“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” (Lev. 10:1).
Do you remember the tragic story of Nadab and Abihu from the book of Leviticus? God gave Moses and Aaron very specific instructions about how he was to be worshiped. Aaron was commanded to use fire from the bronze altar to burn incense before the Lord in the tabernacle. Both the altar and the incense were ceremonially prepared for this purpose. God was explicit in his instructions, but Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, ignored him. The men decided that one means of worship was just as good as another and they used “strange” or “unauthorized” fire that did not come from the bronze altar. God responded by issuing his own fire upon Nadab and Abihu, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:2). What is the moral of the story? God cares how we worship Him, not just that we worship him (see also Matt. 5:23–26; 15:1–9; Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor. 14:27–33). This is an important principle that we must hold close as we consider our Sunday morning methods.
It is possible, however, to misread this lesson from Nadab and Abihu. The reformer, Martin Luther, before he discovered the doctrines of grace, was paralyzed with fear while conducting worship services in the Catholic church. He was terrified that he might do something wrong in the ceremony and invoke God’s wrath. His anxiety was contrary to passages like Heb. 4:15–16 that say in Christ we have confidence in our worship. While we should always approach God with great humility and even a proper sense of fear (Prov. 1:7), it is the perfect work of Christ on our behalf that allows us to worship without fear of retribution.
So, what do we do? Do allow fear to paralyze us in worship? Absolutely not, for that would give our emotions higher authority than God’s Word (which commands us to draw near in Christ). Are we free then to worship God in whatever way best pleases us? Absolutely not, for that is akin to us dictating to God how he is to be worshiped. Thankfully, the New Testament gives us a blueprint to sort all this out, a guide to worship in a way that honors God and frees us to boldly approach his throne of grace. When we gather as a body, we sing (Col. 3:16), we pray (Matt. 21:13), we give (1 Cor. 16:1–2), we hear Scripture read and preached (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2), and we observe baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23–26). That’s it, simple, meaningful, biblical, God-honoring worship, nothing to add, nothing to take away. May we understand this great principle of worship and may God be glorified through Eastern Hills for many, many years to come!