Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” (Leviticus 9:22-10:3a)
The Problem with Familiarity
It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt, which, in many cases, can be quite true. For instance, the first time I watched Disney’s Frozen with my daughter I thought it was a pretty good movie. However, the seventieth time she asked to watch it, I think I would have rather stuck a salad fork in my eye than see it again. It would be safe to say that my familiarity with the saga of Ana and Elsa has caused me to view all things Frozen with contempt.
For most of us, going to church is something with which we are very familiar. This has the potential to breed undesirable feelings about it—like boredom, carelessness, or in some instances, outright contempt. In such cases, people develop a lack of recognition that they are encountering the living God in the assembly of His people. As a result, their hearts remain unmoved by the Gospel of grace. And sometimes they walk away from church altogether.
But even for those of us who truly love congregational worship, our routine exposure to it can make it difficult to see the real significance of what we do in our gatherings. So from time to time, we need to take a step back and remember why our practices of gathered worship matter so much. But in order to do that, we must first go back to an important reality—one which is made clear in the story of Aaron and his sons, Nadab and Abihu (quoted above).
What God Cares About Most
At the end of Leviticus 9, Aaron brought offerings before the Lord as Israel’s high priest, being careful to do all that God had commanded regarding such offerings. The Lord was pleased to accept Israel’s burnt offerings and graciously visited the whole assembly in a fearsome display of His glory, consuming the offering with fire from above. This was because Aaron acted under God’s authority.
By contrast, Nadab and Abihu went rogue in the giving of their offerings. Unlike their father, they dismissed God’s authority by disregarding His commands. As a result, the Lord consumed the two brothers instead of the unlawful sacrifice they so presumptuously offered.
Is this to say that God will do to us what He did to Nadab and Abihu if we fail to worship Him exactly as He has commanded? No. In Christ, this is not a word of condemnation (Rom. 8:1). However it is, for us, a word of caution.
You see, God is chiefly concerned with His own glory (Lev. 10:3). And He is opposed to anything that robs Him of His glory, which means that He cares a great deal about how His people worship Him. In His authority, He has commanded that we observe specific practices through which we can glorify Him. Therefore we must be careful to obey what He has commanded. For as the story of Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu so clearly demonstrates, the practices we use to relate to God can actually be the difference between our worship glorifying Him or displeasing Him.
In that case, the most important question a church can ask is, How then are we supposed to relate to God when we gather?
To answer that question, we must go to the Scriptures and carefully develop our worship practices based upon biblical prescription. For LifePoint, the 66 canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are our highest authority. We believe they contain the very words of God (2 Pet. 1:21, 3:15-16). Moreover, we believe that they are altogether sufficient to regulate the life of the local church, including its practices of worship (2 Tim. 3:16). Thus we are in agreement with this summary from the 1689 Baptist Confession:
But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
Therefore, being both commanded and commended to us in the Scriptures, we believe that God has ordained the following practices, which provide the standard for how we relate to Him in the context of gathered worship; the 1689 Baptist Confession compiles them as such:
The reading of the Scriptures, preaching and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to Him…
Of course, we can most certainly practice all the right things and still fail to glorify God as we ought, which is why the Baptist Confession goes on to remind us that these things must be practiced “with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear.” In other words, the church’s adherence to the prescriptions of God’s Word must be fueled by an all-consuming love for Him.
So as the Lord’s Day approaches, let’s not allow our familiarity with LifePoint’s gatherings to keep us from meeting with God through the practices He has ordained. Instead, let us prepare a sacrifice that is fully pleasing to Him—one that will be characterized by sincere love and faithful practice. After all, He has given us everything we need to steer clear of unauthorized fire. It really all comes down to how we answer this question, Will we relate to God based on what we find in His Word, or will we take our cues from somewhere else?