Are We Free to "Pick and Choose"
How We Want to Worship God?
by Ken Gardner

A denominational preacher in Virginia says, yes, we are free to "pick and choose" how we want to worship God. But is that what the Bible teaches? Does it matter how we worship God? Are we free to worship our Lord any way we choose? Does God have a say in how we should worship Him? Would it be all right for us to worship God by sacrificing animals today? Most people today, including this Virginia minister, seem to be under the impression that God will accept just about any kind of worship we decide to offer Him. As long as we are sincere and our worship is not morally wrong or flagrantly offensive to most people, then it must be OK with God. In other words, as long as we like it, God must like it, too. If there's something I like or am good at, such as playing a musical instrument, burning incense, dancing, acting, dribbling a basketball, then I can decide that it is my worship to God, and surely God will accept it.

Now if God has said, "I don't care how you worship Me, as long as it's done in sincerity," then that's one thing. But if God has told us how to worship Him and how not to worship Him, then don't you think we should do what He says? Shouldn't we at least do some investigation to see if God wants us to worship Him in a certain way?

The fact of the matter is, God has indeed given us some instructions on how to worship Him, and He expects us to follow them. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) learned that the hard way. Cain thought it didn't matter how you worship, but he found out he was wrong. According to Matthew 15, it's entirely possible for our worship to be completely worthless. The worship offered by the Pharisees of Jesus' day was "in vain" (and it wasn't worthless because they were insincere, although they certainly were hypocrites). No, their worship was unacceptable to God because they were "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." Likewise, the people of Athens worshipped God "ignorantly" (Acts 17). Would this Virginia preacher, or anyone else, for that matter, like to defend "ignorant" worship? Jesus said that "true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth." God "seeks" such "true" worshippers to worship Him. In fact, Jesus said we "must" worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). Obviously, then, how we worship God is extremely important, and we must worship God as God directs.

Unfortunately, however, most people feel they can worship God as they, not God, see fit. This denominational preacher in Virginia, for example, made the news when he and the members of his congregation began adopting some of the worship practices of the Catholic Church. They had an "Ash Wednesday" service, complete with putting ashes on their foreheads. The minister is taking a rather light-hearted approach to entire matter. "To tell you the truth, we didn't do the sign of the cross on the forehead part at first," he said. "That kind of thing tends to freak Baptists out, you know? So we just let them stick their own hands down in the urn the first time and get ashes all over themselves." According to the newspaper "the ashes were really thick and hard to handle that first year." The preacher didn't have any old palm leaves, so he burned a dried-out Christmas tree instead. "'We could do Palm Sunday, but that would open up Holy Week and there you go,' he said, laughing. 'Then my people would really accuse me of being a Baptist-Episcopalian-Roman Catholic. . . . That's the thing about traditions like that. They all seem to be connected and once you use one of them it's hard to know where to stop adding things to the calendar.'"

The minister also explained that his congregation didn't borrow its new worship activities directly from the Catholic and Episcopal churches. No, he and the congregation had been "experimenting." "Sometimes you have to pull some stuff from here and some stuff from there and then give it a shot," he said. "Because I'm a Baptist, I'm free to pick and choose."

Again, are we free to worship God as we choose without any regard for God has said? Can we "experiment," "pick and choose," and just keep "adding things to the calendar"? Can we "pull some stuff" from here and there, and "give it a shot," laughing to ourselves about what might "freak people out"? No, not at all. God is the One being worshipped--let's worship Him as He directs.