The Ancient Faith
J. Ervin Waters
When Moses came to the burning bush the Lord spoke to him in these impressive words: “Put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). Surely coming to the investigation of such a subject as this the admonition given to Moses may not be inapplicable. Let us approach this study with a reverential spirit, realizing that we are treading on holy ground. A subject of such magnitude and importance cannot be satisfactorily treated in one sermon, but, if I can succeed in arousing interest and caution in the study of it, my efforts will have been productive of good. The church today faces a situation pregnant with possibilities for either good or evil. To accept present departures from the truth, or append to them newer errors, is to be a blight upon and a curse to that world which God loved and for which he gave his only Son; but to humbly accept the divine Instructions In the Scriptures, which completely furnish “unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17), and to draw the sword of the spirit against those innovators who have encroached upon sacred soil is to be a blessing to that world and the cause of “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” By the word “spiritual” I mean “holy, sacred, and pure.” By “worship” I mean “the act of paying divine honor and religious service to God.” “Spiritual worship” would then be “sacred and pure religious service to God.” That we may understand more fully what spiritual worship is, we consider—
1. THE OBJECT OF WORSHIP
This was most effectively taught when Jesus said, under the lure of the strong temptation of the devil who offered all of the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if he would fall down and worship him, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’ (Matt. 4:10). When the apostle John fell at the feet of a man to worship him, he was rebuked, “And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God” (Rev.19:10).
Idolatry, the worship of anything made by hands or which is not God, was the chief error in most of Israel’s apostasies. Since it displaces God it provokes him to consuming anger. ‘“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:22-25). Since idolatry is not a thing of the past and there are millions of fetishists in the world today, John closed his first general epistle with this admonition, “Little children, Keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21).
Some, whom Satan the ‘‘God of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), has blinded, worship money and become mad in their lust for it. Others, drunken on power’s wine, hold high carnival in trying to subjugate most of the human race, and the world is hurled into a bloody holocaust of confusion by the power worshiping dictators. Some, how few, are willing to worship God. Next we consider,—
2. THE PLACE OF WORSHIP
(1) For Israel—“‘Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offering in every place that thou seeest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee” (Deut. 12:13-14).
Jerusalem was the place chosen: ‘Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which God did choose out of the tribes of Israel, to put his name there” (1 Kings 14:21). Truly, Jerusalem was a city rich in tradition, honored by historic mention, and blessed by divine selection.
Time passes, Israel is prosperous. All recognize Jerusalem as the place where men ought to worship. The house of David was established. His grandson, Rehoboam, comes to the throne. And, now, the long smouldering fires of dissatisfaction burst into flames. Ten tribes revolt under Jeroboam and set up a new government with different laws, capitol, and worship. Jeroboam told his people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” (1 Kings 12:28), and he set up apostate altars for Israel.
The Samaritans were the mongrel descendants of these ten tribes of Israel. In the time of Christ they were still worshipping God in the wrong place. The woman of Samaria, with whom Jesus conversed at Jacob’s well, said, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). The Jews could have worshiped the right God in the wrong place and it would not have been acceptable.
(2) For Christians—Jesus said unto the woman of Samaria, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 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 4:21-23). The Jews had to worship God at Jerusalem. There the temple of God was erected. Under the Christian economy our place of worship is not at any exclusive geographical location or in any special house made with hands. Stephen gave voice to this truth, “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48). God dwells in his spiritual temple, “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (2 Cor. 6:16).
This temple is the church through which we must glorify God, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph. 3:21). Our place of worship is not the earthly Jerusalem but the “heavenly Jerusalem,” which is the “church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:22-23). No one outside the church of Jesus Christ has the right to worship God because his worship would be vain. This should be a strong incentive to every sinner to become a Christian. As members of the church, we come “together” (Heb.10:25), “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7), in assemblies of two or more, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). But we must be careful that we worship God with a congregation which is conducting the worship scripturally.
In the beatific vision which John saw on the Isle of Patmos, Christ stood in the midst of seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:18). Christ said, “The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20).
This forcefully teaches that Christ is in the midst of his congregations to own and to bless them. But Christ rebuked the church at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works: or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5).
The Lord did not threaten to destroy the Ephesian church. The congregation might still remain and worship God regularly, but, if because of their rebellion their candlestick were removed, Christ would not be in their midst any longer. Some brethren think that the calling of a congregation the church of Christ proves that Christ abides with that congregation and blesses it. Let us be careful not to worship with a congregation whose candlestick has been removed because of their departure from the truth.
3. IGNORANT WORSHIP
When the apostle Paul visited Athens, his spirit was stirred within him by the idolatry of the city. He disputed with the philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics and finally, at their invitation, stood on Mars’ hill to proclaim the gospel. The profound logic of Paul on that occasion is wonderful to read. Among the edifices and altars erected to the Athenian gods, Paul had beheld one to the “Unknown God,” “For as I passed by, and beheld vour devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23). These people were ignorantly worshipping the true God. It profited them nothing.
4. VAIN WORSHIP
“But in vain do they worship me. teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). Vain worship is “worship producing no results.” It is not only spiritually unfruitful but brings condemnation upon the worshipper.
To set aside the divine instructions and substitute the commandments of men is to hurl the church into the wilderness of sectarian error. So many congregations are bound with the shackles of unscriptural traditions and refuse the assistance of those who desire to extricate them.
5. TRUE WORSHIP
“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. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23-24). Surely our fervent desire is to be a “true worshipper.” But this entails basically two things according to the above verse. The true worshippers shall worship the Father,—
(1) In Spirit—To worship in spirit is to worship in the right attitude and for the right purpose. We worship “not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God trom the heart” (Eph. 6:6). We worship that we may have praise of God and not of men. If every worshipper observed this essential, formalism would be banished to the nether regions and its curse removed from our ranks. Some people are not in the habit of worshiping, and with others it is only a habit.
They either do not know or have forgotten its significance. If we would worship in spirit we must worship understandingly, intelligently, and for the right purpose. Baptism for the wrong purpose would not be efficacious. But the true worshiper must also worship,—
(2) In Truth—To worship in truth is to worship after the divine pattern or according to the truth. “Thy word is truth’ (John 17:17). It is an evident impossibility for us to have something in the worship which is a violation of God’s word and worship in truth. We must worship in the right way as well as in the right attitude. Since to worship in truth is to worship according to divine instructions, we will have recourse to the Scriptures, which “thoroughly furnish unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17) for our pattern. Let us earnestly seek and eagerly grasp the eternal truths proffered to us in the book of all books. The volumes and folios of man’s wisdom, when compared with the Bible, are like the chaff which the wind driveth away, but the Word of -God “liveth and abideth forever’ (1 Pet. 1:23). From a diligent study of the Bible we learn that we should worship on,—
THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). The evidence of antiquity concurs in evincing the fact that the early church worshiped God and observed the communion every first day of the week. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him” (Acts 20:7). Being the day of Christ’s resurrection (John 20:1), ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:24). On that day let us not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb. 10:25).
“In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” (Heb. 2:12). “Speaking unto yourselves in psalms and ‘hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is singing unto the Lord. This is an essential part of our worship. I fear that we are sometimes too careless with it. “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15), declared the apostle Paul. If the songs contain unscriptural thoughts, we cannot sing ‘‘with the spirit and the understanding.” We should be as careful not to sing something unscriptural as we are not to teach something unscriptural. I rejoice that the church is becoming increasingly more song conscious. But one might sing a scriptural song and not “singe with the spirit and the understanding,” if he did not understand the meaning of the words in the song or if he sang parrot-like without thinking of the meaning. The vocal organs are the God given instruments with which we should praise him. We “sing” with our vocal organs and “make melody” in our hearts according to the Scriptures. This is what God asked for. Shall we give him what he desires or be presumptuous enough to offer him something for which he did not ask?
Mechanical instruments of music have no legitimate place in the divine sanctuary. They were neither authorized by the apostles nor used by the early Christians in the worship. We cannot “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” and use instrumental music in the church. We plead with those who have embraced this error to lay it down and return to a scriptural foundation. And may we all study to improve our singing because the sweet melody and harmony of a congregation of Christian singers is a soul-stirring foretaste of heaven.
“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Cor. 16:2).
It is the duty of all Christians to give as they have been prospered. “It is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Cor. 8:12). Paul mentioned several graces and then added, “See that ye abound in this grace also” (2 Cor. 8:7). Loving prompts giving, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). How much do we love God?
Paul commended those ‘who first gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5) and said, “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves” (2 Cor. 8:3). The Jews under Moses’ law were required to give a tenth of their increase annually. While God did not set a minimum for us, we must remember that the things “written aforetime (in the Old Testament) were written for our learning’ (Rom. 15:4), and, if we try to get by with less, may I ask what have we learned from the foregoing example? Are we seeking first the kingdom? The church cannot bear its responsibility of helping the poor and sounding out the word without money, and it cannot have money without its members giving as they have been prospered. We are being poured out a blessing. Are we able to receive it? If every Christian gave as he should, there would be so much in the Lord’s treasury that men with wisdom would be required, to wisely handle it. In the past few years the church has come a long way. People are giving as never before and yet there is plenty. I sincerely think that this portends a brighter future for the cause of Christ. We are realizing that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
We all concur in the belief that prayer is a necessary item of our worship. ‘“‘I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). “TI will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15). One of the most sublime statements in the Bible is, “God hath spoken to us.”
But in prayer we can speak to God. I think it is important that the man leading the prayer pray loud enough to be heard by all in the congregation. Else, how can they say “Amen”? And it is important that he pray concisely and to the point. If one desires to see how long he can pray, let him follow the Lord’s example, go into the “desert” or unto a “mountain” and “continue all night in prayer to God.” “Use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6:7). Let us pray for the work of the Lord. As the spirit of prayer increases, our efforts and results will increase proportionately.
This part of our duty could not be over emphasized because without discharging it the church could not be edified. We could not grow, progress, or develop. Brethren have gone to two extremes. Some have allowed their zeal to lead them into unscriptural methods of teaching. Others fell into apathy and did not make full use of the scriptural method. The first thing we shall consider is,—
(1) What Should Be Taught?—Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). “All the counsel of God” should be taught and nowhere, except in the Bible, can this be found? In 2 Tim. 3:16-17, we learn that the Scriptures are for (a) Doctrine (b) Reproof (c) Correction (d) Instruction in righteousness (e) That the man of God may be perfect (f) Thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Are the writings of men our doctrine? Will they make us perfect?
Do they furnish us to all good works? Then surely we can all agree on this text book of God before which all others fade into comparative insignificance.
(2) How Should It Be Taught?—Some people have the opinion that the church was not given any method of teaching, and they therefore conclude that they are at liberty to use any method. But let us probe into the divine will for the truth. Paul delivered instructions to obtain, “When ye come together” (1 Cor. 14:26). These instructions were to apply whenever and wherever the church came together,
(a) Those who spoke in foreign languages were to speak by course, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course” (1 Cor. 14:27). (b) The prophets were to speak one by one, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be comforted” (1 Cor. 14:31).
The reasons given for having one to speak at a time to an assembly were (a) That all may learn and all may be comforted (1 Cor. 14:31) and (b) God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). These same reasons would make it imperative that every speaker observe the same rule today. Following that rule would prevent dividing into classes:
The Jews knew how to teach men, women, and children in an undivided assembly, “Thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn” (Deut. 31:11-12). They could all be taught, they could all hear and learn, in an undivided assembly. If things “written aforetime were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4), we learn that it can be successfully done this way. What have the Sunday School brethren learned from this example?
How did Jesus teach? “He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16), and “the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him” (Luke 4:20). Does this look like classes?
Out of over one hundred references to teach in the first five books of the New Testament not one teaches classifying by either command, example, inference or statement. Surely the Lord’s way is the best, and I would not know how to do it any other way.
(3) Who Should Teach?—‘“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Qualifications: (a) Faithful, (b) A man, (c) With ability to teach others. Christ called twelve apostles. All were men. Christ sent seventy out to preach.
All were men. Elders were ordained in the churches among whom were no elderesses. Deacons were appointed among whom were no deaconesses. Evangelists were sent forth. Not a woman preacher was among them. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection” (1 Tim, 2:11). This injunction imposes silence upon the woman during the teaching. ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). The woman is forbidden to occupy the office of a teacher. Paul said, “For it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35). The Greek word for “women” is “gune” and means “universally a woman of any age, whether married, virgin, or widow.” These things are the “commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). May we all strive to follow more closely the divine pattern?
(1) One Loaf—‘Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and break it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Since Christ had only one body, he took only one loaf of bread. The word “bread” is the singular of “loaves” (Mark 6:38), indicating one loaf.
The breaking of this bread is an act performed by every communicant. “The bread which we break” (1 Cor. 10:16).
“The disciples came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). “They continued steadfastly in… the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). They do err, who break the bread in pieces and pass them. Every communicant breaks and eats according to the Scriptures.
(2) One Cup—‘“He took the cup” (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23: Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Christ commanded, “Drink ye all of it” (Matt. 26:27). They obeyed, “He gave it to them: and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23). Paul admonished, “keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2), and then said, “When ye come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33), “Eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Each assembly for the communion is to have “The cup of blessing” (1 Cor. 10:16). Oh, how some have desecrated the sacred communion by setting aside the divine pattern and using a plurality of cups! Let us “ask for the old paths, where is the good way and walk therein” (Jer. 6:16).
(3) The Fruit of the Vine—There is some controversy concerning whether we are to use grape juice or fermented wine in the communion. I know of nothing in the Scriptures which is plainer taught than this subject. The word “wine” is ambiguous and indefinite in English and may denote either fermented or unfermented wine. Isa. 65:8 shows that it may denote the unfermented, “As the new wine is found in the cluster.” There were also Hebrew and Greek words for ‘wine,’ which were generic terms and could be used to designate either fermented or unfermented. But the arena of conflict is not on these Hebrew and Greek words for wine, because Jesus never used a one of them when he instituted the communion. He used a term which cannot embrace the fermented wine. “I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29). Christ took something which the vine produced, something which was the fruit of the vine. Have you ever found a vine which produced fermented wine? Have you ever plucked the fruit from the vine, squeeze? out the juice of the grape, drank it and become intoxicated? The idea is repugnant to reason. No such vine exists.
Therefore the “fruit of the vine” is not fermented, alcoholic or intoxicating. Jesus took the natural law, that the fruit of the vine is produced in the vine, and taught a spiritual lesson. If the natural from which he reasoned were not true, the spiritual would not be true. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4). The fruit of the vine is produced in contact with the vine. We have to have contact with Christ in order to bear his fruit. Separate us from Christ and we will not bear his fruit. Separate the grape juice from the vine, let it ferment, and we have not the fruit of the vine but the fruit of something else. Fermentation completely changes almost every element of the grape juice. Fermentation is leavening. Fermented wine is leavened wine. We use unleavened bread. Why not use unleavened grape juice? “Therefore let us keep the fast, not with the old leaven” (1 Cor. 6:8). Will anyone say that grape juice is not the “fruit of the vine’? Then why not use it? Christ did.
6. ORDER OF WORSHIP
The Scriptures do not furnish an order in which praying, singing, giving, communion, and teaching should be observed in unvarying routine. Therefore we may “worship in spirit and in truth” without an unvarying order. Those, who would “spy out our liberty” (Gal. 2:4), assume the divine prerogative of legislating, and shackle us with such an order, are the cause of the resulting internecine strife. “Mark them ….and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
7. WILL WORSHIP
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship” (Col. 2:20-23).
“Will worship,” according to Thayer’s definition in his excellent Lexicon, is “worship which one devises and prescribes for himself.” Those who use one or more of the departures from the divinely ordained worship are guilty of ‘“self-devised worship.” Paul said, “touch not; taste not; handle not.” These things will “perish with the using,” but let us cling to the pure and eternal truths of God.
I beg you in heaven’s name to consider this vital subject without bias or prejudice. “Truth crushed to the earth will rise again,” and from the many battles truth emerges the victor in its scintillating brilliancy. Thousands of our hearts beat in spiritual unison. The Bible is cutting its way. Time honored traditions are passing away and idols are crumbling. As the light breaks and the morning approaches, faith is chasing away the dark clouds that have so long hung their black drapery over the straight and narrow way. I am glad to be able to bear some part in this mighty struggle. Let us stand at the apostate altars of the rebels against God’s divine worship, and cry: BACK! Back over the doctrines and commandments of men! Back to the worship ordained by God! Back to the truth in its original power and simplicity! It is not too far. Armed in the panoply of God let us send forth the battle cry, “They shall not pass.” Then, as we trust in God and he ‘giveth the increase,” the church will “look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10).
[This was originally published in Old Paths Pulpit No.2, M. Lynwood Smith Publication, 1978]