Josiah and Hezekiah are almost everyone's favorite kings of the Old Testament, and rightfully so! Both of these men were wholly devoted to God and to His Word, and sought to be obedient to Him in everything that they did. And somehow the Bible says of both of them that "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to Yahweh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him" (2 Kings 23:25, cf. 18:5). And what did they do that was so right in the eyes of God? They smashed idols. They tore down pagan altars, they removed the high places where the people in the land were disobediently worshiping Yahweh (remember that He had told them that they were only to offer sacrifices at His temple, not just any old place they liked), they put mediums and necromancers to death, and they re-instituted proper forms of worship that had been neglected, like Passover. In short: they cleaned house - literally - because they cleaned God's House.
But before all of that could happen, something else was going on in Judah. You see, for those kings to be able to clean house to the degree that they did, someone must have been out there dirtying it up! When you slow down and really read 2 Kings chapter 23, and you find out all about the abominations that Josiah had to remove, it ought to be quite shocking. There were vessels made for Baal and for Asherah and all of the host of heaven inside the temple (v. 4)! Previous kings had actually ordained priests for the forbidden high places (v. 5). There were houses for male cult prostitutes set up within the temple complex (v. 7). There were pagan altars at the gates of the city (v. 8), pagan altars in the valley where people burned their children (v. 10), giant golden horse idols dedicated to sun worship at the gates of the temple (v. 11), pagan altars on the roof and in the temple courts (v. 12), and there were pagan pillars and poles and altars and shrines all throughout the land (vv. 13-14). It just goes on and on!
And yet, if you would have asked anyone in Jerusalem which God that they served, they would have proudly declared that they were the people of Yahweh! They had the temple of the mighty Yahweh in their midst! They were His people - His possession! But they had brought all of this other abominable crap right into the heart of His temple and had completely defiled His worship and provoked Him to wrath. How could this be?
The answer: they had forgotten to closely obey the Word of God and had increasingly allowed the world to influence their worship. The Book of the Law had lain hidden in the temple for generations before Josiah's officials found it and read it to him. But other kings had heard the Word of God and yet they still allowed all of this garbage to go on in their land. What was different about Josiah? What made him so great was that he heard the Word like a child and embraced it like he would have as if they were instructions from a beloved Father.
The sorry state of worship in Josiah's day was sadly not unique to his time, however. The grand majority of churches in our own day - even the 'conservative' ones - have started to look a lot different from the simple instructions given for congregations in the Bible.
Now, let me just pause right there and say that I hate legalism. I think that it is the absolute worst danger to the health of any church. We should rightly avoid telling other Christians to do things "our way" without a direct Scriptural command from God to do so. I feel like I need to say this here in this paragraph before you get to the next one, because without this disclaimer you're most likely going to get pretty angry with me. Just understand that I am right there with everyone else in the modern church, and I don't pretend to have all of the answers.
So permit me just for a moment to list a small selection of examples that I can see in the modern church (especially the protestant evangelical church) of where we have softened our resolve and discipline with respect to ideas and practices that are taught in the Bible.
- We don't sing to one another in psalms, even though we are told to do so.
- We have conceded to the world the naming of the days of the week after pagan deities.
- We celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ at special times during the year when we were not commanded to do so - and we often join this practice to a lot of other worldly nonsense.
- We structure our worship services so rigidly as a sort of 'performance' that there is little to no opportunity for the kind of spontaneous worship that we see in passages like 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.
- Our women don't cover their heads while praying or prophesying, even though the Scripture says that they should.
- We create 'staff' positions like Youth Minister and Children's Minister and others without any Biblical warrant for doing so.
- We put all kinds of people in positions of teaching authority without even seriously holding them up to 'deacon' (servant) standards - much less elder standards.
- We will divide the body according to musical preference or Bible translation preference or age or whatever - flying in the face of the Scriptural importance of oneness and unity.
Now, this is a pretty eclectic list, and it certainly is by no means exhaustive. Your own church might not participate in some of these things, and instead it may add others to the list. But as I said, my purpose for pointing these things out is not to say that there is one and only one way of doing church 'correctly', but rather that when I look around at what has become 'normal' or even 'traditional' in a lot of our churches, I see us drawing closer and closer to the chaos of Israel prior to the reforms of kings Hezekiah and Josiah.
So what is the solution? Step one is not to come up with a blueprint of the perfect church. Step one is really just to open our eyes to the possibility that we may be overstepping some of our freedoms when we decide to do this or that in church. Step one is being open to the fact that traditions may not be Biblical after all. Then step two - I suppose - would be to read the Scriptures with a heart and mind that are willing to be taught, especially in this area of how we should worship. After all, that's where Hezekiah and Josiah started, and it seemed to work out pretty well for them.