 17:24.) Places have to do with comfort and convenience only. Hence, houses, seats, stoves, or lights are no more a part of the worship than the place where we find water is a part of baptism. Apostolic congregations used any place they could get, so may we. But changing the worship is a sin. Adding instrumental music is changing the worship as surely as adding meat to the Lord's supper.

8. Positive laws regulate worship. The sin is greater for breaking such laws than those dealing with human' weakness. For breaking an arbitrary law, Adam lost Eden, Lot's wife became a pillar of salt, and Uzzah, who touched the ark, lost his life. Man is often severely tempted, and in his conduct with humanity, passion or pride may rule him but in the true worship of God these can have no place. For the drunkard, we may plead weakness; for the thief poverty or covetousness, but for the man who deliberately changes the worship of God, there is no excuse.

Some Historical Facts

1. No apostolic congregation used instrumental music in worship. It was introduced centuries later and after the Roman Catholic apostasy.

2. Apostolic congregations sent aid to preachers and poor saints (Phil. 4:16; 1 Cor. 16:1-4), but formed no society for that purpose, either district, state or national. They never formed any organization to combine congregations for any purpose.

3. No apostolic congregation had any "Aid," "Endeavor," or other society. The congregation as heaven gave it was sufficient for teaching, charity or missionary work. This is proven by the fact that they had no other organization that did the work. The elders were overseers or superintendents (1 Peter 6:1, 2); the deacons "served tables" or looked after temporal things (Acts 6:1-6), and funds were sent direct to the needy and missionaries. Not to do this now is to disobey the Lord; to do it some other way is to reject divine arrangements.

4. Human organizations require human heads. Through church councils and organizations came human laws, and the result was denominationalism.

5. Pioneer preachers in the last century began the work of restoring apostolic congregations. They rejected all human organizations, names, creeds, entertainments and instrumental music. The Bible alone was their guide.

6. After the victory was gained the "Bible alone" rule was gradually rejected by many and such devices as would please men were adopted. Now "sock socials," "mock weddings" and "church baseball" are modern means of grace compared with which the "pie social" is tame. The organ to "carry the tune" has been eclipsed by the pipes, solos, duets and full orchestra, to say nothing of whistling. From the modest "Aid Society" they have gone to others with money membership, and are calling for a "delegate convention — an official organization to control the church. Preachers take part in union meetings, virtually rejecting their own teaching on baptism, while some accept sprinkled people as baptized. Such are the facts and the end is not yet.

Apologies Vain

1. Some say "we must be like other folks or fail." But the Lord required the Jews to be a peculiar people. (Deut. 7:1-6.) He requires the same of us now. (1 Peter 2:9.) Why follow a people in church life when they do not even know how to become Christians? If you are like other folks, what could they gain by uniting with you?

2. "We need aids to draw people," is urged. The Bible says no man can come to Christ, "except the Father draw him." (John 6:44.) If drawn by human devices, men draw them.

3. "Must be up-to-date," is another apology. Thought your claim was "back to the Bible" — a restoration of primitive Christianity. The Jews had a fleshly system and used instrumental music, but quit them when they came to the gospel of Christ. When you pick up such things, you are nearly two thousand years behind. Such things are entirely out of date with the Lord's people.

4. "We must have such things to be popular," many say. But Christ was not popular, neither were the apostles. They were killed on account of their teaching.

Paul said, "For do I now persuade men or God? or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10.) Whom do you worship — God or man?

5. "I think we should compromise on such things," says one. Compromising right and wrong leaves both sides wrong. The wrong becomes only half right and the right is made half wrong. Such work is positively sinful. It is better to have one right than none. Tampering with sins leads to ruin. Nothing is safe except not to begin. If in error, quit at once; if right do not begin the wrong. Partaking with those in error in the hope of changing them is like drinking with the toper to reform him — a failure. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." (1 Cor. 15:3.) Stand with those who are right — you owe it to yourself, to your family, to the church and to God.