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The First Worship War

Ivory_Cain_Abel_Louvre_AO4052The very first conflict following the Fall was a conflict over worship.

Genesis 4:3–8 relates how Abel’s offering to the Lord’s was accepted, while Cain’s was not. These offerings were important because they were God’s means for at least temporarily and partially restoring communion with his people. Yet for some reason that is not explicit in the text, God rejected Cain’s offering. At this point in Genesis we do not have any clear revelation as to the content of acceptable worship. It is at least possible that God had demanded an animal sacrifice, and since Cain brought a food offering instead, that is why God rejected him. There is no way to determine this with absolute certainty, however. On the other hand, some assume that the offering wasn’t the problem; Cain’s heart attitude or motivation were deficient, and that is why God rejected him. This conclusions, too, is based on speculation since the text does not fully explain why God rejected Cain.

Revelation in the New Testament, however, does give a clearer picture. The author of Hebrews explains that Abel proved that he was “righteous” through his sacrifice, while Jude 11 describes Cain as one who “abandoned himself for the sake of gain,” and 1 John 3:12 says that Cain’s deeds were “evil.” These descriptions relate most specifically to the inward spiritual condition of the men, yet Hebrews 11:4 also notes that Abel’s sacrifice itself was “more excellent” than Cain’s and that his righteousness was determined by “his gifts.”

Taken together, this information reveals a two-fold emphasis in evaluating worship, an emphasis that appears often in biblical discussions of worship.

First, the inward heart motivation is of utmost importance in true worship. At least part of what led to Cain’s rejection was an evil heart.

But a heart of worship will manifest itself in excellent, obedient offerings to God. Good heart motivation alone does not justify disobedience of God’s clear instructions or worshiping in flippant, casual ways. On the other hand, doing exactly what God has commanded without a heart that desires to please and glorify him is equally deficient.

Both are important.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

7 Responses to The First Worship War

  1. Hi,

    It’s probably a question that is too difficult to answer in a blog comment section. Degree of disrespect — verbal renunciation or separation? If it is false worship — God says He wants this and we give Him that — does that merit separation. Almost everyone would say that if you don’t separate over plainly taught doctrines, you won’t separate over style of worship.

  2. Personally I believe that we should limit cooperation with those with whom we have differences doctrinally or in worship, but like with doctrine, separation of worship will happen by degree. There are various levels of heterodoxy just like there are different levels of heteropathy. Discerning how significant the differences are is where the difficult lies, and therefore knowing how much to limit cooperation is also often difficult.

    Had I saw Cain offering his sacrifice, I might not have been able to discern exactly to the degree his sacrifice was problematic to God.

    So in principle, I think we ought to reject false worship to the same degree that God does.

  3. Scott, it seems to me that you have not accounted in this post for a key revelation concerning Cain–1 John 3:12 specifies that Cain “was of that wicked one.” In a way that Scripture does not explain further, Cain was influenced by Satan or even may have been an agent or follower of him. The first worship war had an infernal dimension to it that is a key dimension of today’s worship wars that many believers are unwilling to acknowledge (I’m not saying that you are one of believers who has this mindset).

  4. Hi, Rajesh. I certainly agree with you that “was of that wicked one” could meant that Cain was influenced by Satan, and I certainly agree that Satan could be influencing worship today.

    However, the phrase could also mean that his actions were of the character of Satan, not necessarily referring to direct influence.

    Either way, I’m not sure how that would affect my interpretation of the effect or application to today’s situations.

  5. In a parallel statement, Jesus said to the Pharisees that they were of their father the devil and that they would do his lusts (John 8:44). He then spoke of the devil as a murderer from the beginning, which supports understanding that he played a leading role in the first murder (when Cain killed Abel).

    Ephesians 2:2-3 requires that we understand that all unregenerate humans after the Fall have been energized by Satan. On this reading, Cain would have been energized by Satan to do what he did.

    It makes perfect sense to see Satan as playing a leading role in defiling human worship of God from the first recorded instance of that worship. It is entirely possible that Cain never even knew that Satan was directing him to do what he did.

    Concerning the contemporary relevance to today’s worship wars, seeing those wars as resulting in no small measure from considerations involving disputes about the unseen influence of demonic spirits on humans interprets the worship wars in their true biblical context of universal spiritual warfare.

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