Disintegration: Worshipping the True God in the Wrong Way
In the preamble to the Commandments God asserts, â€œI am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaveryâ€ (Exodus 20:2). The relationship that God has established with us, freeing us from bondage, is the basis from which we can now serve him and serve others. Our law-keeping flows out of this new gracious, familial relationship that God has initiated. Obedience to the covenant occurs after we are made members of the covenant; obedience, in other words, is the result of being joined in union with Christ; This means that our obedience neither initiates nor maintains that relationship, since Christ's work is sufficient for us both now and forever. We obey because we are saved, not saved because we obey.
I have to emphasize these points because we need constant reminding of them lest we invert the order of the gospel. Today we are going to focus in on the third commandment which teaches us that we are not to misuse the name of our God. We select this commandment because in our individualistic age it is easy to forget that God is sovereign and, therefore, we cannot worship God anyway we choose. Moses read the third commandment as follows:
â€œYou shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.â€ (Exodus 20:7)
Christians are, unfortunately, guilty of breaking this commandment all the time. What is of concern is the seemingly endless demand of Christians for their personal rights of choice in how, and by what methods, they will worship God. The Seeker and Emergent movements have the tendency to apprach worship casually as if God cares most about is our felt needs. When we decide how we will do church by a poll rather than the word of God then the issue has become quite serious. It cannot be stressed too much how seriously God takes both our hearts and methods of worshipping Him. In our day and age, we often approach worship by first considering what will please the most people, but it would be wise to take a step back in fear and consider first what pleases God. Consider the following story in Leviticus 10:1-3 as we approach our holy God:
Aaronâ€™s sons were ministering in the sanctuary but decided to get creative by bringing in their own form of worship, some strange incense, which they assumed would be pleasing to God since it was likely done with good motives. But like the Golden Calf, they were worshipping the True God in a false way that God hates. Here is a description of what happened from the Bible record itself:
â€œNow Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace.â€ (Lev 10: 1-3)
From our point of view Nadab and Abihu were just doing their job and just made a minor adjustment â€¦ but the penalty was swift death. That should be enough to make us think twice about taking God's word more seriously. Look at how how repulsive to God it is when we attempt to bring in foreign elements or methods into worship that God has not prescribed. It does not matter how good the motive was because God asked for obedience. False worship misrepresents Him and reveals the true intent of our hearts: to supplant Him. Christians do this all the time ... no one is exempt from this. So it behooves us to search the Scriptures carefully so we accurately represent God in our theology and our worship.
As a group I often find that we complain about the sin and misrepresentation of God in our surrounding culture, but we ought to consider that this is often because we have often removed the True God from our churches. Our misrepresentation of God is far more harmful to us within the church than to those outside the church. In the Old Testament whenever the Israelites would defile and corrupt the worship of the Lord, or forget their covenantal obligations God would graciously raise up a prophet who would declare the law to them again. He would tell them there is no mercy, justice or faithfulness in the land and no acknowledgement of God even when they were going through all the correct motions or worshipping the True God in the wrong way. When theology gets tossed to the wayside then a breach of ethics seems to inevitably follow. In breaking our relationship with God it also affects our relationships with others. Morality and theology are not an â€œeither/orâ€ matter, but rather, â€œboth/ and.â€
The history of Christianity is filled with incidents of those among us who have used God for their own purposes, sometimes out of seemingly good motives, sometimes bad, but the results are usually disastrous to the church as a credible witness. Just 150 years ago some who named the name of Christ kidnapped Africans and took them for slaves and used the Bible to justify their wrongheadedness. Instead of understanding the first century "slave" to be an indentured servant who when into service to pay a debt, they broadened the scope of it to mean â€œkidnap and enslave other human beings at will.â€ The Bible itself plainly forbids such actions: "He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death." (Ex 21:16). This obviously could not be more unbiblical yet the evil human heart is able to make up just about anything that will conform to its selfish desires. We must, therefore, all take heed, because we are not beyond manipulating the Bible ... so let's be vigilant to never trust our own judgment but seek the Lord's true will in the Scriptures.
Other examples are easy to find. Apartheid is more recent example where Scripture was interpreted to excuse them to take over their new "promised land" to drive out the modern day "Canaanites.â€ This misuse of Scripture is so obvious that it needs no further explanation. Today some Christians equate being Christian with nationalism and opposition to justice for the poor. Sometimes we equate it with being a member of the Republican or Democratic Party. The right wing version of Christianity which erroneously equates aspects of American political/social and economic life with Christianity and the more 'liberal' left wing evangelical liberation theology which equates the Gospel with Robin Hood economics. Seeing societal change as the result of the Gospel, rather than the message of the Gospel, is essential. We use religion to justify all sorts of things never revealed in the Text of Scripture. Christians have often ruined their witness by being self-righteous which is completely contrary to the essence of the gospel they claim to believe. Unless one boasts only in the righteousness of Christ, recognizing our own spiritual bankruptcy, they tend to make a joke of the gospel. Do these examples show the dangers of religion? No, quite the contrary, they show the dangers that exist in the heart of men. These actions were done in "unbelief" a deviation from true religion that both founded and motivated the selfish acts. Contrary to the reason of some current atheists, a more conservative view of the Bible might have actually served to avoid these problems. It was a misuse of God's word for our own political purposes that such atrocities were committed. Religious fundamentalism was not the problem here but rather the taking of liberties with Godâ€™s word for our own selfish purposes. Christians are called to proclaim the gospel to the captives, to set free those who are in bondage, to care for the poor and the helpless yet the Nazis were actually able to conscript the liberal church in Germany to do its bidding. Many are surprised to find that those who resisted the Nazis almost exclusively came from the ranks of the confessional church, those who embraced a robust conservative theological view.
The lesson is that no matter what the motives we have, we must offer service that is authorized by God. We cannot use God for our own purposes, however, subtle they may be. We are capable of this sin. To admit that is the first step in the right direction. False worship will inevitably end up bringing discredit to Godâ€™s name. What goes on in our church may not be as outwardly scandalous as some of the above mentioned mistakes, but to the degree we misrepresent God we commit idolatry and our idolatry inevitably effects the way we work out the gospel in the public sphere.
It matters how we represent God. Human-generated and human-centered religions work from the bottom up, reaching heavenward, taking hold and pulling down God. The gospel, on the other hand, works from the top down, yielding to God's word and resting in what Christ does for us rather than we what do for Him. In other words, beware of all religions which want to do away with theology and focus only on practice. This is a false dichotomy. Any practice that is not based in the finished work of Jesus Christ, is bad religion.
Some postmodern forms of Christianity claiming â€œepistemic humilityâ€ say that the Bible is such a mystery that we can say nothing about it with certainty, but take note .... the Bible itself never tells us to read it in that way. This false humility is actually a culture driven theology and not a Christ-driven one. A new extra-biblical creed is created to push their agenda that looks down on those who will not blindly follow their dogma of uncertainty. The fact is, we cannot know God exhaustively but we do know Him truly. Deut 29:29 says those things that â€œare revealed are for us and our children, while the secret things [which He has not revealed] remain hidden in Him.â€ This is just one more way men suppress the truth to evade their responsibility. True religion points to God and what He has done for us in Christ. It is vertical. But in corrupted religion God is there for me, a horizontal conversation to be decided by the individual or the community. The Seeker Movement and much of the Emerging movement have something in common. Biblically speaking, we must conclude that this over-contextualizing is a subtle form of unbelief. In an attempt to reach the lost these movements often use human techniques in the place of the clear blueprint of God to reach the lost through word and sacrament.
Due the the unceasing desire to assert ourselves, we are prone to be creative, and think of ways we might worship God in our own individualistic ways (Rom. 1:22-25). But He does not leave us to our speculation, nor does He make us grope in the dark for how we might properly view and worship Him, but He has graciously revealed Himself to us in the Text of Scripture, that we might know Him as He is. The first table of the law concerns our obligations to God; the second table reveals our obligations to others in the human family. It is not insignificant that God places emphasis on loving Him as the only God (the first commandment) as of primary importance. So the main thrust of Godâ€™s laws are theological, that is, they teach us foremost about God, not ourselves. They are not practical tips for everyday living but reveal something He wants us to take notice of â€¦ This is teaching from God Himself about His nature and His character and how he expects us to live before Him as covenant people. Godâ€™s laws also point to what life will be like in the coming age of the resurrection, a kingdom age which has broken into the present in Jesus Christ, the first fruits, who now works new life through us on earth so we might exemplify the life of the age to come, as we anticipate the full consummation of the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated.