Does God Give Us Freedom To Worship Him Anyway WE Want to?

“If it feels good, do it!”

This has been one of the mottos of our culture since the 1960’s. Now it seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic motto: “If it makes people feel good, we should use it.” Today we see church leaders of every persuasion trying all kinds of new things.   Even in corporate worship.  If it works in drawing more people into services then it “works” and must be stamped with the very approval of God Himself.  It appears that many church leaders are acting under the premise that we can worship God anyway we want to, as long as it is in spirit and truth. This is often just a code word for “Our way of worshipping God is acceptable to Him.  It must be, we love it and so do all the unbelievers who come and enjoy it.” But are they right?  Can we worship God anyway that WE want to?  Is there any possibility, at all,  that the way we worship Him could be unacceptable to HIM?

One of the things we should remind ourselves…
is that God gave VERY specific directions to his people regarding how he was to be worshipped. He gave Israel precise details on what they should do and not do, when and where they were to worship Him and how they were to worship Him. It seems that God unequivocally knows how He wants to be worshipped and cared enough about it to give his people the  details.

A re-occurring theme in the Old Testament is that the people of Israel continually got this worship thing wrong and fell into idolatry. God demanded that they worship Him alone, but they almost always came up short! God summarized their condition in the following verse:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jer.2:13 NIV

Notice the two aspects of Israel’s guilt: First, they abandoned or forsook the true and living God. Secondly, they did their own thing and worshipped in their own way. The cisterns are a vivid illustration of Israel’s love for worthless gods. They dug their own i.e. they worshipped other gods of their choosing, and they were broken i.e. they were worthless gods who could do nothing. They were no gods at all.

What I find instructive is that they did not think they were doing anything wrong. In other words they didn’t think they had abandoned God. You see, they simply added these idolatrous practices to their temple worship. They continued to go to the temple and worship God there, but they also did the other stuff. Read through the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and you will discover the people were very religious. They worshipped God the way they thought they were supposed to and they also took things into their own hands.

I try not to be too harsh on the people of Israel. It is easy to look back now and say, “How could they?” but I don’t think it was easy at the time for them to realize what they were doing. People were uneducated, and relied heavily on their leadership for direction and guidance in these matters. What kind of leadership did they have in Jeremiah’s day? Here is God’s assessment:

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Jer. 5:30-31

The spiritual leadership of the people proclaimed things as true that were false, and they were doing their own thing i.e. ruling by their own authority, not Gods. The result: The people loved it! Let that sink in for a moment. The people LOVED it!

There is a very instructive lesson for today’s church leaders in Israel’s history of idolatry: We should examine our own practices very carefully, for perhaps we have become just as guilty as they were. Today, we can look down the long lens of history and see that Israel’s practices were obviously wrong. But living in the actual moment, THEY could not see the magnitude of how wrong they were. I think we should at least have the moral courage to look at what we call worship and ask ourselves if we are being faithful to what God wants. Or, like the spiritual leaders of their day, are we doing our own thing? And by doing our own thing, are we leading our people astray?

This is not just a question that church leadership should be asking. Every faithful follower of Jesus Christ should be asking the same questions about their own lives as well as the congregation they belong to.

If Israel, God’s chosen people, could fall into idolatry over and over again while maintaining the appearance of a temple worship “service”, we should not think that we are immune to it.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. What about you?

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on June 8, 2011, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Like they say being a Pastor is a crazy job. Long hours, little pay, lots of responsibilities, back-biting membership. All the while you are just trying to build church where God will come and fill His House with HIs presence. I can remember going to prayer services with just a hand-ful of people there and the whole place lit up with His Presence. It only takes two to gather in His name and He will be there. I can also remember going to a Youth convention and a group of Ethiopian youth leaders where there worshipping and praising Him with song and dance in their native tongue, and a group of Americans said they can’t do it like that. Without skipping a beat the leader of the group of Ethiopian’s turned and said that Paul came to Ethiopia first, before he went on to the Europeans. Meaning it is hard for at least me to judge where one’s heart really is.

    • Hi Jason,

      I am not suggesting that there are not a variety of ways to worship the Lord. I am not saying that at all. The question I am asking my readers to consider is “Can we worship God ANYWAY that WE want to?” In other words, is God OK with anything that we offer to him as worship, as long as OUR hearts feel right to us? I think the biblical answer is unquestionably “No”, he is not ok with it. How do we make sense out of Cain and Abel’s offerings, or the writings of Jeremiah, Isaiah and others? I am not suggesting that we should or can become the detectors of true worship in others. I think we can look at the 21st century expression of corporate American worship as a whole and weigh its practice against what God has revealed about how HE wants us to worship Him.

  2. Out of curosity do you think the Hope Chapel’s, Calvary Chapels, and Vineyard’s would have been as ” Successful” had they not adopted the come as you are mentality and Let God clean you up. What was there ” Hook” to get you in the door. Music, skits, an accepting place, safe haven to have God meet you where you are.

    Again I am not trying to belittle anyone in anyway. Just trying to ask the questions that I get every day in the work place, by Christians and non Christians alike. This helps me give them better answers. Especially in a society that is making us to be accepting of everthing. These young kids are growing up on this social media stuff and that’s how they learn or communicate with each other. Remember in days of old with Heaven Gates and Hell’s Flame. Or the Cross and the Switchblade guy who used plays and such. Or the big crusades and music concerts. That’s what got us in the door. Sorry if I got off subject. Thanks for the outlet to communicate this stuff. We have a history together and I remember trying to help build something with you guys. I thought you guys did a great job with what you had.

  3. Jim, I love how you question whether what “works” is what is “right.” Sure, we’re an entertainment culture drawn to entertainment. That will always work. You will always manage to get plenty of people in church if you hand them a free mocha, give them a cushy seat, preach a feel-good message, and have a great band. But a large crowd doesn’t mean that God was pleased with what happened. I think we do see a lot of idolatry in worship when we make God in our image – an old man in the sky who is honestly just glad we showed up – thank goodness we’re giving him a little bit of our time! he’s so lonely, bless his heart. And he’s pretty willing to let my sins slide, so no biggie there. After all, he’s a God of love, right? I can act however I want – I can be as greedy and consumeristic as I want, as gossipy as I want, and as lethargic as I want. I’m just here to worship my god of love.

    I know I talked about this in my post on “The Offensive Justice of God” not long ago, but for me, recognizing how truly God hates sin (and how He hates our false caricatures of Him, which we idolatrously worship ), and how He gave grace anyway – that led me to such powerful worship – in Spirit and in truth.

    Also, no, I’m not sure if “idolatrously” is a word. :)

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Keep them coming!

  4. Hi Aubrey,

    Thank you for the kind words. Now, I don’t know where I used the word “idolatrously”, but it does have anice ring to it.

  5. Hi, remember Arron’s two sons? They were struck down for burning unorthorized fire (incense) in God’s temple. And Jereboam (10tribes of Israel) decided his own places to worship, chose priest he wanted, and invented his own festival out of his own heart – sounds like man-made religion! Because of that the 10 tribes of Israel were scattered to the far ends of the earth, and still are today. God does care how we worship. We don’t get to do whatever we please – He has given very specific instructions in His word – He has appointed the day we worship, and 7 feast we are ALL to keep because they are the days when God has, is, and will be working in men’s lives to bring redemption. BTW – Christmas, Sunday worship, Easter, valentines day, and Halloween are a few of the holidays (festivals) man has created when he usurped the authority which belongs only to God. I care about these things because God cares about them. But we all have the same choice Adam & Eve had – listen to and do what the serpent says, or listen to and follow God!

  6. Just read this and your other similar post http://notforitchingears.com/2010/11/27/does-god-care-how-we-worship/.

    These are great questions and I struggle with the answer. Yes, it’s obvious from the OT that we obey God [in worship]. Writing that popped something in my head. Isn’t obeying God worship? And/or worshipping God is obeying him? What is the definition of worship?

    Anyways, there is the argument that the OT and “The Law” are/where there to demonstrate to us that no matter how much we try, we can’t completely obey it and therefore helps to show us our need for a Savior.

    We need to remember, in all things, its not about me or us. Its for and about God. When we do it for ourselves I think we’re no longer worshipping in Truth.

    December is here and many will celebrate Christmas with its many traditions. What traditions or things are you doing that are not in Truth? Christmas trees can be pretty. Why did you, if you did, put one up? For you or for God? Do you continue to spread lies and fables of mythical people while also claiming to celebrate our Lords birth? May the Holy Spirit convict us of the Truth, lead us in and to the Truth, and comfort us.

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