The form of worship acceptable to God has been commanded by him in the Scriptures. Without his prior word of institution for an action offered to him in worship, what we bring is offered in vain. From the beginning of the world, there have been certain solemn actions which he invests with the significance of worship, and conformity to such appointments has always been an eminent test of submission to God. So important was this matter in the estimation of Calvin, that he declared the two principal parts of the Christian religion to be the worship of God by the mode he sanctions in his Word, and the necessity of seeking righteousness outside of ourselves in Christ alone.
As forms of worship for the church of the New Testament, God has appointed prayer, reading of the Scriptures, preaching the Word, singing of Psalms, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Day. In our time there is widespread fear that the few and simple ordinances given in Scripture will be insufficient to bring about the advance of the gospel. But the Lord Jesus directed his servants that they were rather to teach the nations to comply with his commands, and that what will effectually secure the prosperity of their labors is his presence with them as the exalted and reigning Messiah to whom has been given all power in heaven and in earth.
There is a further dimension to the purity and simplicity of New Testament worship, because the forms of worship that prefigured the coming priesthood of Christ have passed away. Both in Old Testament and New, worship centers on a priest. The scene for the service of the Levitical priests was an earthly sanctuary, where there was a simulation of realities in heaven. But once Christ made atonement for sin, he went into heaven itself, as our forerunner entering within the veil of the true sanctuary above. There we ourselves are brought, to enter the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus. The worship of the church in the New Testament is centered on the priestly intercession of Christ which gives us access to God, our hearts being directed in faith toward the heavenly sanctuary as the seat and nub of our worship, just as the Old Testament people of God prayed with their faces to Jerusalem where a descendent of Aaron approached the mercy seat.
Worship in the earthly tabernacle was a pictorial spectacle of the anticipated appearance of Christ in the true sanctuary. With his debut there as our priest, worshippers no longer relate to God through forms which gave a shadowy representation of the real thing. A glory and a beauty had been appointed for the garments worn by the Levitical priests, and for much else pertaining to that tabernacle which was the setting for their ministry. Such outward display, as in the incense, or in the musical instrumentation that was synchronized with the offering of sacrifice, was symbolic of the greater glory of a priest yet to come, whose ministry would have an efficacy theirs never knew. The Levitical priesthood had inadequacy written all over it, and its forms of worship were a reminder of sins not taken away, and that the way into the holiest of all had not yet been made manifest.
The end of prefigurement in the forms of worship leaves a marked simplicity in the forms of New Testament worship. But this is not a diminution of glory, unless glory is measured by outward symbols rather than by the efficacy of Messiah’s priesthood. The glory of our worship is the glory of our priest in his power actually to purge the conscience of sin, to constitute the ungodly righteous, and to open the way to God. Though the glory of our worship is not visible to the eye, the freedom of access to the presence within the veil surpasses anything known in the Old Testament forms of worship. Now we have the reality of our priest entering the heavens to give us access to God, rather than a shadowy portrayal of it on earth.
As the reformer Oecolampadius once put it, the Old Testament ceremonies were like the lighting of candles which serve a purpose in the hours before dawn, but it is a strange lack of appreciation for the daylight when we continue to burn candles after the sun has ascended to its noonday height.
Sherman Isbell: Hear Ye Him
This article and all other articles in this section are taken from the articles of identity of the Presbytery of the United States in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), located at westminsterconfession.org