In this portion of the law, the Lord gives a stern warning against any Israelite offering sacrifices in ways that were not prescribed. They were to bring their offerings to the priest and he was to offer it in a manner ordained by God.
While the Church is not under these restrictions, because the sacrificial system has been fulfilled in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, there are nevertheless some nuggets of wisdom concerning worship that can be gleaned from these instructions.
First, worship is to be God focused. It may be more convenient for me to offer sacrifices in the fields rather than taking them all the way to the priest, but worship is not about me and my convenience. That should be obvious, but is it so in the Church today? In many services it is apparent that the principle question is “How can we attract more people?” or “What makes me feel good?” The question for the Church should be asking is “What does God require? What honors Him most?”
Second, worship requires humility. All Israelites were the covenant people but that did not give each one carte blanche to do whatever he deemed to be right. The Lord set up a system to see that worship was done decently and in order. It required humility to submit to God’s decrees. I recently read a long discussion on Facebook with a priest being challenged for his defense of the liturgy. He was upholding how the Church had worshipped over the centuries against another priest who has little respect for tradition. The discussion reminded me of a quote. “Isn’t it interesting how the people who are so concerned with what the Spirit is saying to the Church today, don’t seem to care what the Spirit said to the Church yesterday.” The latter priest’s disrespect for tradition betrays his pride. It is another way of saying “Everyone before us got it wrong, but we are the generation that will get it right.” As a priest in the Anglican Communion, I don’t get to make up our worship. I submit to the worship that the Church has determined to be decent and in order. If I want to add or subtract from the prescribed worship of the Church, then I have to seek the Bishop’s permission, because he is the chief liturgist of the Diocese. This protects the Church from my whims and foibles and ensures that the Sacraments are faithfully administered. This does not mean that there is only one prescribed way to worship God but it does mean that those who lead worship should under some form of authority so that they don’t become the focus of worship.
Third, worship is a corporate experience. If I am off by myself offering sacrifices then I can do that on my own time and according to my own agenda and I don’t have to have the inconvenience of dealing with others. With the advantage of cyber worship, I never have to leave my computer. But is that true worship? Jesus went to the synagogue for corporate worship ” as was His custom” (Lk 4:16). The first Christians gathered daily for the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). Important decisions of the Church were made by council, Christ’s Body seeking the mind of the Spirit (Acts 15). This is not to deny the importance of a private devotional life where, as Jesus taught us, we go into our closets and pray (Mt 6:6). But we must never think that private devotions are an adequate substitute for corporate worship. Both are necessary. This should be so evident to us that the term “corporate worship” is understood to be a redundancy.
Fourth, worship should reflect God’s orderliness. Everyone sacrificing as he sees fit is ecclesiastical chaos. There is a right way and a wrong way to worship. That was the point of St. Paul’s correctives to the Church at Corinth. They didn’t get to blast out in tongues just because they felt moved by the Spirit. It could only be done by two or three and they had to have an interpreter (1 Cor 14). The genius of such orderliness is that it keeps emotions in check because subjective emotions are easily confused with the movement of the Spirit. What some may think is a work of the Spirit can instead be quite carnal. All you need do is to turn on the prosperity TV preachers to see how manipulative and chaotic it can be.
All of this indicates to me that there should be a holy fear or reverence when it comes to worship. Our hearts should be prepared, our minds fully focused on the importance of what it is we are doing. Our very bodies are to be offered to God as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). The spirit of the sacrificial regulations is to honor God. If we are dashing into worship at the last minute, getting the service over with and rushing out to beat the Baptists to Shoney’s, then we are missing the big picture. Worship is one of the highest and most sacred acts to which we are called. Therefore we are to take great care to see that it done correctly, and above all, that we make it about Him and not about ourselves. Jesus said that the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). It should be our aim to be those people.