(Quotations, and comments on, are taken from Calvin’s Sermons on Micah, Farley, 2003, P&R).
For Christians of Reformed and Presbyterian conviction, the Genevan Reformed, John Calvin, is held in the highest esteem. His clear theological thinking has guided these believers down through the years, and his church practice is most agreeable to the Word of God.
In the following post, I have collected some opportune quotes from the Reformer with a view to helping Presbyterians better understand where their idea of worship came from, how Calvin crystallised this for them, and what we can learn from the Reformer's biblical teaching.
What Christian Presbyterians always remember is that worshiping and honouring God go together, p.34.
Calvin teaches that mankind is "full of pride and arrogance and cannot suffer anyone to reform them [it]." He continues by asserting that "the church itself is guilty of numerous abominations in the world. For it has become a haven of false pretence, no one daring to open his mouth in order to oppose what he knows to be wrong," p.34.
How apportune this is to today's unfaithful church on earth! The abominations that Calvin identifies include the 'haven of false pretence' in which many within the church engage. It is reminiscent of the Emperor's new clothes syndrome. Everyone knows that the pretence in which the church is willingly engaged is ridiculous and God-dishonouring, but who cares! The pretence in endemic within the churches today, and is seen in the way in which she pretends that all her members are Christians, that all her members are qualified to participate in the Lord's Supper, that all her members are very spiritual people, etc. So far-reaching is this religious pretence that it goes right to the very top of many of these churches, with senior people giving their willing and glad support to those in the membership who 'toe the line,' and do not challenge anything the leadership says! Indeed, many are so scared that they will not open their mouths to oppose what they know to be wrong.
Sadly, it matters not how orthodox any given church might think herself to be, for even the most theologically correct, as they perceive it, can fall into this ecclesiastical pretence, and all in a bid to save 'our church.' But to save 'our church' from what? It appears that this is not a difficult question to answer, for the evidence is everywhere apparent. The church has to be saved from, wait for it, the Gospel. And she has to be saved from those faithful prophets of God who see the Gospel in profoundly personal terms. The offense of the Cross is everywhere felt when the Gospel of God is proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. But because every church claims that all her members are true Christians, when that offense is felt, it is not the people who need help, but the preachers!
In many churches today, including the very evangelical ones, there are within their membership, and even holding office, fornicators, adulterers, liars, trouble-makers, mischievous, busy-bodies, unbelievers, Gospel-haters, God opposers, the disobedient, lazy, thieves, blasphemers, filthy minded, foul mouthed, etc. They are all there!
Yet all the churches will stand by those who have been accepted into their membership, and woe betide anyone, ANYONE, to even suggest otherwise!
Calvin, in this passage, refers to the Catholic church, but his comments are applicable to all who forsake, either wittingly or unwittingly, the revealed ways of God as to how He is to be worshipped. As Calvin teaches, when God condemns Samaria and Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness, not only is Rome included, but so also is so much of 21st century church ‘worship.’ It all stems from the same filthy and poisonous root – departure from God and His revealed will in Scripture.
Let us never assume that departure from God's revealed will in Scripture is anything other than a most serious sin. How lightly the church takes such sin today! How she glosses over what is apparent to everyone else! And to substitute her own fallen notions for the pure Word of God is folly indeed. And it is this very sin that is so evident in all those who have perverted the worship of God. To be guided by the mind of God is all we need, but to seek our guidance from the mind of man is to be eschewed at all costs.
Calvin understands the “high places” in Micah 1:5b as serving as substitutes for worship, p.35. “There was scarcely a nook or cranny that did not house some religious paraphernalia. Everywhere one spoke of worshipping God. But we know what Jeremiah thought of all this. ‘Did God command you to do these things? No! For God does not wish to be worshipped in accordance with human fancy.’” And none of them was commissioned or sanctioned by God! [Jer.6:19-20; 7:21]. Hence, whenever we insist on approaching God in a manner that we find good, we must not suppose that God is required to accept it. For anything that God has not commanded us to do, or has put his stamp of approval upon, results in wages that can be collected only in hell, p.36.
What a stern warning this is to those professing Christians and church leaders who imagine that their ideas are more worthy than what God's mouth says! The arrogance of sinful man to even presume to use the precious Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to silence the Gospel of Christ, is profound, and most worrying. And this did not only happen in Calvin's Geneva, it is happening before our very eyes today, if only we had the discernment to see it. So whatever becomes for us a substitute for worship, especially if it is carried out in the name of worship, is a "high place."
Calvin adds that when Rome sets up shrines and altars to the saints, as when the Jews set up altars to Baalism, they thought they were worshipping God. But they did not realise that God rejected them and condemned their practice, p.36.
The logical conclusion is that if God condemned the Jews for their perverted worship, and the Romans for theirs, how can we expect to escape if we think that God will accept our “human inventions that we use as a means of worshipping God”? “If God has not required such a form or act, he will reject it as an abomination,” (p.36).
Well must the church of today heed this timely and urgent warning. For evangelicals to be involved in "an abomination" is a perilous thing; and sadly, many are thus involved, and do not or can not or will not see it.
“Such abominable worship is a form of idolatry, a sin that is detestable in the sight of God,” p.37. To worship the true God in a false way is really to worship an idol. Is this what modern day evangelicalism within the 'reformed' churches is actually doing? I fear it is. Hence, my constant calls to the church not to offer to God "strange fire," to desist immediately for idolatry, and to stop offering to the living God what is an abomination.
This “leads only to confusion,” and God has promised to destroy them all. “We see the low esteem with which our Lord views all attempts to fashion questionable forms of worship to honouring him,” adding that “humanity abuses the name of God.” “While worshipping their idols, mankind completely reject what the living God himself has ordained. For we cannot invent forms of worship, based on our fantasies, without at the same time inventing a new god." …Would you not agree that [this] “transforms God into something carnal like themselves,” p.37.
Modern churchianity has, in effect, invented a new god, at whose shrine many bow down and worship every Sunday. It is not the God of the Bible they worship, nor is it the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Moses would not recognise this modern god, nor would the prophets, or the apostles, or even the Son of God Himself. The godly men of the Gospel in the early church, the Reformers, the Huguenots, the Puritans, and the early Methodists, both Calvinistic and Arminian, would fail to recognise this modern invention that is worshipped by modern 'hippies.'
“We should not be astonished to discover that God both rejects and condemns all forms of worship invented by mankind.” Why is there no felt presence of the Lord in many services of worship? Why is that hush of God's nearness absent from our services? Why can 21st century worshippers claim to have been in God's presence, then talk about everything and anything when leaving that service? It is because whoever they imagined was there, it was not the God of consuming fire!
And this can only happen when the church departs from the clear word of God for our sanctification. Were the church of today to keep to the true doctrine, then all such inventions would cease, regardless of cost.