January 15, 2016

It Starts ...

"Huh ... Hey, Jamie - come take a look at this you won't believe it." My friend told me one afternoon. I put down my book and wandered over the computer.

Is it some scandal among the celebrities in Hollywood? Or yet another natural disaster hitting some place hard?" I asked. Knowing the sorts of stories my friend usually showed me, either of those were good bets.

"Neither. I just wanted to see what you'd make of it." My friend answered. The page that was up on the computer was The Head Covering Movement.

"Huh." I said as I carefully read through the post. Already thoughts and ideas were beginning to connect in my mind, drawing from everything I had ever learned in church or read in the Bible or heard from various documentaries. It wasn't long before I placed my first comment.

"That's what I said!" My friend exclaimed.

And that's how it started. You see, the most recent post that day had a quote, the first half was unimportant, but the second half stuck out: "There is a right and a wrong way of worshiping God."

Over the next year, the Head Covering Movement tried to convince me, sway me to their way of thinking. They are the true defenders of the truest expression of the truest interpretation of the true faith. They talked about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 relentlessly. When it became apparent that it wasn't working, I was blocked.

I think most Christians are taught that when a person is genuinely interested in the faith then if they do their part - patiently and carefully teach the Scriptures - then God will do His and send the Holy Spirit to work on that person's heart enabling them to believe the truth. They will be converted and begin to show fruit in keeping with repentance. So it's unthinkable that somebody would 'wrestle' with a supposedly Biblical teaching for months on end and still not be convicted to obey it unless they don't really believe and that's just not something most are prepared to consider especially when that person so eloquently speaks and knows the particular vocabulary that is Christianity.

In Acts 19:19, the converts - former sorcerers, brought their magical scrolls to burn them publicly, their value was fifty thousand drachmas. One translation suggests that would equal roughly $10,000 American dollars.

Belief was almost instantaneous, then they backed up their faith with works. There's really not a story where people took awhile to believe - either they did or they didn't; or they almost did but they still end up not believing. But that's only for the essentials of salvation - believing in Jesus' death, resurrection, and promise of eternal life after we die.

But there is no story where a believer must be converted from one form of belief, one particular practice to another. Sure, there's Acts 15 where the question of circumcision arises - but it's not something the whole church embraces or the whole church denies. After all, most of the church is still Jewish, so that's part of the territory. But the rest aren't and so they aren't expected to abide by customs that are foreign to their culture.

The teaching was: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved."

And the response is: "We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.  So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—  men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

Now you see, these teachers firmly believed in the right way to worship and it had a lot to do with keeping customs and the wrong way was not keeping customs. So when we look at verses talking about the role of women we might see references to 'as the law says' and we have to remember that this and other customs, such as wearing head coverings, were among the things that the early believers said that it was good to the Holy Spirit to not burden believers with these things. Surely, it's possible that the ancient council didn't give a second thought to the status of women in their way - but it's also possible that the accounts of the women who were converted, who were hosting churches in their homes, who were doing good works, who were contending for the gospel with the other men had inspired them to realize that their own cultural rules don't apply as a mandate from the Holy Spirit. Surely, it's possible a good many things went unsaid or unrecorded at that first meeting. We certainly don't have a record of the minutes of the meeting and don't know every word that was said about every subject that was brought up.

I wonder if they meant that to be a blanket statement about whatever question the next council would bring up: "What about ..." "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us not to burden you with anything beyond ... food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals (well, no worries there - these aren't a concern for today) and from sexual immorality (that's usually good advice, after all, immorality tends to come with consequences.)" "Head coverings?" "Not on the list." "Tattoos?" "Not on the list." "Football on Sundays?" "Not on the list." "If it's not the list, it's not on the list. We have no rule for it nor against it, whatever you decide, be at peace."

Ah, but there are still those who believe that there is a right way to worship and a wrong way to worship. R.C. Sproul said something about the difference between principles and customs was that God wouldn't punish us for being too literal with obeying the text and treating all customs as principles, but he would be less than pleased if all principles were treated as customs and disobeyed. So for anyone inclined to be in this camp, all principles must be obeyed and so much customs for good measure, especially if we can't tell the difference it is better to err on the side of caution. Which means that all other ways are all wrong ways.

We know what happens when people worship God the wrong way.

Uzzah touched the ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6) ... and he was struck (smote?) ... and he died.

Nadab and Abihu offered their own mix if incense (Leviticus 10) ... and the fire of the Lord burned ... and they died.

Korah and his 250 followers wanted to be priests (Numbers 16) ... and the ground opened up and swalled them and their families and their belongings ... and they died.

Paul even goes so far as to suggest that taking communion the wrong way was the reason that many of the congregation were weak, sick, and dying.

So if God's unchanged, then the result of wrong worship out to be clear: churches would be filled with people who were smote, burned, swallowed up, made weak, made sick, and dying because their wrong worship had caused judgement to fall upon them. No church would be immune.

But we don't see that. Sure, people die - of accidents, old age, disease, and cancer - but not once has anyone been smote. Not even the New Testament accounts of the Holy Spirit taking action against Ananias and Sapphira or Simon the Sorcerer have been known to happen on any given Sunday. We are shocked to hear about church scandals and abuse of power - but almost never do we hear of Holy Spirit taking against someone somewhere for something they did to dishonor the Word of God.

I'm inclined to think that the rules have changed. That there isn't a wrong way to worship God. I'm inclined to believe that there are a whole lot of right ways to worship God, from bluegrass to contemporary to hymns to other expressions I'm unfamiliar with, from music being the most important part, from the Lord's Supper from being the most important part, from preaching the word being the most important part, to other most important parts of worship that I'm unfamiliar with, that the 'whats' and 'hows' are far less important than the 'whens' and 'wheres'.

The right way of worshiping God is worshiping God, the particulars are up to each of us individuals to find whatever works for us - whatever lifts us up in spiritual ecstasy, whatever encourages us to carry on in hard times, whatever connects us to one another, whatever reminds us that we're important to God even though we are powerless and frail creatures in the scheme of an unimaginably massive universe. For some that will be head coverings, but obviously, not for everyone.

I just wish that we would stop policing how each of do worship and stop criticizing others for not doing it as we would. It's not a mark of super spirituality, or super modesty, or super humility, or super obedience, to insist on a rule that others just can't agree with us on and then call them spiritually or modesty or humbly or obediently inferior for not doing things as we would. That's not what the early believers did and that's not what they would have wanted us to do. Let's not burden each other with rules that they aren't meant to follow and let's learn not to base our salvation on obedience, because nobody is capable of being completely obedient - only one person has ever done that and He did that so we wouldn't have to.

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