““You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”(Exodus 20:4–6, ESV)
There is but one God, YHWH. The implications of this truth are endless. Just to name a few, we are subject to his created order; we are subject to his laws and commands; and we cannot complain about it. Every time one says, or thinks, that God is unfair denies him his rightful place. Every time one says that they don’t like God’s rules denies him his righteousness. Every time one says that they are oriented toward homosexuality, robbery, anger, or any of the other things scientists have tried to tell us we have genetic dispositions for denies the creation of God, and thus denies God.
When God says that he “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27, ESV) He leaves no room for us to choose our own gender or to make up new ones. This is why St. Paul write, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever,” (Romans 1:22–25, ESV) he is speaking of the consequences of a people, culture, civilization, which has denied God.
One of the remarks Paul makes is that foolishness consists in worshiping the creation and not the Creator. The is what God says in the second commandment. He does not command that we are not to make gods. He is saying that when we have made other gods, we are not to worship them. God is a jealous God. His righteous jealousy is not that we have made other gods but that we offer the glory rightfully his to these other gods. The second commandment is about right worship. This is a message desperately needed in the contemporary church.
Over the years, the word contemporary had grown in definition. Originally it was used to say that two or more people live at the same time. Though that use has not been lost, it has been expanded to mean something existing during a certain time. Relationship of person with person has become relationship of a person or group of persons to the age in which they live. This includes the events, knowledge, and pathos of the age. Not to over state this, it is not uncommon for an historian to say, “So and so was a man of his times,” meaning that to understand this person completely, we have to understand the influences surrounding him.
The contemporary church could refer to the church as it exists today. There is nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes it can refer to the church as it has adapted to its times. During most of my lifetime I have heard that the church has to keep up with the times. We have to become relevant in order to communicate the Gospel. We have to cast aside the rich and meaningful language of the past and use contemporary language. We have to cast aside the rich rituals, music, and traditions of the past and become more accessible to our generation.
I recognize that there are arguments for both sides of the question. I am not beginning a debate. I do point out that making the Gospel “relevant” and “accessible” does change the content of the message. Form and function are bound in such a way that changing the form requires a change in the message and vise versa. [Note that the restoration of theology during the Reformation altered the forms of worship at that time.] Not only can we not create other gods but we cannot choose how we worship the one God Almighty. If we are to truly glorify him, we must glorify him as he directs. Worship must be controlled by God through his word.
Our current pandemic situation has forced many churches to close. So, many have created worship to stream on the web. My objection is in calling it worship. How can it be when worship is the gathering of God’s people around the throne? How can it be worship when there is no community to share the Word and the Sacraments?
I have heard many times that churches must have nurseries and children’s churches so that worship is not disrupted. Jesus said that we were to let the children come to him. The lack of family activity during church denies our baptismal promise that the community becomes involved in raising godly children. But pushing them out of church, even if we think we are offering something more relevant to them takes them out of the presence of Christ as his people gather. There needs to be a return to the biblical truth that though baptism does not save one’s soul, it does claim that child as a member of the community. The loss of children in church fractures the unity of the church.
This is only one illustration of the conversations we should be having about worship. My ordination by the church is to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament. This is not the usual way pastors are expected to work. Maybe I should be called a minister of the Word, as long as no one is offended, and the Sacraments considering the Lord’s Supper should only be served once a month, or four to five times a year. Yet the reason ordination is to call one to serving God’s gathered people his Word and his Sacraments defines that which is central to worship.
Often, the second commandment is said to be a commandment against idolatry. True enough. However, idolatry is a gross symptom of a much deeper problem. It is not about cleaning all the symbols, art, and music from our worship times and spaces. It is about committing ourselves to giving God glory and worshiping him as he has directed us to worship. In my opinion, that means that everything done in worship must be intentional with the design of God’s glory.
That means, for instance, that we don’t choose songs because we like them or they have a catchy beat. We choose them because the lyrics are sound in doctrine and work toward enhancing God’s glory. (I recognize that this means throwing much of the “contemporary” music in the trash). That means that we don’t go to church hoping to get a pick-me-up for the coming week, or to be recharged, or to find relief from the past week. We go to church because there, with brothers and sisters in Christ, we come into the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The worship of the church is the worship of God. Individual “worship” is devotion, which is also a good thing to do – – often. But it is not worship on God’s terms and as Christ has designed.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”(Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)