God wants a close and lasting relationship with his people–similar to that achieved in a good marriage. The church is the bride of Christ. In order to deepen this relationship, he prescribes how we are to worship him. He forbids using a visual representation of himself. This guards our worship by putting boundaries around it for our own good and to preserve our relationship with him. Just as the bride is to make sure she reverences and respects her husband (Ephesians 5), the church is to reverence her LORD and order her worship according to his commands. Notice that the consequences are grave if we insist on our own way:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeless of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20: 4-6.
We have two examples of how seriously God takes this command. After Moses had been gone for forty days, the people asked Aaron for a representation of God to worship. He went along with it and a golden calf was made. Now remember, they had all stood around Mt. Sinai and heard God speak in an audible voice, “You shall not make a carved image.” Notice that this calf was a visual aid in the worship of God; it was not another god. “And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD” (Exodus 32:5). There were serious consequences to this disobedience showing us why we should obey this Second Commandment. Three thousand people were slain and more died of the plague.
After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam led the people in disregarding this commandment. He changed the place of worship and built two images of the LORD GOD. “Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (I Kings 12:28). He had thought it all up himself and called it worship. For this sin, his children and grandchildren were destroyed (I Kings 15:29-30). These examples are for our motivation to apply this moral law correctly! The tabernacle and temple and sacrifices have been fulfilled by Christ Jesus. But, God in his wisdom, maintains this regulation so that our relationship with him will develop into a good marriage.
The Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession included the regulative principle in their explanations of what constitutes sin and our duty toward this law. They agreed that what is not commanded specifically by word or example of the apostles or Jesus is forbidden in worship services. They based this on Deuteronomy 12. This whole chapter is on the details of worship services. Within that context, Moses said, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:32). So these Reformers were not very accepting of a lot that had become traditional in Catholic services, and even of some elements of worship within Protestant circles.
They looked to the New Testament for guidance on how to worship. What they saw there were prayers and thanksgiving, reading and hearing of God’s Word, sermons which sought to understand and apply God’s Word, singing, collecting of offerings, and performance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These were not to be added to or taken away from worship. It is a sin to neglect, make fun of, hinder, or oppose any of these.
Of course, there have been some controversies over the years about what music to include, whether offerings should be a part of the service etc. The point of the regulative principle has been to put biblical boundaries around corporate and personal worship. Have you tired of hearing the Scriptures read aloud? Do you want to hurry through those prayers? What would you like to add? Do you want to change the preaching to more of a chat or a counseling session to work things out? Are we too distracted to sit down and read a Bible passage and study to apply it? Other worship suggestions might be: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some of the teen girls dance while the offering is taken?” “Shouldn’t we organize a drama team for skits instead of reading yet another Old Testament passage? After all, we must engage the next generation and make them feel comfortable in our services.” ” Today’s children are far more visual than previous generations. We could produce an app for their smart phones that flashed pictures of God painted by gr eat artists like Michelangelo. They could watch it during the pastor’s sermon as a help to think about God.” Are we pressuring our leaders to make similar changes?
Especially For Mothers and Grandmothers
- A right understanding of the Second Commandment protects future generations because God’s mercy endures forever on those who seek to obey this commandment. His mercy towards us makes us love him even more.
- Support your church leadership when they seek to keep worship reverent. He is our glorious, sovereign Savior and is worthy of our adoration.
- Do not press for the latest trends to be included in worship services or for ways to make it more exciting or move along faster.
- Organize your devotional life around these acts of worship. Look at this commandment as a good friend who has your back. Pray, (using the Lord’s prayer as a pattern), read the Bible, study to understand its meaning, sing songs of praise.
- Seek to personally follow the Larger Catechism Q. 108-109. Catechisms and Confessions are not without error, but these are reliable guides to what the Bible means.
- Help each other with the children. Talk to them before worship about participating instead of reading, drawing, going to the bathroom, day dreaming, etc. Make sure they see worship as a means for developing a more personal relationship with God.
“Just a closer walk with Thee;
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”