Friday, June 22, 2007


The Altar of Incense … Worship

Our approach to worship is undoubtedly the most important issue facing churches today.
One writer says “Six new highly flawed styles of worship may be observed, often all mixed together.
There is personal pleasure worship, which puts the worshipper’s enjoyment in first place, rather than God’s desire.
There is worldly idiom worship which borrows from the current entertainment music of the world with its rhythms, instruments, actions and show biz presentations heedless of all the Bible’s warnings about loving the world.
There us aesthetic worship, which imagines that orchestras,, bands and instrumental solos are real expressions of worship, as if God is worshipped through these things, whereas Christ said “God is a Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
There is ecstatic worship in which people work themselves into highly emotional and even semi hypnotic states, whereas Scripture says that we must always pray and sing with the understanding./ There is shallow worship which reduces hymns to choruses conveying one or two elementary ideas, because solid spiritual themes are not wanted.
There is informal worship, in which casual jokey trivia injecting leaders turn churches into sitting rooms, so depriving the Lord of dignity, reverence grandeur and glory.
It is as though evangelical churches have caught six viruses at the same time. How can churches keep themselves unspotted from the world, if the world has overtaken the worship? “
Worship In The Melting Pot, by Peter Masters, Wakeman Press. Pg 10.

As we have discussed in earlier messages, the holy place of the Tabernacle has a correspondence to the soul of man within him.
Man is made up of body, soul and spirit. 1 Thess 5: 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before you became a Christian you were spiritually dead towards God. But now that you have been made spiritually alive towards God, our souls need to be sanctified.
The description of the sanctification of the soul is set forth in the description of the furnishings of the Holy Place in the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
We have discussed the importance of the golden lampstand.
We have seen how it corresponds to John 8: 12 Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”
We must remember that our souls need enlightenment and perspective to understand things from an eternal perspective We must bring the Lord as light into our souls each day.
Psa 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.
We have discussed the importance of the Table of shewbread. And how it corresponds to John 6:35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.
We must remember that our souls have needs, and all those needs are met in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not seek fulfillment or satisfaction of our fleshly desires anywhere else but in Christ. When our souls have deep needs for companionship, for sustaining we must seek the Lord.
Tonight we shall be encouraged by studying the altar of Incense which speaks to us of prayer and worship.
We have struggles in our souls with temptation. The flesh wars against the Spirit there.
1Peter 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul
We have found that the three furnishings of the Holy Place correspond to the three areas in which our souls are tempted.
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.
The lust of the flesh…. Corresponds with the table of shewbread. If we focus on Christ as the One who meets our deepst needs, then lusts of the flesh lose their power.
The lusts of the eyes, if we focus on Christ we gain a true perspective to life and are enlightened.
The boastful pride of life. As we focus on true prayer and true worship, the pride on our own achievements and effort is nullified.
The Altar of Incense was a hollow box-like structure 1 cubit square and two cubits high. It was constructed out of Acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold on the sides and the top.
There were horns on this altar, which we assume to have been 4 in number, though this is not specified. These were also overlaid with gold. It had a golden crown on the top - a rim or a wreathen border so that the fire on it would not fall to the ground. Fire from the Brazen Altar burned upon the golden grate of the Altar of Incense, Lev. 16:12, and every morning and evening the priest burnt sweet incense upon the fire. once a year on the Day of Atonement fire from this Golden Altar was taken in a Golden Censer (Heb. 9:4) into the Most Holy Place and incense was burnt before the Lord, Lev. 16:12.
The alter of incense helps us to understand what true worship of God is all about.
However, in these days, there is much that could and should be called fleshly or soulish worship.
Have you ever wondered why the reformation opposed much of Catholic worship styles in the 16th century? The reformation was a reformation in worship in many ways.
Catholicism had become ornate and Aesthetic in its worship practices. Images, processions, soaring naves, stained glass windows, costly and colourful robes, rich music Gregorian chants has strong appeal to the soulish nature of man. It speaks to our desire for aesthetics. It encourages our pride in what we can offer God.
The spiritual giants of the reformation turned back to the Bible, unitedly embracing the principle that true worship is intelligent scriptural words whether thought or sung, winged by faith to the ear of the Lord.
1689 London Baptist Confession of faith.
Worship 1. The light of nature shows that there is a God Who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is just and good, and Who does good to all. Therefore He is to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God has been instituted by Himself, and therefore our method of worship is limited by His own revealed will. He may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan. He may not be worshipped by way of visible representations, or by any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.

Justin Martyr wrote his description of early Christian worship: Justin Martyr’s Apologia (c. A.D. 150) Notice its simplicity and its focus on the Word of God: Worship in truth!
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who cares for the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.
What Are The Characteristics of Spiritual Worship Described By the Altar of Incense?
The Incense was comprised of 4 elements which were used in equal amounts and carefully blended together. A harmony of various things is necessary to produce worship pleasing unto God.
(i) Stacte, an aromatic gum obtained from a shrub which grew in the mountains of Gilead. Stacte means to "drop of distil".
(ii) Onycha was a shellfish found in the Red Sea which used to feed on the stems of fragrant plants at the waters edge and thus itself become saturated with perfume. The shell was finely ground to make a fragrant spice. A life which feeds on the Lord Jesus, will have the necessary fragrance to adequately worship the Lord. The crushing work of humility is a further indispensible requirement or the ministry of worship.
(iii) Goldbanum was collected from a large shrub which grew in the mountains of Syria. It was said to have insecticidal properties. This gum flowed whenever part of the plant was broken. This speaks to us of the necessity to have a broken and contrite attitude to maintain true worship. This in itself will keep at bay the spiritual insects of pride and self sufficiency and complacency.
(iv) Frankincense was obtained by making a incision in the bark of a rare Arabian tree at evening. overnight the precious gum oozed out. In the morning the hard white substance was collected and beaten into a useable form.
The fragrance which was produced on the Golden Altar was pleasant to God. It was for God's benefit and not for the priest's that this incense was burned. Even Jesus offered Himself to the Father for a "sweetsmelling savour" EPH. 5:2 and we ourselves are said to be a sweet savour of Christ unto God. 2 COR. 2:15 - We exist for His pleasure. We are His people He has made us and not we ourselves. PS. 100.
It was the fire which produced the fragrance. There was a certain odour in the 4 elements before they were burnt hut this did not compare to the overpowering fragrance released by the burning process. This is typical of the fire of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to have a life which is a sweet savour unto God. 2 COR. 2:15.
This Altar was the furnishing nearest to God's actual presence than any other. REV. 8:3 speaks of it as being "before the throne". EX. 40:5 declares that the Altar of Incense was to be "set before the Ark of the Testimony". This again shows the unique relationship between this worshipping the Lord and His actual presence. He is known in worship in a way that He can never be known through other facets of Christian privilege or service.
John 4:21 Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The Samaritans were fervent in their belief that worship should not be offered in the temple in Jerusalem, but rather on Mt Gerizim. They were strong on this because, as a mixed race between the remnants of the tribes of Israel and the Philistines and other races, they wre unacceptable to the Temple worship. The Lord was saying that worship must be in truth. It must be worship prescribed by God. And it must also be in Spirit. It mustn’t be carnal or fleshly in its make up.

What are the characteristics of mere fleshly worship?
Lev 10: 1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them [to do]. 2 Then flames leaped from the Lord’s presence and burned them to death before the Lord. 3 So Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when He said: I will show My holiness to those who are near Me, and I will reveal My glory before all the people.” But Aaron remained silent.

Peter Masters writes “Contemporary worship involves ecstatic worship, as opposed to 'spirit and truth' worship. The latter requires that Christians pray and sing with the understanding. 'Ecstatic', by contrast, has to do with using earthly techniques to stir the emotions and produce an exalted state of feeling.
Ecstatic worship takes place when the object of the exercise is to achieve a warm, happy feeling, even great excitement, through the earthly, physical aspects of worship, such as the songs and music. Among charismatics this is eagerly pursued, the programme being carefully engineered to bring worshippers to a high emotional pitch, and often to a mildly hypnotic state. In non-charismatic circles the objective is more modest, but essentially the same – to make an emotional impact.
We do not accuse the advocates of new worship unfairly, because they say it themselves in their books and worship guides. The upbeat opening 'number' will (they say) have such-and-such an effect upon worshippers, and then the music should take this or that direction to maintain the mood, and after that move on to another tempo, volume and key. Instruments, arrangements, chords and beat should be woven into a pattern that will bend and sway the feelings of the people to maximise their worship.
Often, tremendous musical expertise goes into the 'production' of a service. But it must be realised that any attempt to make a direct impression on the emotions by the use of music or any other earthly tool, is ecstatic worship as opposed to spiritual worship. The latter does not seek to manipulate the feelings by earthly techniques, but derives its joy from sincere spiritual appreciation of the Lord, of His words, and of the great doctrines of the faith.
Of course, music (and instrumental accompaniment) is permitted by the Lord, but it is not to be deliberately deployed as a means of arousing feelings. 'Feelings' in worship should be our response to things we understand and appreciate in our minds.
As we have already noted, worship is words, whether thought, said or sung, and it is only as we are moved primarily by these, and by a view of the Lord and His work, that we have genuine and legitimate spiritual feelings. Emotions fanned into flames only by sentimental or stirring music may be enjoyable feelings at a purely human level, but they are not worship.
The same goes for all artificially generated feelings. If a preacher moves people to weeping by telling 'tear-jerkers', their sense of need for God or their repentance will be nothing more than short-lived emotionalism. If, however, the people understand their need through hearing the Word (which is surely moving enough), their conviction and repentance will be genuine and lasting.
Music cannot move the soul, only the emotions. Valid worship starts in the mind, or understanding. If it bypasses the understanding, it is not true worship. If it is aided by 'external' things, such as skilful and emotionally moving playing of bands and orchestras, it is compromised.
Such worship reminds us of the Israelites who wanted to supplement manna with other foods. Today many say to God (in effect) – 'You are not enough; I need loud or rhythmic music in addition, to excite me.'
Every element of worship must be understood, to be valid. We are spiritually moved, not by melody, beauty or spectacle, but by what we understand.
'Worship,' says Puritan Stephen Charnock, 'is an act of the understanding applying itself to the knowledge of the excellency of God . . . It is also an act of the will, whereby the soul adores and reverences His majesty, is ravished with His amiableness, embraceth His goodness, enters itself into intimate communion with this most lovely object, and pitcheth all its affections upon Him' (Works, 1.298). The latter engagement of mind and soul can only follow the initial stirring up of the understanding.
We repeat yet again that in Christian worship we have the privilege of many beautiful tunes, and we are allowed to sing with accompaniment, but these must be kept within reasonable bounds, so that we never depend on them to contribute heavily to our feelings. The new worship, however, is all about music and song being used in such a way that there is a direct influence upon the feelings.
The new worship sets out to stir emotions externally and artificially. It is all so like Catholicism in this respect. Their worship, we have seen, is an aesthetic offering. It is also ecstatic, designed to engage and satisfy the emotions. It is true that the theatricalism of Catholic tradition is different from contemporary worship in some ways. It bombards the senses with smells and bells, processions, chants and so on. The old Latin mass was not about understanding but making an impression on the senses. Touching requiems were composed to move people emotionally.
The mystery plays of Rome were calculated to appeal to and move the feelings. The medium was considered to be more enjoyable and emotionally effective than the message, and we are back to this in present-day evangelicalism. Contemporary Christian worship shares the same theatrical and earthly aims as Rome.
Today, leading pastors encourage worship procedures designed to move, please, uplift and entertain. Sincere thoughts and words, and views of the Lord and His Word are simply not enough.
A word must be said about the extreme manifestation of ecstatic worship, which really amounts to mystical worship. This happens when the emotional impact of music and song is intended to assist the impression of a 'direct touch' of God, or an extraordinary sense of union with Him.
In true mysticism this is sought by such techniques as contemplation and of endlessly repeating thoughts. In charismatic worship it is worked up by powerful musical manipulation, the participants swaying with closed eyes, upturned faces and outstretched hands, yielding themselves wholly into the influence of the words and music.
Words of their choruses and hymns often claim a direct touch with the Lord, or a strong sense of His surrounding arms. Instead of approaching God by faith, and reflecting on His sure Truth and His wonderful work, such worshippers seek a direct mystical impression of God's presence. Mystical worship represents the extreme flank of ecstatic worship, but it now has an immense following around the world. The understanding is unfruitful, but this hardly matters. Spirit and truth are outmoded. Artificially induced feelings are king.
Is mystical worship coming into non-charismatic circles? The alarming answer is that it is firmly established.”

Seeker sensitive” service: focus on experiences designed to entice “seekers”… use of multi-media “images” designed to stimulate emotions, less authoritative “communication” techniques, dialogue, dance, rock music
“Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching retreats a host of entertaining innovations will take its place. Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. … Music fills the space in most evangelical worship, and much of this music comes in the form of contemporary choruses marked by precious little theological content. Beyond the popularity of the chorus as a musical form, many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations…. An incredible attention to detail marks many of these services, with transitions and modulations carefully premeditated so that the worship experience moves smoothly from one segment to the next—just like on television.” R. Albert Mohler, “Expository Preaching: The Center of Christian Worship.”
Contemporary worship is fully aesthetic in purpose and practice. God is the audience and worshippers are performers. Skilful instrumentalism is part of the offering of worship. At the dawn if world history Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord because it was the very act God had commanded – a humble offering representing the need for atonement. Cain’s offering, however was rejected, because it presented his own skill, labour and artistry. It was a works offering. To parade before God our skills as an act of worship us surely nearer to the offering of cain than that of Abel.
Christians who have begun to savour new worship sometimes ask – “But what shall we do with our gifts if we cannot express them in worship?” Here is the heart of the matter. Worship is not the exercise of our gifts but the exercise of our minds and hearts. For many people this is the lost genius of worship, the principle that has disappeared from sight – that worship is not the presentation to God of skill or beauty , or of personal gifts, but the communication of the soul with God, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ alone and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Kent Hughes, who is Senior Pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, has written perceptively on this issue. Hughes put it this way: "The unspoken but increasingly common assumption of today's Christendom is that worship is primarily for us--to meet our needs. Such worship services are entertainment focused, and the worshipers are uncommitted spectators who are silently grading the performance. From this perspective preaching becomes a homiletics of consensus--preaching to felt needs--man's conscious agenda instead of God's. Such preaching is always topical and never textual. Biblical information is minimized, and the sermons are short and full of stories. Anything and everything that is suspected of making the marginal attender uncomfortable is removed from the service….Taken to the nth degree, this philosophy instills a tragic selfcenteredness. That is, everything is judged by how it affects man. This terribly corrupts one's theology."
A. W. Tozer said some decades ago: "We have the breezy, self-confident Christians with little affinity for Christ and His cross. We have the joy-bell boys that can bounce out there and look as much like a game show host as possible. Yet, they are doing it for Jesus' sake?! The hypocrites! They're not doing it for Jesus' sake at all; they are doing it in their own carnal flesh and are using the church as a theater because they haven't yet reached the place where the legitimate theater would take them.
Tozer takes his argument further: "It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend the meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God's professed children are bored with Him for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments."
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life and even brought into being a new type of church architecture designed to house the golden calf. So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped candy technique has so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of teachings of Christ and His apostles. Any objection to the carryings-on of our present gold calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, "But we are winning them." And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world's treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total commitment to Christ?
Os Guinness is "spot on" when saying "[we have seen a change] from the emphasis on 'serving God', to an emphasis on 'serving the self' in serving God." The object of faith is no longer Christ, but our self-esteem; the goal of faith is no longer holiness, but our happiness; and the source of our faith is no longer the Scriptures, but our experience. Christian music currently reflects this. We are producing a generation of people that "feel" their God, but do not know their God.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, wrote, "Any teaching...that starts with us and our needs, rather than the glory of God, is unscriptural, and seriously unscriptural. That subjective approach… is what has led many astray for so many years."
John Calvin said: “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word … But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course?” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church, p. 7)

Would you rather have in your life what man can achieve through manipulation of the emotions and will in worship? Or would you rather see God Himself at work as your soul comes to complete dependence upon Him?
Revelation 8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them. 3 Another angel, with a gold incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand. 5 The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were thunders, rumblings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

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