December 15, 2018
This caught my eye some time ago.
The Lord said:
Because these people approach Me with their mouths
to honor Me with lip-service—yet their hearts are far from Me,
and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote—
therefore I will again confound these people with wonder after wonder.
The wisdom of their wise men will vanish, and the understanding of the perceptive will be hidden.
This was given by the prophet as part of a message of a strong judgment of His people, who had taken a path far from Him. But the practice of worship without heart, and worship guided by humankind-derived rules and practices, is still alive and well today.
Today I reflect on “man-made rules”.
I live much of my life in public gatherings for the purpose of worship of the Creator: Almighty God. Over these many years, patterns of behavior and practice have become familiar to my mind.
I might be treading on unstable ground here. I am one of those people called a pastor. So, I let you know that these views do not necessarily comport with those with whom I serve. Nor do I throw shade at anyone. We all do what we know—what we have learned.
Habits become orthodoxy. We drift from the original mission, unwittingly adopting cultural practices that appeal to us, not realizing we “sanctify” our inventions and ideas.
The following comments, not all-inclusive, come from years of observation. Please tell me what you have seen, as well! And tell me what you think.
What are some of the man-made rules learned by rote in the Church these days? (Note there are some contradictory rules, depending on who or what group has them.) And certainly, not all these apply in every case. But examples do exist!
- You must use the latest, most trendy songs and music.
- You must stay with “the old hymns”.
- People are allowed to speak or contribute only in a limited, controlled time frame.
- Mostly you should be quiet and listen.
- If you are really worshipping, you will raise your hands.
- If you are really worshipping, you will meditate, and read aloud what is pre-written.
- The church building is a sanctuary, a holy place.
- Only elders or pastors should serve communion.
- Only elders or pastors should baptize people.
- Songs = Worship.
- Worship takes place on Sunday morning, in an official building.
- Pastors should conduct themselves as CEO’s.
- If a sermon makes you feel convicted you have done all you need in response. It’s the feeling that counts.
- Pastors generally have a uniform.
- For centuries, elaborate robes have been the ticket and still are in some quarters.
- For non-old-line churches, it was the three-piece suit.
- For current times, it’s generally hipster shoes, hipster pants, and an untucked shirt. (Bonus if there are holes at the knees.)
- Oh good grief: look at this.
- Gatherings should be at 11 am. (This is disappearing, however.)
- We have to pray to beings other than God.
- You cannot have a service without a bulletin. Or at least, no one does.
- You must provide a smorgasbord of services and activities for every conceivable desire.
- Family members must be separated from one another for the largest portion of the times we are together.
- You must have distinctives which set you apart from other churches.
- You must be incorporated so people’s giving is not quite. so. sacrificial.
- Pews are the best way to have a legitimate place of worship. *
I love the Church, which to say is, I love the people of God. We are family, a household of faith, living stones. I am not a Church hater.
But humans tend to glue things onto what God has given them. Look at the birth of the Messiah, for example. Almost none of the traditions we have actually focus on the Messiah. We are more intrigued by the celebrations than we are by the Center of the Incarnation. We seem to like creating things in our own image.
The same seems to happen in the history of the worship of God in general. We skew to our preferences and notions of how things should be and generally have tacked a lot onto the worship relationship with the living God.
It is difficult to find a biblical basis for anything on the list above. Maybe I am wrong, and if so, I welcome your enlightenment. Also, there must be other humankind-conceived rules or practices that I failed to mention. I’d like to hear those from you as well.
* Pews originated in Roman theatres, and for centuries, after “church buildings” were invented (copied from Roman governmental basilicas), were places of special honor for the rich or honored of society. Yuck.
Beginning December 25, I will daily re-publish 12 articles I wrote in December 2015 and January 2016. The articles are about the 12 days of Christmas, which are observed by some branches of the Church. They are my encouragement to help you redirect your thinking and meditation regarding our celebrations of the Incarnation.