A Question about Worship Rules

I received a note in the question box concerning something seen on a social media post. The post was a quote from Rumi (a thirteenth-century Islamic teacher), that said “There are no rules of worship. He will hear the voice of every heart that is sincere.” The question is this: What scriptures would you use to either confirm or refute the first sentence?

I’d first say that Rumi’s second sentence refutes his first sentence, for in saying that God will hear only the sincere, Rumi established sincerity as a rule of worship, thus refuting his own belief about worship. The questioner asked for scriptures to either refute or confirm the first sentence: “There are no rules of worship”, and this I will do, but I’d also like to give attention to the second sentence, concerning sincerity, for the Bible’s use of the word “sincere” is not what most people expect.

I suppose we should begin at the beginning of time, with the worship example of Cain and Abel. Abel’s worship was accepted, but Cain’s was not. Genesis 4:5 explains that God did “not respect” Cain’s worship. The Hebrew words are sha’ah lo’ which is defined as: “to not look at, regard, or gaze upon; even to turn away from.” It appears that from the beginning God had rules for worship, but someone may object by saying that Cain wasn’t sincere and this is why his worship was rejected. This may seem plausible for now, but if we keep reading we will hear God say to Cain “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” In Hebrew, “do well” is yatab with the hiphil stem, meaning “to do thoroughly; to do right.” It wasn’t merely a problem of sincerity, it was Cain not following the rules. The New Testament further confirms this, stating that Cain’s “works were evil” (1 John 3:12). Hebrews 11:4 explains that Abel’s offering was done by faith, and “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Therefore, Abel’s worship was a direct response to hearing God’s word, while Cain’s worship disregarded God’s word (God’s rules) concerning worship.

In John 4:23, Jesus said to the woman at the well that “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” So, there is such a thing as “true worshipers”, but is sincerity the dividing line between true and untrue worshipers? According to Jesus, “truth” is a division between the true worshiper and the false worshiper. Later, Jesus said to the Father: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). God’s word is truth, so a true worshiper will worship according to the truth found in God’s word.

Even the Jews in the first century recognized that worship should be done according to “the law”, for they accused Paul of persuading men “to worship God contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:13).

King Saul is a good example to consider for this subject, for I don’t think that anyone would doubt Saul’s sincerity of worship in 1 Samuel 15. For, when Samuel approached him, Saul said, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” And Saul had every appearance of sincerity in his worship, saving the best sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord. However, God’s opinion of Saul’s actions is that Saul “has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” (v.11). Samuel calls Saul’s actions “rebellion” (v.23). And even Saul testified afterward that he had sinned (v.24). Clearly, sincerity is not the only rule of worship.

Mark 7:6-8 is another scripture that comes to my mind concerning whether there are rules for worship:

“He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.  (7)  AND IN VAIN THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.’  (8)  For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

In the text above, Jesus indicts the Pharisees for their vain (fruitless, unsuccessful) worship. I suppose that those who accept the Rumi quote would say that it was due to a lack of sincerity. But Jesus stated that they were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” and “rejecting the commandments of God”. Could sincerity be the problem? It certainly could be one of the problems here, but Jesus emphasized the foundational issue, which was their laying aside of God’s instructions concerning worship.

We can be the sincerest worshiper on earth, but according to the apostle John, if we are not abiding in the doctrine of Christ, we have no relationship with God: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9).


A Word on Sincerity

The New Testament’s word for “sincere” is the Greek word heilikrines. The word refers to being judged by sunlight. The meaning of the word is “to be found pure after being fully exposed and examined by the light.” So, sincerity from a biblical standpoint is not a feeling or emotion of the heart, it is something that can be quantified in the contents of God’s law. We can only be identified as “sincere” when our behavior is judged against the light of God’s word and found approved. This is a good thing, for if God has taught us that religion is not based on a feeling of sincerity, but on direct instruction of God, then we can have confidence in our religion when we do what God has prescribed. This saves us other heartaches, too, for example, we can stop the so-called “sincere” person who wants to worship by burning his children with fire because we have rules from God that do not allow for that kind of activity, no matter how sincere one feels about it.

Article by Tanner Campbell