Last week, I pointed out some concepts regarding worship that I have come to reject. One of those is the idea of authorized worship. Thinking of worship as being “authorized” or “unauthorized” goes hand in hand with the Regulative Principle of Worship. One website expresses it this way: “If God has not authorized worship then there is no basis for it. However, if God has authorized worship, then it is to be regulated by His word.”
It was interesting for me to Google “authorized worship.” The first page of results were mostly from churches of Christ or other groups discussing churches of Christ. The last item on the page was a Google Books hit from the Christian Baptist, an article from Alexander Campbell laying out the idea of “authorized” and “unauthorized” worship (This particular article can be read on Dr. Hans Rollman’s site.. (There was also a page from a Seventh Day Adventist magazine, but it wasn’t actually about authorized worship, rather “who authorized Sunday worship?”)
It was also interesting to see that few of these articles actually seek to prove that there is such a thing as “authorized” worship. The Campbell article lays out a negative proof, that is it disproves the idea that “there is not a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies.” Campbell says that if there is no authorized “order,” then nothing done in worship can be considered sinful. Therefore, there must be an authorized order.
Much has been made of Nadab and Abihu’s “strange fire”; for many, that’s one of the strongest examples of why we need to look for authorization in worship. (The example of Uzzah also gets used; interesting that both of these examples are frequently used by those who want to claim the entire Old Testament was nailed to the cross!) I spent a good deal of time with “the boys” a few years ago; feel free to read those articles. (And I’d better mention Eleazar and Ithamar, since I promised not to talk about two of Aaron’s sons without mentioning the other two!)
Other texts are thrown around here and there, but frankly, we use the term “authorized worship” because Campbell did. We inherited it from Restoration Movement leaders; we sure didn’t get the term from the Bible. And I don’t think we got the concept from there, either. It always worries me when we freely and regularly use phrases that the Bible itself doesn’t use. That’s not necessarily wrong (notice that I use the word Bible, a thoroughly unbiblical word), but it should raise caution flags.
Maybe I’m not being fair. Anyone want to stand up in defense of the concept of “authorized worship”? I’m all ears.