Two of the first things about worship that I see in different churches are its ceremonies and moral precepts. Ceremonies have deep meaning to celebrants as they worship their God. I remember as a child hearing about “high church” and “low church.” We just had “church” where I attended, but other kids I grew up with talked about their religious ceremonies that included a lot of kneeling and repeating of memorized sayings. Kids often didn’t understand the meaning, but many of the adults did. They viewed ceremony as important to stability and constancy in worship experiences.
Many churches have two or three services on Sunday mornings. The early service is often called the “contemporary” service. The second or third service are often called “traditional” services. Contemporary services usually include a “praise” band playing contemporary music (e.g. rock, folk) with a teacher or preacher in blue jeans or some other casual attire. Traditional services usually include choirs with organ, piano, string quartet playing traditional music (e.g. hymns, classical) with a teacher or preacher wearing a robe or some other formal attire. Those are generalizations, but it’s held true in many of the churches I’ve visited or seen on television.
The moral precepts of churches are what help guide believers in the practice of their religious beliefs. Some churches get their moral precepts directly from the Bible, others theirs from ancient creeds, others from denominational literature, and some from modern poetry and philosophical writings.
What’s a new Christian to do? How can we know what kind of “ceremony” we should participate and what moral precepts are right for us? Let’s answer that question by searching for the highest authority in the sphere of religious ceremony and moral precepts. Who do Christians serve? Who do Christians worship? It should be obvious from the question itself that “Christians” serve and worship “Christ.” Let’s see what Jesus had to say about religious ceremony and moral precepts.
“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ But Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” Luke 4:1-13
Through this amazing temptation of Christ by the fallen angel Satan, we learn the secrets of life, worship, and moral precepts.
- Life – ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’
- Worship – ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’
- Moral Precepts – ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’
Do you see how Christ responded to every one of Satan’s temptations by repeating the Word of God? Jesus Christ, the Highest Authority in Christianity, directed His enemy Satan to the Word of God (Scripture) as the ultimate Spoken and Written Authority for ceremony and moral precept. That is what every Christian should and must do to make the right decisions about life, worship, and moral guidance.
More Lessons In The Wilderness
In our last study about the History of Worship (Exodus 21), we saw how God dealt with the issue of violence and the part it played in worship. Now we’ll see what God taught Moses and Israel about moral precepts in their service (worship) to Him.
“If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins. ‘You shall not permit a sorceress to live. ‘Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. ‘He who sacrifices to any god, except to the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed. ‘You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ‘You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. ‘If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious. ‘You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people. ‘You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. ‘And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.” Exodus 22:16-31
Notice that God began His lesson about moral precepts with one of the most fundamental aspects of morality: sexual virginity. The virginity of a young woman was something very precious to her and her family. I grew up during a time in our country’s history when virginity was still held in high esteem. Girls knew it was precious and so did their fathers. A boy who took or tried to take a girl’s virginity from her would often have to deal with the wrath of an angry father. When asked decades ago, most men said they wanted to marry a virgin – even though those same men would have said they expected guys not to be virgins on their wedding night. Ask men today and they expect their brides to be sexually educated and active – usually with them months or years before they get married. Ask women today at what age they lost their virginity and most answer during their teen years. Even Christian girls and boys are having sex as teenagers and their parents and church leaders often don’t think there’s anything wrong about it. Social mores have changed dramatically during the last 50 years, but does that make the new morality right? We need to return to the highest written Authority, Scripture, for the answer.
“If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.”
This moral precept (law) which God introduced to Israel also dealt with one of the worst sins of our planet – men taking sexual advantage of girls and women. Men have a physical advantage over many women – they are stronger and more aggressive. The moral wickedness of men has led to so many forced sexual advances which have done great harm to girls and women. God’s Law made it clear that men in Israel would pay a price for their sin. In the case of a man forcing sex on a woman engaged to be married to another man, the enticing man would have to marry the girl and pay a bride-price (Hebrew – mohar) for her. If the girl’s father refused to allow the man to marry his daughter, the man would still have to pay the father the bride-price of virgins. There were consequences in Israel for sexually violating a virgin engaged to another man.
We will look at other aspects of moral service in the next part of our study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”