The Scriptures teach us that God does not change, that He is immutable in His essential being.(James 1:17) The Bible further teaches us that God is sovereign, but what exactly IS the sovereignty of God and how does it apply to worship? Does God regulate or command that His worship be carried out in a prescribed manner?
In the corporate worship of the church, the Regulative Priniciple of Worship (RPW) says that God has commanded in His Word those elements that are to be a part of His worship. This principle teaches us that we are not free to use our own imaginations and devices, or to add our own elements to the worship of God. We find this principle at work in the Old Testament beginning in Genesis 4:1-7. In this passage we read that Cain and Abel both brought an offering to the Lord and that "the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard". "So Cain was very angry".
Notice the next section in verses 6 and 7,
"The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
It has been said of this passage that the problem with Cain's offering was that his heart was not right before God. It surely was not! But look closely at the passage. God says to Cain, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" Let's look at how the writers of the New Testament interpreted the event.
Hebrews 11:4 "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks."
I John 3:12 "We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? "Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous."
Abel offered a more acceptable gift by faith and Cain's deeds were evil. This is the interpretation of the New Testament writers under the instruction of the Holy Spirit. Let's consider for a moment Cain's reaction to God's refusal of his offering. It says he "was very angry, and his face fell". While we cannot know what the thoughts of Cain were, we can notice that when we are angry with our spouse, our children or a friend it is usually because we feel they have wronged or offended us in some way. If this was Cain's reason for being angry with God and for his murder of Abel he lacked the understanding of the reason for the offering, that God was offended by Cain and his sin. God is the offended party and He was offended by us.
God is concerned with the heart AND He is concerned with our actions, especially with regard to His Worship.
The Second Commandment says:
"You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness 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 on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
This commandment is especially instructive in it's regulative sense. It says that we are not to make an image of God of any kind nor are we to bow down or to worship God by means of one. It can be understood from this commandment that God will not receive worship by any means other that that which He has commanded.
Finally, we read the account of Aaron's two sons in Leviticus 10.
"Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace."
Two things occur in this passage: 1) They offered "unauthorized fire. The fire they offered had not been commanded by God and as such it was unauthorized, it was "strange fire" 2) Notice the last sentence, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ The Holiness of God is at the center of His worship. The text does not tell us what kind of incense the brothers used, only that it was "unauthorized". In other words, they offered incense to the Lord which He had not commanded them to offer. The passage nowhere says they were not well intentioned or sincere in their service to God. It was not the service they perfomed but the elements they employed that became the offense to God.
Lastly, in Deuteronomy 12:32 we read,
“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it."
Notice the structure of the commandment. "You shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it." We are not to add to His worship or to take away from it but we are to do all that He has commanded us to do in His worship.
Beloved, God is Holy and He is jealous over His worship. Let us regard HIM as such and worship Him accordingly.
"I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will
of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter.
I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, "You
are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself." My hope
arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the
-Charles Hadden Spurgeon