A Solid Ground for Christian Worship and Music: The Blueprint from the Sanctuary

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A Solid Ground for Christian Worship and Music:  The Blueprint from the Sanctuary

The discussion in the Adventist Church regarding worship styles continues to be a controversial subject.  The prevailing opinion among some is that this is a subject that has nothing to do with the gospel and even less to do with theology.  Many regard the relationship between worship styles and theology in the same way that they regard a gift that is wrapped up with fancy paper.  They claim that although worship styles (the wrapping paper) can change, the gift (salvation and theology) never does.  This may sound logical but does it correspond to the reality of the situation which is provided by the Biblical data?

In short, are worship styles grounded in culture, personal preference and taste, or are they grounded in the Bible?

In order to answer this question we will

  1. examine how worship style is integrated with the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries,
  2. look at how the destruction, cleansing and construction of the earthly sanctuary is related to worship forms,
  3. investigate how the little horn’s attack on the heavenly sanctuary in Dan 7,8 and Rev 13 affects worship forms and
  4. examine how the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is related to worship forms.

Worship Styles are Integrated with the Sanctuary

Earthly Sanctuary

In Exod 25:8,9 it was God who gave to Moses the blueprints of the sanctuary when the children of Israel made their way to the promised land carrying it with them.  However when the children of Israel finally made Jerusalem the capital city, God gave David the blueprints for the Sanctuary (1 Chro 28:19).  In addition to giving David the blueprints for the sanctuary, God also gave him  the list of instruments that were to be included in the music ministry of the sanctuary which were trumpet, cymbal, lyre and harp (1 Chr 15:16,19; 16:4,5).

The choice of these instruments did not arise from cultural considerations; instead these instruments were inextricably linked with the sanctuary and were given by God himself which is pointed out in the following passage.  “And he [Hezekiah] set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets” (2 Chr 29:25).

Thus almost three hundred years after David, Hezekiah returned to the instruments which God had directed David to use in the Sanctuary.
Also, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the same instruments were used when the foundation of the Temple was laid and when the wall was built.[1]

Heavenly Sanctuary

By now it’s clear that the Lord established the Sanctuary which also included the instruments to be used and He communicated this through David.  It’s also clear that this was the pattern in the Old Testament but what about the New Testament?  Has God left us without a pattern to follow?  According to Heb 8:1-5 and Rev 11:19 the real Sanctuary, of which the earthly one was a type, is in heaven.  Furthermore, the Bible also specifies the harp as the instrument of choice that is used in the heavenly Sanctuary, which also corresponds to the earthly (Rev 5:8).

The Earthly Sanctuary and Worship Styles

Jeroboam, the Sanctuary and Worship Style

“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.  Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” I Kings 12:26-28.

Let’s keep in mind that Biblical worship forms are inextricably linked with the sanctuary.  That being so, there is a direct relationship between worship style and the sanctuary in the above passage.  Notice that once the place of the sanctuary was abandoned, the forms of worship changed.  The concept of the calves of gold did not come from the sanctuary but from pagan culture.  Thus the change in worship style which is brought out in this passage means that the overall framework of the sanctuary has been rejected.  These forms of worship (calves of gold) are derived from nature and ultimately lead to the worship of nature rather than the Creator which is brought out in the following statement.

“Against the marked oppression, the flagrant injustice, the unwonted luxury and extravagance, the shameless feasting and drunkenness, the gross licentiousness and debauchery, of their age, the prophets lifted their voices; but in vain were their protests, in vain their denunciations of sin.  “Him that rebuketh in the gate,” declared Amos, “they hate,…and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.”  “They afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.”  Amos 5:10, 12.  Such were some of the results that had followed the setting up of the two calves of gold by Jeroboam.  The first departure from established forms of worship had led to the introduction of grosser forms of idolatry, until finally nearly all the inhabitants of the land had given themselves over to the alluring practices of nature worship.”[2]

Thus when the sanctuary is abandoned, as in this case, then the forms of worship lead to the worship of nature instead of the worship of God.

Ahaz, the Sanctuary and Worship Style

In 2 Chr 28:2 the Bible says that Ahaz “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.”  In v. 24,25 he “gathered together the vessels of the house of God, and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem.  And in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the LORD God of his fathers.”

This means that like Jeroboam, Ahaz also turned his back on the sanctuary as the framework for worship style and the result was pluralism and polytheism as evidenced by the altars in every city of Judah and by the worship of other gods.  Besides the rejection of the sanctuary as the framework for worship style which led to pluralism and polytheism, the overall effects of this worship style are:

  1. 2 Chr 28:6 – 100,000 valiant men slain
  2. 2 Chr 28:8 – 200,000 women and children taken captive
  3. 2 Chr 28:17-19 – Judah is smitten and plundered by other nations
  4. 2 Chr 28:23 – The king sacrifices to the gods of Damascus because they help him

The wise man said that a curse never comes without a cause (Pro 26:2), and the psalmist said, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  The incredible losses that took place in the church back then were the direct result of turning their backs on the sanctuary and adopting forms of worship that were based upon the culture of the day.

This story reveals that one of the causes concerning the loss among our young people is the direct result of pastors, teachers, theologians and administrators (kings) who have lost the vision of the heavenly sanctuary and are doing the same as Jeroboam and Ahaz.  They are “contextualizing” worship by placing altars (a symbol of Jesus and the plan of salvation) within each culture in such a way that Jesus, worship, and ethics are grounded in culture instead of in the heavenly sanctuary.  This is exactly what the emerging church movement among us is doing.  For them culture is the ground of everything and there is no longer a difference between the holy and the unholy.  The God who transcends the creation is now becoming confused with and limited to creation.  Just like Ahaz they are sacrificing to the gods “which help them,” instead of turning to the worship of God as He is revealed in the sanctuary.  Like Ahaz they have lost faith in the message of the sanctuary which is revealed by their worship styles and are fast becoming Adventists in name only.

Hezekiah, the Sanctuary and Worship Style

What solution to the deplorable reign of Ahaz would you have suggested if you were the next king?  Realizing that you are in a pluralistic context; would you continue with “worship renewal” which is merely copying the theology and worship of the nations around you?  As the new king, Hezekiah inherited a deplorable situation, but he understood something that many today who are trying experiments with worship do not understand.  He had the insight and the understanding to realize that in a “postmodern, polytheistic, pantheistic” society the cleansing and restoration of the sanctuary is the place where true reform must begin.  He also distinctly understood that when the sanctuary is cleansed and restored, there is an immediate and corresponding effect upon worship style.

In 2 Chr 29:5-9 the Bible says, “Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place.  For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD, and turned their backs.  Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.  Wherefore the wrath of the LORD was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes.  For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.”

Notice how Hezekiah attributes their deplorable condition to the desecration of the sanctuary.

In 2 Chr 29:15-18, the Levites and priests begin to cleanse the house of the Lord and when they are done Hezekiah restores the Biblical worship style which God himself revealed to king David when He gave him the blueprints for the sanctuary.  “And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.   And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.   And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel.  And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished” (2 Chr 29:25-28).

The entire concept of worship and worship style is inextricably linked with the cleansing and reconsecration of the sanctuary.  True Biblical worship always assumes that the sanctuary is the context in which worship takes place.

The Little Horn Destroys the Foundations by Attacking the Heavenly Sanctuary

Plato Attacks the Heavenly Sanctuary

What we have observed on the earthly level repeats itself on a much grander scale regarding the heavenly sanctuary.  In Dan 8:11-13 the little horn attacks God’s heavenly sanctuary, in v.11 it says that “the place of his sanctuary was cast down.”  This is obviously not a literal casting down of the heavenly sanctuary which would be impossible.  In this attack the central, systematic role of the sanctuary would be completely undermined and replaced by another system which would have devastating effects upon the subject of worship styles.

The attack began with the Greek philosopher Parmenides who theorized that ultimate reality, which includes God, is timeless.  In philosophical terms this means that ultimate reality is not compatible with time or space.  This idea had a profound effect on Plato who divided up all of reality into two tiers.  “Realities in the heavenly world are uncreated, and therefore timeless and eternal, whereas realities in the earthly world are created, and are therefore temporal and transient.  The relationship between the heavenly and earthly tiers is one of duplication.”[3]  In other words, things in the earthly tier are merely a duplication of what exists in the heavenly timeless tier.  Everything within the earthly tier is limited, transitory, historical, subject to decay, evil and sinful where as the heavenly tier is eternal, timeless, pure and good.  Plato’s influence has been so enormous that “the eminent British-American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that the history of philosophy is merely a series of footnotes to Plato.”[4]

Early Church Fathers and the Heavenly Sanctuary

Many of the early church fathers were heathen philosophers who did not let go of their philosophical baggage which greatly affected how they viewed worship forms.  Many of them worked under the two-tier system that Plato set up which conditioned how they understood worship forms.   Once this Platonic system is accepted then a real, literal sanctuary in heaven where Jesus moves from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place makes no sense, so they totally discarded the sanctuary as the overall context in which worship, as well as other doctrines is understood.  Since the heavenly sanctuary is spatio-temporal, those working from the Platonic system simply replaced the sanctuary with the timeless interpretation of heavenly realities.

This shift from the heavenly sanctuary to the Platonic system has had a corresponding effect on worship forms.  As we observed earlier, both earthly and heavenly sanctuaries use string instruments like the harp which imply the use of melody and harmony in worship music.  One of the effects of the Platonic system was an extreme asceticism which was not only seen in their lifestyle but also in their music.  Church music was dominated by the Gregorian chant which began in the 5th century and ran to the 16th century.  The music itself is described as monophonic, unaccompanied and without a strict meter.  For those who are not musicians, this is the equivalent of a diet based only on bread and water, when in fact there are many other wholesome foods that could be enjoyed.  The use of harmony, thirds, sixths and other sonorities were thought to be sensual and earthly while the octaves, fifths and fourths more closely captured the “pure, heavenly, timeless” sounds of what they thought should constitute church music.  The philosophical foundation for this was the Platonic system which replaced the sanctuary as the overall system that should have guided the early church.

Catholics and Protestants Join in Attacking the Heavenly Sanctuary

There are only two systems or contexts in which theology is done, namely the Roman Catholic and Evangelical system which is based on philosophy or the Biblical system which is based on the heavenly sanctuary and the Word of God.  Since 1844 Protestants have also formally rejected the grounding role of the heavenly sanctuary as the overall system in which to do theology which includes the study of worship.  This decision has implications for all of theology and especially for the subject of worship.

The Consequences of the Attack for Scripture

The attack of the little horn on the foundations of theology and worship has an immediate effect on the doctrine of Scripture, which in turn has an immediate effect on worship forms.  One very basic principle of interpretation is that we should accept the Bible as it reads unless a figure or a symbol is employed.[5]  Therefore when we read of a literal sanctuary in space and time, then this principle suggests that we are to take what we read at face value as being real, and not a symbol or a figure.  However if you have adopted the Platonic system, then you already “know” that ultimate reality is devoid of space and time, which now means that you are using the Bible and philosophical reason as your theological sources instead of the Protestant principle of the Bible interpreting itself.

Another corresponding effect of this attack is that not all of Scripture is inspired.  When Daniel and John saw a vision of heaven with all the articles of furniture in the sanctuary, this obviously was their cultural understanding of what they saw because the Platonic system with its interpretation of ultimate reality tells us that what the prophets saw could not be real, because we know that ultimate reality is without time and space.   Therefore the description of the heavenly sanctuary by the prophet is culturally conditioned.  Consequently it is not a useful source for building a theology upon.  What was real for the prophet was that he had an encounter with God but since he couldn’t describe that in human language, he used his cultural baggage in order to express it.
How does this affect worship style?

The Consequences of the Attack for Worship Style

Let’s keep in mind that worship styles are inextricably linked to the sanctuary as we consider the little horn’s attack on the sanctuary.  First of all, if the heavenly sanctuary itself is culturally conditioned, then so also is the worship style that is linked to the sanctuary.  This means that worship forms are completely culturally conditioned, meaning that they arise out of the particular time and place of the worshipper.   Each person or people group is then responsible for making up or including their cultural understanding of worship forms as viable expressions of their understanding of God.
The dangerous assumption behind this line of reasoning is that worship styles do not affect our theology or our concept of God.  However what some must realize is that philosophical reason is the starting point and foundation for this culturally conditioned view of worship forms and since worship is based upon our conceptions of God, some may think that they are worshipping the true God when in fact they adore a philosophical idol that they call “god.”
Thus if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The Heavenly Temple Restores the Foundations

The answer to the question that the psalmist asks in Ps 11:3 is answered in the very next verse, “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.”  Hezekiah was wise enough to know that you cannot improve upon what God has ordained, so he began with the cleansing and restoration of the sanctuary and the results were astounding.

  1. 2 Chr 29:25-28 – the restoration of true worship forms
  2. 2 Chr 30 – the celebration of the Passover
  3. 2 Chr 30:5-12 – Evangelism – an invitation to the rest of the tribes to celebrate the Passover
  4. 2 Chr 31:1 – the destruction of idolatry
  5. 2 Chr 31:3-10 – An explosion in tithes and offerings
  6. 2 Chr 31:2,11-19 – the priests and Levites are reestablished according to proper order and administration
  7. 2 Chr 32:1-23; 2 Kings 19:15 – Hezekiah prays to the God who dwells between the cherubim and God destroys the Assyrians

Hezekiah did not begin with “worship renewal,” an emphasis on the Passover, evangelism, an emphasis on tithes and offerings, getting back to the proper order of the priesthood or preparing for an attack against the Assyrians.  Although all of these things are important in and of themselves, yet without the overall context of the sanctuary, they lack meaning and proper function.  Beginning with these things would be the equivalent of God beginning creation with plants and animals before creating light, air, land and sea: it simply would not have worked because plants and animals were designed to exist in a certain context, and without that context, there is no meaning, function or existence.

Ps 11:4 points us to the reality of the heavenly sanctuary as the starting place for rebuilding the spiritual foundations that have been destroyed by the little horn.  This is how the Seventh-day Adventist Church began, with rediscovery of the heavenly sanctuary.  God did not bring the Adventist Church into existence by beginning with worship, an emphasis on Christ, evangelism, tithes and offerings, health reform, Sabbath, etc…  Instead, these were the result of our discovery of the heavenly sanctuary as the ultimate ground/framework/context in which we understood and formulated our doctrines.  Ministers who rejected the sanctuary, have also rejected the Sabbath, health reform and other key Biblical teachings.

The multiplicity of worship styles among us are evidence that we have neglected, rejected or just failed to realize the grounding role of the heavenly sanctuary when it comes to the subject of worship styles and we as a people will continue to be confused until we begin to reexamine worship styles in light of the heavenly sanctuary.

The Context of Worship Styles

Our study has revealed that worship cannot exist outside of a greater context.  Now we must decide which context a theology of worship truly belongs in.  The calves of Jeroboam and Ahaz were built on the worship of nature and in a similar way Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have built their worship styles upon philosophical reason which in turn has been derived by nature.  Those who claim that the heavenly sanctuary is merely a figure or a symbol do so because they have uncritically accepted philosophical reason as their overall framework or context in which to do theology.  This leads directly to the idea that the heavenly sanctuary and the worship styles that are inextricably linked to it are culturally conditioned because ultimate reality is devoid of space and time.  Hence those who claim that worship styles are culturally conditioned are working within the overall framework of philosophical reason and are at the same time rejecting the heavenly sanctuary as the framework in which to build a theology of worship.

As Adventists we must decide whether to build on philosophical reason or on the heavenly sanctuary.  These contexts are totally incompatible and cannot coexist together, therefore we must choose.  If we were playing hockey we would have to decided whether we are going to play on an ice rink or on a football field, because it’s not possible to blend the ice rink with the football field in order to reach a middle ground, it’s one or the other.

Thus to think of worship style outside the context of the sanctuary is like thinking about hockey outside the ice rink.  We have already observed that God is the One who introduced the context in which worship style is understood, namely the Sanctuary.  Furthermore, God was the One who also spoke to the issue of worship styles by allowing certain instruments during Sanctuary worship while at the same time restricting others.  The use of certain instruments and the exclusion of others in the earthly and heavenly Sanctuary speak to the issue of worship styles because certain styles of music are based entirely upon the use of certain instruments and when these are excluded then so is that particular style.[6]

The worship forms of Ahab and Jezebel were also based upon the false foundation that Jeroboam erected.  They turned their backs on the word of God and the sanctuary as their context.  Those who believe that worship forms should be uncritically adopted from culture because worship has nothing to do with theology need to ponder this remarkable statement by Ellen White.  In the following statement the servant of the Lord reveals the philosophical foundation of certain forms of worship that are based upon a false doctrine of God derived from the deification of nature, and the false philosophy which undergirds it.

“It is as easy to make an idol of false doctrines and theories as to fashion an idol of wood or stone. By misrepresenting the attributes of God, Satan leads men to conceive of Him in a false character. With many, a philosophical idol is enthroned in the place of Jehovah; while the living God, as He is revealed in His word, in Christ, and in the works of creation, is worshiped by but few. Thousands deify nature while they deny the God of nature. Though in a different form, idolatry exists in the Christian world today as verily as it existed among ancient Israel in the days of Elijah. The god of many professedly wise men, of philosophers, poets, politicians, journalists–the god of polished fashionable circles, of many colleges and universities, even of some theological institutions–is little better than Baal, the sun-god of Phoenicia.”[7]


[1] See Ezra 3:10; Neh 12:27,36

[2] Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1917), 282.

[3] Fernando Canale, The Cognitive Principle of Christian Theology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Lithotech, 2005), 91.

[4] Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994), 67.

[5] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1911), 599.

[6] Karl Tsatalbasidis, Drums, Rock and Worship: Modern Music in Today’s Church (Roseville, CA: Amazing Facts, 2003).

[7] White, The Great Controversy, 583, emphasis supplied.

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About the author


Karl Tsatalbasidis is a Ph.D. candidate at Andrews University.