Monday, August 3, 2009

The Causes of Wrong Worship

Well, we made it back safe and sound. Saw more mountains in one week than the previous ten years put together, but Romania is a beautiful country, and I'm not just saying that because it is my homeland. We have allot of mountains, some with very interesting histories, and it is inevitable that one feels the weight of history bearing down upon their shoulders as they drive through a mountain pass, only to see an old Roman fort that has been standing for some two thousand years that used to house legions of Roman centurions and soldiers.
Contemplating the passing of time, and the generations upon generations that have come and gone is sobering, allowing us as individuals to acknowledge our own insignificance.
As I arrived home, after driving almost two thousand miles, I realized I missed writing. I missed the task of sitting down at my computer every morning and just sharing my thoughts. And so, I started writing again.....
I’ve been seeing a certain mindset creep within the house of God recently, and it has become prevalent enough that I thought it warranted a rebuttal of sorts. The way this new idea is being expressed within the church differs from place to place, but it can all be summed up in one short sentence.
“It doesn’t matter how you worship, just worship.”
This may sound gleefully liberating on the surface, but the Bible tells us there is a right way to worship God, and a wrong way to worship God. There is an acceptable sacrifice, and then there is a rejected sacrifice. Rather than list all the wrong ways in which men worship, today I want to deal with the causes of wrong worship. The list is long, from the ever present peacock feathers, to gold fillings, to irreverent and foolhardy manifestations with undeniable animalistic tendencies like barking or clucking, so listing all of them would be futile since new ways are being schemed up on a constant basis.
To me at least, causality has always been cleaner, clearer, and more relevant. You can know that your car is making a clunking noise, but until you know the cause of it, you can’t fix it. By the same token, we can know that unacceptable worship is taking place within the churches, but until we know the cause we cannot begin to remedy the situation.
The cause of wrong or unacceptable worship is fourfold. To a greater or lesser degree one can trace the genesis of such worship to one or all of these causes.
The first and most prevalent cause of wrong worship is absence of Biblical teaching. When the foundation is unstable and not built upon solid ground, the rest of the structure no matter how large or grandiose is likewise shifting and unstable. Because the source of the problem is the foundation itself, sooner or later the whole thing crumbles to the ground, no matter how many support beams one might have introduced with the passage of time.
We have strayed from the gloriously simple doctrine of true and undefiled worship into a new arena of mysticism that promises more excitement than it ever really delivers, playing on the fundamental flaw of all men to complicate something just for the sake of making it more complicated. What so few choose to acknowledge is that the guidelines set forth in the Word of God are there for a reason, and if we choose a different means of worship, we are no longer worshipping the one true God. It may be new and exciting to get golden dandruff, it may send a chill down one’s spine to wake up with new fillings, but this does not make it divine or sovereign.
The history of Aaron’s two sons is a well known and often discussed one. Each took his censer, put fire in it, and put incense in it, and offered profane fire before the Lord. For this, the fire of the Lord fell upon them and devoured them. At the time Aaron was the high priest of Israel, both Nadab and Abihu were grown men, around thirty years of age, and even if they would have been ignorant of how to bring a proper offering, ignorance is no excuse for the sin they committed. We take so lightly those things which ought to be of utmost importance to us, and take so seriously the trivial things that are fleeting and worthless.
The second cause of wrong worship is impatience. In an ever accelerating world, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to simply wait on the Lord.
“We prayed not one, but two prayers, we even took a day of fasting, and still no signs, no wonders, no stirring of the waters.”
Often we grow so impatient than rather than waiting on God and walking in His will, we get ahead of God and try to manufacture a miracle, a revival, or a word from the Lord. Impatience leads to imprudence, imprudence leads to disobedience, and disobedience leads to death. I know it is a difficult thing to contend with, seeing as so many are teaching that God is supposed to be our own personal errand person, there to be beckoned when we need some extra cash, or a shiny new car, but God is not on our time clock, we are on His. Our duty is to obey, to pray, to fast, and grow in Him. He knows when to work, how to work, and who to work through.
One of the most profound examples of impatience, due to the ensuing consequences was that of Saul.
Saul was a man under great strain. The armies of the Philistines had gathered together to fight with Israel, some thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, as well as foot soldiers as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. When the men of Israel saw that they were outnumbered, and that there was no logical way they could win the war, they ran and hid, some in caves, some in thickets others in rocks, holes and pits. Saul began to see the whole of his army disbanding even before the first arrow was released from a bow, even before the first casualty was felled by sword or spear.
The prophet Samuel had told Saul to wait seven days, but those seven days had passed, his army was in disarray and now there was even news of some who crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad in order to escape the coming slaughter. Saul was running out of options, his people were scattered from him, and attempting to unify them once more, to bring some hope to an otherwise hopeless situation, he hastily and impatiently said, ‘bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.’
Yes, the Lord had been specific, through the mouth of Samuel God had told Saul to wait, but all the circumstances surrounding him told him he must act, and act quickly.
1 Samuel 13:10, “Now as it happened, as soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and greet him.”
Rather than get a pat on the back for taking the initiative and bringing the sacrifices himself since Samuel had been delayed, rather than be praised for having a cool head under fire, rather than being lauded for standing in as a surrogate for Samuel, Saul was rebuked and harshly so.
The question Samuel asked Saul was deceptively simple, yet pregnant with implication: ‘What have you done?’
I’m certain that the tone in which Samuel asked the question was not a soothing or conciliatory one, and this is why Saul went on the defensive trying to justify his actions, his impatience, and his disobedience.
1 Samuel 13:11-12, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord. Therefore I felled compelled and offered a burnt offering.”
Why is it that people who are feeling guilty about something always have a tendency to ramble?
‘Well you see, here’s the thing, you didn’t show up, and I felt compelled to disobey the Lord’s command since I couldn’t go to war without making an offering, plus the Philistines were about to descend on me.’
Samuel’s response to Saul’s attempted justification was not nearly as lengthy. Samuel simply said, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God which he commanded you.’
What follows are the consequences to Saul’s impatience, ‘For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom shall not continue.’
Due to one moment of impatience, this man’s entire trajectory had suddenly shifted. Not only would Saul’s kingdom over Israel not be established forever as God had intended, but his kingdom would not even continue for God had found another man after His own heart. Even though he was a king, even though Samuel was late, even though the enemies had gathered, none of these things excused Saul’s impatience.
The third thing that is sure to lead to wrong and as such unacceptable worship is compromise. We live in a society that compromise of one’s values, morals and even dignity is the price we pay for achieving success, or realizing our dreams. Compromise has become as common place and acceptable an option in the church today, as it is in the world.
“Your church isn’t growing at the pace you’d like? Maybe you’re too strict, too rigid, and too inflexible. Maybe you should do less preaching and praying and more pizza nights, bingo nights, and sharing sessions of which passages in scripture you feel are too harsh or unyielding. Is your ministry not bringing in enough to keep the lights on? Maybe you should start sending out glow in the dark miniature crosses, and gaudy trinkets, red and green handkerchiefs upon request, the red for healing the green for financial prosperity. Maybe you should ask more often, and pander to the big givers by making them feel like they’re exclusive and special, in a higher echelon of power and prestige.’
I’ve often found myself smiling mirthlessly at seeing all the books on church growth in the Christian bookstores. The recipe is simple if you’re willing to compromise the truth of Scripture, and your building will be full to the rafters if you focus on pleasing people more than pleasing God. It’s worded differently, but those are the major themes of every church and ministry growth manual.
‘Give the people what they want, not what they need!’ This is the cry of every wolf and sleazy pitchman masquerading as a preacher these days.
‘You want to be happy don’t you? You want to get rich don’t you? You want to have everything you ever wanted, and a little extra to boot don’t you?’
And the bleary eyed masses, as though suffering from a corporate delusion shake their heads in unison. ‘Ugh, I thought I was coming to church because I wanted to know Jesus, get saved, and go to heaven, but that stuff about money and straight teeth sounds good too.’
So often we fail to realize that the standards by which God judges those within His own house are much more stringent than those with which He judges those not of His house. I realize to some this is a shocking statement, but I can prove it Biblically.
At a certain point in Israel’s history the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines. After some time, the Ark had been recovered, and preparations had been made to transport the Ark back to the City of David. God had already predetermined how the Ark should be transported, its very construction proving the fact that God had intended that it should be carried on the shoulders of men, by the staves that went through the four rings of cast gold on each corner of the ark.
It is obvious that the Philistines had neither Levites nor priests to transport the Ark in a rightful manner, so chances are they used a cart to carry it from place to place. Seeing as the Philistines had gotten away with transporting the Ark in a cart, Israel followed suit, built a new cart, and placed the Ark on the cart.
As the Ark was being transported in the new cart that had been fashioned, the oxen stumbled, and a man named Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it for fear of it stumbling to the ground. It was then that the Lord’s anger was aroused, God struck Uzzah, and he died beside the Ark.
It would be easy to go off on a rabbit trail and explore why it was that Uzzah was punished for doing a seemingly noble and good thing, how irreverence played a big part in Uzzah’s punishment, but I want to stick to the point.
What God didn’t punish the Philistines for, namely the improper transporting of the Ark, He punished Israel for, because Israel knew better, and God held them to a higher standard.
Israel had compromised that which they knew they ought not, because they thought God would overlook their compromise just as He had overlooked the irreverence of the Philistines.
Our view of God determines the seriousness with which we approach worship, and the reverence with which we stand before His omnipotent glory. Lest we forget, our God is a consuming fire.
The fourth cause of wrong worship is credulity or outright ignorance. Man wants to believe that he can impose his own criterion when it comes to worship, and as such as long as you think it’s good and acceptable, then it must be such. The problem arises when we realize that it is the Bible that sets the standard of worship, it is the Bible that establishes the criterion, and our duty is to be conformed to the word of God, rather than attempt to twist the Word to suit our desires.
During His dialogue with the woman at the well, Jesus says something profound that cannot be overlooked: “You worship what you do not know!”
Many today are guilty of the same offense, in that they worship what they do not know. The only acceptable means of worship is worship in spirit and in truth. It is only those who are willing to submit themselves, and worship God in spirit and in truth that He is seeking, for only such as these are willing to humble themselves, and let the Potter do what the Potter does, which is mold and place in the furnace that which is pleasing in His sight.
Credulity is faith without a filter. Credulity believes without diligently seeking the Word to see if it is acceptable to God, and as such wanders from experience to experience, from church to church, worshiping what it does not know, for it never took the time to discover that which is essential in acceptable worship.
When we choose to establish our own means of worship, placing the desire of the worshipper above the commands and guidelines of the Object of our worship, we become as Nadab and Abihu, Saul, and Uzzah, doing what we ought not to do, and worshipping in a manner that is displeasing and unacceptable in the sight of God.
If we worship, may it be in spirit and in truth, in obedience and humility, that our worship might not be in vain, but that it bear the fruit of intimacy and a lasting relationship with God.

With love in Christ,

Michael Boldea Jr.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, for a teaching full of meat! God bless you..


Elm Street Chapel - Dave said...

Amen Michael.
Strange fire does not bring the blessings of God though it may get His attention. Most "Churches" that you spoke about are right in their own mind, they will not be corrected. That is why God is calling those that have an ear to hear out from among them so that they will not receive "wrath" (like Uzzah good intentions, wrong way).

Worship is about being in God's presence, in which there is fulness of joy which equates to our strenght. The church that has little strength is where God is. God is not in every church; the candle has long been removed from some.


James Kinsman said...

There definitely is something wrong if you have to drive 50 miles just to get to a church that will tell you the truth about repentance.

I thank God for his amazing grace.