I was reading 2 Chronicles 30 the other day, and something jumped out at me that was a real eye-opener.
Hezekiah, as many of the kings of Judah were, was a Reformer of sorts. At the beginning of the divided kingdom, one of the typological features which pointed to the remnant nature of Christ’s Church was that those who were under Jeroboam’s rule in the northern kingdom of Israel would return to the temple in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This pilgrimage would mark them off as faithful covenant members because they return to the place where the LORD’s name dwelt. To put it in Reformed terms, they would return to Jerusalem to participate in the substance of the covenant, whereas their fellow Israelites would only participate in some of the outward administration of the covenant.
Hezekiah at the beginning of 2 Chronicles 30 issues a summons to all the faithful in both Israel and Judah to celebrate the Passover. And in an event that points to the ingrafting of the Gentiles from the nations, many from Israel as well as from the tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) would answer the summons.
However, the text tells us that many (the majority) who came did not properly sanctify themselves. Not only the Priests had to engage in specifically prescribed rituals to consecrate themselves, but the people also had to purify themselves.
Further, the whole nation had not properly observed the Passover for some time.
So, overall, what we see is a picture of a gathered body of saints who had not been worshiping according to all the regulations which the LORD had imposed.
However, something interesting occurs. Rather than rush out of the Temple and destroy the people, as the LORD had in the affair of Nadab and Abihu or the Korahite Rebellion… Hezekiah intercedes for them.
May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness. -2 Chronicles 30:18-19, ESV
What is perhaps more amazing, is that the LORD hears and answers Hezekiah’s prayer.
And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:20, ESV
This got me thinking. I’ve long struggled with how to think about people who regularly violate the Regulative Principle of Worship, but do so out of a sincere desire to worship the LORD. These violations can come in two forms. First, there are those who reject the Regulative Principle altogether. This might take the form of a High Liturgy Anglican who begins their worship service with a procession. It might take the form of a Seeker Sensitive Evangelical who attempts to create an air of holiness by utilizing a fog machine. It might also take the form of someone who upholds the Regulative Principle but misunderstands it. It might take the form of (from an Exclusive Psalmody perspective) a Particular Baptist who sings hymns. It might take the form of (from a Hymnody perspective) a Presbyterian who doesn’t sing hymns.
Often people who hold the Regulative Principle take the approach, that any worship that does not conform to the prescriptions of God is offering strange fire (Referring to the affair of Nadab and Abihu) that is detestable to God. They treat those who disagree as though God is not actually pleased with their worship. But is this true?
I don’t think it is. Chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith has some interesting insight that I think helps us understand this. Article 6 reads:
Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
You see, there is never a good work in this life… worship or otherwise… that is properly conformed to God’s law. And as Question 14 of the Shorter Catechism states, anything that has a want of conformity to God’s law, is sin. So, our worship, even when offered according to the Regulative Principle, is still “accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”
However, the beauty is that God looks upon our imperfect worship “in his Son” and accepts it just as he accepts us, despite those weaknesses and imperfections. Just as God heard and answered Hezekiah’s prayer to pardon those who “set his heart to seek God,” so also because of their union with Christ, God accepts and rewards good works and worship “which is sincere.”
What a joyful thing it is that the reality which Hezekiah’s intercession foreshadowed has come and that in him, we are accepted by the Father. Our faulty good works and worship, if offered sincerely, is accepted and rewarded by the Father, because of what Christ has done, and because of what he is doing. Although Christ’s work of atonement was finished on the cross, he continues to live to make intercession for us. 1 2
It is for this reason that we can confidently approach God’s throne. Not because of our conformity to his law, but because of our faithful high priest who makes intercession for us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV