Are all religious rituals equal? Does God care how we...

Worship The Lord!

Bible Basics Lesson 7

James McBride: All religions have their forms of worship. Go to an assembly of those who worship Allah, or any of the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Or the myriad worship forms within the Christian religion. Each is distinctive. Indeed the form of worship is almost a "badge" which sets each apart from one another.

Each has recognizable regalia - like the Christian "dog-collar" or cross, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist tonsure.

Each has its unique holy days. The Muslim community, for example, worships weekly on Fridays and also on specific festival days - such as during Ramadan. Christians choose Sunday - and Easter, Christmas etc., while in Judaism there is the weekly seventh-day Sabbath and various holy days throughout the calendar year.

Worship can be defined as "reverent homage or service paid to God", the word deriving from the root signifying worthiness. Surely, the Creator of all that exists merits devout worship. But does the supreme God - the God revealed in the Bible - accept all forms of homage? Is He equally pleased with worship on any day of the week, any time of year? Are Ramadan or Christmas and Easter or the Hindu Divali festivals all acceptable to the Creator?

The Bible claims that the God who inspired it is "jealous". Indeed His jealousy not infrequently flamed out in anger in the matter of worship! In this Lesson we will examine the reasons for this and see what He requires of His people.

Why Worship?

" is rare to hold no personal opinion about what lies behind our existence"
Dictionary of Beliefs and Religion

Fewer than ten percent of the British nation, it has been estimated, ever darkens the door of a church. But around the world religious worship is at the heart of daily life of the vast majority of mankind. Indeed it has been suggested by psychologists that the "urge to worship" is in the hearts of all of us. It has been described as "humankind's natural religiosity".

Even in the former communist nations - supposedly atheistic - the trappings of religion were evident, though secular on the surface. And when the restraints on religion were eased, millions flocked to the churches. In Britain whose philosophers, scientists - even religionists - have over the last hundred and fifty years spawned irreligion, the urge to worship has not been totally eliminated. Instead, worship has largely been perverted into consumerism - the worship of inanimate objects, like cars, homes. Indeed even religious nations like the United States are consumed with the material! Others turn to philosophies or to "fringe" religions or to "cults". And everyone is spontaneously religious at times of crisis!

Worship is joyful and stems from a heart thankful to the sovereign God,for all His abundant mercies to us. But it is foolish to perceive God as a Being we can worship lightly and without due respect for His awesome majesty! I Chronicles 29:10-13

Why? Why this seeming irrational urge to look to "Someone" beyond our own world? And why such diversity of belief? Does the belief in a Being beyond us - who can comfort us, intervene for us, give life a purpose - simply stem from human insecurity?

The Bible, of course, gives a firm response: we worship because we were created as "sons of God"

Be sure to study all the cited Bible texts - and in context (their meaning in the story flow)!

- mankind is a direct creation of the one God who created all things by Jesus Christ ... Genesis 2:4-7, Colossians 1:13-17, Luke 3:38

- the earliest human records depict man as a worshipping being ... Genesis 4:4

Paul:: "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father..." I Corinthians 8:5f

- God, as Creator of mankind and of all things, is sovereign. He commands. He reigns. He intervenes in human affairs to further His plans for us ... Genesis 2:16, Daniel 4:25, Genesis 6

- as such He commands and deserves our worship ... Psalm 95:1-7, Psalm 100

Diverse Worship

"In man's relation to God the act of zeal [KJV=jealousy] is more positively viewed as the advancement of God and His glory over against substitutes.... His holiness does not tolerate competitors" Vine: Expository Dictionary

The diversity of religious form is a vast worldwide "tourist attraction"! The colorful spectacle of religious parades in Ceylon or Bali or China draws millions. But are all doing obeisance to the same God? Is the One God pleased with such diversity"

- The Scriptures reveal God as "jealous" ... Exodus 20:5, 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15

- His jealousy includes the way we worship Him. Through Moses, God expressed to His selected nation of Israel His uncompromising insistence that He alone must be worshipped, and in His way ... Deuteronomy 32:12; 12:29-32

The governments and peoples of the world are subtly manipulated by "fallen angels" - called devils in the Scriptures. Since Satan's prideful attempt to usurp his Creator, he has sought to gain man's worship. This he will achieve in the last days when he succeeds in establishing worldwide acclaim ... Ephesians 2:2-3, Revelation 13:4-9

- but Israel "lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" and turned to other beings which, though called "gods" were not so. In fact the gods of the surrounding nations were "devils" ... Deut. 12:15-20, I Corinthians 10:20

- no matter how superficially attractive the religious display, unless it reflects God's revealed form it is the worship of demonic powers.

God Doesn't Change

It's a relief to know that the Creator God is constant in all His ways. We can depend on His enduring love for all mankind. We can depend on Him to be unchanging in character, to be consistent in how we will attain salvation. His constancy also holds in the form and times for His worship!

The concept of a weekly rest day - common in many ancient civilizations - is supernaturally revealed. It cuts across all time frames set by the sun or moon. For example, it is not based on a quarter of the month, which has twenty-nine or thirty days, astronomically.

- when God had created everything and pronounced it "good" He set apart a time for man to rest, to recuperate weekly from his daily activities and to communicate with his Creator in a "holy assembly" ... Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:12-15

- we also find that, before the creation of man, He established astronomical laws which were geared to His worship plan ... Genesis 1:14-18

These heavenly bodies are for signs (e.g., Jeremiah 10:2, Acts 2:19), for seasons (Heb. moed = festivals - Leviticus 23:2) and for days and years - i.e., to determine the calendar.

- God set the earth, sun and moon into orbits which would sustain life on earth. They also would serve to mark out the times when He asked for formal annual worship ... Acts 2:14

- the divinely-appointed times for worship have from earliest civilizations been linked to the harvest seasons. This seasonal plan is a pattern for the unchanging purpose which God has for mankind. Some details of this plan will unfold in the next lesson.

In sum, there is a pattern for worship which God initiated before of man set foot on the planet. Decadent forms of it are detectable in the worship of ancient nations - even among the Canaanites whom Israel succeeded in Palestine. But it is among the descendants of the patriarchs Shem and Abraham that the true worship was preserved.

- Abraham was diligent to observe all that God had revealed, even to being known as God's friend ... Genesis 26:5, James 2:23

- through his son Isaac and his descendants the knowledge of God was preserved after the Flood and in times of apostasy from God's known and revealed way ... Galatians 4:28

- Israel, however, strayed from the way of God

Originally offered the chance of being an entire nation of priests directly in touch with God, Israel's idolatry earned it an imposed system of onerous sacrifices, and access to God only through an appointed and hereditary priesthood

- within months of their deliverance from Egypt under Moses they reverted to idolatrous worship ... Exodus 32:1f, Acts 7:40

- through centuries of luke-warm adherence to God's way the nation finally divided in two after the death of Solomon - and became known as the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Judah remained faithful for another four hundred years while Israel immediately rejected God's specified time for worship ... I Kings 12:25-32

King Jeroboam I moved the existing autumn festival from the seventh month to the eighth month. In Israel ever after, heinous sin, especially idolatry, was often described as "after the way of Jeroboam who caused Israel to sin" ...I Kings 22:51-53, II Kings 3:1-3

- this action usurped God's prerogative to set the times for His worship ... Daniel 7:25, 2:21

- the result of Judah's later desecration of the Sabbaths was a captivity of seventy years in Babylon ... II Chronicles 36:24-31, Ezekiel 20:12-26, 39

Love For God And Man

Written, by God, into Israel's Constitution was the document we know as The Ten Commandments. This, originally carved in stone by God's own hand, outlines human relationships with God (the first four) and with man (the last six commandments)

    Exodus 20:1 God said to the people of Israel: I am the LORD your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.
    The Ten Commandments
  1. Do not worship any god except me.
  2. Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth. Don't bow down and worship idols. I am the LORD your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me, I will punish your families for three or four generations. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations.
  3. Do not misuse my name. I am the LORD your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.
  4. Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me. You have six days when you can do your work, but the seventh day of each week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day--not you, your children, your slaves, your animals, or the foreigners who live in your towns. In six days I made the sky, the earth, the oceans, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That's why I made the Sabbath a special day that belongs to me.
  5. Respect your father and your mother, and you will live a long time in the land I am giving you.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Be faithful in marriage.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not tell lies about others.
  10. Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don't want anyone's house, wife or husband, slaves, oxen, donkeys or anything else.

- Jesus, quoting from the Old Testament, told his hearers that the first four of the ten taught us how to love God, the remainder how to love neighbor ... Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27

Keep in mind that God's Word is also the text of the Old Testament. These inspired Scriptures are the foundation for the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, and are "able to make you wise unto salvation" ... II Timothy 3:15-17

- love for neighbor, as summed up in these last six commands, is a concept shared by all the major religions and even by humanists and atheists. It is largely practical common sense, discoverable from experience stemming from self-preservation! ... Romans 2:14-15, 13:8-10

- love for neighbor is but one aspect of God's unchanging true religion, and does not by itself define it. There are millions of "good people"of all religious persuasions, but most reject the religious aspect of the one revealed faith - the "one way"

- love for God, however, summed up by the first four of the Ten Commandments, is supernaturally revealed by the one and only supreme God in the writings of the Bible. All other faiths are at best humanly devised. At worst they are counterfeit religions devised by Satan as a part of his plans for world dominion

The inspired writers time-and-again echoed the warning of Jesus himself, that we must constantly be on guard against destructive heresies in the church. Unless a vital doctrine can be explained from the Scriptures it is to be rejected. Later traditions must reflect the Bible teaching.

- he works to achieve this by deception and by introducing false doctrines even among believers ... Revelation 12:9, 1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Timothy 4:1, 1 John 5:19

- the church of God in apostolic times contended with those Paul called "false apostles". These men came into the church "under cover" or became themselves deceived. They peddled their false teachings under the guise of enlightenment, or "new truth", often claiming apostolic authority ... Acts 20:28-31, 1 John 3:1-3, Revelation 2:2

the vast majority of us are "born into" our religion - Hindu, Muslim, Methodist, Roman Catholic, etc. For most Christians, the teachings of their church are simply accepted without any investigation of the source of Christianity - the Bible. Are your core beliefs mere tradition or can you provide evidence for them from Scripture? ... Mark 7:6-9

- a subtle deception was to distort the truth but call it by the accepted name. An example is falsifying the meaning of "soul" [see Lesson 4]. Paul warns about such deception, stating that Satan and his servants - angelic and human - present themselves as being guardians of truth ... II Corinthians 4:13-15

6000 Years of Christianity!

It's a fallacy to imagine that Jesus Christ was the founder of some new religion! He was descended from Judah - i.e., a "Jew" - brought up in a Jewish home and embedded in a Jewish culture. In him were fulfilled the prophecies of a coming Deliverer - a Messiah [see Lesson 3]. It was not his function to do away with the ancient faith, but to restore it and to demonstrate how to fulfill its requirements not only physically but spiritually

The "Judaism" of the time of Jesus was a far cry from the faith of the Old Testament. After the awful experience of captivity in Babylon, the Jews hedged their faith about with a host of traditions - many of which went contrary to the religion delivered to Israel by God. It is these traditions which so riled Jesus!

- Jesus attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, observed the commandments, took part in the annual round of religious observances along with the other religious Jews ... Luke 4:16, 31; John 7:2, 14, Matthew 5:17-20

- if transported back in time as a contemporary of Abraham they would have recognized each other's faith and practice! ... Genesis 26:5, Romans 4

"In the interval between the days of the apostles and the conversion of Constantine [ca. 325 A.D.] the Christian commonwealth changed its aspect ... Rites and ceremonies of which neither Paul nor Peter ever heard crept into use then claimed the rank of divine institutions" [Dr. Killen: The Ancient Church]

- but the apostasy which began in apostolic times distorted the "faith once delivered to the saints", to the extent that within a century or so of the death of Jesus Christianity appeared as virtually a new religion ... Jude 3, Revelation 2, 3

It was to this ancient religion that Jesus and the apostles called new disciples - a religion free from the traditions which then had a stranglehold on Judaism

- the church began on the Festival of Pentecost, some fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. The momentous outpouring of God's Spirit took place at the heart of Judaism, in Jerusalem ... Acts 2

The New Testament names for believers were saints and followers of The Way. The term Christian was applied to them by unbelievers and used by the apostles ... Acts 24:14, 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16

- on that and the following days many thousands became followers of the Way ... Acts 2:41, 4:4

- these converts were comprised entirely Jews from many nations, even many of the priests accepted Jesus as the Messiah ... Acts 2:5, 6:7

- the significant difference was that they now recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, through whose death and resurrection they had forgiveness of sin, and salvation. Otherwise, their religious practice remained unchanged.

As the implications of the death of Jesus sank in, the disciples were led by the Spirit to understand that the typology of the sacrifices were all fulfilled in him, that circumcision was superseded by water baptism. The true faith was no longer for Jews only .... 4:22-24, Acts 10:28; 15

- what's important here is that the first to accept the faith of Christ were men and women who already followed the form of the true revealed faith. As devout Jews they were diligent to observe all the Biblical customs of Judaism. They continued Temple and synagogue worship, sacrifices, circumcision, festivals, etc ... Acts 2:46, 21:20-27, 28:17, 20:6, 16

At its beginning, then, Christianity appeared to be "reformed Judaism". It was a continuation of the faith of the patriarchs - with the added understanding that Messiah had come and restored the old paths. The implication of Jesus' ethical teaching was, however, "new wine". It required repentance, faith, baptism, the addition of God's mind - the Holy Spirit. It was a "narrow way" which few would choose, said Jesus ... Matthew 7:13-14, Galatians 3:8, Hebrews 4:2

What Happened Next

Our next lesson of Bible Basics will detail more aspects of the great Apostasy from the Biblical faith

The apostasy (falling away) from the true faith swelled as the centuries rolled by. After its initial burst of power, the pulls of the flesh, worldly cares, persecution from Jew and Gentile, the lust for power all conspired to dilute the numbers of followers of The Way. In the fourth century A.D., the state, headed by Emperor Constantine, made this apostate Christianity the state religion. "Christianity" had arrived. But the true faith was marginalized and driven "into the wilderness"

"On the venerable day of the sun, let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest and let all workshops be closed." Edict of Constantine, 321 A.D.

- Constantine, in a manner, repeated the "sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin". In his desire to regularize Christianity, he imposed the doctrines of the apostate church on all Christians. These included the requirement to change the weekly rest day to Sunday. His edict formalized a trend to Sunday worship that had developed in the preceding centuries

Jesus did not expect his church to become large and powerful

- this "exile" in the "wilderness" by the faithful church has been seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy given to John ... Revelation 12:6

A Seasonal Plan

It has been suggested that from the time Adam sinned until the Flood, the Earth was surrounded by erratic vapor rings - similar to the planet Saturn. These seriously disrupted the perfect environment which had been created at the beginning, and resulted in the "curse" affecting crops, making agriculture "hit and miss" ... Genesis 3:17-19, 8:2,21f

The divinely revealed festival year reflects the annual seasonal harvest times. Since the Great Flood of Noah the earth has had regular growing seasons - spring, summer, autumn ... Genesis 8:22

- the Biblical Holy Days relate to these three seasons ... Exodus 23:15-17, 34:22

- these festivals were called Unleavened Bread (spring), Firstfruits (summer - also known as Pentecost and Feast of Weeks), Ingathering (autumn - includes Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles and the Closing Day) ... Leviticus 23

Students who wish to determine when the Festivals now fall on our, different, Roman calendar should consult the Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar compiled by Arthur Spier. The 3rd revised edition has the dates until 2100 A.D. (Many other reference works and calendars list the Biblical (Jewish) Festival dates - but not all Jewish Festivals are Biblical.)

- the dates to observe the festivals were specified by God. These were according to a calendar that was based on the interaction of sun and moon orbits, and subject to certain priestly requirements the details of which were preserved by the authorities in Israel the weekly Sabbath and the three Holy Day seasons were a part of the original Covenant made between God and Israel at Sinai ... Exodus 19:5 to 24:8

- note well that at this time Israel continued the sacrifice of animals after the pattern known from the time of the expulsion from Eden. However, the formal regulation of sacrifices attached to the annual Holy Days was not added until Israel had chosen to reject the Covenant. This they did at Sinai "before the ink was dry" on the Covenant ... Genesis 4:4, Exodus 24:5-6, ch.32, Psalm 106:13-26

Having rejected the offered role of becoming "a kingdom of priests" with direct access to God, Israel was subjected to a laborious round of sacrifices to disciple them in the horrific nature of sin and idolatry, and to preserve the Holy Day plan. Access to God would only be through the intermediary of an appointed priesthood ... Jeremiah 7:22-24, Acts 15:10.

- the sacrificial system was established, about nine months after the Covenant, when Moses set up the Tabernacle and all its fittings. Spectacularly, the Lord sent His Presence to abide in the Tabernacle - visible as a pillar of cloud and fire ... Exodus 40:17-38

A Divine Pattern

These three Holy Day seasons contain a remarkable symmetrical pattern based on the number seven

The seven annual Holy Day Sabbaths are: Unleavened Bread - first and last day; Pentecost (Firstfruits, Weeks); Trumpets; Atonement; Tabernacles (Booths) - first day; Closing Day

- there are within the three seasons seven annual Sabbaths. These are festival days which were designated by God as holy convocations and subject to the restriction that no work should be done on them. Apart from the Day of Atonement these annual Sabbaths were days for material feasting. All were opportunities for rejoicing, for instruction in God's Word, for fellowship with fellow Israelites and with the Lord ... Leviticus 23:2, Nehemiah 8:1-12

The festivals are times of rejoicing called by God "festivals of the Lord" and "My festivals". It has been erroneously assumed that they are national holidays dreamed up by Moses! ... Leviticus 23:2, Numbers 10:10

- there are two sets of seven-day festivals, each succeeded by an annual Holy Day

- in the spring is Unleavened Bread, the first and last days of which are annual Holy Day Sabbaths, followed within fifty days by the annual Holy Day Sabbath of Pentecost

- in autumn is Tabernacles, the first day of which is an annual Sabbath, followed by the annual Sabbath of the Closing Day (sometimes called the Last Great Day).

There are further patterns of seven:

The land sabbath and the Jubilee pertained to the nation and land of Israel as a part of its Covenant with Jehovah while they occupied the "Land of Promise". The actual dates for the Jubilee years have been variously computed by different scholars.

- every seven years there was a sabbath of rest for the land, during which Israel's agricultural land remained fallow ... Leviticus 25:1-7

- every forty-ninth year (7 x 7) was followed by a special, 50th, year known as the Jubilee (rejoicing) in which land returned to its hereditary ownership ... Leviticus 25:8-13

The prophetic significance of the Sabbath and the annual Festivals will be more fully discussed in Lesson 8 of Bible Basics

- the symbolic seven thousand years of physical human civilization ends with the Millennial sabbath rest of Christ's reign on earth ... Rev. 20:4. This period of human life is followed by the "sabbath rest" of eternity. This concept is based on the seven-day week, each day of which represents a thousand years of human civilization ... Psalm 90:4, II Peter 3:8

The weekly Sabbaths and annual Festivals were God's chosen way for His people to worship Him. Time and again God expresses His outrage that other forms of worship - all "idolatry" - were practiced by Israel. He waited patiently for nearly three centuries for the northern House of Israel to repent. They didn't, and were expelled from the Land, the vast majority never to return. The House of Judah, too, profaned God's Holy Days and they, too, were exiled - for seventy years.

All who claim to worship the God of the Bible must compare the form of their worship with God's!

Reprinted with permission of Church of God, UK. Email comments to: the comment form below.
Editor: James McBride.
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