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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Worship the Lord God only in the manner He has shown in His Word.
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read: Deuteronomy 4: 1-20; Acts 2: 36-42

Text: Lord’s Day 35 (also read art. 32 of the Belgic Confession)

Sing: Psalm 100: 1, 2, 3, 4
Psalm 26: 2, 3, 5, 6
Hymn 2: 1, 2, 3
Psalm 104: 8 and Hymn 58: 2
Hymn 10: 9, 10
* 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:

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. The retail merchants set the scene 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." The retail merchants eagerly promote the Christmas season. They do that because to them it is the best time of the year, not 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, having office parties, decorating their homes, and getting presents for that special person in their lives. They shop until everyone on their list has been checked off. They shop till they drop.

The Lord's Day that has our attention today has to do with the manner of worship. In Deuteronomy 12:32 we read, "See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it." That is also what the catechism says, namely that "we must not worship the Lord God in any other manner than he has shown us in his word." And the Belgic Confession also says the same.

The question that we will deal with this morning is how that applies to us today. How does that apply to us with regard to the celebration of the birth of Christ, and other celebrations on the Christian calendar, such as Good Friday and Easter? The world acknowledges these days as holy days by giving time off from work. To what extent should we participate in this?

There are differences of opinions about this. There are those who do not want to celebrate special holy days at all. Others do, but want to limit the celebrations as much as possible. Again others want to give as much freedom as possible in that regard.

And what about our worship services as such? This Lord's Day also has us think about the manner of worship every Sunday. How do we conduct ourselves? How do we prepare ourselves for worship? How do we dress? What are the kinds of things we do during the worship service? Do we include hymns? And if so, which ones? And if not, why not?

In considering these things there are two dangers we have to watch out for. In the first place we have to watch out for a legalistic attitude, and in the second place for an easy-going, laissez-faire attitude. We must serve the Lord our God only in the way that he has prescribed. And so the theme for this morning's service is:

That means that we may not:
1. Add human elements;
2. Take away divine elements.

When we celebrate Christmas or Good Friday and Easter do we then add something to the act of worship that we are not allowed? Some, especially those within the Presbyterian churches who strictly adhere to what is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship, say that by celebrating these events, we are adding something and that it therefore should not be allowed. They even say that you sin when you do that. They say that Christmas is a human invention.

It is true that the command to celebrate Christmas on December the 25th is nowhere to be found in Scripture. As a matter of fact, Scriptures do not tell us at what time of the year the Lord Jesus Christ was born. Exegetes 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 late in October or early November.

Why then do we celebrate Christmas at the end of December? Well, there is no doubt that 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 after the end of December the days will be getting longer again. It marked the season of the winter solstice. The Holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log, the Christmas lights and the evergreen trees were all part originally of pagan worship.

Christmas was not worshiped during the first few centuries of the church. It did not become a practice until the middle of the fourth century and 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 the First's instructions to the missionaries. He wanted to exchange the pagan holidays for Christian ones. He wanted the pagans to worship the God of the Bible. Ever since then Christmas became 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 on the right times of the year. But, also with these special holidays, there is no express command in the Bible to have a special day for worship to celebrate these events.

The reformers of the 16th century examined these practices, and they wanted to go back to the Scriptures. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were not in favour of keeping these special religious holidays. Calvin, like the others, had no sympathy whatsoever with the 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 agreed. And so, at the local Synod of Dordrecht in 1574, the churches decided that the feast days should not be held on a special day of the week, but that instead the birth of Christ should be remembered on the Sunday before Christmas Day, together with an admonition to the people not to observe Christmas Day.

Four years later, in 1578, another Synod was held in Dordrecht where the delegates stated that God has given man the freedom to work six days in the week and that only the Sunday be set aside for worship. The brothers noted, however, that the government allows people a day free from work on Christmas Day, on the second day of Easter, the second day of Pentecost, and in some places on New Year's Day and Ascension Day, and that on those special holidays the people in general were being unproductive and prone to harmful idleness. And so the ministers were urged to teach the congregation to transform unproductive and harmful idleness into holy and profitable exercises. They were encouraged to have sermons on the Sundays close to the events dealing with the birth and resurrection of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and such like articles of the faith. They stated that in the meantime all the churches should work to have the normal observance of all feast days on regular workdays done away with.

However, the reformed churches could not stem the tide. Special holy days were celebrated by everybody in the land and so the church succumbed and allowed the institution of special worship services commemorating the special New Testament events. The reformed churches now prescribed worship on a special day, even if it was a weekday.

The secession churches in 1834, however, did not like the fact that these holidays were prescribed, and therefore stated that we must not compel people to observe the so-called feast days which the Lord has not commanded in his word. And that the conscience must be left completely free in this matter.

This currently is also reflected in our Church Order where the manner of 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, or on Good Friday, or Thanksgiving Day or any other special day. Those New Testament events can and must be remembered in the preaching on a regular Sunday.

And yet, we do have special worship services on Christmas and Good Friday. Why? Well, not because we are compelled, but because we have the freedom to do so. In that way we want to show ourselves especially to be different from the world. We focus on God's gift to the world, whereas the world focuses on men's gifts to each other. We look to God for our blessings; the world looks to man to bless them. We seek salvation from God. The world seeks salvation from man.

In our worship, however, we have to make sure that we worship in a manner pleasing to God. One of Paul's great concerns was the prescription of man-made rules. The Old Testament also strongly warns against that. We read together from Deuteronomy 4:2 where it says that we are not to add anything to what the Lord God has commanded, nor to subtract from it. And so Paul says to the legalists among the Galatians, to the Judaizers who are imposing all kinds of feast days on the Christians, "You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you." (Galatians 4:10-11).

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. Paul says elsewhere, however, in Romans 14:5-6, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." 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 fact of the matter is that the birth of Christ is one of the most important events in the history of mankind. The Old Testament church has 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 that he would redeem his people from their sins and grant them glorious eternal lives. He kept his promise that through the Saviour our eternal joy would be ours, and the doors of heaven would be opened up.

Is that not something to celebrate? Is that not something to sing about? Is that not something to rejoice about? This world is in the grip of sin. It is full of idolatry. In spite of the fact that we are sinful people, we are not in the grip of sin. That is because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

The world around us has Christmas holidays. They have time off from work. So do we. The nominal Christians have made Christmas Day and some of the other Christian holidays the days of worship during the year. Those holidays for them have replaced the Sunday worship. That is totally wrong. The proper day to worship God is on the first day of the week, on the Lord's day. But that does not mean that you cannot worship him on another day as well.

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, whenever we have the opportunity. And that is also how the world should see us celebrate. That is how we set ourselves apart from the world.

The Lord God does not give us a direct commandment concerning everything that happens in the worship service. For example, there is no direct or verbal commandment that says in so many words that we are to baptize infants. However, as we have seen in the past, especially when we dealt with Lord's Day 27, Scripture clearly teaches that this must be done. It is a sign and a seal of God's covenant. We clearly derive that from God’s Word. And so there are many other things that are not directly commanded, but which nevertheless are faithfully practiced. There is no command either to worship twice on the Sunday. And yet we do. Why? Because we seize every opportunity to worship the Lord our God.

The same thing is true with regard to the singing of hymns. The Lord God has given us the beautiful psalms to sing from. And we sing them with great pleasure. But does that mean that we cannot sing other songs that are also derived from God's Word? The hymns that we currently sing have been approved by the churches through the various synods. They were first proposed to the churches for testing to make sure that they were biblical. After that process they were approved for the use in the worship services. Are the words of all the hymns direct quotations from the Bible? No they are not. But the same thing is true of the rhymed psalms. They are not exact quotations either. If you want direct quotations then you have to sing from the Hebrew and Greek. And no one says that we need to do that. Our hymns are prayers sent up to God. Therefore they have to be biblically based. The same thing is true of the spoken prayers sent up on behalf of the congregation by the minister. His prayer must also be biblically based. And the same thing is true of the sermon. The sermon is always an interpretation of God's Word. They are the words of the minister but they must be based on the Bible. The interpretation of God's Word does not become all of a sudden unacceptable just because you put a tune to those words.

There is however a danger. There is a danger that man comes in the foreground. That is a danger also with regard to the hymns. And therefore we have to be on guard. You have to test the preaching. We also have to make sure that the hymns reflect the whole counsel of God.

We know from history what happened with the secession churches in 1834. One of the main reasons they separated from the Dutch Reformed Church was the imposition of man-made hymns. The Synod in a hierarchical way imposed unbiblical hymns on the congregations. But those hymns reflected the liberalism of the church at that time. Our hymns must reflect our total dependence on God. They must reflect the wonderful relationship that God has established with us. God's people must sing praises to his great name for all that he has done. The emphasis must be on what God has done, and what he continues to do and will do. Those hymns we may sing. God gives us the freedom. He gives us the opportunity also to remember the New Testament events. Isn't that wonderful?

But we also have to be afraid of legalism from the other side; that we do not impose limitations to our worship, where God does not impose such limitations. In other words, we may not take away divine elements either. We may not add to God's Word, but we may not detract from it either. We come to the second point.

2. The Lord God wants you to take worship seriously. When the Israelites worshiped the Lord in a way that he had not commanded them, then the Lord God killed 24,000 of them. That is what happened at Baal Peor. They sacrificed to other gods. And when the sons of Aaron did not worship God in the way that he commanded, he also had them put to death. The Lord our God is a mighty and holy God. We may not treat him in a frivolous manner.

We may not do that today either. And so we also have to think carefully about the way that we worship him. How seriously do we take it? How do we celebrate the birth of Christ? Do we do it in the same way as the world does? 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?

And what about the Sunday? What does the Sunday mean to you and to me? 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 of the worship service?

And what about just before the worship service? As I said last week as well, before we even begin the worship service we must have the right attitude, and be in the right frame of mind. And that is why it is better to sing a hymn or a Psalm together to the glory of God beforehand.

We should also know what an actual worship service is all about. It is God meeting with us. He wants to speak to us. And he wants us to respond to him. In the worship service the two parties of the covenant come together and God takes the lead. He is the one who established the covenant relationship; he is the one who initiated it. 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. In their prayers, in their singing, and in their listening.

And so, God's people also have to be active in the worship service. God's people must pray and sing and listen to the proclamation of the word. They must be active participants. When you sing, open your mouth wide. When you give your alms, do so generously. When you listen, do so actively.

You must be not only an active participant, but also a reverent one. Your reverence should show not only in the way you sit and listen and sing but also in the way you dress. You cannot dress as if you're relaxing at home, or as if you are just 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 be aware of our sins and shortcomings, but we must also be aware that we are very special children of the Lord. And therefore we should look forward to meeting together on that Sunday. We must worship him in our homes. We must worship him in our hearts. For now we are temples of the Holy Spirit. On the Sunday we worship Him in a most special way. We do it together as God's people when he assembles us. In the worship service we especially show what lives in our hearts. If your heart is right before the Lord, then it will also show in the way that you conduct yourself, and in the way that you dress.

One of the wonderful things about the Reformation was that the simplicity and the beauty of a worship service was 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. For the same chapter in which the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is mentioned, in Acts 2:42 the four elements of the worship service are mentioned as well. This was done after Luke wrote about Peter's Pentecostal sermon, and after he mentioned the immense growth of the church at Pentecost. Luke writes in verse 42, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." These are the four elements that belong to a worship service: the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.

The first thing mentioned, the apostolate teaching, no doubt refers to the reading and the preaching of the Word of God. The word "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 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. We may not worship the idols of the world. Therefore we have to examine our lives to see whether or not we are worshiping him in the way that he commands. As we promise every time a child is baptized, we may not do anything out of custom or superstition. As Dr. K. Deddens says in an article dealing with these matters, "'Out of custom is wrong also with respect to the liturgy of God's covenant, but according to custom is not wrong!" He points to the passage in Luke 4:16 where we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue, as was his custom. We have to make sure that our customs are in accordance with the Scriptures. We do not cling to the outward forms, but to the content of those forms. What do they mean? Why do we do what we do? And if we do it for the right reason, then we do it to the glory of God.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to worship. God has given us the freedom and the opportunity to do so. Let's grab every opportunity that we can. It is wonderful to be together to hear the proclamation of 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. For there it is all about singing to the glory of God's name. There it is all about worshiping that great Maker. The glory is to him alone, 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.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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