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What Really Matters?

It's really quite amazing when you suddenly realize that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings in the Old Testament seem to care very little about about the types of politics and events that fascinate people in our world today.  If there were any oil spills or mudslides or riveting debates between liberals and conservatives, we are not told about them.  This is noteworthy because of what the book actually does record in detail: the state of Yahweh-worship under each king. Any who have read this part of the Bible are familiar with the oft-repeated phrase, "And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.  He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin."  This is the way every single king of the northern kingdom is introduced.  And what is the great sin that keeps being pointed out?  Jeroboam had made two golden calves and told his people to worship those instead of going down to Jerusalem and worshiping there as they had been commanded.  So all of these kings are judged on the basis of whether those idols were permitted to remain.

The southern Kingdom of Judah is likewise judged on the basis of her obedient worship of Yahweh.  In fact, one of the kings, Ahaz (2 Kings 16) reigned for sixteen years and all we are told about his reign is what he did to the temple.  His claim to infamy is that he made some changes to the look and layout of the temple complex.

The story of Ahaz is extremely relevant to today's culture - and Christians in particular.  Remember, it seems that the only thing that matters in the judgment of a king in the Old Testament is how he treated the worship of the LORD.  So how did Ahaz treat this worship?  He went to Assyria and saw an altar there that he really liked, so he had someone copy down all the details and build an exact replica in Jerusalem for the LORD's temple (2 Kings 16:10).  He also made changes to the bronze sea and the portable basins because of what he saw in Assyria (verse 18).  And in all this, it is important to realize that Ahaz does not mean to worship a different god; he just wants to worship Yahweh differently - in a way more in tune with his tastes.

So many Christians want to do exactly that these days.  We are seemingly less and less concerned with what God said we ought to be doing and more and more concerned with what feels right or good or comfortable to us to do.  Ahaz wasn't given the freedom to change the worship furniture.  The fact that he is copying a pagan design is even more condemning.  And yet this is where the modern Western church is today also.  We are increasingly pulling more and more of our ideas about morality and our ideas about worship from the unbelievers and pagans.  We see it both in our churches and in our government.

There is only one solid place for true believers to stand: firmly and only on the revealed Word of God.  God has told us what is right and what is wrong.  God has told us how He expects to be worshiped.  He has revealed how the leadership of a church is to be structured and He has revealed how we ought to relate to and interact with one another in the body.  Yet there are still many who wear the title "Christian" or even "Pastor" or "Bible Scholar" who want to move the boundary stones in each of these areas.  They've been out there in the world and they like what they've seen.  They want to bring it back into the church and implement it there to suit their tastes.

We need to realize that our own desires, tastes, and preferences are often in league with the Enemy.  He has won them to his side.  The only sure test is the Scripture.  What does it say?  Do you not like it?  Which needs to change: your opinion or the Word of God?

On Whose Authority?

Well, it's no secret that most people don't care very much for authority these days.  Even those who are actually in positions of authority don't really like to exercise the privilege - nay, the responsibility - of using that authority toward its intended ends.  Just this past Saturday, my family made a trip to Toys 'R Us where we witnessed a mother pleading at length with her four or five year old son for him to come down off of a display that he shouldn't have been on in the first place and then follow her out of the store - as if the parent/child hierarchy was one based on persuasion instead of command and obedience. Needless to say, I find such situations absurd and pathetic, but this seems to be the way our world is going.  Parents don't even feel like they have right to sternly rebuke and correct their children, and this most likely as a result of the parents' own distaste for authority.  There's a tremendous problem here, with its roots all the way back in the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden when they broke the very first command that was given to them by their Father.

And as a pastor, I struggle with the various notions of authority that are in the minds of my hearers.  Some believe that their own opinions are the most important source of truth in their lives.  When I present my case from the very words of God in the Bible, they judge God's declarations and instructions against their own "infallible" assumptions, and if the two don't match, God's Word gets rejected.  These know what they want to believe and are predisposed to reject anything that differs.  "Foolish" and "unteachable" are two words that come immediately to mind.  Others judge what they believe to be true by which preacher said it best.  If I say something that contradicts the teaching of a former beloved pastor, some are liable to cling to the previous teaching out of a sense of loyalty to the man even when the Bible passage in question is abundantly clear and my case for its truth is open-and-shut.  Few seem to have the mindset of "If that's what the Scripture says, then that's what I'm going to believe."

And almost nowhere can we see these various notions of authority in such disagreement as we can when we examine the so-called "church rules" that have been prevalent for the last hundred or so years in American fundamentalist churches: "don't drink", "don't smoke", "don't dance", and "don't gamble".  Thankfully, some of the emphasis on these Pharisaical legalisms is passing away.  You don't find too many folks anymore that vehemently decry the evils of playing cards or dice, but some of the broader categories still find a deep-seated conviction in many of our churches - especially among the elderly.

Now, believe it or not, I'm actually all for holding on to the old ways.  I, like some of the older people in our churches, am by nature very distrustful of anything new making its way into our church, and I always try to be on the lookout against sliding into the places that the Enemy would like us to be.  The fact of the matter is, however, that these "church rules" are the very "new things" that have come into the church.  We don't find these rules in the Bible (and it is very old).  In fact, in the Bible we find people gambling (Judges 14:12-13), but never any commands against it; we find God's people dancing (2 Samuel 6:16), but those who dislike it are cursed; we just don't find any teaching about smoking whatsoever; and when it comes to drinking, we find God at one point even commanding His people to drink wine or strong drink in celebration to Him (Deuteronomy 14:24-26), even though there are also commands to not get drunk (Ephesians 5:18).

This is where the issue of authority comes into play.  How are you going to decide what is right or wrong for you to do?  Are you going to decide based on your own opinions, laying new rules that the Bible doesn't give (like the Pharisees did) or ignoring the commands that the Bible does contain?  Are you going to decide based on what some favorite preacher said?  Or will you diligently search the Scriptures for yourself with a submissive and obedient heart, allowing God Himself to instruct you?  When we are judged, it will not be on the basis of our own opinions or any other man's; it will be on the basis of God's Law, so let's aim to please Him instead of ourselves.