Here is my sincere plea to Christ’s Church of Jacksonville, FL. With kindness and love, this letter pleads with every believer of Christ’s Church to reconsider their worship. To every reader, this exhortation is intended to be an introduction and basis for a biblical study of Christ’s words about true worship in John 4:21–24. This letter was sent via mail on March 28, 2014, and intended to be posted here and read by all. May God bless every reader. Your kind and respectful comments and questions are welcome.
To Christ’s Church with your elders and deacons:
With great hope, I write to you thanking God for our common faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are blessed to be united for the sanctity of life and the institution of marriage. Your faithful diligence is commendable for holding to baptism’s necessity for forgiveness, partaking of the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day, and being a church led by elders.
By these common convictions, I write for you to reconsider worship as Christ teaches in His infallible words that He gave to His Apostles and prophets (John 15:20; 16:13; 17:8). If Jesus were bodily with us today how would He worship God?
While congregations are not perfect being made of imperfect Christians, we know that if we continue in the faith, then Christ presents us holy, blameless, and without reproach (Col 1:21-23). While imperfect, Christ rebukes and chastens those whom He loves (Rev 3:19). He called five of the seven churches of Asia to repent (Rev 2–3). Likewise, our congregations never stop conforming to Christ. Jesus addressed the Sardis church declaring, “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev 3:1). Therefore, let us never stop examining ourselves, and may we avoid being like the erring churches of Asia in which one was either loveless, compromised, corrupt, dead, or lukewarm. May God help us to be like the enduring and faithful churches.
For this reason, I plead with you to look again at worship according to Christ’s words. There was a time when most churches sought true worship and refused to worship God according to the inventions and traditions of men. From the first apostolic churches and through the centuries unto the Reformation and the Restoration, Christians have sought to restore and maintain worship according to God’s Word. May all Christians return to Paul’s command to, “maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15).
Consider how David’s worship was maintained. David brought God’s worship for Israel into Jerusalem with “the musical instruments of God” (1 Chr 16:42). For five hundred years from Moses to David, the only instruments associated with Temple worship were two silver trumpets commanded by God for a call to worship (Num 10:1–2, 9–10). Worship changed through God’s command from Moses to David. When the Temple was dedicated, the Levites were the only ones instructed to worship God with David’s instruments (2 Chr 7:6; 29:25–27, cf. 8:14; Psa 150). No one could change these instruments. Three hundred years after David, King Hezekiah restored worship using only these instruments (2 Chr 29:25–27). Then five hundred years after David, the priests returned from captivity and restored David’s instruments to their worship (Ezra 3:9–10; Neh 12:27, 36). Those faithful to God would not take instruments from contemporary culture. They respected God’s commands and did not add or take from them (Deut 4:2; 12:32).
How should Christians look upon the worship that David established in Jerusalem? Consider Jesus’s words in John 4, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (4:21 ESV). Jesus contrasted true worship with worship in Jerusalem and Samaria. Jesus has now established true worship apart from the worship given through Moses and David. True worship is in spirit and truth; true worship is free from Jerusalem.
Unlike Jerusalem, Christians offer spiritual offerings to God as the priests of God’s spiritual Temple, the Church (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21; 1 Pet 2:5). For Christians, true worship is complete and better than the faulty and obsolete Old Testament (2 Cor 3:7–18; Gal 3-5; Heb 8:7, 13; cf. Rom 7:1–7; Eph 2:14–22). The priesthood of Levites with their worship and musical instruments have ceased from any physical temple (Heb 7:12). The “fleshly ordinances” of the Old Testament were for that present time “until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:9–10). That time of reformation has come by Christ. The Old Testament worship of incense, sacrifices, and instruments were symbolic and lacked the substance that is of Christ (Col 2:16–17; Heb 8:4–6; 10:1). Therefore, the Apostle John used such symbolism in Revelation when he described incense as symbolizing Christian prayers. Likewise, Christians sang praises and sounded like many waters, thunders, and numerous harps, but they did not play the harps (Rev 14:1–3; cf. 5:8–14; 15:1–2).
Consider true worship concerning music. How would Jesus worship with music if He was bodily with us now? Jesus said to God, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You” (Heb 2:12; cf. Ps 22:22). Think about the last thing that Jesus did with all of His disciples before going to the Garden on the night of His betrayal. Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26). Look at the music that Christ has given Christians for true worship. As church history agrees with Scripture, the early churches sang without instruments. Singing is the only music commanded for praise, thanksgiving, and teaching in the New Testament (Acts 16:25; Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Jas 5:13; Rev 15:3–4). According to the Bible, God would have commanded musical instruments if He wanted them.
Therefore, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15). Being erroneous to add to “the fruit of the grapevine” in the Lord’s Supper, let us not add to “the fruit of the lips” in praise to God (Matt 26:29). Knowing that faith only comes by God’s Word, may we only worship according to God’s Word knowing “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 10:17; 14:23). The apostle Paul wrote against worship by unknown languages, and he taught meaningful worship by teaching, praying, and singing that consists of understandable words. The apostle spoke against making music without words, comparing instruments to unknown languages, and describing musical instruments as “soulless” (1 Cor 14:7–15; Gr. psallo). Remember Alexander Campbell from our Restoration history who spoke of musical instruments noting, “to all spiritually-minded Christians such aids would be as a cow bell in a concert.”
Because God is the audience of our worship, may God help us to worship Him without making worship into a show of talents or spiritual entertainment for others (Matt 6:1–7, 16–18). Let every Christian be free from conflicting opinions of contemporary culture and church traditions. May God bless us to set our hearts on true worship.
Your response is expected and welcome. This letter will be an open letter to be posted online for all to read at Jacksonville.com, GodsBreath.net, and Facebook. You can contact me at ScottJon82@yahoo.com or as my card informs.
May God bless us all in the study of His Word,
Scott Shifferd, minister, Church of Christ on Dean Road in Jacksonville, FL