I Will Meet with Thee

On the first day of Pentecost ten days after Christ "was taken up" (Acts 1:2), God miraculously came down and met with his people, when "suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them" (Acts 2:2-3). Is it possible today to invoke the miraculous divine presence of God in our worship? If so, which forms of worship today will solicit the God of Israel to come down and meet with us? And when He comes, will it be for good, or for evil?

by Jerry Gentry

"And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it" (Exo 25:8-9).

"And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel" (Exo 25:22).

The golden calf Aaron made was later revisited, as God had promised, in the death of his two sons, who followed in their father's compromising footsteps. Acceptable worship for our day requires that we give close attention to the second commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" (Exo 20:4), and its implications for modern worship. We must also look closely at the forms of worship devised by leaders of the protestant reformation and before, from whom we have inherited most of our forms of worship today. We must consider those forms, in the light of God's Word.

It is significant that Martin Luther combined the first and second commandments in his catechism, and expanded the last commandment against coveting into two commandments, an idea he inherited from Rome. Martin Luther was a clergyman, a reformer, who protested many corruptions of the Roman system. Yet he failed to thoroughly reform his worship, and continued overtly to violate the second commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Not only did he fail to remove outlandish images; he supported them. "Luther preached very forcibly against those persons who, during his absence from Wittenberg, destroyed the pictures and images in the churches" (Luther's Small Catechism, A Handbook. . . , Joseph Stump, United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia, 1907, p. 43). Both the Lutheran and Anglican protestants maintained the images inherited from Mother Rome. One has only to visit the Anglican churches to see they too are yet today filled with such idolatrous "art."

It was John Calvin and John Knox who, with other reformers, became the iconoclasts of their day, broke down the images of the great false church, and restored worship more according to Biblical patterns. For John Calvin, proper worship came first, even before his treatises against justification by works. In some respects he may have exceeded Biblical necessity, by also removing musical instruments altogether from public worship, which drowned out the Word from the ears of the people. However, he restored the Book of Psalms, to the exclusion of all other hymns, to the Reformed Church, in accordance with common practice of the early church. "In the early Christian Church the Psalms were so often repeated that the poorest Christians could say them by heart, and used to sing them at their labours, in their houses, and in the fields" (History of the Book of Common Prayer, Francis Procter, MacMillan & Co, London, 1878, p. 216).

Thomas Sternhold, groom of the robes to Henry VIII and Edward VI "versified thirty-seven Psalms, which he set to music and sung to his organ, to the great delight of the young King" (Ibid., 176). Sternhold's work was continued by others and all 150 psalms were "published in 1562, with about forty tunes adapted to the various metres used in the work" (Ibid.). This book was "set forth to be sung in all Churches, of all the people together, before and after Morning and Evening Prayer. As also before and after Sermons, and moreover in private houses, for their godly solace and comfort, laying apart all ungodly songs, and Ballads, which tend only to the nourishment of vice, and corrupting of youth" (The Booke of Psalmes Collected into English Metre, Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and others, Company of Stationers, London, 1648, title page).

Other metrical versions were published, one by Rous, another by Barton, which were later combined into the first edition of the Scottish Metrical Version of the Psalms, 1651, which is still in print today. Though failing to remove images, the Anglican side of the reformation partially implemented the restoration of Psalmody in their congregations.

In the Reformed side of protestantism (churches on the continent and in Scotland), at the end of the seventeenth century, "The singing of hymns was introduced [by the great hymn writer Joachim Neander]. Before that the Reformed Church sang only the Psalms of David" (Heidelberg Catechism, M. Mosser, I. M. Beaver, Publisher, Reading, PA, 1888, p. 117). A remnant of churches all over the world today are returning to exclusive Psalmody for public worship, with the aid of Metrical Psalters and full musical annotation. Metrical Psalters are published today in Ireland, Scotland and the United States.

Nearly every protestant reformer followed the early church example of exclusive Psalm singing in public worship, except Luther, who used a mixture of his own hymns as well as the Psalms for public worship. He wrote A Mighty Fortress is our God, which is "based on the Vulgate version of the Forty-sixth Psalm, for Luther in his personal devotions continued to use the Latin on which he had been reared" (Here I Stand, Roland H. Bainton, Mentor Books, New York, 1955, p. 270). This posed a major problem for the followers of Luther, who called themselves Evangelicals. We rejoice with Luther in our common doctrine of salvation by faith. And it is true that Luther's German Bible was made from proper Hebrew and Greek texts. His German Bible was among the good seed word of God Bibles of his day. However, he never reformed his personal usage of the bad seed corrupt Latin Vulgate of Jerome. Consequently, his worship was never fully reformed along Biblical lines. Though Lutheranism multiplied, once comprising over half of all protestants world wide, its very own doctrines zealously promoted images and the bad seed of false worship, both forms of idolatry. Yet today Lutheranism has mostly slid away from use of good seed Bibles, at least in the United States, and represents a dying branch of the reformation. Full reform never came into Lutheranism, therefore its forms of worship do not follow the divine pattern.

Speaking of the early church: "Our daily service consists, according to the Apostles' own rule, in much variety of Psalms. . . Therefore it is that we desire to make the Psalms especially familiar unto all" (The Prayer-Book, Evan Daniel, Wells Gardner, Darton, & Co. London, 1888, p. 94, quoted from Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, v. 17). "It is as clear as the sun at noon-day, that the people generally had a share in the psalmody of the ancient church. . . that men, women, and children were all allowed to bear a part in it. . . Psalmody was always esteemed a considerable part of devotion" (The Antiquities of the Christian Church, Joseph Bingham, Book XIV, Robert Knaplock, London, 1719, p. 373-374).

Nowhere in the New Testament is there recorded even one new hymn or song of recent composition. Israel's song book has been and still is today the Book of Psalms, which comprises the "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) of the New Testament. These are all found in the Book of Psalms, words inspired by none other than God the Holy Spirit.

Christians who reject the idolatry of Hollywood, often accept the idolatrous shows of Nashville and Branson, where gospel music and other Christian music, so called, is enshrined, all in the name of the Lord. Companies successfully market their recording artists, and measure their musical offerings to God in terms of distribution and sales. For whatever the merits of these musical offerings for entertainment of the people, those merits vaporize when such music is brought into the church house for public worship. In the absence of successful marketing, these efforts leave behind little more than empty show houses, stacks of unpurchased videos, tapes and CD's, and recording artists who must go and find other jobs. In the absence of money to grease the production wheels of these "Christian shows," every Christian is faced with a question of what to do. Answer: Sing the Psalms. Enthrone the words of God with timeless melodies preserved for us, just as did the early Christians. Gifted musicians can write new music for the existing Psalms, as further expression of their God given talents. But guard the words of God with all your heart, lest compromise with those words bring new corruptions into public worship.

Where the worlds of Nashville and Branson have moved into the church, it is not too late to remove them. Where worship has been reduced to entertainment, there is a remedy. Where churches will restore true worship of God, worshippers will say, with the Psalmist: "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving" (Psa. 69:30).

"Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works" (Psa. 105:2). Hear the pattern and admonition of the apostle James: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms" (James 5:13).

When Jesus was giving his disciples their last instructions, by washing their feet, and then introducing the bread and wine, as symbols of his body and blood in remembrance of Him, we are told "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives" (Mat 26:30). Which hymn did they sing? It is well known that certain Psalms were always sung in the temple service throughout the year. "It is commonly supposed that the hymn sung by our Lord and His disciples after the Last Supper was part of the Hallel, or Office of Praise {Ps. cxiii.-cxviii}, which was sung at the Passover" (The Prayer-Book, Evan Daniel, Wells Gardner, Darton, & Co. London, 1888, p. 91). Such Psalms are quite appropriate for our Passover Lord's Supper Communion services which replace traditional hymns of man-made words.

The point of this essay is clear. Worship is all about bringing an offering of "acceptable words"&emdash;in prayer, in song and hymn, in reading the Word, in preaching, and confession of faith and fellowship. It is about having a right heart attitude, with genuine forgiveness and love. It is about sitting, kneeling and standing. It is about keeping "the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (1Cor. 11:2). Will we approach unto God, with man-made words and synthetic worship? If so, how can we possibly invoke His presence by such idolatrous presumption? No wonder so many church services today are barren of the Spirit, where emotions run high but substance is dead, plastic, man-made. Yet what great opportunity we have to join with that remnant of worshippers who will follow the Bible, sola scriptura! Does God not zealously look for such worshippers? "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23). That hour is come for us now.

The Bible enjoins: "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded. But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof" (Pro 1:23-25).

"Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me. For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD" (v. 28-29).

"They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices" (v. 30-31). Certainly public worship in most churches is filled with the devices of men, and God will have no part of it. Could that be the reason that revival in these churches is stillborn, because their worship, though heart felt and sincere, is not "in truth?" We are warned: "And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil" (Zeph. 1:12). "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6).

God hates false worship, and responds in anger to our presumptuous man-made forms, which amount to idolatry. The prophet Jeremiah tells us: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jer. 33:3 ). How must we call? We must call both "in spirit and in truth." How long has it been since the church of Jesus Christ has been shown "great and mighty things, which thou knowest not?" It is only through His infinite longsuffering that we are alive in our generation, that we have the opportunity of restoring Biblical forms of worship. We cannot afford to rest so comfortably in our salvation, as to think that God will not chasten his church and bring us out of our many idolatries and into a right heart relationship with Him. Such a relationship is prerequisite to His leading us to become the kind of worshippers He seeks.

Will we call, in truth? Remember Aaron. Remember Nabab and Abihu. Remember Saul. Must we suffer the consequences of just a little obstinate compromise, just a little iniquity in public worship? Or will we follow the straight and narrow path of His Word, and from that word "render the calves of our lips," therein find "acceptable words" revealed by God Himself, and make our "sacrifice of praise?" "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1Pet. 2:5). Man-made worship cannot qualify to be called "spiritual sacrifices."

Where men play church today is the very place where lawful worship must be restored, not after Nashville or Branson, or some other entertainment center, but after "acceptable words" of God. If we are willing to make the switch, we too can then claim the promise given Moses: "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee." Alleluia!

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