The Role of the OT Tabernacle and Temple in NT Worship

A comment Richard made sent me down a thought-tangent which ended by reminding me of a conversation I had a few years back with a friend about art in worship.

My friend was reminding me of how excellent and beautiful was the craftsmanship that went into the materials of the tabernacle and temple.  In light of this, he suggested not simply that our church buildings should be built beautifully, but that this gave warrant for the artists in the congregation to best utilize their talents in worship; i.e., they should be given a venue as part of the worship service to display their paintings, sculptures, clothing-design, fabric work, etc.  To be fair to my friend, this would not be an exhibit, rather these pieces of art would be a part of the worship service.

Though I find myself parting ways sometimes with how he works out what truly is and is not a circumstance according to the regulative principle of worship, Scott Clark has a really great quote regarding the role of the Temple that touches on what my friend was mentioning to me a few years back:

[I]t is ill advised to use the temple as the pattern for Christian worship, for the temple was instituted under Moses as part of the typological system that was temporary by divine intention.  It was at the center of the cultus that Paul describes as “fading” (2 Cor. 3:7-11).  Given the history of Christian worship and the language of the New Testament, it is hard to imagine a compelling reason for us to use the temple as the paradigm for Christian worship.  It is beyond dispute, of course, that the New Testament uses temple imagery to describe the new covenant people (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; 1 Peter 4:14).  It is true that in Christ the temple, Christians are now said to be the temple of God.  It does not follow, however, that therefore we ought to pattern Christian worship on the temple in any but metaphorical ways.  The New Testament draws theological and moral, not liturgical consequences from our status as the temple.

Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety and Practice, pg. 244

Clark totally nails it!  The NT does not draw upon Temple worship in the way most evangelicals do.  A great reminder for us who seek God’s will from his word in our worship as pilgrims between the already and the not-yet!


6 Replies to “The Role of the OT Tabernacle and Temple in NT Worship”

  1. Not to be a bit of a kill joy, but I think Clark’s argument is something of a red herring. In the interests of fairness, let me disclose up front that I am not a fan of the “regulative principle.” Back in my Baptist days, I vigorously defended it and used to use it as a club against anyone baptizing an infant (“You’re offering strange fire to the Lord! Where does God command the baptism of infants?” etc., etc.). Since my “conversion” to paedo-baptism, I’ve become less and less of a fan. I find it interesting how people work out “what God commands” in regard to worship. Given that most of the NT’s discussion of worship tends to come from narrative sources (i.e., Acts–though, of course, the epistles provide some insight as well), it is something of a dicey business nailing down what is merely “descriptive” and what is actually “prescriptive.” As a result, I am generally convinced that the RPW is a convenient cover for promoting one’s own cultural and theological proclivities.

    For example, consider Clark’s statement above. As someone who appears to be something of a psalm-singing-only theologian (I could be wrong on this, but given some recent posts on his blog that’s the sense I get), it seems strange that one aspect of “Old Covenant” worship (i.e., temple art) has been typologically superceded while another (i.e., the psalms) has not (granted, I realize Clark was probably reference Paul’s command to rejoice with psalms, but I still think that this is odd).

    Furthermore, I think Clark’s critique misses the point of what someone like your friend Richard is saying. I don’t think that there’s anyone around (besides maybe someone in an extremely muddled version of theonomy) who wants to use the temple as a “paradigm” for New Covenant worship. The argument is one of analogy not univocal identity. Like all analogical arguments then, it naturally breaks down; however, that does not mean that it’s point has not been made (i.e., if there was beauty in Old Covenant worship, why would God throw all of the art out in New Covenant worship?).

    For myself, I think worship falls under more of a wisdom than a law/command category. As long as preaching and the sacraments are present, I think that there are a wide variety of ways in which churches can promote culturally appropriate worship. This, of course, doesn’t mean that just anything goes (i.e., some cultural manifestations are foolish), but it does mean that we are more humble about admitting that our reasons for doing one thing over another in worship have more to do with our centuries old traditions and accumulated wisdom, than any divine commands.

    I’m not trying to be combative here. Just offering some food for thought :)


  2. Thanks Nevada… good food for thought, indeed.

    Just a clarification; this post was really only tangentially related to Richard’s question… he wasn’t the friend I was talking about who wanted an art exhibit in worship.

    Also, do note that while Clark does argue for the importance of Psalms, he is not a Psalm-singing-only advocate. He’s really clear that Christians who sing Psalms exclusively really ought to expand their song-books to include singing *all* of scripture (pg. 270). He notes just how weak the Psalm-singing-only argument actually is in this sense.

    Re: the RPW, I have sympathies to what you are saying. Still, while I’m intrigued with your thought on using wisdom, I think I would want to nuance it a bit more.

    First, I would want to suggest that what determines whether a given worship behavior is wise is whether or not it conforms to scripture. While a form of wisdom itself is something that can be stamped onto the hearts even of unbelievers due to the imago dei, *true* wisdom really seems to be that which requires the fear of the Lord to understand (the rest being simply pseudo-wisdom, as Paul describes in 1 Cor 1).

    Second, having just said that, I’m not sure I am actually as radical as I might sound when it comes to what our worship looks like. Here is the whole language of circumstances that the RPW lays out. Like I mentioned above, this is an area where I know I differ with Scott. Now I in no way want to undermine his thoughtfulness and thoroughness in thinking about these matters, but I just come down on the matter a bit differently. Hence my wife is a full-time organist and our church has a choir (though it does not “perform” and “special music”).

    I think my point with this post, however, was to indicate my agreement that we ought *not* to be using the OT in formulating our worship practice in any sort of simplistic way. In fact, this “friend” in the post wasn’t a theonomist, but just a nice-Christ loving evangelical who wanted to be faithful to God’s word. Of course the OT is Christian scripture, but how it functions as such needs a great deal of clarification. This topic can really show my indebtedness to Childs and Vos, though each has quite different approaches, to be sure!

    Grrr… I wrote too much. Oh well… those are some thoughts…


  3. Andrew,
    You didn’t write too much! :)

    Thanks for the clarifications (esp. re. Clark on psalm singing… One of his recent posts on O Come Emanuel gave me wrong the impression then… Glad to hear I was wrong :).

    I think we’re actually in pretty substantial agreement here… The biggest rub for me is how we determine what “conforms to Scripture” especially given, as I noted in my comment, the dicey nature of determining what is prescriptive for worship. Thus, when I say “wisdom” I’m thinking very much along the lines you mention (i.e., true believer, etc.) within the framework of Christian reflection throughout the centuries.

    As you seem to suggest in your response, the one real problem (in fairness) with my “wisdom” approach is that it can become (if used unwisely :) a convenient cover for “let’s-do-whatever-we-want-in-worship”…. Which is something I’m not advocating (I’m one of those people who involuntarily shudders every time I drive by a theater/mega-church)…

    Thanks again for your wise response :)


  4. Thanks so much, this is helpful. I’m writing down some thoughts about our singing together in the church and this is just the aspect I’m touching on now.


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