This evening I want to begin an emphasis that will continue for several weeks. There are three basic reasons for this emphasis. First: we genuinely need to examine our worship concepts by the Bible. Second: as we focus on concepts, we hope our small groups also will focus on the same concepts. Third: hopefully, that will allow many to consider the same thoughts and concepts and stimulate our understandings as a congregation.

I approach this study with some fears. They have little to do with the material. They have a lot to do with emotional reactions. Emotions are a good thing. We should have strong feelings. But our strong feelings must not be allowed to override Scripture's thoughts and teachings.

I may suggest you examine things from scripture you never have considered before. If I do, your first feeling may be to react instead of think. First, I want you to clearly understand that I do not seek your agreement. Second, I do make a request: think from a biblical perspective.

May we begin from the same foundation. I have reason to believe that most of us, if not all of us, believe the Bible is inspired by God. Most, if not all of us, believe the writings of the Bible are God's revelations. Most, if not all of us, believe that if we are to understand God's thinking and will, we need to constantly grow in our understanding of the message of Scripture. I certainly believe all three of those things.

  1. I want to begin with an observation: the common approach we have used in the past to determine the meaning of Scripture is frequently backwards.
    1. "What do you mean by backwards?"
      1. First, we decide what God wants from the back of the Bible.
      2. Second, we go to the back of the Bible to prove what we already conclude.
      3. Third, as a final deed, we go to the front of the Bible to either prove our conclusion or to explain away contrary incidents.
      4. We place great confidence in any statement from the New Testament, and little confidence in any statement from the Old Testament (unless it agrees with what we are saying).
    2. Let me give you a specific example.
      1. Where did you acquire your basic concepts concerning worship? From what source did your concepts come?
      2. Are you certain that you know the correct way and the incorrect way to worship? If you are certain, why are you certain?
      3. Are you sure that you can recognize the correct way and the incorrect way to do a specific act in worship? If you are certain, why are you certain?
      4. If you wanted to document your conclusions regarding worship, would you go exclusively to the New Testament? Why would you go to exclusively to the New Testament?
    3. Let me ask you to think from scripture itself.
      1. When Luke, or Paul, or Peter, or James, or Jude, or John wrote their messages you and I recognize as parts of the New Testament, that was the first time those writings ever existed.
        1. The first letter written that we now recognize as a part of the New Testament was likely written by Paul around 49 or 50 A.D.
        2. All of the letters or writings that we call books in the New Testament were likely written between 50 A.D. and 100 A.D.
        3. There were no printing presses, no publishers as we know them, no mass distribution of books as we know mass distribution.
        4. Just for the sake of a starting point, let's say Christ died in 33 A.D. and the church was established in 33 A.D.--that is almost 20 years before the very first writing of what we call the New Testament was written.
        5. That means some Christians died (for example, Stephen and James--Acts 8:1; 12:2) before they saw a single writing of the New Testament.
          1. A study of what books should be in the Old Testament or the New Testament is a study of the cannon.
          2. The New Testament that you have was not an agreed upon collection of writing until the 4th century A.D.
          3. That means a lot of Christians died prior to even knowing the New Testament as a collection.
        6. The books that we call the New Testament spread through sharing hand written copies, so the process was slow and was not uniform.
      2. Your reaction might be, "Well, that is all very interesting, but is it important?"
        1. My answer would be, "Yes! It is very important!"
        2. Why?
        3. It is important for this reason: references to the scriptures in the New Testament are primarily to what we call the Old Testament.
          1. What we call the Old Testament was the scripture of the early church.
          2. That was what they used and studied.
        4. Consider these statements:
          • Romans 1:2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.
          • Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (a reference to Genesis 15:6)
          • Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." (likely a reference to Exodus 9:16)
          • Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed." (a reference to Isaiah 28:16)
          • Romans 11:2-4 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." But what is the divine response to him? "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."
          • Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
          • Romans 16:26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.
          • 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
          • There are three references to Scriptures in Galatians (3:8; 3:22; 4:30).
          • 1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
          • 2 Timothy 3:16,17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
          • There are three references in James (2:8; 2:23; 4:5).
          • 2 Peter 1:20-21 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
          All these are references to Old Testament Scripture that affirm (1) they were written for the instruction of Christians, (2) they affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, (3) they should be read publicly by Christians, (3) they are inspired by God and can equip Christians for every good work, and that the only meaning God's prophesies have is the meaning God had.
    4. "What is your point?"
      1. My point is this: if our concepts of worship are to be God's concepts of worship, our understanding must begin with worship in the Old Testament.
      2. We cannot base our concepts on our views of New Testament teaching and either ignore the Old Testament or force it to fit our concepts.

  2. Christians did not "invent" the concept of worship. Our "forms" have changed, but the basic "concept" of worshipping God has never changed.
    1. After Adam and Eve sinned and received God's consequences for their rebellion, the first thing recorded is Cain and Abel's worship.
      1. I personally do not think it is possible to read Genesis 4 in its context and conclude that this chapter is about obeying God by doing the right thing when we worship.
        1. There is no recorded command given to them to worship.
        2. There is no recorded command given to them about the way they were to worship.
        3. There is no mention of obedience.
      2. Those facts have not been given a place in our typical approach to Genesis 4.
        1. Typically we use the New Testament to go back and decide what Genesis 4 meant.
        2. Our basic concept is that Christians show respect for God by obeying, that faith is the product of knowledge, therefore God had to give Cain and Abel a command which Cain violated.
        3. So we go to Hebrews 11:4 (though the passage is about faith), declare it to be a commentary on Cain's obedience.
          1. We basically declare sometime before the worship incidents in Genesis 4 occurred God told Cain what to do. Cain rebelled against the clear instructions of God.
          2. In my understanding, if that is what we do, we miss the point of Genesis 4.
      3. May I call some things to your attention?
        1. First in Genesis 4 there is no mention of a command to Cain and Abel.
        2. Second in Genesis 4, the impression is that each of the men decided to worship by sacrifice--it would seem the idea came from each man.
        3. Third in Genesis 4, it says God had regard for Abel's offering and had no regard for Cain's.
      4. Look carefully at Cain's reaction.
        1. Verse 5--Cain got very angry and depressed.
        2. Verse 6--God told Cain he had no reason to be angry or depressed (does that sound like condemnation and rejection?)
        3. Verse 7--God said sin was crouching at the door (sin had not entered him, but was at the door).
        4. Verse 7--Cain had the challenge to be master over sin; it did not have him yet!
      5. Cain verified he was a selfish, self-centered, ego driven man--everything was about Cain!
        1. He killed Abel--it was all about Cain.
        2. He lied to God, refusing to accept responsibility for his action--it is still about Cain.
        3. When God announced the consequences of his act, he responded, "My punishment is too great to bear!" --it is still all about Cain.
        4. "Others will kill me!"--it is still all about Cain.
        5. Cain left "the presence of the Lord" and never attempted to return.
        6. Never was there any expression of regret or repentance in Cain!
      6. May I suggest to you that the evidence at least suggests even in the act of worship, Cain was focused on Cain, not on God.
    2. In Genesis 4 I see the # 1 reality in regard to worshipping God: worship always begins with the heart of the person.
      1. No matter what you do in worship,
      2. No matter what worship forms you follow,
      3. No matter how technically correct those forms are,
      4. If a man or woman does not have as a foundation for worship a heart truly seeking to honor God, that worship does not please God.

One significant problem we have concerning worship in the Church of Christ is the conviction by many that if you do the "right thing" in "the right way" at "the right time," your worship pleases God. Surely worship should seek to be correct, but that is not enough!

That has never been true! Worship must begin in the worshipper's heart!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 January 2004
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