A Call for True Worship

temple

The church today is fraught with a prevalence of mixtures – a mixture of good and evil; mixture of truth and falsehood; a mixture of spirits (the Holy Spirit and unholy spirits); mixture of law and grace; and a mixture of God’s children with the slaves of Satan.

These dubious mixtures are the underlying reasons behind the confusion, doubt, divisions and spiritual pollution among many Christians. The powerlessness and ineffectiveness of the Faith in this century can be traced to a blurring of spiritual lines; iron has been mixed with clay.

The enemy we were fighting on the front lines has not only entered the vineyard through the backdoor, but is also launching his missiles from within.

Even from church history, it’s clear that the core issues that prompted the Protestant Reformation – authoritarianism, image worship, relics, replacement of Christ with men, legalism – have all found their ways back into several Christian denominations today, though, in a more trendy and enticing form.

Indeed, we are fighting the same theological battles at each generation of the church. The very compromise with paganism that caused problems for first century Corinthian Christians has re-emerged as ecumenism and interfaith which is sinking some mainline denominations today.

The strange mixture of Judaism and Christianity which deceived many Christians in Galatia in the first century is still with us today as the “Sacred Name/Hebrew Roots” Movement.

The message to the church of Laodicea in the first century is still very relevant to several churches in our land today where colourful entertainment, pop psychology, syrupy “all-about-me” teachings and jamborees have drowned out the still voice of the Holy Spirit calling for repentance.

From Scripture, we see that God hates any worship that is a mixture. Jesus said “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). God seeks true and spiritual worship. He has no regard for those who mix their worship with the leaven of falsehood or filth of the flesh.

In Deut. 22:9, God warned His people, “Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled.”

Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” (vs. 10)

Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together” (vs. 11)

The principle conveyed by these prohibitions is that when we serve the Lord, we should not mix two different types of things. We are not to sow a mixed seed, which represent a message comprising of both truth and error.

To allow mixed livestock to breed can represent a Christian group aligning itself with another group that is not Christian. Mating a sheep with a goat will result in sterility and possibly a malformed creature. When a church unequally yokes itself to a false religion, even for positive purposes, it results in spiritual fruitlessness.

To wear a garment of mixed material is like living simultaneously in accord with Scripture and in accord with the pattern of this world. This is the hallmark of spiritual confusion.

All through the ages down to the present day, people don’t always reject God outright; rather, they mix some falsehoods into their worship of God. Satan knows too well that if he can’t get you to forsake God, but encourage you to absorb some strange and impure things into your service, it will be rejected and you will lose out in the end.

Even when the nation of Israel made a golden calf they still appended Yahweh to it: “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD” (Ex. 32:5). These were the same people who had witnessed supernatural miracles by the hand of God, yet they became so blinded by the devil that they effortlessly called a debased work of their hands their God. About 3,000 of them died for this abomination.

During their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites carried the tabernacle of God, but they added “the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship” (Acts 7:43; Amos 5:26). For this, God dealt with them.

In 2 Kings 17:32-33, we read about the nations living in Bethel:

They worshiped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.”

Doesn’t that sound like many contemporary Christians from various pagan cultures? They fear the Lord in appearance, in words and even occupy high positions in their churches, yet they still send money to priests who perform pagan rituals on their behalf; they still partake in family/communal pagan rites; they still pay homage to the gods of their ancestors and participate in pagan festivals.

In the time of Ezekiel, God transported the prophet in the spirit from Babylon to see what was happening in His temple in Jerusalem. He saw “an idol of jealousy” (possibly an obelisk) right at the entrance of the gate. He “saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel.”

He saw “seventy elders of the house of Israel … each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising” to pagan deities. He “saw women sitting there weeping for Tammuz [a fertility god] … between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men … they were bowing down to the sun in the east” (Ezk. 8:10-11, 14, 16).

This was a pagan gathering of a second degree. The people had turned the Temple that was once filled with God’s glory into a filthy shrine. Mind you, all these pagan rites were being practiced while the Ark of the Covenant – the token of God’s glory – was sitting right in the Holy of Holies. What a deliberate insult to God!

To numb their conscience, these abominable practitioners were saying, “The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land,” just the same way many today who profess Jesus in the open think God doesn’t hear the strange names they chant with their lips in the corner of their bedrooms.

They think He doesn’t see the strange places they visit for power and inquiries to find missing items. They think He doesn’t know of the occult rings, ointments, books waistbands, talisman, incisions and New Age medicine they resort to when they feel God is not answering their prayers when and how they wish.

When God could no longer tolerate the defilement in His temple in Ezekiel’s time, His glory finally departed from there and His judgement descended on them (see chapters 9-11). God’s response to a defiled worship is judgement.

The inebriated King Belshazzar learned this the hard way. He held a great banquet for his nobles, wives and concubines, then gave orders for the golden goblets that had been consecrated to Yahweh and taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to be used for drinking their wine.

No, this wasn’t an ordinary banquet; it was a pagan gathering: “As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dan. 5:4). It was a worship of mixture – worshipping demon gods using vessels dedicated to God – and suddenly, he received his sentence from above. His life was taken and his kingdom was given to another.

In the days of prophet Zephaniah, God pronounced His judgement upon “those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, but also swear by Milcom [or Molech]” (Zeph. 1:5)

Prophet Jeremiah had to challenge the people “who come through these gates to worship the LORD” and had mixed in pagan rituals, “You are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you … burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘we are safe’…? (Jer. 7:2, 8-10)

It was with this understanding that Elijah had to call out to the people of God: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God follow him” (1 Kgs. 18:21)

Of course, Baal is still active an operative in our world today; he is a god with almost a thousand faces. He is in the fashion world; he’s in pornography; he is in the gay movement; he’s in the corporate world; he’s in abortion; he is in polytheism; he is in lasciviousness; he’s in erotic novels and musicals; he is in drunkenness; he’s in paedophilia; he even manifests as the false Christ in cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Catholicism etc.

In the New Testament, the church in Pergamum is a case in point. This church was located in a rich ancient Greek city which was “where Satan has his throne.” In this city was built a shrine to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and occult medicine, and it was considered one of the most famous therapeutic and healing centers of the Roman world.

The church in Pergamum was so invaded by pagan delusions that many believers there were eating food sacrificed to idols and embracing Gnostic teachings. Jesus’ message to them was stern and straight to the point: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16).

That doesn’t sound like the cheap grace teaching emanating from some pulpits today. All through Scripture, we can see that God will never accept a movement, church, doctrine or religious system that is founded on imprudent mixtures. God wants His people to part ways totally with any ties to the god of the world. That is why He calls His people out of false worship and pagan religions into true worship.

Samuel told the Israelites: “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you…” (1 Sam. 7:3)

This is the same admonition given to the Corinthian believers. We cannot drink from the table of the Lord and also from the table of demons. There is no agreement between Christ and Belial; no fellowship between light and darkness.

We are to renounce all evil works and links with Satan’s kingdom – no matter what “benefit” they seem to offer – and be totally committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Understanding the Church

In the past few months, I’ve observed a trend online in which some Christian folks who claim to be “watching the church in Nigeria” virulently attack churches in a manner that sounds more cultic than Biblical, and they succeed in brainwashing their followers because many seem to be ignorant of basic ecclesiology. In my interaction with Catholics too, I also find out that they have a rather idiosyncratic and elastic definition of the word “church.” This area seems to be the benchmark of their deception.

Interestingly, this confusion wasn’t unknown in the early church. For example, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in contending against the Novatian schism wrote that: the catholic church is “the sole Ark of salvation” and that “he cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother … He that rends and divides the church of Christ cannot possess the clothing of Christ” (Henry Scowcroft Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, London, 1967, 108)

The major snag in Cyprian’s view is his refusal to clearly distinguish between what is meant by “visible” and “invisible” church. This is also the same error prevalent today, hence a succinct look at ecclesiology will help.

Ecclesiology is a combination of two words: Greek “Ecclesia” meaning church, and English “logy” meaning study. Therefore, ecclesiology is the study about the church of Jesus Christ.

Smith’s Bible Dictionary says:

“Ecclesia (ekklesia) the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by the legitimate authority. It was in this last sense that the word was adapted and applied by the writers of the New Testament to the Christian congregation. In the one Gospel of St. Matthew the church is spoken of no less than thirty-six times as “the kingdom.” Other descriptions or titles are hardly found in the evangelists. It is Christ’s household.”

The New International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has this to say about “ecclesia”:

“Although Gk. Ekklesia became a distinctively Christian word, it has both a Greek and an OT history. In the Greek world it was used of a public assembly summoned by a herald (ek, “out,” and kalein, “to call; cf. Acts 19:32, 39f). In the LXX it was used for the Heb. Qahal, which denotes the congregation or people of Israel, especially as gathered before the Lord (cf. Acts 7:32).”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary has this to say about the word “Church”:

“Derived probably from the Greek kuriakon (i.e., “the Lord’s house), which was used by ancient authors for the place of worship. In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found.”

The word “Ecclesia” appears in the NT 115 times and in each case except 5, it refers to the Church of Christ. The word nowhere refers to a building or a denomination as it is commonly used today. It is used for the Church of Christ in two major ways:

1. The Invisible Church

The invisible church is the combination of all the regenerated persons since the beginning of the church till the second coming of Christ. It consists of the whole body of the redeemed in all nations, all those whom the Father has given to Christ.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18)

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over … If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15, 17).

“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the Church of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:32)

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

The invisible church is made up of all born again Christians in all nations, hence it’s also called the universal church. It is from this word universal that the Greek adjective katholikos is derived. Tragically, the word ‘catholic’ has been snagged on by Roman Catholicism and much baggage has been read into its meaning. But in its proper usage, the term “universal” cannot be “Roman” anymore than it’s “Gaelic”” or “Egyptian.” So the term Roman Catholic is an oxymoron.

Once a person is saved, he/she automatically becomes a member of the invisible church regardless of tribe, race, language or nationality. One doesn’t become a member of the invisible church by natural birth, joining a local church or by marriage but by repentance and belief in the Gospel (Acts 2:47).

The invisible church is the only body of Christ. Christ has one Body, not many bodies. Therefore, neither a local church nor an individual Christian should regard itself or himself as the body or a body of Christ. They are simply a part of Christ’s body. “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12).

2. The Visible churches

These are the assemblies of believers in various locations such as provinces, cities, or homes etc. Wherever the children of God may be gathering, whether it’s a living room, classroom or church building, they are the visible churches of Christ and Christ is in their midst (Matt. 18:20). It is called ‘visible’ because its members are known and its assembles are public.

“News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22)

“And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:4)

“And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5)

“… All the churches of Christ send greetings” (Romans 16:16)

“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house” (1 Cor. 16:19).

“Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house” (Col. 4:15)

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Rev. 1:4)

While the invisible church is one and indivisible, the visible churches are many. Not every member of the visible churches is a part of the invisible church. The invisible church is within the visible. In the visible church is a mixture of “wheat and chaff;” of saints and sinners. In fact, some visible churches are not true churches of Christ.

While the invisible church has Christ alone as its head (cf. Eph. 5:23), visible churches are led by ordained ministers, elders, pastors, deacons etc. The visible church can be also be divided by schism, heresies, rebellion or drift into apostasy (1Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 1 Tim. 6:3-5, 2 John 10)

No church can save, Jesus does. No church died on the cross for our sins, Jesus did. No church is the Ark of salvation, Jesus is. To become a part of the invisible church “whose names are written in Heaven” (Heb. 12:2), you first need to acknowledge you have been a sinner, repent and believe the Gospel. Then in order for a believer to grow in love, faith and mutual nurture, he/she needs to be part of a visible church.