The One Year Bible had me reading 2 Kings and the story of King Josiah’s cleansing of the Temple. Before he came into power his predecessor, Manasseh, began using the temple for Baal worship and cult prostitution as sacrifice to the fertility goddess Asherah. The temple had been desecrated by the sacrifice of infants and prostitution.
And he (Hilkiah the high priest) broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah.
Shocking isn’t it? How is it possible that this desecration of God’s house was going on? This was the place of sacrifice,of the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s glory had appeared in spectacular display! Think of it – a place that was designed primarily as a place for God’s pleasure had been turned on its head and made a place devoted to human pleasure at the basest level.
What happens when the wants and desires of man drive the act of worship?”
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name,” the psalmist declares. “Tremble before him! Come let us worship and bow down!”. Is this the experience in our modern worship? Are we in awe of the living God or are we looking for awe in things other than Him? Is there a place for beauty and appealing to the senses? Of course! No one could look at the Temple and not conclude that beauty, even breath-taking beauty was on display. The music, garments, incense, architecture, great altar and basin we’re all a feast for the senses. However, that beauty was designed to point to God; to inspire the awe of God, not awe of the temple experience.
Could it be that people are looking to be “awed” by the worship experience they are presented with rather than the God we claim to be exalting?
Why do we hear a continued drumbeat of concern that congregations are becoming crowds of observers rather than worshiping disciples? Why do we hear people referred to as “shoppers” for the best music, lights, effects and band rather than committed members contributing to the health of a local church?*The fertility cults of Biblical history were built around the notion of pleasing oneself as a worship activity. Visits to male or female cultic priests in the shadows of the Asherah poles were for the express purpose of self gratification as a means of expressing some dedication to a god. No doubt the participant left with a deeper appreciation for the experience but no awe and devotion of the true Living God.
An article like this can go downhill pretty quick. I have no interest in soapbox crassness. Still, the question that grabbed me should be obvious. Do we not run the risk of prostituting ourselves for the pleasure of those who require entertainment in order to secure their commitment? At some point I have to ask myself the question, is the worship I lead drawing people into a deeper love for Jesus and desire for His glory or am I skating two close to the shallow ice of spectacle parading as the beauty of holiness?
Worship leaders are some of my favorite people. They have a passionate love for God and zeal for His glory. Nevertheless, we need to never forget that our egos are hungry, our hearts are deceitful and too easily become what Calvin called “idol factories.” Prostitution is an ugly word that repels us but it can be found today in pulpits and behind guitars. God help us to love His glory more than the applause of the entertained.
Here’s a question. How do we evaluate what we do in order to detect prostitution creeping in? Checking motives is valuable but the truth is we can always have sincere motives but practices that undermine what we’re motivated to do. How do we think in a comprehensive way about what we do?
(*) I’m well aware that the “shopping” might be for children’s ministry, preaching, youth programs, etc… but without question the worship service itself, particularly the music and its presentation, is a clear shopping issue.
Guest post by Jeff Ling. This post originally appeared at the Worship Tools blog. Thanks for permission to use.
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