Outside the Walls: Unauthorized Worship, Part 4

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. ~ Hebrews 13:11-16

Under the first covenant, the people of Israel encamped in a circle around the center of worship: the tabernacle. The Levite clans were to surround it as the first layer; each of four clans was assigned a compass point and a particular responsibility along with it (Numbers 3). Wherever the cloud signifying the Lord’s presence went or stayed, the entire camp followed or remained (Numbers 9:15-23). Sin had no place in that camp. Offerings for sin were to be released or burned and discarded outside it (Leviticus 16:1, Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:21, 16:27, et al). The bodies of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were taken outside of the camp, away from the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:4). Even sickness and temporary uncleanness and Gentiles were to be outside the camp (you can look all these up; they’re too numerous to list).

No sacrifice for sin was to be made outside the camp, and the penalty was excommunication from Israel (Leviticus 17:3-7). And no one outside the priest’s family could consume what remained of the sacrifice on the altar at the sacred center of the camp (10:31).

But the writer of the letter to Christians (and seekers) among the people of Israel said that all that had changed.

Worship is now acceptable outside the camp; outside the city walls, where the sacrifice of Jesus had taken place. All are welcome to participate in that sacrifice – and not only by consuming Him, but also by being consumed with confessing His name and doing good, and sharing with others.

That is what Jesus taught before He died and that is what His followers taught after He was raised and returned to the throne to serve as intercessory high priest before God.

And that, my good friends, is pure innovation.

Nothing in the law spells that out as acceptable by God’s commands to and through Moses. Poets and prophets would warn that He desired mercy above sacrifices (Psalm 51:17, Amos 5:21-24, Hosea 6:6). Jesus would teach it (Matthew 9:13; 12:7) and personify it in both His life and His death – and His followers would say that we should imitate it. Paul would cast it as our worship (Romans 12:1); Peter would describe it as our priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).

But it was not the law of the wall and the camp.

Yet we continue to gather inside the walls of our so-called holy places one hour of one day each week – our expensive automobiles encircling the sanctuary like encamped Israelites – and seem to think that the first covenant is somehow still in place; that all of our worship for that week takes place at that time and that enclosure. We sacrifice our 2.5% (according to the Barna Group), sing a few songs, consume a bit of bread and a sip of juice, pray a moment, hear a tidbit of hope or reprimand, spend our 0.59% of the hours in that week glorifying God and we’re done. We’re good. We’re graced.

While, outside the walls, sin reigns. People are unclean there. They are the dis-graced. They are sick; they are poor; they hurt; they hurt others and cheat others and kill each other; they lie and covet and steal and worship self … not really that much unlike the people who gather within:


In our supposed conformity to command, haven’t we taken a turn back in the wrong direction? Back to law, back to inside-ism, back to priest-ism and clan-ism and time-ism and place-ism?

Should we not return to practicing the innovation bought by blood, paid in full, offered for free and open to all: any place, any time, anyone?

Shouldn’t we worship outside the camp, sharing His disgrace with the dis-graced, and bringing His grace through doing good and sharing what we have?

Would that not please God as much or more than all of the worship we could muster inside the sanctuary?

7 thoughts on “Outside the Walls: Unauthorized Worship, Part 4

  1. AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, and one more thing………..AMEN!!!! That’ll preach brother. The institutional folks won’t want to hear it, but it’s the truth. Not because you said it, but because HE DECLARED it! Another chapter in the book. End of story.DU

  2. Keith, this is an excellent post.I appreciate the contrast you made between the old covenant and the new. That’s one of the reasons Hebrews is my favorite book.It is odd, to think of how we, in an effort to so closely emulate the early churches of the new covenant, can sometimes look so much like those who worshipped under the old covenant.

  3. Can I add to David’s AMEN? I love this post. I loved the way you used both Testaments to make your point. Mercy, sacrfice. Are we willing to sacrifice especially during this time of recession? It has been said, that giving and attendance is way down in Protestan churches because of the recession (high gas prices, mortages, and other financial difficulties..ABC evening news 7/1)

  4. I just wanted to drop a note to tell you that I really needed this post today. It made me a little stronger and helped me see what was important. I’m not going to go into details here but thank you.

  5. In my opinion you might start by not referring to a building in which you worship as a sanctuary. There is nothing sacred in a building. It is just bricks and mortar.

  6. A body that demonstrated no apparent consistency in speech or action is surely to be pitied as deranged- but one that is never observed to speak(communicate)or act outside of an impenetrable shell is either dead or comatose!Private worship is vindicated by public expression or as James puts it “Faith without works is dead”

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