Worship as Ordination

Anyone who has read his Bible straight through has done it. Admit it. When you get to those parts in Exodus that deal with the instructions for and construction of the Tabernacle, your eyes glaze over and your mind begins to wander. Measurements, lists of materials, meticulous details about clothes and tent pegs are not that riveting. Consequently, we blah-blah-blah our way through the interminable chapters to get in the daily quota so that we can eventually say, “Yes, I have read all of the Bible.”

I understand. Been there. Done that.

While all of the Bible demands time for reflection, we tend to at least learn something from a cursory reading of the narrative sections. The meaning in the instructions about how to make a tent and clothes for Aaron and his sons don’t leap off the page immediately … unless you are James B. Jordan; but, come on, how many of us are like him?

However, if we do take time to study and begin to make appropriate connections, the rewards are tremendous. Take, for example, the instructions concerning the ordination of Aaron and his sons in Exodus 29. There are a number of details about a bull, rams, different kinds of breads, where to put oil and blood, and what to do with animals. But if you step back just a bit and look at the sequence of events in the ordination ceremonies, a pattern that is used in other places in Scripture becomes clear. That pattern is the order of sacrifices as generally prescribed in Leviticus for regular worship.

Four fundamental offerings were offered on a regular basis that drew the worshiper near to God: the sin or purification offering, the ascension offering (usually badly translated “burnt offering”), the tribute offering (also badly translated as “grain offering”), and the peace offering or sacrifice. (The tribute offering was offered with the ascension offering.)1 This was “the way” of worship, the path up God’s holy mountain into his presence.2 The Old Covenant worshiper moved from estrangement to communion, ascending into God’s presence through these various offerings that represented him and his works. In these offerings God renewed his covenant with his people.

The first time we see this sequence is in the ordination of Aaron and his sons. The instructions are given in Exodus 29 and carried out in Leviticus 8. God is consecrating them to serve as priests (Exodus 29:1). He consecrates them by, literally, “filling their palms” with the bulls, rams, and bread for them to offer up to God, eat for themselves, and also share with others. What God puts in their palms tells them who they are and what they are supposed to do as priests.

Though the materials change here and there for the ordinary worship of the non-priests in Israel, the basic structure of the consecration of Aaron and his sons is the same as the worship for all of Israel. That is telling as to what God is doing with each of his people in worship: each Israelite is going through his own ordination or ordination-renewal in worship. Worship is not merely an isolated experience of communion with God. Worship is a commissioning to a task. As an Israelite would move through worship on a regular basis, God would renew and reinvigorate him for the mission given to him within the people of God.

As Jeffrey Meyers convincingly argues in The Lord’s Service, this pattern of worship has not been abrogated but fulfilled in Christ Jesus, our great high priest. He moves through this order of worship in his own life. He offers himself up for our purification at the cross (sin/purification offering). He ascends to the Father, presenting his works (ascension and tribute). He establishes a meal of peace, the Lord’s Supper, with his people (peace offering).

As Aaron moved through this order first and then the people followed, so Christ Jesus moves through this order and we now follow. Christ was ordained, receiving his glorious vestments in his offerings. In baptism we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). We share in his ordination. In him we are more than the Aaronic priesthood but not less.

Each time we enter into worship and move through this progression, God is renewing and reinvigorating us for the mission he has given us. The commission at the end of the service is not merely a good way to close the service. In one sense, it is the aim of the service. Worship is not merely for you to come and experience the presence of God at that point in time (though it is that). Worship is about consecrating you for your task in the kingdom.

The church is a royal priesthood (1Peter 2:9). Each week God brings his priests into his presence and fills our hands and our mouths, just as he did with Aaron and his sons. Each week God sends us back into the world clothed as priests (Ephesians 6:10-18) to minister to the world. Our mouths have been filled with the Word so that we might teach knowledge, a priestly responsibility (cf. Malachi 2:7). Each week our ordination, our baptism, is renewed–we are cleaned up and set back in proper order–in order that we might be sent out to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and disciple the nations.

Worship is not, therefore, one activity among many during the week. It is foundational for everything that we do in all of our lives. In worship we are reoriented to who God is, who we are, what the world is, and how all of these relate to one another. God claims us as his, marking us off from the world. As his people there are certain ways we live our lives in the world. The world is not friendly to this, so there will continue to be thorns and thistles we must fight to overcome. If we lose the right perspective on any of these, we become disoriented, forgetting our proper relationship with God, one another, and the world; we forget our ordination.

Bill Smith is pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Louisville, KY. 

References   [ + ]

1. There was a fifth major offering offered on specific occasions.
2. For more familiarity with these offerings and their relationship to the structure of worship, see Jeffrey Meyers, The Lord’s Service (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003).