Hall of Silence

A quiet place to reflect on God, His Word, and His Church

Category: Worship

Idolizing the Bible

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.  — Jesus Christ

Which is greater:  the Word of God or the being that inspired it?  Why, then, do so many appeal to the word of God instead of God himself?

I think the deification of the bible is a blind spot to many Christians, myself included.  We tend to view the bible—correctly, I think—as the inspired word of God.  However, we tend to deify the word itself and turn it in to an idol, wherein we appeal to the word of God to arbitrate our disputes rather than turn to God himself.

There is a certain convenience to appealing to the word instead of appealing to God.  For starters, it’s considerably easier to do so.  What could be easier than citing book, chapter, and verse to prove a point or settle a doctrinal matter?  Not a thing, which is why we make so many appeals to the Bible.

It is far more difficult to appeal to God to settle a matter.  In the first case, we must know him, which is a rather difficult thing to do.  As the heavens are above the earth and all that.  In the second case, we must imitate him. (Cf. Eph. 5:1.)

Now, one objection to this line of argumentation is that knowing God’s word is the same as knowing God.  This, unfortunately, is nonsense.  Some of us even today can be said to know Plato’s words.  But how many of us can be said to know Plato?  It is thus obvious that knowing someone’s words is not the same as knowing that person.  Likewise with God, merely knowing his Word is not anywhere close to being the same as knowing him.  While it is true that knowing God’s word can aid in knowing God, ultimately our knowledge of God will have to surpass mere book knowledge.

Long ago, Christ, referencing the prophets, said, “they have eyes to see but cannot see and ears to hear but cannot hear.”  He said this when explaining why he spoke in parables.  Christ claimed that some truths about God are hidden in order to ensure that only those who are actually seeking God will find him, which fits in with what he said on the Sermon on the Mount when he claimed that everyone who seeks will find.  Some truths about God are hidden in plain sight, so to speak.  Christ made use of many parables that referenced nature to show that even many mundane things can teach spiritual lessons.  Even common things hold the secrets of God.

For example, the marital relationship illuminates many spiritual truths, as evidenced by Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22-33.  The father-son relationship is another way of understanding God.  Christ even noted that a corrupted version of this relationship can still show theological truths.  The Psalmist wrote that nature reveals the glory of God.  Christ argued that God’s providence can be seen among the birds of the air and the grass of the field.  Indeed, God can be seen everywhere, if you know how to look.  We need not limit our understanding of God to simply knowing his word; we can know him through his creation.

We can also know him personally, as long as we seek him.  Prayer is an obvious avenue, but self-reflection seems to be a good approach as well (cf. II Cor. 13:5).  We are made in God’s image, and we have a form of Godliness within ourselves as a result.  Our natural instinct is to be like our heavenly father, but because of sin we often suppress it, which is why Paul encourages us to be imitators of God as dear children.  If we are sensitive to our conscience, and if we make a point of truly knowing our heart as best we can and seeing the image of God inscribed therein, we can know God better.

However, it often seems that we would rather idolize the bible because this is the path of least resistance.  We can champion the bible as an objective standard and constantly compare ourselves to the word.  This is a rather lazy way of handling the matter of spiritual growth, for we ought to compare ourselves to God, which requires some hard work and heavy intellectual lifting, as well as blunt honesty.  This is a difficult thing, which is perhaps why we so often eschew it.

Or perhaps we don’t recognize the inherent idolatry of worshiping the word of God instead of God himself.  The word of God is definitely a good thing, and it shouldn’t be ignored; it also shouldn’t be elevated above God, either.  The problem comes when we, like the Pharisees, elevate the subordinate above the sanctifier.  It’s not that the word of God is to be ignored; it’s that we must make sure that the word is subordinate to its giver.

The point in this little exercise is this:  if we often find ourselves appealing to the Word instead of appealing to God, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we are worshiping God or worshiping his word.  And if we find ourselves doing the latter, perhaps we ought to spend a little time realigning our priorities.

Second Service

A while back, the preacher of the congregation I attend was asked about the scripturality of eliminating evening services.  It seems that the person asking the question had heard of several nearby churches cancelling evening services because attendance was generally and relatively low, and thus wanted to know if this was a good, bad, or morally neutral.  The preacher, to his credit, noted that such a decision is not inherently sinful or unscriptural.  However, he still decried the various churches’ decision to cancel evening services on the grounds that worship services are always a chance to learn and be encouraged, and that we should thus take advantage of every last one of them.  I wondered if there were any others who thought this way, and if they wouldn’t mind answering a few objections.

[Note:  second services and evening services are used interchangeably throughout.]

How Did Second Services Come About?

This is, I believe, a very key question to ask since the answer is kind of interesting.  Prior to 1940, the standard practice of the church of Christ, and even among various denominations, was to meet once on Sunday morning.  There was no second or evening service, nor was there a mid-week Bible study.  People simply gathered together in worship one morning a week, and that was it.

When WWII happened, though, there was a tremendous push by the federal government to prepare for war, which meant that factories producing weapons, armor, ammunition, ships, tanks, and other martial products needed to be at full production.  This led to factories being in production mode twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even Sundays.  This provided a conflict for some Christians, who felt compelled to join in the rush to produce weapons for nationalist reasons, even if that meant missing worship.  To accommodate those whose loyalty to their earthly nation was greater than their loyalty to Christ’s spiritual kingdom, many churches offered evening services to those whose work schedule precluded from assembling with their brothers and sisters in the morning.  Thus, the practice of evening services was the result of excusing the sin of trying to serve both God and Mammon (and, even worse, prioritizing the latter over the former).  As such, those who defend the practice of second service should do so with the understanding that this practice was very much born in sin.

If A Second Service is so Valuable…

The original argument that the preacher made was that additional services are spiritually valuable.  I assume this is a tautology since I cannot readily think of any way of measuring this assertion, let alone testing or falsifying it.  However, this assertion does beg the question:  if a second service is so beneficial, why not have a third or fourth service?  Why not require that all Christians worship from 12:00:00 AM Sunday morning to 11:59:59 PM Sunday night?  Would not this arrangement be the most spiritually beneficial one?

Of course, these questions exist merely to point out an absurdity.  Namely, that the vast majority of people recognize the concept of diminishing returns.  Yes, worship is good and beneficial, but there comes a point where each additional minute spent worshiping starts to lose value, and may even turn negative, which is why no church has a twenty-four hour worship service on Sunday.  Having established that worship has diminishing returns, the next reasonable question to ask is:  how do we know that we don’t experience significantly diminishing returns during second service?  There is no way to quantitatively and empirically answer this question. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it.

Incidentally, I am familiar with a couple of congregations who cancelled their evening services.  Both congregations were happier, and said their morning worship felt more meaningful.  I do not have further data, but this anecdotal evidence suggests that the second service may not be as beneficial.

Are Human Beings Finite?

This is also another key question to ask, as its answer indicates that humans, being finite creatures, have a limited capacity for learning and encouragement.  Paul himself noted that much study (presumably of the Bible) was wearisome to the flesh.  Furthermore, it is tautological that there are limits to human emotion.  As such, it follows necessarily that there are limits to just how much a Christian can learn during worship, and how encouraged he can become.

Of course, this truism is borne out to some extent in the aforementioned thought experiment about diminishing returns.  There is nothing that so readily demonstrates man’s finite capacity as diminishing returns.  In keeping with this observation, then, that man is finite, the following question must be asked:  if man is finite in his capacity for learning and encouragement, why not try to maximize one’s feeling of encouragement and one’s learning in one service instead of two or more?

To put it another way, if worship is so encouraging, and such a good opportunity for learning, why can’t congregations reach their members’ capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  Does this inability to satiate men’s finite capacities suggest some sort of failure?  To state it yet another way, why is it that we don’t try to satiate men’s capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  And are we failing one another if we don’t?

Summary and Implications

As is clearly seen, the second service was sinful in its conception and initial practice.  It has been deified by some, but even its staunchest supporters will not agree to adding a third, fourth, or twenty-four service because they themselves recognize the diminishing value of additional meetings, even though they seem not to recognize man’s finite capacity for the benefits of worship.  Thus, the defenders of second service are put in the untenable position of hypocritically defending a practice born in evil.  Worse still, if they argue the spiritual primacy of having a second service, they are in effect condemning those Christians before them who never had an evening service.  Therefore, it should be clear that evening service is unnecessary at best and corrupting at worst.  Thus people should not only refrain from complaining or worrying about its demise, but should be actively encouraging it.

The Instrument God Authorizes

Does God authorize any instruments in worship?  If Ephesians 5:19 is to be believed, he does.  The passage says:

Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…

The word that’s translated “making melody” is the Greek word psallos, which means to play or to pluck.  The idea of the word is that one is very much playing an instrument.  But what instrument is to be played?

The answer, fortunately, is contained in the text.  The instrument that is to be played is the heart.  This is also in keeping with John 4:24 (“in spirit…”).

Each Christian, then, is expected to play an instrument when worshiping God, and that instrument is the heart.  A failure to play this instrument when worshiping is a direct contradiction of God’s will, and is thus a sin.