Thursday, November 9, 2017
In the late sixties I was asked, “What is the difference between Old and New Testament worship?” Although there is a huge difference, some continue to mix the two without realizing it. For example, in a recent article, the following three sentences caught my attention. See if you notice the “mixture”?
“The ultimate sin that Nadab and Abihu were guilty of is being presumptuous in their worship. God must be regarded as holy by those who come near Him and before all the people He must be glorified. When we choose to act carelessly in our worship and not treat the Lord with reverence, we are offering unauthorized worship to God.”
Nadab and Abihu were two of four brothers born to Aaron and Elisheba (Exodus 6:23). Nadab was the firstborn, Abihu followed (Numbers 3:2). They were ordained to minister in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:1). Their sin is found in Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4; 26:61; and 1 Chronicles 24:2. Their duty was to light the incense. God prescribed where they were to get the “starter.” Years later, Zachariah, the father of John the immerser, had no problem in following these simple commands (Luke 1:6, 8-10). These two brothers did.
Since the two older brothers were punished, Moses selected the two younger ones to take their place. He prescribed two things to them. First, they were not to drink wine nor consume other fermented nourishment before entering the Tabernacle. Second, “You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean” (Leviticus 10:10 (NLT). Some commentators have suggested that the guilty duo were double wrong! They had been drinking and the “strange fire” did not originate from the correct starter (Leviticus 16:12). Their actions pointed toward a disregard for the sacred, by substituting what was common, and replacing the clean with the unclean! Whether alcohol was the problem is not made clear, although Moses introduced it as a follow-up restriction for the two replacements.
However, neither the correct nor incorrect worship of these two brothers is parallel with New Testament worship. We don’t have special “worship” clothing. If someone takes medication with alcohol as its base, they have not committed a sin. There is no such thing as a sacred dwelling, furniture, nor utensils to make “common” or “unclean.” In fact, a lot of the dialogue we use to describe New Testament worship, refers to the Old Testament kind!
In the second sentence, the writer states, “God must be regarded as holy by those who come near Him.” Is that “near him” only when we assembly three times each week? Perhaps the writer did not mean to leave that impression, but there it is! That is Old Testament worship, not the New (John 4:23-24). Jews went to the Temple, to be in the presence of God. Where is the location in our city one must be in, to be “near Him”? Is it 1490 Campbell Street where our assembly room is located? When God added the “about three thousand” to the saved, were they not “in” the “body of Christ”? Didn’t God’s Spirit dwell in them as His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 19-20)? If God dwells in us, how could we not be “near Him” even though our physical location may not be the 1490 one? God seeks those who are “near Him” to worship Him. If being “near Him” is 1490 Campbell Street, and I’m at the corner of Oilwell Road and 45 Bypass, I’m separated from His “nearness” by 3 to 4 miles! Isn’t THAT an Old Testament concept rather than the New? If worship is something done when I come “near Him,” wouldn’t that infer that the “coming before” and “glorifying” Him is a part time worship? Do I “regard” Him “as holy” only in those times that I “come near Him” at a certain location for worship? Isn’t that idea the opposite of the worship Jesus was describing to that Samaritan woman?
The writer’s second statement is, “When we choose to act carelessly in our worship and not treat the Lord with reverence, we are offering unauthorized worship to God.” If Nadab and Abihu had attempted to perform their worship without the prescribed “priestly wear,” it would have ended the same way because they would not be revering Him (Leviticus 10:2). “Reverence” was tied in with their “priestly garb.” Some carry the “garb” idea over into the John 4:23-24 worship! That idea is that one cannot revere or respect God without the “priestly garb.” In our culture, that would be our “Sunday best.” If we are going to mix the old with the new, perhaps we need to wear what Nadab and Abihu did, not substitute our cultural attire! After all, the New Testament is a better covenant, so shouldn’t we wear something that is more expensive than what they were required to put on! If one doesn’t worship God until he is in the right place, which for them was the sanctuary, then perhaps we need to refer to “the auditorium” as “the sanctuary,” since that is where we are “near Him”! May we substitute our “auditorium” label, which is not in scripture, for the one that is? If we mix, shouldn’t we match?
The writer was trying to show that we must not add to our worship as they added the “strange fire” to theirs. However, when the writer brings the Old Testament concept of worship into the New, doesn’t he open Pandora’s Box? Isn’t he adding? If one may bring that concept over into the new and apply it, then part of that concept includes all their instruments (Psalm 150:1-6)! If we aren’t careful, we could end up being just as “presumptuous” as Nadab and Abihu were!