Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 2

I tried to come up with a shocking title for these posts to alert us to the difference between a “professed” God and “functional” god. That is, the God we say we believe in, and the god that actually governs our desires and actions.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, idolatry can be active in my heart even as I’m outwardly worshipping God. That’s a sobering thought. Whenever I think I can’t worship God unless “X” is present, I’m making a profound statement. If “X” is anything other than Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory. Idolatry is always evil, but the idols we pursue aren’t necessarily evil things. They are evil for us because we value them over God.

Pages could be written on each of the potential idols I’m about to cover. Most, if not all of them, touch on areas that can and should be used with discernment to serve God’s people as we gather to sing His praise. Some of them are more important them others. But all of them are meant to exalt God, not replace Him.

Musical styles for congregational worship have caused quite a stir in recent years. Actually, they’ve been causing a stir for centuries, and for good reason. Music is a powerful medium that can affect us positively or negatively. However, the root of the division is often (though not always) people insisting they know what kind of music God likes. It hasn’t helped that “new music proponents” are often arrogant, insensitive, selfish, and impatient. However, we can make an idol out of what’s old and familiar as easily as we can make one out of what’s new and creative. Music must be wisely chosen for its ability to serve both the lyrics and the congregation in order to truly honor God. But thinking that we need a certain type of music to truly engage with God is, at its root, idolatry.

Every church, even those that claim to be non-traditional, has traditions. A tradition is simply something you’ve done more than once. Can traditions serve God’s purposes in the church? Absolutely! Paul encourages the Thessalonians, ““So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2Th. 2:15, ESV) But are our traditions today equal to Scripture in authority? Absolutely not! Every generation is responsible to examine whether or not the traditions they’ve inherited (or are seeking to establish) are biblical and truly help people exult in God’s worthiness and works. The complementary idols of familiarity and comfort are often revealed in the words, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Lest this list seem one-sided, NEWNESS can also be an idol. We’re convinced that some fresh, different, never-been-done-before idea will make our congregational worship more effective. Or powerful. Or appealing. Maybe it’s lighting…or a new stage set up…or a video clip…or candles…or banners…or “interactive artistic activity.” Creativity is never our goal in worshipping God. It’s simply a means to the end of displaying and seeing the glory of Christ more clearly. New forms or mediums of communication can give us a different perspective, causing the truth to have a greater impact on us. But if we walk away from a time of corporate worship more affected by our creativity than our Savior, or think that the Word of Christ is old news, God help us.

I’m aware what I’m writing may offend some. I pray that’s not the case, although what we perceive as an “offense” might be the Spirit’s conviction. It could just as well be my poor communication. But this I know: God is committed to receiving all the glory, honor, and praise each time we gather as His people, redeemed through His Son’s atoning sacrifice. He will have no rivals. “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Is. 42:8, ESV) Each time we meet to worship the triune God, HE should be the all-consuming center of our attention and affections. His greatness and splendor should become bigger in our minds, hearts, and wills. His desires and commands should become more precious to us. Jesus Christ and His atoning work should be more glorious and amazing to us.

Tomorrow, I’ll share more idols I’ve found myself worshipping on Sunday mornings. In the mean time, I pray you’re encouraged by the Father’s costly love for us.

Read Part 3 of Idolatry on Sunday Mornings

For more on this topic, you can listen to: Worship Music or Music Worship

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9 Responses to Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 2

  1. Ray November 30, 2005 at 2:08 PM #

    I don’t know how this could offend anyone, it is so true, and I am so guilty of it, in one way or another…

    Thanks for the post… Looking forward to the additional posts in this series; I am sure that you will offend me at some point in the series, and I deserve it if I have put something before God!

  2. Jacob Hantla November 30, 2005 at 8:55 PM #

    Bob, thank you for this post. It inspired a post of my own:

    Simply revealing the previously unseen idolatry present in my worship has caused me to repent and will forever change the way I approach worship on Sunday mornings. Yet another tactic of the flesh has been revealed. Thanks for helping me to mortify sin more effectively and praise God, not idols.

  3. Tony Myles December 2, 2005 at 1:34 AM #

    Well presented, bro… nice job! Got me nodding my head.

  4. Catherine Singleton January 24, 2008 at 9:56 PM #

    Wow, I am obviously a month behind, but this article is powerful. As a worship leader, I recognize some of my idols that I would have never considered to be an idol. Thank you for the insight.

  5. Tiffany March 5, 2008 at 8:44 PM #

    This is all a lot to chew on, but it is so good! It seems like such a fine and fuzzy line between what is tradition and what is potentially an idol. This is a topic I have been turning over and over in my mind lately. I have also been pondering the questions of the placement of my heart, my mind-set, and analyzing whether I have selfish motives or desires while I am at church. I have recently started searching for a different church to attend, partially because I had become so distracted by what I refer to as the “rigid robot-like traditions” that were performed during Sunday services at my previous church. It seemed a lot like what Paul describes in Colossians 2:8. I honestly felt like I could not focus on Christ and worship there, and I was definitely not being spiritually strengthened or built up in my faith. This post is so helpful in this season of my life, thanks so much!

  6. cathy March 5, 2008 at 11:49 PM #

    I was journaling some thoughts on worship just before I read this post on Idolatry on Sunday mornings, and realized that this is exactly what I’ve been reflecting on.

    I think we get so distracted by the “trappings” of worship at times that we lose sight of what worship really is. I love how Matt Redman says it in “Coming Back to the Heart of Worship”. The line, “when the music fades and all is stripped away, I simply come”…. that’s it right there. If we would simply come with our hearts prepared to focus on our God… our entrance to His presence only made possible by the work of the cross, I think our time of corporate worship would become something precious… a time to be treasured and enjoyed, because it would become a time when we come face to face, heart to heart with our Maker, and come undone, changed by His presence in a way that matters eternally. (Though what happens to us when we worship is merely an added blessing and not the goal of worship.) My desire is that we would not be content with the time we set aside for “worship” as it is right now in our services… that we would see that it doesn’t matter whether we sing hymns or choruses, or if we even sing at all. It grieves my heart that we get so wrapped up in “what works” for us, that we refuse to offer our worship simply because “we don’t do hymns”, or “we don’t do choruses”. I can’t imagine saying to God Almighty, “Sorry Lord, but I just can’t worship you today because the music is not to my liking”, and yet we do that all the time! Me included. How arrogant and audacious is that! Does the God of the universe deserve our worship because of who He is or not? Worship is a choice. We get caught up in worshipping the music, and forget its purpose. Music is a gift that God’s given us that opens up two-way communication in a manner unlike any other…He speaks to our hearts and we express our hearts to Him. It’s only meant to be a vehicle of expression carrying messages back and forth, but we’ve given it more importance than it deserves. Our God is seeking those who would worship in spirit and in truth. Music is not necessary for that. Redman’s words speak to me here as well “I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required”… I doubt there was any music playing when Mary, broken and spilled out, wept over the feet of Jesus and poured out her life in fragrant abandon, yet I personally think that is one of the most moving moments of worship recorded in scripture.

    Because God set aside an entire tribe to lead the people skillfully in worship through music, I do believe it plays an important role in our corporate worship time. Music is further evidence of the creative God we serve. We just need to be careful that we do not end up worshipping the “created thing” instead of the Creator.

    (Sorry this post is so long… I’ve been ruminating about this for awhile now, and I just needed to “get it all out” :))

  7. Peter March 22, 2011 at 9:32 PM #

    “Whenever I think I can’t worship God unless ‘X’ is present, I’m making a profound statement. If ‘X’ is anything other than Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory.”

    This is a really helpful series and this post is great. That above quotation is definitely something I’m going to include in a seminar I’m putting together for our church (a “worship workshop”).

    Thanks for your thoughts here, as well as your book “Worship Matters.” Between that, Harold Best’s “Unceasing Worship” and D.A.Carson’s “Worship by the Book,” I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a great time of gleaning.

    Thanks for your ministry to me, back from the days of Glad till now!

    • Bob Kauflin March 22, 2011 at 10:34 PM #

      Thanks, Peter. Glad that this series has served you. And thanks for hanging around from the GLAD days!

  8. Peter March 23, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

    Sure thing, Bob! I grew up listening to vinyls of Glad, Keith Green, Michael Card and Wayne Watson, haha. My mom would play them from when I was just born… can’t seem to get them out of my head still!

    I’ve recently set up a blog and put some music on there that I’ve been writing. Put up mp3s and chords to download if you’re interested. I’d love to see what you think of them if you ever get the chance to check them out!

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