Friday, July 17, 2009

2 Calvin Continues: The Word of God is the Test of True Worship

In Calvin's Treatise, "The Necessity of Reforming the Church", taken from volume 1 of his Tracts and Letters, newly republished by Banner of Truth, he concludes his introductory remarks with a summary criticism that applied in his day to worship in the church, and equally well can be applied to our own. This guiding principle directs his entire treatise - and it is well put to us as a reminder of what must direct us as we think about worship.
"Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a licence of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God." (pp. 132-133)
As Calvin previously said, it is horribly difficult to convince people that God's Word must direct us in our worship... yet it cannot be clearer. Why should we accept that God directed His own worship in the Old Testament, but today has left us to have a free-for-all? What would ever lead anyone to such a conclusion? When Jesus said to the woman at the well that true worshippers must worship God in Spirit and in Truth, what ever, then, did He mean, if we are to assume that all things are fair game? Does worship in spirit and truth mean we can have clown masses, blessings of the dogs, liturgical dance and mime sermons? On a more sober note, does it mean that we poke fun at such ridiculous ideas as that, but still have the freedom to worship in whatever way we want, so long as it is reverent and offered with good intentions?

Calvin makes a point that we must take to heart: Worship is not "anything goes", nor is it "whatever is noble and reverent goes". God has told us how we are to worship Him in His Word - as Calvin says, it MUST be the test to distinguish between true and false worship. Are we prepared to honor God and seek His will in worship? Or will we simply follow our own noses and do whatever seems right? The Proverbs has something to say about this: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Prov. 14:12)" Nadab and Abihu found out the hard way that offering what they thought was right was not. Is their story meant only to teach us about the "hardness" of God in Old Testament times? Or is the application deeper and farther reaching?


Anonymous said...


This is an excellent quote from Calvin, and I may just borrow it from you (borrowing it from Calvin) for a future installment. Thanks for sharing it, Brother.



Anonymous said...

I borrowed the quote today.


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