New Testament Worship II

Posted: September 13, 2008 by joelmartin in Biblical Studies, Worship
Tags: , ,

     Worship in the book of Revelation is Temple worship. This should not be surprising, because the Tabernacle instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” (Hebrews 8.5) God told Moses to make everything according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain. 

      We get glimpses of what that pattern must have been when we read Revelation. In chapter 6 there is an altar and in chapter 8 that altar shows up again. Indeed, in chapter 7 we see a great multitude who have made their robes white in the blood of the lamb and now “serve him day and night in his temple.” Listen to what the Revelator says:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

     In this heavenly Temple there is silence, angels sounding trumpets, an altar, a censer full of incense, and prayers being offered. All of this was mirrored in Israel’s Tabernacle and Temple. Trumpets show up in Numbers 10.8 where the priests were to blow them. There are various times in the Old Testament where we are told to be silent before the Lord, such as Zechariah 2.13. In Leviticus the High Priest is told to “take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.” Ordered prayers were of course recited in the Temple, we have an entire book of prayers that we call the Psalms.

     Temple worship was structured. In addition to the instructions that God gave through Moses, David is seen setting in order the Levites, Priests and musicians in I Chronicles 23-25. They didn’t just show up at the Temple and freelance! When we move into New Covenant times, we see that the Apostles were keeping the liturgical hours of prayer when in Acts 3 Peter and John “were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.”

     Now you might think that all of that Temple structure passed away with the advent of Jesus, but then what would you do with Revelation? The last book of the Bible is filled with structured, Temple worship. Sometimes we feel like sitting around a living room in our sandals for a small group meeting and playing guitar is true New Testament worship, but Revelation forces us to think again. Silence, set prayers and structure confront us in Revelation, which is probably one reason that the church for 2,000 years has worshiped in a structured, liturgical, way.

  1. Joel,
    I appreciate the attention given to the worship in Revelation. I have a few questions for you however:

    1. You mentioned Peter and John attended the temple for the “time of prayer”. You also mentioned elements present in the worship in Revelation. Are you suggesting that this is a necessary pattern for NT worship? (Prescriptive) or is it “Descriptive” of what happened?

    2. I am not a strict regulativist when it comes to worship…I believe that all churches redact elements present in their corporate worship anyways. With no disrespect to my brothers and sisters who do enjoy worship in a living room, it is a fair question to ask “Is there something more that is missing?”

    Lastly, I do sense that you may have some issues with the seemingly indifference in Evangelicalism towards liturgy. We all have liturgy…it’s just a matter of whether we have good liturgy. Whether there should be incense or not is up for debate, but I think we are agreed that there should at least be a foundational appreciation for the Lord’s Table, accompanied by wonder and awe. All too often in churches, the Lord’s supper feels like something that just needs to be done…often quickly with little or no reflection.

    Anyhow, thanks for your post and look forward to your feedback.

  2. joelmartin says:

    Rick, regarding #1:
    We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, so the service in Revelation should be a model for us. Hebrews 12.22 also indicates that our worship service is in some sense heavenly worship. I think our theology of worship should mature and progress, which I believe should include the teaching of Revelation on worship as well as the rest of the Scripture.
    The Scriptures also teach us to respect age and wisdom, and therefore the 2,000 year history of the New Covenant Church should matter in making decisions about worship.
    On #2, I believe in some sort of regulation by analogy, not the ‘regulative principle’ advocated by some.
    On your third point I totally agree that we all have a liturgy. The church where the pastor jokes around, gives announcements, tells you to shake someone’s hand, etc. is every bit as ‘liturgical’ as the highly ordered church. I am also with you on having good liturgy, which in my neck of the woods is given to me in the Book of Common Prayer.
    If we look back at the earliest church records, we see the Lord’s Table as central from the very beginning. Christians could not have conceived of having a weekly worship service without the Table. It is only in recent history that this development arose. Many think that weekly communion was one of the central pillars of moves of God such as the Methodist revivals. Wesley advocated communion on a daily basis if possible. All this to say that, yes, the Lord’s Table is at the center of what God’s people do when they get together to worship Him.

  3. Thanks for your response…as for patterning our worship after what we see in Revelation, I would have some hesitations. As for the concept that our worship is heavenly, I totally agree. I do believe that the corporate gathering is sacred and that we are transported into the heaven-lies.

    As for gleaning from 2000 years of church history…definitely yes. There is much to learn. It is arrogant to ignore the church of the past. We can learn both good and bad things from church history.

    As for the Lord’s Table…I do agree that it should be weekly, but not necessarily so. It is something I would like to work towards. The binding principle in the NT is “as often as you partake, do this……”. I do agree that it was central to the corporate gathering. I am familiar with Wesley’s convictions on this matter. Many have suggested calling Wesley a “Sacramental Evangelist” because it was so central for him. He was bringing the Lord’s Table to people in the frontier, far removed from a local church.

    Anyhow, I enjoy the discourse and pray that we will all be sharpened by such discussions. As John Piper would say, “Our theology needs to lead to doxology”. If our discussions don’t further our doxology, then it is in vain.

  4. joelmartin says:

    I think we agree more than disagree. I should explain that I am trying to outline where I am coming from and what drew me to Anglicanism initially. I’m not intending to stir debate, but I do hope it makes people think a bit.

    I agree with Piper. In fact, I think prayer and worship should proceed theology. A person who theologizes a lot but has a weak prayer life is suspect – which is a word of warning to me!

  5. No debate my friend…just good discourse. You have much to say and share, I look forward to it. Keep bringing it. By the way, I am a BILLS fan…just thought I’d throw that out after reading that you are a Vikes fan.

  6. joelmartin says:

    I’d say that I’m sorry for you, but with the way the Vikings are playing (and their history of 4 Super Bowl losses) I can’t say anything.

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