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Lord’s Day 35

Question 96. What doth God require in the second commandment?

Answer. That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.

Question 97. Are images then not at all to be made?

Answer. God neither can nor may be represented by any means. But as to creatures, though they may be represented, yet God forbids to make or have any resemblance of them either in order to worship them or to serve God by them.

Question 98. But may not images be tolerated in the churches as books to the laity?

Answer. No; for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word. The first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” teaches us that there is only one God whom we are to worship. The second commandment teaches us how we are to worship Him. This commandment has special application to the church and people of God. The first is broader, calling all to worship the one true God, whereas the second comes to those who do worship the true God, and tells them how they are to worship Him. Always the temptation for Israel in the Old Testament was to introduce new forms of worship, such as images, and only subsequent to image worship did they fall into the worship of different deities.

There are three things in the commandment itself that show the seriousness of the sin of image worship. First, the length of the commandment. Second, the jealousy of God expressed in the commandment for how we worship Him; “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” Third, the judgment threatened on those who do not worship Him in the proper way and the blessing promised to those who do.

Principles of Worship

Three principles concerning worship may be drawn from this commandment.

The first is that God demands that we worship Him corporately, with other believers. This commandment is addressed to the nation of Israel, not just to individuals. The God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, reveals Himself as the Savior of a church, not just of individuals. In the Old Testament, God called a people, the nation of Israel, to be His, and He chose to dwell with them in the land of Canaan. Their worship of Jehovah, as they kept the feast days and came to the tabernacle and later the temple, was a corporate activity. In the New Testament, this corporate aspect of salvation comes to expression in our life in the church, which is called the body of Christ. In the church God distributes different gifts to the different members that are for the profit of the whole. In that church He establishes an order, under the governance of the officebearers (minister, elders and deacons). To that church He gives the means of grace, the preaching and the sacraments, to be administered for the gathering of His elect and the salvation of His people. The church, that is the locally established congregation, is called “the temple of God” in the New Testament (I Cor. 3:16, 17). All of this means that we need to gather with the people of God for worship and that, as we do, God comes in a unique and saving way by His Word and Spirit to dwell with His own. So also, the Scriptures teach that we should not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb. 10:25). Worship is corporate, and this commandment addresses the corporate worship of the church.

The second principle contained in this commandment is that worship is a deeply spiritual activity. Behind the prohibition of image worship is the truth that God is a spiritual Being who cannot be represented by physical things. In John 4:24, 25, speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” As Spirit, God is invisible; He cannot be seen and has no physical form. Whereas all other spirits are created spirits, God is the eternal Spirit who is infinite and omnipresent. In Deuteronomy 4:15, Moses warns the people, “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.” In effect, Moses is saying to Israel, “You saw nothing but smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai, and these were not to hide the Being of God from you, but represented the incomprehensible majesty and glory of God.”

Because God is the infinite Spirit, our worship must be “in spirit.” It may not be a simple repetition of rituals and practices, but must be an expression of adoration, faith, love, and gratitude from the heart. God demands more than practice. He says, “Love me with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” This means that as we come in worship before God, we must not form any earthly conception of Him, but must fill our minds with biblical descriptions of His character, and must believe these. There is, of course, the danger of creating mental images of God. Judah did this when she imagined God was blind and deaf to her woes, and that His arm was too short to save them (Is. 40:27; 59:1). Often we do the same when we limit the Being of God to our experiences, rather than believing His promises. Spiritual worship is an expression of faith in God as He has revealed Himself in all His glorious attributes in Scripture.

The third principle that we see in this commandment is expressed in the Catechism this way, “That we in no wise…worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.” This has been called, in Reformed circles, the regulative principle of worship. Jesus Himself teaches this principle when He adds the two words, “in truth,” in John 4. God must be worshiped “in truth.” The reason that we may not worship God with images is that they are not true representations of God. The only way we should and may worship Him, then, is the way that He has commanded us. God demands not only that we worship Him, but also places demands on how we worship Him. Our worship must reflect the character, the glory, and the majesty of God.

The alternative is that man worships God according to his own will and imagination. Then man comes to God with the attitude, “I’ll bring to God whatever I please.” The outstanding example and contrast of this in Scripture is the worship of Cain and Abel. Abel brought what God demanded—a lamb for sacrifice, whereas Cain brought “of the fruit of the ground.” Abel’s was a worship in faith (Heb. 11:4), whereas Cain’s was “will-worship.” Such “will-worship” has a history in the church, not only in Old Testament Israel, but also over the last 2,000 years. Rome says that since God is so exalted, and since the worship of God “in spirit” is so difficult, we must bring God down to the level of the people (this is the idea of images as “books to the laity”). Today, you will hear something like this: “We are seeker-sensitive,” which is another way of saying, “We worship God according to what those who come in worship want, rather than what God’s Word demands.” All of this, of course, is backward. In worship, we are not first seeking God, but He is seeking us, and He seeks such as worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24, 25). Worship is not us bringing God down to our level, but worship is the wonder of God, through the blood of His Son, bringing us up to Himself. In worship we meet with God, yes, but that comes only through the washing away of the filth of our sins so that we are fit to fellowship with the perfect and sinless God. And so, the only approach and possibility of worship is through the cross of Jesus Christ, what the book of Hebrews calls, “the new and living way,” which is “by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19, 20).

Elements of Worship

Following these principles, Reformed worship follows a careful liturgy in which we ask of each element of worship, “Has God commanded this in Scripture?” There is no need for us to be creative as we come to God in worship, for God has expressly set down in Scripture how we are to worship Him. What, then, are the biblically prescribed elements for worship? Basically, there are three.

The first element of worship is corporate prayer. God has given the gift of prayer not only to individuals, but also to the church. Jesus Himself teaches us to pray in the plural, “Our Father….” Hence, the early church gathered together for prayer (Acts 2:42). When we are gathered publicly and the minister prays, this is not his personal prayer, but is a representative prayer. In this prayer, the pastor brings the people of God into the presence of God, and so brings to God the praise and petitions of the congregation as a whole. An aspect of our prayer, in worship, is song. The book of Psalms is a book of prayers to God, intended by God for the use of the church in worship. The New Testament speaks of our “admonishing one another” by singing together (Col. 3:16). The singing of the church should not take the form of a performance—one person singing to the rest—but should be the corporate lifting of prayer and praise to God in the songs that He has given.

The second element of worship prescribed in Scripture is giving. Paul says in I Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” This passage prescribes the collection of money during the public worship of the church on the Lord’s Day. There are, basically, two causes that we support through giving in the church. One is the work of the church itself in the preaching of the gospel and the support of the ministry and missions (I Cor. 9:14). The other, which Paul is referring to in I Corinthians 16, is the collection of alms for the care of the needy. How often, when we put money into the collection, do we think of it as worship? Certainly, God demands that we do this from the heart with generosity and cheerfulness! (II Cor. 9:7).

The third main element of worship prescribed in Scripture for the church is the administration of the means of grace, that is, the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). Early in the church’s history, on Sunday, believers gathered corporately to “break bread,” that is, keep the Lord’s Supper and to hear Paul preach. This element of worship, the administration of the means of grace, is the primary element of worship because in this God speaks to us. These are not our responses to God, our expressions of worship, but are the ways that God comes and speaks to us. Our prayer, our praise, and our giving are responses to what God has given us in the gospel.

As you look for a church that faithfully worships God, the primary thing for which you seek should be the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Romans 10 tells us how important this is when it says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In worship, we do not come together to impress one another, but rather we come to be impressed with God Himself. Sadly, today in many churches where the worship is labeled “contemporary,” the preaching of the gospel has fallen away and the church has slipped into ignorance and has departed from the Word of God. Though preaching may seem foolish to man, it is the tried and true, as well as the prescribed way for the preservation of the church. That which is foolish to man is the power of God unto salvation. This, and not the friendliness of the people or the programs in which I can get involved, is above all else what I should seek out in the church.

Motivations for Worship

The motivation for worship is expressed in this commandment both negatively and positively: “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

The result of disobedience to this commandment is that God will justly judge the church in her generations, visiting the sins of one generation on the next. Quite simply, this means that if one generation refuses to worship God as He commands, the next generation will be affected, and apostasy will come into the church. God is jealous of His name and of the allegiance and love of His people. And note, improper worship is a form of hatred for God. No matter how much Israel said, as they bowed to the golden calves, “Oh, but we love Jehovah who brought us up out of Egypt,” still in their hearts they hated God because they did not worship Him as He had prescribed.

The commandment also expresses the motivation for worship positively in the promise of God to show mercy to thousands who love Him and keep His commandments. Just as the church who loses the preaching of the gospel and worships God according to its own desires will be punished generationally, so the church that worships as God commands will be kept and blessed generationally. The method for keeping the youth of the church is not to reach them where they are at, but to bring them up to God through the preaching of the gospel and cross of Jesus Christ.

May God preserve among us a commitment not only to worship Him alone, but also to worship Him how He has commanded in His Word.

Questions for Discussion

1. In the first commandment God demands exclusive worship. What does He add to this in the second commandment?

2. Why cannot images be made of God (I Tim. 6:16; John 4:24; Jer. 23:24)?

3. Is the sinful heart of man able to think rightly about God and, hence, able to worship God correctly?

4. Why is image worship attractive to the human heart?

5. Give examples from Scripture of men who tried to worship God by their own methods and were punished for this.

6. What untrue mental images of God might we be tempted to make as we come to worship Him?

7. Which of these three is the correct view of worship, and why? 1) Anything is permissible, 2) If it is not expressly forbidden in Scripture it is permissible, or 3) Only what is commanded in Scripture is permissible.

8. Examine the different elements in the liturgy (order of worship) in your congregation, and find where in Scripture they are prescribed.

9. What makes the preaching of the gospel the most important element of worship? How is preaching worship?

10. How do we know that this commandment applies to other human inventions in worship, and not only to the use of images?

11. How does the threat of the second commandment work itself out in the New Testament church?

12. Why is corporate worship important? How has it helped you throughout your life?