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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Worship the Lord Only In the Manner He Has Shown in His Word.
Text:LD 35 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 100: 1, 2, 3, 4 (serve the Lord with gladness)

Profession of Faith: Apostle’s Creed

Sing: Psalm 105: 1, 2, 3 (O thank the Lord with great rejoicing)


Read: Numbers 25:1–9; Deuteronomy 12: 29-32; Galatians 4:1-11 

Sing:  Hymn 14: 1, 9, 10 (the prayer of Habakkuk-Lord, I have heard the tidings of you and all your might)

Text: Lord’s Day 35 (Also read art. 32 BC., Book of Praise, p. 512; art. 53 CO, p.656. (The CO is not one of our confessions, but an agreement between the churches of the Canadian Reformed Churches to conduct themselves in accordance with its regulations so that all things are done decently and in good order)

Sermon: Worship the Lord Only In the Manner He Has Shown in His Word.

       That means that we may not:

       1. Add to it;

       2. Take away from it.

Sing: Hymn   3: 1, 2, 5 (Oh Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord Almighty!)



Sing: Hymn   6: 1, 2 (Praise God most high, you servants of the Lord.)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters: 

All around us we can observe that this is a festive time of the year. People everywhere are preparing for the Christmas holidays. These activities are fuelled by the merchants actively peddling their wares. They create the mood by decorating their stores with Christmas ornaments and by inundating the airwaves with advertisements accompanied by Christmas jingles. In the shopping malls we hear beautiful hymns to the praise of the birth of our Saviour intermixed with songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." Retail merchants eagerly promote the Christmas season. They do that, because, to them, it is the best time of the year, not necessarily because of the birth of Christ, but because of all the money coming in.

The masses eagerly go along with it all. They are busily planning their festivities, decorating their homes, having office parties, and getting presents for that special person. They shop until everyone on their list has been checked off. They shop till they drop. They do it all because of the spirit of the season. Whatever that is.

We, too, get caught up in it. Many of the things the world does, we do as well. The question is whether or not that is right. To what extent should we be caught up in this? What are we, as Christians, supposed to do with the Christmas holidays? What does the Lord God want from us?

That is what this Lord’s Day 35 has us deal with, for it is about the second commandment, which deals with how we must worship. The catechism summarizes that commandment by teaching us that "We must not worship the Lord God in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word." We may not bring ungodly human elements into it nor remove any divine elements from it. That is straight from God’s Word. In connection with the second commandment the Lord God tells us in Deuteronomy 12:32, “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (ESV)

That is what I will preach about. The theme is as follows:

Worship the Lord Only In the Manner He Has Shown in His Word.

That means that we may not:

1. Add to it;

2. Take away from it.

Some Christians are not in favour of celebrating Christmas. Some even go so far as to say that you sin when you do that. They say that Christmas is a human invention. They say that about other holidays as well, such as Good Friday, Easter, and Ascension Day.

Indeed, the command to celebrate Christmas on December 25th is nowhere to be found in Scripture. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures do not tell us at what time of the year the Lord Jesus Christ was born. Scholars will point out that shepherds in Palestine came in from the fields before the winter. And so the shepherds, mentioned in Luke 2 at the time of the birth of Christ, would not have been in the fields during the month of December. The sheep would have been brought back to their villages in late October or early November.

Why, then, do we celebrate at the end of December? Well, that is because this date has its roots in pagan holidays. The end of December was a time of celebration for pagans in the south of Europe, in Egypt and Persia, and in Rome and Greece, and among the German and Celtic tribes.

They celebrated the fact that the days would get longer again after the end of December. It marked the season of the winter solstice. The Holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log, the Christmas lights, and the evergreen trees were all originally part of pagan celebrations and worship.

Christmas was not even celebrated during the first few centuries of the church. It did not become a practice to celebrate the birth of Christ at the end of December until the middle of the fourth century, and it only became an official Christmas holiday in the year 534. The celebration of Christmas at the end of December became a practice because of Pope Gregory I's instructions to the missionaries. He wanted to exchange the pagan holidays for Christian ones. He wanted the unbelievers to worship the God of the Bible and teach them about Christ.

Since then, Christmas has slowly become one of the most important holidays in the Christian calendar. Good Friday, Easter, and Thanksgiving were added as well. These latter holidays are, by and large, celebrated at the correct time of the year. But, with all of these special holidays, there is no express command in the Bible to have a special weekday for worship to celebrate these events.

The reformers of the 16th century examined these practices and wanted to return to the Scriptures. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were not in favour of keeping these special religious holidays. Like the others, Calvin had no sympathy with Roman Catholic ceremonialism, which was overloaded with unscriptural traditions and superstitions. He wanted to have the worship services only on the Sunday.

The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, in which we have our roots, agreed. And so, at a synod held in 1574, the churches decided that the feast days should not be held on a special day of the week but on the Sunday before the so-called event. And so, with regard to Christmas, they decided that the birth of Christ should be remembered on the Sunday before Christmas day. They also decided to admonish the people not to observe the celebration of Christmas if it fell on a weekday.

The problem, however, was that most people on December 25 did not have to work on that day and were accustomed to celebrate on that day. Unfortunately, many did not use their day off wisely.

That was also the case with the other religious holidays during the year, such as the Monday after Easter Sunday, the Monday after Pentecost Sunday and in some places, Ascension Day and New Year’s Eve. Some men went to the bars that day and engaged in other unwholesome activities.

And so, four years later, in 1578, another Synod was held to deal with that same issue. This time, they made it even more prescriptive. Synod observed that God has given man the freedom to work six days a week and that only the Sunday be set aside for worship. Synod urged the ministers of the churches to teach the members of the congregation to conduct themselves on those special days properly and to transform unproductive and harmful idleness into holy and profitable exercises.

However, the reformed churches could not stem the tide. The people celebrated on those special days anyway. So, rather than going against the tide, the church succumbed and allowed the institution of special worship services commemorating the special New Testament events. However, now it was prescribed to worship on that special day, even if it was a weekday. It was made mandatory.

That all took place during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, in the 19th century, this once again became an issue. The secession churches in 1834 did not like it that these holidays were prescribed. They wanted to leave it up to the conscience of the people. They said we must not compel people to observe the so-called feast days, which the Lord has not commanded in his Word.

That is how it now stands with us as well. Currently, it states in our Church Order, article 53, that the celebration of the special feast days is left up to the freedom of the churches. According to the Church Order, you do not have to have a special worship service on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Thanksgiving Day, or any other special day. Those New Testament events “shall be commemorated in the manner decided upon by the consistory. “ In other words, if a consistory decides to celebrate these events on a Sunday and not on a special weekday, that’s up to them.

And yet, we do have special worship services on Christmas and Good Friday. Why? Well, brothers and sisters, because that allows us to have the opportunity to focus on what the celebration is all about. If we did not worship that day, then we also would be in danger of taking over the secular celebrations and practices of the world around us and diminish the true meaning of the birth of Christ.

And so, now we do it, not because we are compelled, but because we have the wonderful freedom to do so. In this way, we can show ourselves to be different from the world. Whereas the world focuses on men's gifts to each other, we focus on God's gift to the world. We look to God to bless us, whereas the world looks to man to bless himself. We seek salvation from God, the world seeks salvation from man.

The fact of the matter is that the birth of Christ is one of the most significant events in the history of humanity. The Old Testament church had been waiting for that for thousands of years. Finally, the Messiah came in the flesh. The Lord God kept his promise that the evil one would be destroyed. He kept his promise to redeem his people from their sins and grant them glorious eternal lives. He kept his promise that through that Saviour, our everlasting joy would be ours and that the doors of heaven would be opened up.

Isn’t that something to celebrate? Isn’t that something to sing about? Isn’t that something to rejoice about? This world is in the grip of sin. Even though we are sinful, we are not in the grip of sin.

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, we should seize every opportunity to worship God and celebrate the wonderful events in the history of redemption. And we should do that most certainly on the Lord's days. As we will see when Lord's Day 38 is dealt with, we are commanded to come together on the first day of the week. But that does not mean that we cannot also worship God on another day of the week. Of course we can.

Our hearts must yearn to hear God's voice. When you are in love, you yearn to be with your boyfriend or your girlfriend. You want to be together at every opportunity.

We also have a love relationship with the Lord our God. There is no greater love relationship than that. That is something we should celebrate. And that is also how the world should see us celebrate. But this is not something that you can impose. It is something that you do from the heart.

You do not earn your salvation by keeping certain days holy as if going to a worship service on a particular day earns you some merit with God. That is what the Roman Catholics thought. And that is what the Judaizers to whom Paul writes in Galatia thought as well. Paul was very concerned about that kind of legalism. That’s not how you serve the Lord.

Therefore, he says to those legalists among the Galatians, to the Judaizers who are imposing all kinds of feast days on the Christians, “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Galatians 4:10–11, ESV)

Note well, however, that he is speaking here about the imposition of these things. To the Judaizers, the celebration of the feast days was necessary for salvation. That was wrong. As Paul says elsewhere, in Romans 14:5-6, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.” (ESV)

 In other words, Paul left it up to the freedom of each person, in accordance with his or her own conscience, with no pressure from others, to observe special days.

The Lord God does not give us a direct commandment concerning everything that happens in the worship service. For example, to worship twice on a Sunday. And yet we do. Why? Because we seize every opportunity to worship the Lord God. There is no direct command either that says in so many words that we are to baptize infants. However, Scripture clearly teaches that we must do so.

There are many other things that are not directly commanded, but which nevertheless are faithfully practised. These are not human elements we bring into the worship services, but scriptural ones.

There is of course a danger. There is a danger that we want to do certain things because it is what we ourselves like. Because we want to put ourselves in the foreground.

Therefore, we always have to be on guard. When we worship, God always has to be in the center. Consequently, we may not take away any of the divine elements in the worship service. We have to be reverent when we worship. That’s what the second point is about.

2. The Lord God wants you to take worship seriously. When the Israelites worshiped the Lord in a way that he had not commanded, sacrificing to other gods, then the Lord God killed 24,000 of them. That is what happened at Baal Peor.

And when the sons of Aaron did not worship God in the way that he commanded, he also had them put to death. This happened at the beginning of their nationhood to warn them of the consequences for the generations of disobeying this Commandment. Although later they disobeyed this commandment all the time, God did not put them to death, because if he had done so, there would have been no nation left. The Lord our God wanted to impress upon them that he is a mighty and holy God and that we may not treat him in a frivolous manner.

And so we also have to think about how we worship him. How seriously do we take it? How do we celebrate every first day of the week? How do we celebrate the birth of Christ? What do our children think about when they think about Christmas Day? What is their impression of that day? Is it a day of worship for them or a day of indulging the flesh? How do we teach them?

The concerns that the church fathers had in the 16th century are the same concerns of today. At Christmas time we give honour to God. We worship him. And we must find all kinds of ways to show our children that that is our focus. It is a day of joy because of the birth of Christ, even though that day may not have been the actual date of his birthday. It is a day of reverence and joy because of what God has done for the world.

The same thing must be said about the worship on the Sunday. How do we prepare ourselves for the Sunday? Do we stay up half the night before so that we are too sleepy on the Sunday to partake in the worship service?

And what about just before the worship service? Before we even begin the worship service, we must have the right attitude and be in the right frame of mind. For families with little children, that is not always an easy thing. There are so many things that go on, and that can put you on edge. But it is important to put everyone in the right state of mind so that our children understand that attending church is not a chore to be endured but a privilege to be celebrated.

We and our children should know what an actual worship service is all about. It is God meeting with us. He wants to speak to us. He wants to speak to us about his love for us. He wants to tell us about what he has done through his Son Jesus Christ so that we can have life in abundance and eternal life even. He wants us to understand what our covenant relationship is all about and how wonderful that is.

In the worship service the two parties of the covenant are together. And God takes the lead. He is the one who established the covenant relationship. He is the one who has chosen us to be part of his people and he is the one who gathers us together. In the worship service the people then respond to God's love with their love for him.

And so the Lord God wants us to respond in the proper way. He wants us to be active participants in the worship service. He wants us to pray to him, to sing, and to actively listen to the proclamation of his word. When you sing, you must do so with gusto. When you give your alms, you do so generously. When you listen, do so actively.

You must be not only an active participant but also a reverent one. You may not be a stumbling block to others in the church by being disruptive by not sitting still, yawning, or falling asleep.

Your reverence should show not only in how you sit and listen and sing but also in how you dress. You should not dress as if you're relaxing at home or as if you are about to do your chores.

Before the Israelites assembled together, God told them to put on their best clothes. They also had to make sure that those clothes were washed and clean. They could not dress like they did during the rest of the week when they were working in the fields, and looking after the animals, and doing their household chores. No, God calls us to reverently worship him. God wants us to take our worship very seriously.

Once again, also here we have to be careful with legalism. There are those who keep all the rules of worship. They do everything right. They dress in the right way, they sing in the right way, and they listen in the right way. Outwardly they are examples of piety.

That was also the case with many of the Israelites during certain times in Israel's history. To the eye they did everything right, and then some. They made their sacrifices; they went to the temple; they kept the various ceremonies and feasts. But, their hearts were not in it. During the week they lived like pagans. They thought that through the ritual they could please God.

No, brothers and sisters, our worship service is the culmination of what happens during the week. We must worship God every day of the week. We must worship him in our homes. We must worship him in our hearts. For now we are temples of the Holy Spirit.

But on the Sunday we do it in a most special way. We do it together as God's people. One of the wonderful things about the Reformation was that the simplicity and the beauty of a worship service were restored. The reformers went back to the Bible. They did not want the trappings of the liturgical innovations of the Roman Catholic Church with all its man-made ceremonies and rituals.

It is true that nowhere in the Bible is an exact order of worship prescribed. But the way we have our worship services is directly derived from God's Word. In Acts 2: 42 it says that worshipers in the New Testament church in Jerusalem ”devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Those four elements, the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer are still the essential parts of our worship services.

The first thing mentioned, the apostles' teaching, refers to the reading and preaching of the Word of God.  The second element, "fellowship" is from a Greek word referring not just to the communion of saints, but also included the offering or the collection in the worship service. In this way, the poor were looked after. The third element, the breaking of bread, refers to the Lord's Supper. Luke also mentions the prayers. The prayers formed an essential part of the worship service. With our psalms and hymns, we also send prayers to God. And so, the prayers included the singing.

If you look at Lord's Day 38 of the Heidelberg catechism then you see those same four elements mentioned. It says that we must diligently attend the church of God. Why? In the first place to hear God's Word, in the second place to use the sacraments, in the third place to publicly call upon the Lord, and finally to give Christian offerings for the poor.

Brothers and sisters, it is wonderful to worship God. God created us for worship. God created us to give glory to his name. He has given us the opportunity and the freedom to be able to do this. What a wonderful privilege. What a thing to be thankful for!

And so, let us not neglect to worship him. And let us do so in the right manner and for the right reason. Not out of custom or superstition, as we promise every time a child is baptized. But because we want to. Because we have the freedom.

 It is great to be together to hear God's Word and to sing praises to his name. What a wonderful way to spend your life here on earth. What a wonderful way to train yourself for the heavenly glory that you will enjoy in the life hereafter. Can you imagine a better way to spend your time? How rich we are compared to the people of the world.

Let us worship God. It is for that purpose that he created you. All life here on earth is ultimately all about worshiping that great maker. For to him alone belong all the glory and the power and the dominion, now and forever. Amen

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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