Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Does God Care How We Worship and Serve?

“Worship is worship. What does it matter how I do it? God cares about my heart and desire to bring Him honor.” So often in evangelical circles we adopt a philosophy that sees worship as primarily about my feelings, all the while saying that it really is about God. God can’t really be upset at me for serving Him in this way, can He?

So often in the gender debate we get bogged down on particulars—who can be pastor’s, who can lead in the church and home, who can preach, can my wife teach our mixed gender Sunday School class, etc. We get so stuck in the banter of church logistics that we are blinded to the real distortion—we don’t understand God. And this is not limited, primarily, to the gender issue. It shows itself in all areas of church life, even down to the teenager in the youth group who is mad about the modesty code.

A friend of mine asked the question recently, “What is a church to do when there are no men to fill the role of pastor, especially in another culture.” I am not going to get into my ideas here about whether or not women should go alone on the mission field. But I am simply going to say this in relation to the American church, often time we, in a genuine earnestness to serve Christ and His Church, make hasty decisions because it seems that at the time there are no other options (i.e. lack of men). Circumstances cannot be the deciding factor for correctness in our decisions, no matter how daunting the outcome may be.

The Israelites were not immune to this sort of thing either. God gave them strict commands for worship, and even told them to not mix their practices of worship with the pagans of the land. All through the books of the Old Testament we see the Israelite people on a trajectory to exile because they did not recognize the holiness of God in His commandments for worship. Every time reformation came with a new king we see the common theme, “but he did not remove the high places.” The high places were convenient, but the high places were also products of the idolatry of the land.

Very often we think that because we want to worship and honor God we can forego His commands for the time being, recognizing that it should be different. God tells us that obedience is better than sacrifice because He has a purpose in all of His commandments—to point to Christ. To worship outside of God’s parameter’s is almost saying that our worship is what God needs, when in reality we are really showing the world, the Church, and God, Himself that His commands are a mere secondary issue.

The fact that the high places were not removed may have seemed like a noble and pure idea in the beginning, just like having a woman serve as pastor for a brief interim may seem like a pure and noble idea. But as we see in the Old Testament, failure to adhere to what God says leads to destruction. What the Israelites missed in their worship of God is the same thing that we miss in our worship of God. The specifications for worship in the Old Testament point to the same thing that the specifications for gender roles point to in the whole of Scripture—Jesus Christ. There was a mystery being displayed in the intricate details of the Pentateuch that was revealed when the veil was torn in two, and the Son of Man said “it is finished.” And there is a mystery being displayed in the Garden of Eden when God created man and woman in distinctly different ways and gave them both a role to play.

I have been a part of a small church that started fifty years ago as a women-led congregation because all of their husbands were unbelievers. The intent was noble and right, but there was a pattern of leadership set in that congregation that never went away. Fundamentally our disagreements about gender roles are too shallow, just like our disagreements about so many things in church politics are shallow. It all will eventually come down to whether or not we trust God. Do we trust that God is who He says He is? If we do, then we must trust that when He tells us how to live, He will provide for us the means to live in such a way. We must establish a framework of Scripture and God that ultimately sees the mystery that Christ has with His Bride. Maybe then our dialogue would get somewhere.

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