Playing with God in Worship (Daniel R. Hyde)
In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “The Forgotten God: Divine Attributes We Are Ashamed Of and Why We Shouldn’t Be,” Daniel R. Hyde has contributed a column called, “Playing with God in Worship.” Hyde is Pastor of Oceanside URC in Oceanside, CA. He has written numerous books to help people of all backgrounds grow in the knowledge of Christ, including God in Our Midst (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012). For a complete list of his titles, please look here.
No culture in the history of humanity has been so defined by games, sports, and recreation as ours. The sports industry in America is a $400+ billion dollar industry, the video game industry is a $50+ billion dollar industry, and the casino industry is a $30+ billion dollar industry. To cite Loverboy, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” We talk about weekend warriors. The motto is thrown around: “work hard, play harder.” We like to play as a culture. All this playing has taken a toll on how we view God. I thought I had seen it all with churches turning to glitz and glam, and then I recently saw a man standing on the street in front of a church with a sign, spinning it around and pointing those passing by into the parking lot. God is no longer a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) but a product we consume.
In Leviticus 10:1–7 we read about two ancient priests playing with God at the altar of burnt offering in the tabernacle. In this account we have a stern exhortation and warning to the people of God about what true worship of the one true, holy God must be.
Strange Fire: The Selfishness of Man
The first thing God teaches us about true worship is what it is not. It is not rooted in the selfishness of man. The text immediately strikes us by focusing on Nadab and Abihu (v. 1), and the focus is upon what they brought to the Lord: “each took his censer” (v. 1). Their offerings were rooted in their own desire. Right from the outset there is an obvious point of application: worship is not about you. In fact, whenever we make worship about what we want, bad things happen. If you think divine worship can be improved, show it from Scripture. Don’t tell your pastor you don’t like it, or that you want something else. What’s wrong with such statements? They’re all focused on the selfishness of self.
Nadab and Abihu’s selfishness is seen in what they brought “before the Lord” (v. 1): they brought “unauthorized” or “strange fire” (’esh zarah; v. 1). What was so strange about it? Look in your Bible; it’s right there: “which [the Lord] had not commanded them” (v. 1). That doesn’t sound right, does it? They are ordained priests. They took the censer the Lord prescribed. They used the incense in the tabernacle’s courtyard, which must have been the same incense the Lord prescribed. So what was so “unauthorized” about it? …
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Looking back on the first half of the twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr famously described liberal Christianity’s understanding of the gospel like this: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Such a mentality has had its influence and still does today. There are certain Bible stories that you just don’t talk about, not even in church. For many people today, Bible stories having to do with divine wrath, anger, or jealousy are embarrassing. And yet, no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel, it is nearly impossible to get through a book (sometimes a chapter!) of the Bible without coming face to face with these forgotten attributes of God. In a culture that capitalizes on tolerance and love, a focus on divine judgment is considered harsh, even primitive. Gordon Rupp’s words still speak today when he said, “What it means to feel oneself under the Wrath of God is something that modern man can hardly understand.”
Though unpopular to do so, this issue of Credo Magazine aims to make you, the modern reader, feel the weight of these biblical attributes of God. They are forgotten attributes of God, no doubt about it. But our desire is that by the end of this issue you will see just how important these attributes are to the story of redemption and for knowing God in a saving way. As has often been said, it is impossible to relish the grace of God in the cross of Christ unless you first understand the condemnation you sit under as a rebel.
Contributors include Bruce Ware, David Murray, Erik Thoennes, Matthew Barrett, Fred Zaspel, Daniel Hyde, Cornelius Tolsma, Jessalyn Hutto, Michael A.G. Haykin, and many others.