Friday, February 09, 2007

Psalm 138:2 (Part 5) - "HOW" - Can Our Methodology Be Wrong?

“I bow down towards your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you exalted above all things your name and your word.” Psalm 138:2 (ESV)

In this series, I have suggested that what we do in our corporate assembly matters to God, how we do it matters to God, and that who we are when we’re doing it matters as well.

What is the local church’s main reason for existing? Is it to evangelize the lost? To show compassion towards the least? To encourage and strengthen the believer?

Well, yes – of course – all of those things are part of the local church’s mission. When those don’t happen, the church isn’t functioning as the body of Jesus. But those things, as good and as important as they are, are NOT to be the PRIMARY focus of a church – or of the individuals in the church. Our primary individual and corporate responsibility is to exalt God’s name and His word above ALL THINGS.

We’ve been discussing whether it is possible in our evangelical sub-culture that WHAT in our corporate assemblies can be wrong. My conclusion to that question is that when we lose our focus on God and Him alone and focus instead on the audience, the “WHAT” of our assembly is wrong. I’ve also said that in “WHAT” we do – our focus - many evangelical churches, as a practical matter, exalt man over God. Whether you agree with me or not, it’s easy to see that it is possible to do the WRONG THINGS in “serving God.”

But is it possible to do the RIGHT THINGS the WRONG WAY? Is it possible that “HOW” we carry out our work for the Lord is wrong as well? Again, I believe that an objective look at much of what goes on in the evangelical church today leads one to the conclusion that we do not exalt God's Name, or His Word, over all things in HOW we do what we do.

It may be hard to see clearly the “WHAT” in your church – the concept may seem too vague to you. But the “HOW” is very easily observed, and in my view, it is the thing that most clearly reveals the problem I’m discussing.

So let’s look briefly at what the Bible teaches about “methodology.” Isn’t it enough to be doing the “right things?” Does God really care about HOW we do what we do?

The Bible is full of examples of people doing “the right things” in the wrong way… and God’s response is consistent. It is painful to see… and God’s reaction ought to convince us that God’s work must be done God’s way. If not, the consequences are, quick frankly, shocking.

Let me give just 3 examples from Scripture, from three different perspectives within the body… then next time, we’ll look at how this plays out in our evangelical experience:

1. A Leader’s Perspective: Aaron and His Sons.
Remember the example of Nadab and Abihu. They were Aaron’s first sons (Exodus 6), called by God Himself along with Aaron and the Elders to special privilege in worship (Exodus 24) and set apart by God Himself through Moses to serve as priests over Israel (Exodus 28). After the clear confirmation of their call, the very next thing we learn about them is that they offered “unauthorized (or strange) fire before the Lord” in worship. God killed them on the spot… and prohibited their Dad and brothers – also priests - from even mourning for them! (Leviticus 10:1-7). Here’s what Moses said when this happened:

"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.'" (Leviticus 10:3)
God’s reaction to this “strange fire” offering shouldn’t have been any surprise to Aaron. After all, he was the one leading in the “golden calf” incident while Moses was receiving God’s law, and he for himself God’s reaction to his creation. I notice also, by the way, that when Aaron presented the idol to the people, he said “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:5) Then, he built an altar for worship, and declared a feast to the Lord. (Exodus 32:5) The people responded enthusiastically… but their methodology was all wrong – tragically wrong. And it was wrong even though they had not yet heard from Moses the law of God!

Please notice that there is no indication in the text at all that Nadab and Abihu were insincere, or wrong in any way other than to say that they offered worship that God did not authorize. It’s important to note that God cares about how He is worshipped!
When His is approached in the wrong way – even by the “right” people – it is sin. It’s offensive to God. And it matters to God.

Leaders do not have the right to decide how worship is to be conducted. It is God’s right to declare what is and is not acceptable and especially in our public assembly. Pray for your leaders in this regard, as they bear the responsibility of correctly discerning God’s way of worship.

My first point is this: It is possible for leaders – even those called by God Himself – to do the RIGHT THINGS the WRONG WAY. And when they do, the God who does not change is dishonored, because His Name and His Word have not been exalted above ALL THINGS.

2. A Leadership Team-Member’s Perspective: Uzzah.
The Ark of the Covenant had been taken from Israel in battle (1 Samuel 4:3-11), and shortly after David’s ascension to the throne as King, he gathered his army together to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem. But the leaders made a critical mistake: God had provided specific direction for how the Ark was to be moved – it was to be covered and transported by being carried by the Levites with poles (Numbers 4). Further a specific warning was given that people were not to
“…touch the holy things, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:15)

David and his men should have known better… they had the Law and its instruction. But we see in 2 Samuel 6 they chose instead to transport the Ark on a cart. Hey, they were doing the right thing, weren’t they? And David had the people doing this with enthusiasm! Celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments… a wonderful, enthusiastic worship celebration for the Lord!

But then there was a problem: The ox pulling the cart caused the cart to tip, and Uzzah “put his hand to the Ark” to prevent it from falling to the ground. In the midst of meaningful, enthusiastic worship, a celebration of joy doing the right thing in returning the Ark to God’s people, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the Ark of God.” David was angry at God, and he was afraid.

Notice that Uzzah was not in control of the event, or the method of transport. Others had that more senior, leadership responsibility. He was just on the team… going with the program, and doing what seemed like the right thing in the moment.

And he died because of it - at the hands of an angry God.

When someone “on the team” does the right thing the wrong way - even if they are just following their leaders’ instruction, they offend God. And it matters to Him.

So here’s my second point: When leaders determine to do RIGHT THINGS the WRONG WAY, those who follow them offend God. Following orders is no excuse – everyone is responsible for exalting God’s Name and His Word above ALL THINGS.

3. A Congregant’s Perspective: Ananias and Sapphira.
I don’t want you to think that leaders bear all of the risk. They have a heightened responsibility to lead well – in direction (the “WHAT”) as well as methodology (the “HOW”). But God cares about HOW the rest of us do things as well.

Remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)? We all know the story. Acts 4:32-27 tells of the heart of the church congregation in Jerusalem, and the amazing spirit of generosity demonstrated by the people. People sold their houses and property and brought the proceeds to the apostles for redistribution. Imagine the joy within that group… the unity among the people, literally bought with their Holy Spirit-fueled generosity! Imagine the testimony to a watching world as they saw the good accomplished, the tremendous evidence of real conversion among the people!

This man Ananias and his wife wanted to participate, but they kept “some of the proceeds” and presented the rest to the apostles. As judgment was pronounced, Peter made it clear that Ananias was under no obligation to give all he had away… his sin was not doing the wrong thing. It was that he did it the wrong way – he lied, saying that he had given it all. In an event that struck great fear in the whole church, both Ananias and his wife died instantly upon the divine revelation of their sin!

Notice, by the way, that the sin was publicly exposed. All knew what happened, all were filled with “great fear” (Acts 5:11)… and all were warned about the danger of doing even the RIGHT THING the WRONG WAY.

My third point is that, even when leaders lead well, those following can do the RIGHT THING the WRONG WAY, and when they do, God is offended… God is angered. It matters to God, because when we do this, we do not exalt God’s Name and His Word above ALL THINGS.

How can it be wrong to worship God? Worship is wrong when we do it the wrong way. The WHAT may be right, but if the HOW is wrong, it’s ALL WRONG. That’s because God must be worshipped “in Spirit and in Truth”… said another way,
we must exalt His Name and His Word above all things.

God’s character has not changed from those days [“For I the LORD do not change”] (Malachi 3:6)], and our concern for doing things God’s way rather than ours ought not either. This problem of wanting to worship God “our way” is part of the fallen nature of man, evidenced even as early as Eve’s disobedience and Cain’s grain offering.

So HOW are we to worship God rightly? If we judge ourselves correctly, we fall so short in our heart motivation. The truth is that worshipping God is not just hard – humanly, it is impossible! It requires a right relationship between each of us and God, and right relationships with each other. Doing “work” can be done in the power of the flesh… but exalting God’s Name and His Word can not be done apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit individually and corporately in the assembly.

There are no short-cuts to doing things "the right way:" Power to do God’s work comes from God Himself through prayer and the faithful study and application of God's Word. There is no other way… and these methods are foolishness to the natural mind. The problem is that in practice, they are foolishness even to the evangelical mind as well.

So it is possible to do the RIGHT THING the WRONG WAY, and to anger God in the process. The next question is this: Is it possible that this same problem continues, even today?

Glad you asked. Yes it does. And next time, I’ll give you some concrete examples of how this happens today... and how to see if it does in your own church.

Next time: “HOW” – Is OUR Methodology Wrong?

1 comment:

Shiloh Guy said...

I just happened to be in Minneapolis this week for the Desiring God Pastors' Conference. It was great to see R.C. Sproul again. The theme of the week was Holiness and R.C. spoke three times on the subject. One of his talks included all three of the illustrations you used in this post! You're in good company. He really went into the Nadab and Abihu scenario. He said if we had been there we would have complained, "Look, God, why do you have to take yourself so seriously all the time? Why does it always have to be about you? Why can't we just have a little fun and personal entertainment in our worship? After all, it is our worship we are offering. We should be able to have a good time and just try new things once in awhile." He went on and on and the point was well made. He also pointed out that Aaron was silent!