There is much debate and discussion among various Christian denominations concerning music during the worship service. If what and how we sing or play is a matter of taste, then it is subjective and there is no room for discussion; everybody is entitled to their own taste.
But the way we worship God is not a matter of personal taste; thus, worship should not be planned according to our own preferences. According to the Bible, God Himself has given instructions to His children about the manner in which He desires to be worshiped. Those instructions should be the basis for our divine ceremonies. This was true for ancient Israel, and this is what the apostle John saw as he looked into the heavenly realms. Was there to be a change between these time periods? Isn’t there an acceptable way to express our reverence to God? God does not change. He expects to be honored and worshiped in the same way as He was honored and worshiped in the past and as He will be worshiped in the new earth as well.
RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LEADERS
Church leaders have always been responsible for planning the order of the divine worship service. God gave the following instructions to Moses: “Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deut. 4:10). And Moses commanded the children of Israel never to forget these words.
The leaders were to consecrate and present God’s people before the Lord as well as to deliver God’s message to them. Unfortunately, today we can no longer stand before the presence of the Lord. Israel had that opportunity, although they were so overcome with fear that they preferred hearing Moses.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.’ And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount” (Exod. 19:10, 11, 17). To come into the presence of God, we must “wash our clothes”; that is, we need to be cleansed. God accepts us as we are, but in His presence there is no sin.
THE TASK OF THE LEVITES
In order for the leaders to fulfill their responsibilities, they needed helpers to carry out the well-organized system of services. This, too, was done according to God’s design as He appointed the Levites for this office. Their task was organized into three divisions: the priests, the gatekeepers, and the musicians. The temple service or worship centered on these three divisions. Thus, the Levites helped the leaders to consecrate God’s people and present them before the Lord. David gave the following detailed instructions: “For by the last words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and above: Because their office was to wait on the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts, and in the chambers, and in the purifying of all holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God . . . to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even; and to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the Sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commended unto them, continually before the Lord; and that they should keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, the charge of the holy place, and the charge of the sons of Aaron their brethren, in the service of the house of the Lord” (1 Chron. 23:27, 28, 30-32).
GOD’S CALL FOR SERVICE
When King Hezekiah wanted to restore the forgotten order of worship and temple ministry, he encouraged the Levites with these words: “My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense” (2 Chron. 29:11). But before that, he pointed out an important step: “And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place” (2 Chron. 29:5).
THE ORDER OF WORSHIP
“And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David, king of Israel. And the entire congregation worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshiped” (2 Chron. 29:26-29).
These verses show us that the worship service is not a performance where the choir performs a beautiful piece and the pastor preaches a wonderful sermon that the audience really enjoys (or if not, they leave the room—to the dismay of the greeters). During the worship service, not only did the choir sing for the people, their song also helped to sanctify them. The priests did not preach but offered sacrifice together with the people. The gatekeepers (greeters) did not socialize with those in the back but maintained order.
THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP
The essence of worship is to sanctify, to consecrate, and to present God’s people before the Lord. It begins with the leaders consecrating themselves to the Lord and is followed by the participants—musicians, singers, pulpit participants, greeters, deacons. Each of these individuals ministers before the people, and together they lift their eyes to the Lord.
“And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly” (2 Chron. 29:36).
Dr. Laszlo Erdelyi is the first elder in Budapest Central Church in Terezvaros, Hungary; Terezvaros is a district of downtown Budapest.