The Issue Is Worship
The Issue Is Worship
“Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
To most Christians, including many Seventh-day Adventists, worship style is a non-issue. They consider it doctrinally fluid, something determined by personal taste and cultural values, not by any objective measure. To them, true worship is not defined by a particular genre of music, by dress, by conduct, or anything external. God is seen as being less particular than He once was. What really matters is that the worshiper has a feel-good experience.
There are churches today that advertise themselves as the “lighter side of church,” “a fun place to bring the family.” They claim their objective is “to create a church for people who don’t like church.” Now I’m in favor of making our worship services intensely interesting, but in these end times I think preparing for Christ’s return should fuel that interest, not a desire to be entertained. Our people need to be experiencing the kind of worship that will prepare them to remain loyal to God when the law is enacted which says, “Let all who will not worship the image to the beast be killed” (Rev. 13:15).
Seventh-day Adventists have schooled themselves to be watchful against any intrusions by religious or civil powers that might threaten their freedom to choose the day of worship. We tend to think of it almost exclusively as a Sabbath-Sunday issue, a day issue. The truth is, the God we worship, the day on which we worship, the place where we worship, and the way we worship are factors inextricably linked to each other, and all need to be receiving our close attention. All are sure to take on increasing significance in the end-time worship debate.
The prophetic picture is certainly clear. Seven times in Revelation 13 and 14 the word “worship” appears in connection with the life and death struggle between the beast and the remnant. To the bitter end, Satan will fight for a place on the throne occupied by God. In heaven he aspired to be “like the Most High” (Isa.14:14). In the wilderness of temptation he was brazen enough to offer Jesus this world in exchange for a moment of worship. He is desperate to be worshiped as God.
We live in a society that has little regard for sacred things, and the virus is too easily caught. In Ezekiel 44:23 we read that God instructed the priests to “teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” Modern Israel needs to learn the lesson as well. The forces that will fight the Battle of Armageddon are even now taking the field, and the issue around which the conflict rages is worship.
The God we worship is a holy God.
All the issues that revolve around worship center in the image of God we hold in our minds. That image must be shaped by the Biblical portrait, not by one produced by a culture that tends to make God in its own image. “He is a great God and a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3). The call to worship Him is a call to holiness. “Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 96:9)! When we come to worship a holy God, it is assumed that it is our heart’s desire to be made holy as He is holy.
The day on which we worship is holy
We worship on a different day of the week--the seventh-day Sabbath. We worship in the context of the earth’s final judgment hour. “Worship Him for the hour of His judgment is come” (Rev. 14:8). Adventist worship should not be dispirited or gloomy; rather, it should be characterized by a kind of solemn joy which grows out of implicit trust in a God who has them and their future in His hands. It should convey the impression that here are people who sense they are living on the edge of eternity—with all the excitement and sober reflection that engenders.
Adventist worship is an act of loving obedience. It is coming into God’s presence on the day and to the place of His choosing. It is worshiping God for the reasons He gives—to celebrate both His work of creation and redemption.
The place where we worship is holy.
We build houses of worship which include facilities not normally used for worship—foyer, furnace room, fellowship hall, classrooms, etc. All of these are dedicated to the service of God and should be treated with respect. But the sanctuary is the “most holy,” as it were, a place dedicated solely to the worship of God. It is a place where we symbolically take the shoes off our feet.
Holiness guides the way we worship.
Worship will be reverent; common matters will be dismissed from our thoughts and conversation. It will be God-centered. We have come to listen to God and give Him our adoration and praise. There will be no praising and applauding of human performance.
Holiness guides our choice of music.
The issue is worship and nothing defines that issue like music. Nebuchadnezzar told the vast concourse gathered on the plain of Dura, “When you hear the sound of the music . . . fall down and worship” (Daniel 4:15). Modern Babylon will one day soon again sound that call throughout the whole world—a call, not to the worship of a great golden image, but a call to join the fallen churches of Babylon in worshiping the Sunday god. It seems reasonable to believe that that call will also be accompanied by music.
What kind of music would we expect that to be? Will it be uplifting and hymn-like? Or will it be that which is already familiar and attractive to billions of earth’s inhabitants, the big beat of contemporary music?
We would have spared ourselves decades of anguish, alienation, and split churches if we had simply followed the counsel of The Church Manual: “Great care should be exercised in the choice of music. Any melody partaking of the nature of jazz, rock, or related hybrid forms, or any language expressing foolish or trivial sentiments, will be shunned by persons of true culture. Let us use only good music in the home, in the social gathering, in the school, and in the church” (pp. 169, 170).
At this time in history, to abandon the great hymns of the church and permit them to be supplanted, even in part, by the devil’s compositions is to face the enemy with swords of straw. These hymns are a crucial, God-given part of the Christian’s defense against the forces of evil. We need to sing them now so we can join the angels in singing them in the future.
The God we worship, the day we worship, the place we worship, and the way we worship—these are the end-time issues in the great controversy. We need to do all we can to make our churches models of true worship. By example, voice, and pen, we need to help our fellow worshippers see that “The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).
--Lee Roy Holmes