We do not have to worship after the manner of Nehemiah and Ezra; synagogue worship does not govern our practice today. So join with me in learning from the past. Join with me in honoring the past. Let us not throw away our ancient roots, but at the same time, let us not be bound by the extra-biblical regulations of our fathers that some well-intentioned friends present as the “Doctrine of God.”
As I was driving my family to school this morning and listening to the radio, I heard a certain monologue about shampooing regulations in the state of Tennessee. I thought it was a bit humorous. My interest was piqued. Consequently, upon arriving at the coffee shop, I logged on to the internet. The following is what I discovered:
Description: A person who brushes, combs, shampoos, rinses and conditions upon the hair and scalp.
Licensing Requirement: Be at least sixteen years of age and satisfy education and examination requirements.
Education Requirements: Satisfactory completion of a course of instruction of not less than 300 hours in the practice and theory of shampooing at a school of cosmetology.
Examination Requirements: A written and practical examination is required.
Renewal Requirements: Renewal notices mailed approximately one month prior to renewal date. Licensee required to submit renewal notice with required fee, if applicable, due by expiration date on license.
Personally, it was around the age of three when I learned how to use shampoo. That means, for approximately forty-three years I have been applying, massaging, rinsing and repeating. And not only have I washed my own hair, but on a few occasions I have washed the hair of my wife, my young children, and my black lab.
However, as of this moment, I am now struck with horror. What have I done? What if, for all these years, I have been washing hair wrongly? What damage have I caused? Whose life have I impacted in a negative way? And more importantly, because I desire to be excellent and wish to be properly licensed, where can I go in the state of South Carolina to become properly tutored in the art of shampoo application? Oh dear friends, I am beside myself. I don’t know which cosmetology school will give me the best training. I don’t know where I am going to go to find the extra money needed to pay for my schooling. Then there is the matter of time; I don’t know how I am going to find the extra 300 hours needed to learn this trade. However, one thing I do know, I surely can’t carry on as usual now that I know that I am an unregulated washer of hair.
OK, that former paragraph was filled with over-the-top sarcasm. I am really not concerned about what others think regarding my shampooing capabilities. However, as I heard the news commentator wax eloquent about unnecessary regulations in the state, I couldn’t help but think of all the unnecessary regulations in the church — at least those that I have faced in churches throughout my ministry. For almost 18 years, I have had to wrestle with the following questions:
- Does God care about theater seats, stackable chairs, or pews?
- What is God’s preference in regards to instrumentation? Are the the organ or piano more excellent and preferable than the guitar and drum?
- What about the songs people sing? Are uninspired older songs that we call hymns more holy than uninspired new songs that someday might be called hymns? Some would have us only sing psalms.
- Are women and men who sing from the choir loft more preferable to God than men and women who sing from the stage? In God’s eyes, is a choir more sacred than a praise team?
- What sort of bowing, kneeling, hand-raising, clapping, and bouncing is allowable in the presence of God? Exactly when does responding with tears or dance become too emotional?
- How ought water be applied to worshiping folk? This is an especially problematic question when sprinkling, pouring, and dunking can be found throughout the pages of sacred scripture.
- Should believers be concerned over the amount of fermentation found in the fruit of the vine or leaven found in the bread?
- Where would one go in Scripture to find the discussion of how the communion elements must be properly covered?
- Are all good sermons delivered in the same manner? Does God prefer robed men, suited men, or less formal men? Does God love the wooden pulpit? Does plexiglass really prove the compromising minister? Should the faithful church disapprove of the man delivering his sermon from a seated position? What would we say to Jesus who often sat while those who listened stood?
- Why can some appreciate air-conditioning technology, lighting technology, audio technology, but then look at visual technology as a step down the slippery slope of sin?
- Before the worship of God, ought men and women come together in quiet, meditative, somber silence, or should the worship service of God be preceded by festive communion between worshiping friends?
- Ought generous New-Covenant worshipers to make a big deal of the percentage and the plate in financial giving?
- Who was it in the Presbyterian tradition that declared a young man could be licensed to preach, deliver his sermon, but then not be able to declare the benediction from Jesus to those who just received his message?
- Must the pulpit be centrally located in order for the Word of God to be rightly honored?
Some will read this list and be confused. They have never been in an ecclesiastical group asking such questions. To them, I would say, “Just keep worshiping the Lord according to the sweet instruction found in the Word of God and enjoy your liberty.” His Word and his Spirit are all you need to direct you rightly. Do not concern yourselves with the unnecessary worship regulations that come from your more legalistic neighbors. Worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth and let the Bible alone (Sola-Scriptura) regulate your attitude and activity.
Some will read this list and be angry. To them, I have made light of God’s worship. They are wrong; they could not be farther from the truth. I, too, desire to please God more than man. I too desire to obey his decrees. I too think he knows best how he would have us worship him. Sure, there are many who think too lightly of worship. Yes, there are some who violate the principles of God in worship. I am not saying that anything goes; my Bible is full of stories of good-hearted individuals who are judged or disciplined due to their failure to take God’s commands seriously. I would just merely ask them to not confuse the “Traditions of Man” with the “Doctrines of God.” I am not even asking them to let go of their traditions. Some love the worship style passed down from Jerusalem, to Rome, to Geneva, to Scotland, to Westminster Abby, and to our Scots-Irish fathers in the South. But again, allow them to prefer and pass along their traditions without pretending they come from the sacred text.
Some will read this list and say, “Amen.” Like me, they have come to the biblical conclusion that God does not require them to corporately worship after the manner of Moses at Sinai. Like me, they have learned principles from the Ceremonial Law, but have left subscription to it far behind. Like me, they have learned to use David’s inspired psalms and man’s uninspired hymns, but they have not limited themselves to old songs. Friends, we do not have to worship after the manner of Nehemiah and Ezra; synagogue worship does not govern our practice today. So join with me in learning from the past. Join with me in honoring the past. Let us not throw away our ancient roots, but at the same time, let us not be bound by the extra-biblical regulations of our fathers that some well-intentioned friends present as the “Doctrine of God.”
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.
[Editor’s note: One or more original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid; those links have been removed.]