False Worship and the World

“You shall not make for yourself an image…”

Don’t be a "person of faith." It’s a meaningless statement, like saying “I like food” or “I like to sleep.” Be a person who admits he doesn’t know what he believes, or a devout Buddhist or Muslim. Then, at least, you stand in well-defined ignorance or false worship.

The worst deception is thinking you’re worshiping the true God when, in reality, you’re only making up your own game. Moving tokens around a game board doesn’t mean you’re playing Monopoly. It is one thing for a person to describe her own spiritual vibrations and internal wellbeing as “worship.” But if the same person wishes to persuade you that her worship is climbing up another side of the same mountain as Christianity, it is safe to assume that she is working under a delusion, and doesn’t really understand biblical Christianity.

Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Peter tells his audience that: “there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The exclusivity of Jesus Christ is a definitive break from the morass of undirected, blasé spiritual feelings and moral behaviors. It was precisely the exclusivity of salvation in Christ which stirred up riots and retribution against the disciples.

The world is ready to approve and accept those who proclaim and follow a syncretistic Jesus—a Jesus who is one of many spiritual pathways, who validates our perceived experience, and who doesn’t bother us with claims of absolute truth or doctrine.

People do not generally reject any spiritual affinity whatsoever, but rather opt for an internally mediated emotional state of being or frame of mind. Thus the “Christian” message is welcomed and applauded when it prioritizes personal and emotional outcomes and brings a sense of fulfillment. In other words, it is little more than self-actualization, ratified and assisted by the divine spirit. In this way, there is a false worship distortion which masquerades as Christianity. The means and the end are subtly, often unwittingly reversed. Communion with God is instrumentalized. Our relationship with God is for breaking through our barriers, overcoming addictions, achieving your dreams, gaining emotional equilibrium, better self-image, and relational healing. This teaching reverses Biblical reality; God does work along all those axes of personal growth, but always for the ultimate purpose of loving, serving, and enjoying Him more.

There is perhaps something to rejoice in the fact that faith, though stripped down to its bare, shivering, pitiable germ of conception, is generally well-regarded in our society. Popular culture—in contrast to 19th century idolatry of human reason—has recovered its ability to see the glimmer of glory in the principle of faith. We approve of a person’s humility. “It’s good,” we nod respectfully, “that he sees a force or being larger than himself, on which he is dependent.” We could even allow for that source of faith to be the Christian God, so long as the professing Christian “stays in his lane”, that he lives and lets live.

I concede that acknowledging one’s need for faith seems to move a person a step closer to God relative to the position of flatly denying anything beyond the visible-material realm. But it is about the same amount of progress as admitting your need for shoes moves you toward successfully playing tennis. There is a specificity to the place, equipment, rules, and movements of playing tennis that will require you going a good deal beyond having put shoes on your feet.

The impulse toward faith is God-given and good. But faith must find an object to rest on. The danger of our world’s false form of worshiping God through a nebulous spiritual connection is that, in the absence of a clearly defined object of faith, faith usually ends up resting back on the person himself. Or, perhaps more accurately, on an inflated projection of your ideal self, which is terrible, treacherous footing.

In order to worship in truth, and to receive the benefits of the God who is outside of us and who made us, we must:

  1. Approach him as an Other who is outside of us. True, God dwells in his people, but in order to understand what that indwelling means, we need to understand who God is on his own terms.
  2. Approach him in the ways in which He has made Himself known. Specifically in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the Scriptures.

Previous articles in this series:

"The First Commandment and the Church"

"Idolatry and the World"

"The Second Commandment and the Church"

Justin Poythress (MDiv, WTS) is Assistant Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, FL. 

Related Links

Podcast: "What Happens When We Worship"

"The Spirit of Puritan Worship" by Joel Beeke

"Worship that Smells" by Aaron Denlinger

"What Happens When We Worship?" by Jonathan Landry Cruse

"Worship: Evangelical or Reformed?" by Robert Godfrey

On Reforming Worship, edited by David Hall & Jonathan Master