At the end of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, the writer makes a very important statement about worship. In the chapter, he had already pointed out that the readers had been welcomed to draw near to God—unlike what happened at Mt. Sinai where they trembled in fear. Unlike that scene, according to the writer of Hebrews:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).
At the end of this section on the Kingdom that will not be shaken—the writer to the Hebrews writes:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).
This is not only a powerful statement that deserves our attention, but it’s a sobering and enlightening statement that demands our obedience. As it pertains to worship, many people approach the idea as if anything goes. When churches embrace the anything goes attitude toward worship, the sky is the limit as to the different stylistic effects, creativity, and imagination that will be woven into the weekly worship service. Sometimes that includes smoke machines and fancy lighting effects, but for others that remains far too boring. Still others want to press the limits even further to include indoor fireworks, flying drones, and and stage plays which crowd out the sermon.
As it pertains to how we worship God and why we design our services in a specific way—does God really care? Is it really that important that our worship services be designed in a specific manner? Who makes that decision? Does the Bible say anything about such choices? The answer to those questions are certainly addressed by Hebrews 12:28-29.
In Hebrews 12:28, the key word is “acceptable” and we must not overlook it. The term “εὐαρέστως” which is translated acceptable means “in an acceptable manner.” Therefore, it’s clear that there is a such thing as unacceptable worship and for that very reason, we must reject the idea that anything goes when it comes to the way we approach God in worship. So, where do we go from this point to find the boundaries and to understand what is and isn’t acceptable?
We must read the Bible and learn what God accepts and what God rejects as it pertains to worship. Just as we don’t have a book and a chapter in the Bible that provides for us a systematic explanation of the Trinity—we derive the foundational Christian doctrine from the whole of Scripture. As it pertains to how we should worship God—we must derive such knowledge from the Scriptures. As we read in the Old Testament, we find that the Ark of the Covenant was to be transported in a specific manner and there were specific people who were given the charge to oversee the process. However, when Uzza was put in a position that he did not belong—he then touched the Ark when it was falling from the Ox and God struck him down (2 Samuel 6:7).
As we read in the New Testament, we find a similar story as it pertains to the couple—Ananias and his wife Sapphira. According to Acts 5, they lied to the Holy Spirit (and to the church) about a property they were selling and giving the proceeds to the Lord. God struck them down as well and fear came upon the whole congregation. Another example of such perverted worship is found in 1 Corinthians 11 as Paul addressed the church in Corinth about members of their church who had become sick and even died for how they had perverted the Lord’s Supper.
All through the Scriptures, it’s plain and obvious that God cares about how we worship him. If the angels who have never sinned fly around the throne room of God with a set of wings that are used to shield their faces from the burning holiness of God—it would seem clear from Hebrews 12:29 that we must be cautious as to how we approach God in worship. Offering up strange fire to God was not permissible in days past (Lev. 10), and it’s still not permissible in our present day.
When churches are seeking to market themselves to their community as being the casual church—what exactly are they communicating about God? Are the angels of Isaiah 6 casually approaching the throne of God as they cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy” unto the LORD? While we must reject the legalistic form of religion, there is likewise a need to avoid the other ditch of ultra casual worship that has become so popular in our day. God is holy, we are not holy, and he deserves our worship which must be offered up in spirit and truth for his glory. Our pursuit of God must be an acceptable pursuit, for God is a consuming fire.