From Sacred Worship to Sacrilegious Whims

Under King David the tribes of Israel were united like no other time before.  Solomon, his son, expanded the territory of Israel in ways that were once unimaginable.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, tore the kingdom apart in just a few days.  The people felt over-taxed and over-worked.  They asked Rehoboam for a little relief.  After speaking with both his father’s advisors and his friends, he sided with his friends, and taxed the people more and worked them harder.  Ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam and set up Jeroboam as the king of Israel, while Rehoboam ruled Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin stayed).

God had promised Jeroboam (the 10 tribes’ king) blessings if he would follow God and do as he said.  Sadly, Jeroboam did anything but follow God.  What we see in 1 Kings 12:25-33 is a shift that Jeroboam led Israel through: from sacred worship to sacrilegious whims.  What we see in 25-27 is the doubting of God’s promises.  God promised blessings, but Jeroboam couldn’t understand how those blessings could come if the people were tied to Jerusalem.  “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David.  If these people go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.  They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah’,” (1 Kings 12:26-27, HCSB).  Jeroboam focused on the circumstances he was facing at one moment in time rather than the promise of God.  He was focused on his own following rather than following after God.  So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.  When that happens bad choices follow.  Jeroboam’s solution was to fuse sacred worship with pagan practices.

Jeroboam, having sought counsel (though not godly counsel), had two golden calves built.  “‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you.  Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and put the other in Dan,” (1 Kings 2:28-29, HCSB).  This would remind any Bible student of Aaron’s great sin, as high priest leading the people to worship an idol.  Here the king does the same.  However, many believe that Jeroboam was not making a graven image, but more of a seat.  He was simply replacing the Ark of the Covenant with these pedestals.  God was invisibly seated or standing upon them.  He set one in Bethel near the border of Israel and Judah and one in Dan one of the most northern cities in the kingdom.  This made worship easy.  No one had to travel far to sacrifice, and even then they only needed to go on special occasions, seeing that Jeroboam also set up high places for regular days.  Everything seemed harmless enough, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.

God had stated exactly how He was to be worshiped.  It was to be in Jerusalem at the temple with sacrifice and incense and such.  It was not to be on high places and not to be in Bethel or Dan.  It was not to be on any pedestal but the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

It was also confusing.  Baal was depicted as a bull.  The Canaanites worshiped Baal, not Israelites.  To have the bulls as pedestals (or idols if they were), would be too much for either Israelites or Canaanites.  The worship of God was looking way too secular for both peoples.  There was nothing holy–sacred or different–about the worship of God.  The sacred worship was being taken over by the sacrilegious whims of Jeroboam.  Everyone would be suffering and sinning because of it.  “This led to sin; the people walked in procession before one of the calves all the way to Dan,” (1 Kings 12:30, HCSB).

A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

The syncretistic nature of Jeroboam quickly turned into false worship.

Jeroboam also built shrines on the high places and set up priests from every class of people who were not Levites.  Jeroboam made a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival in Judah.  He offered sacrifices on the altar; he made this offering in Bethel to sacrifice to the calves he had set up.  He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had set up.  He offered sacrifices on the altar he had set up in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  He chose this month on his own.  He made a festival for the Israelites, offered sacrifices on the altar, and burned incense, (1 Kings 12:31-33, HCSB).

There were no true priests, no true festivals, and no true sacrifices and so there was no true worship.  It began with a doubt.  He doubted that God would do as He promised to do if Jeroboam would obey Him.  Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

It would seem many churches are taking their lead from this king rather than God’s Word.  It is easiest to point fingers toward those churches that seem to have more of a rock concert than a worship service or those churches that forego having Communion.  But it is also in churches that are “traditional” in nature.  Many of the tradions are not biblical traditions, but secular traditions.  Their traditions may date back to the 500s, the 1500s, or to 1950s, but not to the text of Scripture.  What is often decried by “traditional” churches as the secularization of the church is true, but as the old 90s Just Say No commercial pointed out they “learned it from watching you.”  It is difficult to remember how syncretistic the churches were in the 50s and 60s because at that time, the young members and new churches were simply trying to reach the lost.  The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

For the record, I am not against “contemporary services” or “traditional services.”  I am simply saying that we use extreme caution in our pursuit to express our worship.  It is not so much about our likes as it is God’s likes.  If we were to cook a meal in honor of our spouses, we would hopefully choose foods that they enjoy eating, not what we enjoy eating.  Whether or not we like the way the meal is prepared or food that is placed in front of us, we can at least enjoy the company we have.  If we were to throw a party for one of our kids, we would not seek to decorate with our delights, but with the delights of our children.  We wouldn’t decorate with “over the hill” balloons for our 4 year old, but rather Jake and the Neverland Pirates or My Little Pony balloons.  We go to worship–not our selves, but our God.  Let us give and do what delights His heart.

The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

There’s a quaint saying in churches, especially smaller churches.  We like to say, “It’s not all about the numbers.”  It sounds spiritual doesn’t it?  Numbers are cold and dead.  We are about the souls, warm and living.  We don’t care about putting notches in our belts.  We want spiritual growth, not necessarily numerical growth.  But here’s the problem: the Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

If we go to Acts, we see first: “While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise,” (Acts 1:4, HCSB).  Who is the them?  Verse 2 tells us it was the apostles whom He had chosen (minus 1 of course).  That’s 11 of them.  In fact, these apostles are named in verse 13, and then more are added to the 11 when it says that the women, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers were with them.  Obviously Luke was keeping track of numbers.

The Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

Within the 10 days of Jesus’ ascending and the descending of the Holy Spirit, the apostles picked another apostle to join them.  The number who were with them at this point was 120 people (that’s a number)!  When the Spirit came and the tongues were preaching the word, we find out at the end of chapter 2: “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them,” (Acts 2:41, HCSB). More numbers!  But it gets worse!!! At the beginning of chapter 4 we see, “But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000,” (v. 4, HCSB).  What’s with all the numbers?  How could Luke write something so unspiritual?

Of course, by this time, the church in Jerusalem was growing exponentially, and the numbers drop off of Luke’s radar.  But what it would seem Luke was doing was showing how the church was growing.  In fact, he even said such in chapter 2.  The new Christians were “praising God and having favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved,” (v. 47, HCSB).  The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

I know this is not a hard and fast rule.  I have heard of matured Christians going to be missionaries and seeing no success.  But that is the exception that proves the rule.  We ought to be surprised when God doesn’t bless the matured believer with fruit.  We should be scratching our heads and bowing our knees and asking God for fruit, for the salvation of souls and the growth of the mission church.

I am encouraged by our church’s numerical growth.  To go from 21 as a low in 2013 to nearly double that in 2016 is a praise!  It confirms that God is doing something within this body.  It confirms that spiritual growth is happening (we are not the gimmicky type).  What visitors often see is that Highland View is a small church.  Some don’t mind, most do.  What they do not see is that Highland View is a growing church and a growing church (that grows for the right reasons) is a church about which to be excited.

The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

So while it is not all about the numbers, some of it most definitely is about the numbers.

I’d love to hear from you.  Send me your thoughts; as long as they are respectful, I will post them.  You don’t have to agree; just be kind.  If you liked the post, share it.  Thanks!

 

Church Attraction

Over the last couple of decades smaller churches seem to be getting smaller and larger churches seem to be getting larger.  People seem to be attracted to larger congregations for a variety of reasons: there’s more to offer kids, youth, singles, older adults, etc.  They have quality music (sometimes), and it is easy not to stick out like a sore thumb.

Like everything else, the glamorous, the pretty, the sexy, etc. naturally attract larger crowds.  If you have a bouquet of colorful flowers, it will probably draw the attention of more people than say a single rose.  A beautifully plated meal is probably going to attract more people than a bowl of raman noodles.  It’s to be expected really.

As a man who has only pastored small churches, I must say that this mindset is saddening (and sometimes enraging; at times disheartening).  In a world of microwave dinners, many people simply want a microwave church.  How often have I heard, I want a bigger children’s ministry.  I want something for my teenager.  In our world, we simply want ready-made meals that we put little effort into.  Large churches do that.  Like sticking a Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie in the microwave, we stick our kids or youth or singles or bowling league in and let the church do the rest.  We don’t have to worry about a thing.  Little to no effort on our parts.

Little churches may not have a vibrant kids’ ministry.  To make one would be hard work.  No one likes to make meals from scratch.  Who has the time?  Yet, meals from scratch are often healthier than microwave meals.  Kid’s ministries that are in the hands of parents, built from the ground up are hard work, but they’re also rewarding.  The same for any other ministry.

What is interesting to me is that there is an innate desire for community within a churches, even big churches.  I often hear how people will go on and on about how cool their church is, and then lament that they really don’t know anyone there.  So their next adventure within the church is to join a small group or a community group or life group or whatever cool name they’re calling them.  There is a desire to be a part of something…smaller.  Something more intimate.  Hopefully, in this manner one may have their cake (small group) and eat it too (large church).

So, here is the small church down the street.  They don’t have as many ministries and they aren’t as professionally done.  People chip in and work hard together.  Some are small because they keep outsiders on the outside, but others are small because they are the outsiders and no one gives them a chance.  Everyone wants to date the jock or the cheerleader.  No one wants to date president of the chess club.  So they walk on past him barely acknowledging that he’s there so they can flirt with the cool kids.  The outward appearance is so attractive that often the real person is never even noticed.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Johnny Lingo.  If not:

A man once had a daughter who was a bit comely in appearance.  Often times, a father of a pretty young lady would receive an offer of 3 cows for her hand in marriage.  An average face would bring 2 cows.  This man was secretly hoping for 1 cow for his daughter’s hand.  One day, Johnny Lingo, the richest man in town started up the street.  He was headed to the man’s house to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.  No one could believe it!  When he arrived he offered, not just 1 cow or 2 cows.  He offered 10 cows!  The two married and sailed off for their honeymoon of 2 years.  When their boat was coming over the horizon a villager saw it and spread the word: The Lingos are back!  The whole village came to meet them.  There was Johnny, but where was the man’s daughter?  There was a beautiful woman with Johnny and everyone assumed Johnny dumped his new bride and got himself another woman.  But then suddenly one by one they began to realize this was the very same woman who departed with Johnny two years prior.  Johnny’s love and compassion and tenderness and respect made her outwardly the woman he knew her to be inwardly.

Sometimes small churches need that.  I’m not seeking to discount the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Any work attempted without the Holy Spirit’s movement is a sham and will fall apart.  But I’m also not discounting the fact the Holy Spirit works through people, and that many people (including myself, more often than I want to admit) grieve the Spirit and do not do or go as He prompts and leads.  Neither you nor I are the Savior of the church.  But we are servants and helpers of the Savior.  There are many good, smaller churches that could use the help.  And yes, there are many that would serve the community well if they’d just cease to exist (just being honest).

So all I am really saying is the same thing that God said when sending Samuel to David to annoint him as king.  Samuel saw the sons of Jesse and believed all of them could be a good king.  Yet God said, “Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart,” (1 Samuel 16.7, HCSB).  I’d encourage you to look deeper than the “ministries and music” of a church and look at the heart of the church.  Do they love Jesus and you?  Do they love the lost both locally and globally?  So their music may not be your style or it may be your style but it isn’t done well.  Does that mean that they aren’t worth your time and effort and love?  That seems to be the case for most people.  Does the church proclaim the truth and proclaim it in love?  But they only have one other teenager and no youth group.  Ever think that teen might be lonely and need a friend?

I can tell you from experience, a new family in a small church brings new life to the church.  Things begin that could not be done before.  Two families even more so.  Three families, that much more.  If people would be patient and caring and serve well, suddenly the beauty within would appear outwardly.  A once “unattractive” church will begin to glow.  The ugly duckling can become a beautiful swan.  It has always been beautiful, but it hasn’t had the chance to show it.