6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
You can easily look at this in many ways. The first and most literal sense is to not add to God’s commandments or take away from them. The Pharisee did this and still does.
Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
What often happens today is that men and women in the church will mistake their own convictions, obsessions, or fears for God’s commandments and try to impose those convictions on others as a sign that the others are indeed saved. Often, the modern day Pharisee will change the Biblical meaning of words and phrases like breeches, perfect, sodomite, and house of God to suit their own desire to control others in the congregation and to justify themselves, thereby attacking the very foundation of their convictions, the Bible.
We have added many things to our worship over the centuries and these things aren’t necessarily bad. Although there were some laws in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1641 for teaching children the Bible and in Berks and Montgomery counties and Ephrata, Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s the modern Sunday School movement was begun in England in the late 1700’s by a man named Robert Raikes, concerned about the education of factory working children who had no time to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic at other times than Sunday. It eventually became a standard in American churches and, as education increased across the country it became what it is today, instruction in the Bible. Sunday School is a good thing as long as we don’t beat someone over the head with it because they can’t attend due to work, sickness, or other unavoidable circumstances.
Another example is that Christians in the New Testament met in people’s homes. There were not buildings set aside for church meetings solely until late in the second century. The Emperor Constantine set the Christianity he promoted off on a massive building spree in keeping with his Roman values. Is a church building bad? Of course, not, as long as we don’t limit our service to God as only being possible when connected to that building. I, for one, am thankful to have a nice building in which to worship but as one famous Christian said, and I paraphrase John Newton, let him who worships under a steeple not condemn him that worships under a chimney.
So, we have added things to our worship. Speaking of steeples, architect Christopher Wren invented the modern steeple after London was destroyed by fire in 1662. They’re often beautiful, are they not, and identifiers that you are approaching a building where a church meets.
We added the pulpit over time from the Latin word pulpitum for a raised platform. That started around 250AD as the chairs set aside for the visiting apostles were replaced. They were called cathedra or thrones as in the pope of the Roman Catholics speaking ex cathedra or from the throne. The pews were added in the Middle Ages and the railing between the preacher and the people a couple of hundred years ago.
The frontier Methodists gave us the “old fashioned revival” meetings with the altar in front of the pulpit as those wanting to be saved walked the old sawdust trail, as the aisle was called, up front to pray in front of the rest of the people. The modern revival meeting isn’t very old. John Wesley popularized the Wednesday night prayer service when the advent of gaslights made that more feasible. Good things, yes. Something to be added to our opinion of the legitimacy of someone’s salvation experience, no.
Finally, as is clear by 1 Corinthians 14 the early church was participatory with everyone having a part to play but now it’s often a one man show unless you want to add the choir or singers. And in fundamentalist churches at least, Philip the evangelist and his preaching daughters would not be welcome (Acts 21:8,9). But, in the early church everyone played a part. It was Rome who elevated the bishop to being the only one doing any exhortation and preaching or prophesying and Martin Luther who helped make the sermon the central focus of the service rather than the Roman mass and it was the Puritan’s who insisted that the weekly sermon was the principle way that God spoke to His people. A potentially chaotic and divisive worship was given order and consistency over time.
So, we’ve added a lot of things to our worship. We could go on about D.L. Moody’s bus, I mean, wagon ministry and other things. Those things aren’t in and of themselves bad. But when we start adding rules and using our order of worship as an example of what is proper and holy and then condemn others who don’t follow our ways we start adding to God’s word. Once again, you are not justified by the Law and you are not justified in using either it or your personal convictions or manmade traditions into bashing other people in the head. Mankind has a big enough sin problem without you making it worse.
And again, those who diminish or take away from God’s word are practicing the same error: church bodies that downgrade sin to the level of an error or a mistake or not even a sin at all. People whose lifestyles are actively supporting sin are even put into the ranks of leadership. All of this is wickedness. But, this Proverb is only talking about adding to God’s words so we’ll save the rant on diminishing His word for later.
We have enough to be concerned with in letting God change our wicked hearts through His words in His Bible without adding layer upon layer of rules and regulations to God’s perfect and complete standard of righteousness. You have no right to put more burdens on people’s backs after Christ has relieved them of their burdens. Remember how Jesus handled the self righteous religious folk of His day.
If what God has said isn’t enough for you, Pharisee, and if you are more concerned with pleasing your own flesh rather than worshipping God in a way that’s pleasing to Him and you just can’t be satisfied with the spirituality and holiness of the person in the pew next to you but feel they need to be more like yourself to be closer to God then this verse will come back to bite you one day when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ and find that you have strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel.(Matthew 23:23,24)