Throughout recorded time, the worship of God has mesmerized mankind. In one form or another, people have made rules for worshipping deity. In every case, the worshiper approached his god with sacrifice, honor, humility, and adoration.
This was true of the Hebrews and their God. He had to be approached with great delicacy. Unlike other deities, it was this God who quite deliberately designed his own worship service, revealing it to Moses who penned the details in holy writ. The place and times of worship were defined. Special feast days were assigned for remembrance of great occasions. The days, weeks, months, and years of special celebration were well defined and in great detail.
What animals or offerings were acceptable and the peculiar way of killing, bleeding and dismembering animal sacrifice was outlined in painstaking detail. Who could eat what meat and how the entrails, fat, and bones were to be handled were described? An entire priesthood supervised these acts of worship as well as maintained the place of worship and interpreted the legal requirements for praise of God and punishment of the insolent. God legislated how the Jewish people could approach him because mankind was sinful. His law was added to show sin to be sin. Every aspect of how people could approach God was a reminder of His unique position as holy and mankind’s position as helplessly inadequate.
How to dress and how to cleanse the body and the mind was particular to the genders and to those born of the Nation, versus those who had proselyted to the religion. No aspect of worship was missed; from the structure of the temple, every step, every image, the golden overlay and even the color, weight and height of the curtains found in the temple place were demarcated. “37 The foundation of the temple of the Lord was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv. 38 In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He (Solomon) had spent seven years building it.” 1 Kings 6.
The Jewish Nation did not go to church, however. Once each week they rested from their daily work to enjoy family and friends and to remember the God who made life and made it pleasant for them. On this day they would rest from their labor in commemoration of their God who had made all things in 6 days and rested on the seventh. They too were not to deny themselves this rest. It was a holy day for them and to the Lord. They would eat what they had stored up on the sixth day. They would not move about for menial tasks. All the people would rest on that day. It was not a day to go hungry or a day of labor. This would be a sign between the people and the God who made them holy. This was a good thing for people. Any who held that day in contempt could lose their life. It was sacred to all.
At least three times each year and more often every seventh year the people were to engage God and each other in religious celebration. They were to feast! It was also dictated by scripture. When, where, why and how, was overseen by priests with the most scrupulous care. Other special occasions were chosen by those burdened by their own sins, offering according to law the necessary relief and appeal for a clear conscious.
Imagine now a world where worship of this kind would no more be brought to mind! No special place to worship. No required obeisance to God. Sacrifice would be speaking well of God’s name. Acts of kindness to fellow man would be the highest form of worship to God. Joyful songs of thanksgiving would be offered anywhere and at any time, to His name. God’s acceptance of each person is full, personal, and complete. He resides in us. We are in him. He has made us eternal. We are made divine. The worship of God is not localized to one place or regulated by a priesthood.
The assembly of people could be engaged at any time with songs sung to refresh the participants, whose love for one another emanated from knowledge that God had made all things right between Him and them. A sinless and holy God created a sinless and holy people to share in the joy of living. Acceptable worship could not be defined by anything more than love of God and love of fellow man. Holiness would be a matter of fact for those so thankful for their redemption from the darkness of a sinful world. Righteousness would be imputed to all who seek for it. Hope, would be the aspiration to imitate the example of the Creator by living free of guilt, shame, fear or doubt in service to others. No laws now needed to restrain the people; only the law of freedom from sin and death. God had become the Holy Father and the Son was not ashamed of us. The law of Christ would be “…bear ye one another’s burdens.”
Now imagine this life, a life where the details of how, when, and where to worship God were replaced with rules again. Imagine the Law of Christ was about how to sacrifice to God when to bow in his presence, who could approach him for worship! How to sing was defined by man’s ideas of what makes for singing. Worship was confined to a place, a time, and ruled by 5 or 10 significant acts which made the worshiper acceptable. Imagine that the number of times you presented yourself to God in the assembly was transcribed by the clergy who for certain knew that the accountants of heaven were doing the same. Imagine that your desire to give above and beyond what you could afford was replaced instead by a percentage of your income; a required commitment to give!
Imagine that your sins were still being counted against you. Imagine that a priesthood, a clergy, an eldership held sway over the value of your life in the congregation. Imagine that what God had restored in Christ was taken by force by men who became the authorities in the “New Law of Christ”. Imagine, if you will, the heart meant to be free from these things, once again burdened with shame and doubt; frightened to displease God. The law of Christ would not be about relationships and the healing of nations it would be like the old law that stood only to condemn the sinner, promising the justice of the death penalty.
Christianity has become such a religion of men; the traditions of the experts. It has no room for freedom. The Father who was once the Judge seems to have merely passed the baton to his Son. The Son has become the bringer of new ways to sin; “better” ways to displease God. Church attendance is a requirement. Giving is a requirement. Singing praise and praying in a church is required by this new form of government. The preacher is not an evangelist who brings the lost to the paradise of God’s fellowship. He preaches to the saved. He is the reminder of our frailties; the token of our inadequacies. The preacher is the painful memory that we who were once sinners, still are. While he greets with one hand, he pens our obituary with the other: “Here lies one who was not good enough.”
The elders convene to grumble how the congregation is lazy, unworthy, insufficient for the tasks they had in mind. They will never be successful with this congregation. “Thank God for forgiveness or all would be lost,” they say to one another. They review the week. Not enough attendance. Not enough collected. Not enough interest. Not enough joy. Not enough love. Not enough…!
The experts decide who can be admitted to the kingdom and which sins can be forgiven. How they are admitted to the kingdom becomes more important than the King who opened the doors to the kingdom. The experts define acceptable worship, the kind of music, and whether dance is permissible.
Is this the realization of “the old is past, the new has come!” Or is it just more of the same?
Everyone learns how to please these men; how to dress for worship hour, who can speak and who must remain silent, who can be saved and who cannot, who has full fellowship and who has partial fellowship. These are defined by little tracts that pull Bible verses’ from their Bible context. The tracts cover all the essentials: How to dress, how to give, the importance of attendance, excusable excuses, do not visit other denominations, sing in four-part harmony.
Worship of God once again becomes the main focus of religious life. How to, when to, why to, worship God is taught as the reason for human existence. Do this thing right and you will have fulfilled your purpose in this world. Do this right and you can go to heaven and do it some more, forever and ever. The only other choice is a burning nightmare of hell damnation; a horrifying torment of shame and remorse that far outweighs the count of sin committed by a mortal life. A Gehenna, not described by the Bible, waits. It is never studied but becomes a useful scare to get folks to church on time.
Church authorities decide who can approach God. Those who do not understand or concede to the experts view on biblical doctrine will be castigated. They will be branded as heretics, false teachers and cast out of the most holy place, the church building. It does not matter that these were no lovers of money, nor filled with lust. They did not fabricate stories for exploitation. They were not depraved. They did not deny the Master who bought them, nor despise his authority, nor follow corrupt desires of the flesh. Sadly, the experts in this interpretation of the “New Law of Christ” carouse with the ignorant to entice the unstable. The regular student of the Bible is not the expert, the authority that “owns” the Holy Writ. Lesser men are not deemed worthy to read or to interpret the Book.
The experts, full of adulteries and greed. They use this new kingdom to reign over the hearts of the simple. They no longer know the difference between what is good and what is evil. They earn a wage from their expertise. They are bold and arrogant and heap abuse on those who would rather walk away from their destructive ways.
Imagine if this was the reality you had come to know as THE WAY! Your aim in life is to make it to church on time and to beware of any imperfect followers of Christ because they do not worship according to your understanding of the “New Law of Christ.” Christ then becomes a mediator of new ways to sin. Is the Old really past? Has anything new come? Is freedom in Christ just hyperbole for “restraint.”
Christianity has been high-jacked; not by everybody but by most. It is not what it was meant to be. We have failed miserably in this regards, on a global scale. The kind of New Covenant does not look much different than the old one.
There are pockets of light that still shine in the darkness. Where the leadership serves. They do not fight over words. They will not dispute over doctrine. They are too busy feeding the sick, freeing the slaves, saving the lost, lifting the fallen. Yes, these also “go to church.” They love the fellowship of believers. They love the joy of a firm handshake. They share the simple things of God; the laughter of happy children, the smell of fresh coffee, the sound of the trumpet and they dance with the joy of Christ in their heart. They collect millions of dollars each year. They send it all away; to Africa to plant trees, to South American to build playgrounds, to downtown to save the women sold into prostitution. They don’t know to support the secular work to build wells in regions where there is thirst. They don’t know any better to shun another denomination that took 8 years to infiltrate a foreign government so they could build a school. They don’t know that their reason for baptism is remission of sins. They think it is to be buried with Christ to rise and walk in a new life.
Are some fools wiser than the wise?
How has it come that the freedom of Christ has been chained to serve the strong?
Still, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
“ It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Gal. 5:1