Friday, February 6, 2009

Worshipping False Idols

There is a popular television series in America named “American Idol” wherein contestants audition before three judges to exhibit their individual singing talents.  The contestants are sifted and winnowed until there are but a few left.  The audience can participate in the gleaning process and ultimately only one contestant is deemed “America’s Next Idol” with his or her own record contract.

The show has been a phenomenal success.

What does this say about us?  You might object to where you perceive me going with this.  You might point out that the word “Idol” doesn’t infer that people actually worship these people.  You might suggest that no one sees these people as anything more than really talented singers and performers.  You might suggest that the term “Idol” is used only in a common vernacular sense.  But…

What if I were to point out that musicians in today’s society are treated differently than practically any other person?

There is no equivalent in American society to the cultural phenomena exhibited at concerts where people crowd together clamouring for a closer aspect of the performer.  These people offer themselves without reserve to the enjoyment of the performer.  In the secular extreme there are tens or hundreds of them willingly offering their physical bodies in sacrifice to the most prurient interests of the performer.  In any case the scene is filled invariably with hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people waving their arms, jumping frantically, screaming adoration – even BEFORE the artists take the stage.

The lives of these performers are scrutinized to the extreme as well.  The paparazzi follow them about hoping for a glimpse into the private lives of these people.  Books are written.  Magazine articles are written.  Posters are sold an hung on the walls of adoring teenagers and adults who should know better.  There is altogether an amusing and oft scandalous interest in these performers that exceeds any interest in a deity of any kind.

And herein lies my objection.  No one screams in adoration of God at any time.  No one clamours in excited anticipation at the sunset, on Easter morning, before the Lord’s Supper or at any other time for worship of God.  Yes, some will do this at “Christian Concerts” but there also appear the performers.  Take the performers away and the ‘worshippers’ change their whole demeanor.

What is being worshipped are people.  What is being worshipped are performers.

When was the last time the congregation stood in adamant applause at the reading of God’s word?  They applaud performances during the ‘worship’ hour, but when do they applaud God for being God?

When was the last time, we as children of God worshipped Him as much as we worship celebrities?  Can you really justify the ludicrous scene of a concert?  Can you really justify before God Almighty your interest in Oprah’s book club or your favorite football teams’ draft choice?  Can I really justify before my Father in Heaven my rapturous study of old movies and cinematic technique - or human philosophers – or the Chicago Bears for that matter?

It is not that the time I give to these things is bad.  It is the measure of that time.  It is the quality of that time.  I have forgotten the fourth commandment, which was never done away with or superseded.  I have given more excitement to the beginning of the NFL season than the beginning of Lent or Advent.  I have given more energy to memorizing U2 lyrics than the Psalms.  I have given more time to reading Plato than Paul.  I have given more worship to man than God.  May my Father in Heaven forgive me.

Are we worshipping false idols?  What do you think?  Perhaps it isn’t important to God?  Perhaps God isn’t jealous?  Perhaps God doesn’t really want our rapturous attentions and affectations?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Unpopular Biblical Teachings

What is the responsibility of a Christian in post-modern America when confronted with Biblical teaching that is clearly out of date and border-line hate speech in light of today’s enlightened culture?  The Bible teaches that wives should submit to husbands, that women are not to hold offices of authority in the church, that homosexuality is sin, that sinners are not to be welcomed into the local body, that coveting is one of the worst sins possible.  All of these teachings are passe and offensive to our culture.  Many of these teachings are offensive to ‘christians’ in our church pews today.  I suspect that several of you reading this are thinking me simply wrong in my assertions about what the Bible teaches.

And that is where I’m challenged.  In a recent article I read a teacher rebuts a new examination of 1 Timothy 2:12′s prohibition of women teachers, elders and pastors.  My church’s leadership would not agree, and in fact would suggest that the Bible allows such.  In reading through the article I was struck to the heart by the humility of the author.  I was encouraged to think, what other Biblical teachings are unpopular?  What other doctrines central to Christianity are under attack?

It is not hard to find the big 3 under attack from without and from within today:

  1. The Role of Women in Leadership
  2. The Role of Homosexuals in the Church and Leadership
  3. The Exclusivity of Christ in Salvation

But I suggest there are a few others under attack in more subtle ways which are just as dangerous and just as likely to reform unsuspecting and childish Christians to the world instead of visa-versa:

  1. The Acceptability of Coveting (Posterity Seekers)
  2. The Worship of Man (American Idol, Sports, Health, Romance)
  3. Democracy (We are diluting the influence of a man who has walked with God for 50 years by the votes of very young Christians and children)
  4. Rejection of Familial and Elder Authority (children don’t obey, submit or honor)
  5. The Rejection of the Sabbath (while Jesus changed the Sabbath, He did not do away with the Sabbath)
  6. The Epidemic of Adultery
  7. The adulteration of the Gospel of Peace which substitutes peace between God and man with peace between man and man.

Worldly and Ungodly Prayers for Peace

I admit that I am frustrated.  For several weeks I have endured calls for corporate prayer for peace in the Middle East.  In searching through Scripture I can find no precedence for this behavior.  No where do I find the Apostles, the Disciples or Christ himself praying for peace between and among unbelievers.  From whence does this call originate?

Our prayers reveal what is happening in our hearts.  Those things that we desire and yet are incapable of attaining in and of ourselves, we naturally reach out to that higher power we choose to believe in and request assistance there.  We do not pray for those things we do not think about.  We do not pray for those things we care not for.  And while the call for corporate prayer more accurately reflects the heart of the leader, there is an acquiescence implied in the ability to call for the same prayer week after week without challenge.

So, I conclude that some have it heavy on their heart that people in the Middle East would stop shooting each other.  Remarkably, however, these same people have never displayed the same passion that those people living and dying in the Gaza Strip would come to receive salvation through faith in Christ.  Remarkably, a concern and heart for peace between God and the people in the Middle East is absent.  This is a worldly and ungodly prayer.

OK, so you might think me extreme?  How can praying for peace in the Middle East be worldly?  How can it be ungodly?  I’ll take both these challenges (perceived and anticipated I grant you) in turn.

First and foremost is worldliness.  Worldliness is that which the world embraces, nourishes, encourages and produces.  We are surrounded by worldly religions which produce prayers for peace.  Islam prays for peace (at least a good deal of Muslims claim to pray for peace).  Mormonism prays for peace.  Hinduism prays for peace.  Buddhism prays for peace.  Apostate churches pray for peace.  The most ungodly reprobate hedonistic Hollywood moguls and players pray for peace.  To pray for peace between men is so common as to be blasé.  I suspect that next to war and death Satan himself enjoys a good worldly call for peace.

There are those who will exclaim  “What’s wrong with peace?  Doesn't God want us to live in peace with one another?  Wasn't the advent of Christ accompanied by Angels singing from on high “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men?”

I propose that God isn't interested in peace between men.  Not as most understand it.  God is interested in peace between Himself and those He has chosen from before time.  This was why Christ died for us.  Romans 5:1  The peace pronounced at the birth of Christ was limited to those who please God.  Luke 2:14  War is the natural consequence of sin.  Because sin is not eradicated before the second coming of Christ, there will be war.  To suggest the possibility of something else is to suggest that Christ’s second coming is unnecessary.  But what of particular peace?  Isn’t it true that God blessed Israel with times of peace?  II Chronicles 14:7  Yes, absolutely!  But the distinction is that Israel was the chosen people of God who enjoyed a specific and particular covenant with God.  They were promised peace if they followed God.  But they were promised war and pestilence and captivity if they forgot God.  Someone who would pray for Israel would rightly start out praying that Israel would remember her God and return to the Law and seek after God.  The answer to that prayer would assure peace.  However, when I listen carefully the call for repentance among Palestinians who would kill every living Israelite is nowhere heard.  When I listen carefully there is no call for repentance among Israelites either, or among Americans, or among terrorist, fascists, communists, socialist, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Christians.  Repentance is left out of those prayers.  And so, isn't it natural that God sends wars?  No, I'm not suggesting that we as non-Israelites are under that same promise-consequence covenant.  But I am suggesting that God has repeatedly sent war on those nations and people who forgot God.  If the people repented, peace would be a natural consequent, an inevitable result.  Why don’t we pray for that first?  The answer is in part because of the second accusation – they are ungodly prayers.

Having determined that the world prays for peace because it wishes to avoid repentance which naturally brings peace, we can look at why the prayer is ungodly.  The prayer of the ungodly seeks to avoid God’s will.  It changes and alters God’s will.  God’s will determines particular war, the most horrific, the most damning, the most inhuman war to ever occur is yet in the future and is determined, set out, and ultimately determined by a conquering God who makes Islamic jihad look like child’s play.  God’s will also allows particular war.  God is sovereign and He has set about natural consequences for disobeying His will.  When nations sin, war is a consequence.  When we seek to avoid the consequence without changing what brought about the consequence, we are in fact, seeking to avoid God’s will and natural order.  The empty prayer for peace without repentance is an ungodly prayer because it worships peace above God’s will.

And so I am frustrated.  When will we as Christians stop loving the World?  We are not to love the World – that includes the world’s love affair with peace without God.  Christ in his final hours refused to pray for the people in the world who were not Christians or who weren’t going to be Christians.  He doesn’t pray for world peace.   John 17:9  When we pray for the world and peace among and between men without first praying for God’s will, for repentance, for His glory, we are not praying for His will.  We are praying an ungodly and worldly prayer.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

We are to pray for all people, for kings and for those in authority – that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.  But the focus is on how we lead our lives and it includes a call to repentance and Godliness.  The prayer isn't beyond salvage – but it will take a lot to make it meaningful.