This Little Piggy Went to Market
Do you remember the old nursery rhyme "This Little Piggy"? A couple of the things I find troubling in Christendom is the showmanship of worship in church services and marketing of good deeds in ministry in the world that seems to mirror some of very practices of Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus' day. It's kindof like marketing pigs out for profit. It's a strange parallel, but bear with me for a moment. I've observed two examples in the areas of worship and giving:
Organized religion is obsessed with garments, keeping to the traditions of man, developing a structure for meeting God in formatted services, and then marketing Him to appeal to a crowd. Jesus' firm rebuke in Matt 15:8-9, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."
Did you just use Scripture to judge my heart of worship before God? Whoa, where did that come from? Don't get to worked up yet, allow me to explain.
A.W. Tozer marks one of the characteristics of a "carnal christian" is "living too much in visible religion and goes by things on the outside. Colored lights, and strange or pretty sounds, and garments or certain uniforms or decorations; anything that feeds their childish mind by calling it from the outside, from the internal to the external...The carnal Christian cannot worship without religious rattles and toys; otherwise, he gets bored and loses interest"(pg.123).
Tozer continues, "For the mature Christian, an unlovely place is suitable for worship if the heart is right and the Spirit dwells within. Worship and communion with God can be real and unaffected, and the tranquility can remain the same, because the spiritual Christian does not rest in the external"(pg.123).
Ever wonder why worship at church seems to be more like an entertaining event for God and to get something from him?
You'll notice, more often than not, such services scare up attention for the "Holy Spirit to move" by creating artificial, ecstatic and emotional environments of lights and sounds. Worship leaders are affirmed to lead the body into "the throne room of God" (Only Jesus can do this as High Priest). Gifted and talented believers are then received with celebrity-type status and idolized like rock-stars for their performance. Then, their flavor is marketed to the rest of Christendom for profit.
Most often, this is the result of "humanly-engineered hype and pulpit showmanship and calling it 'the moving of the Spirit.' Perhaps you've seen this before. You pour in the right prayers, sing the right songs with the right fervor, turn the crank, and 'the Spirit's moving' comes out of the bottom." -Frank Viola
As a result, people leave with the same carnality they walked in the door with, just temporarily feeling better about themselves after they've unloaded their guilt and garbage on God and feel "charged up" for another week. Those who seem exhibit more attention-starving behaviors and demonstrative grandstanding in their worship, in front for others to see, are often the most in need of Christ-like character formation. Nevertheless, the fruit of the counterfeit results in carnal living because true, Incarnational Christ-like living (this doesn't mean believers will be perfect or are above making mistakes), is not being worked out. Week after week, the cycle continues.
Genuinely, the Lord does "show up" at times at these events because He's not bound to a human methods and structures, but here's some of the issues:
1. Believers go to the worship services to get a special "touch from God" and ask him for things to give to them (financial, spiritual, emotional physical needs) in order to benefit their personal welfare and way of living.
2. The spontaneity of Holy Spirit is restricted to a pre-planned set for worship, prepared sermon, and the ministering is restricted to the leadership. The functioning of the "priesthood of all believers" and Scriptures such as 1 Cor 14 are ignored. The result is a clergy/laity divide with few ministers and mostly passive spectators.
3. Often the "move of the Spirit" is mistaken by human-engineered methods (explained below). Singing seven words, eleven (7-11 songs). The constant repetition of phrases and words 20,30, 40 sometimes 50+ times as if that will get the body "moved" emotionally into a restful state.
We then become the center for God's blessings to fall on us, rather than Jesus being the center for the meeting through each of us, learning to live in union with Him, and pouring Him out to others.
Biblically, this "worship" does not reflect true, New Covenant worship, unto Jesus.
Am I saying it's wrong for believers to have a large gatherings for singing and teaching unto the Lord? Abosolutely not.
The issue is the human-engineering of a set order for worship, the elevating of certain believers above others, where a few lead and the rest spectate or receive, and the self-preserving motivations for receiving security and reward from God. The issue is not the singing or words themselves, which glorifies Christ (although I've been in many Christian worship services where the songs at times focus on self, our efforts, and what we get from God, rather than songs to worship God Himself).
Would you be surprised to know that there isn't any place in Scripture that teaches Christians are suppose to gather for "worship?"
"Worship in Spirit and in Truth." as Jesus spoke of in John 4, no longer reflects an Old Covenant Temple, Jewish Synagogue type of worship. Nor does it reflect Medieval Catholic style worship, now reformed by Protestants in traditional or post-modern worship services.
Frank Viola, in his book, Pagan Christianity states, "Protestant Sunday Morning Order of Worship does not appear in the NT and emerged later as the result of absorbing Greco-Roman customs (e.g., the Roman Imperial court), Jewish rituals, and human invented traditions in the post-apostolic period."
Instead, Jesus speaks of a lifestyle and communion with God. In other words, the fragrance of our obedient, day-to-day living by the Spirit and in Truth, unto Jesus, is the New Covenant worship spoken of in the New Testament. It's no longer restricted to "holy events, with holy clothes, for holy times and holy places."-Wolfgang Simpson.
We no longer have to go to God, to a special event with other believers and "make OUR sacrifices" with a professional mediator (pastor or priest), just like the Old Covenant. Dr. Robert Banks, in his book, Paul's Idea of Community, discusses Rom 12:1-2 which says our whole life is to be worship unto the Lord, and he states that, "since all place and times how now become the venue of worship, Paul cannot speak of Christian assemple in the church distinctively for this purpose."
We have Christ Incarnate, "for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), which is true Spirit and in Truth living. We carry Him wherever and whenever we go, and the very life of being a disciple unto Him, giving Him glory for the work He does in and through us, is the fruit of true worship to God. The self-less, sacrificial living unto God, poured out to others is the real, spiritual worship service (Rom 12:1). Our sacrificial life is now living by HIS sacrifice. Worship to our Lord is "deny yourselves, take up your cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Our hearts should be crying daily, "Search me, Oh, God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." (Psalm 139:23). It's not "I" search me, self-introspecting and trying to do better in my own abilities by not sinning and practicing good behavior. Rather, I give God Himself permission, to search me, and release His power within to overcome evil and heal me from my own selfish ambitions.
This, I believe is what the Lord sees as true heart of worship, learning to live by the Life of Another (Jesus Christ) in union with Him, for His glory, and the edification of the Body. Read the chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 and see what Paul had in mind for worship. In v.26, you'll notice the "each of you" is speaking about everyone for the building up of the Church. Not just a select few musicians leading or a pastor, but everyone participating for the benefit of each other in the Church, whether it's a song, instruction, or revelation from the Lord.
This is a stark contrast from us as individuals just going to a worship service for God to get a "special touch" from him and to ask for his blessings. We forget that blessings only come when we follow in obedience to His Kingdom Way. "God will only bless what He is doing." -Wolfgang Simpson.
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."-Matt 6:3.
In other words, the blessings follow that of living unto His Kingdom and His Righteousness, poured out for the benefit of each other.
It's not the other way around, where Jesus is used by me to work in my kingdom, my possessions, in my life, in my good ways, in my ministry, in my health, in my job...my, my, my, my...
Are you tracking? Keep following...
There seems to be a deep desire to be in the business of maximizing gain for profit, even while giving and taking up the cause of justice. So, we take our good deeds to market. The giving becomes public and the donor gets the pat on the back for the "good deeds." Our generosity can't help but want to be noticed. But what did Jesus say about giving?
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."-Matt 6:1-4.
But somehow, this passage doesn't sit well with us. Instead, we create large feeding and help programs (with good intentions I might add), raise lots of money for charity (and proud to others how much we raised), and honor those who give the largest gifts.
Yet, we ignore other passages such as when Jesus honored the widow. "When all these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."-Luke 21:4.
So, who's really getting the honor? Who's really getting the glory? Our public charities, faithful volunteers, wealthy Board members, the biggest grantors...the more we get from them, the more attention and friendship we give them, and the more honor we give to them at our meetings and in our publishing's.
When well-meaning church groups and organizations go out to help the poor, with unexamined generosity, the receiving end of the help (the poor) view themselves "as charity cases for wealthy visitors, posing for smiling faces for pictures to be taken back for the marketing the next group" (R. Lupton, "Toxic Charity").
Even while helping the poor, it's fascinating how we relish the gratitude (the approval of man) in exchange for free gifts, and enjoy occupying the superior position of the giver (though carefully covered with an exterior humility). Without knowing it, indirectly, our well-intended efforts just exploited the poor for personal benefit. Even more shocking, most groups are subject to doctrines of seeking wealth (a form of mammon in which there is never enough), with endless fundraising schemes in the name of "God's work" to keep the programs running and the staff paid, and in some cases promoting "material prosperity from God" at the expense of caring for the poor and relieving the sufferings of the oppressed.
They get praise from the community and praise from churches back home for such wonderful deeds. Powerpoint's and newsletters are filled with stories and the pictures of saddened and lonely faces of poverty and are thereby patronized with pity by the hearers, and the volunteers say, "thank you for sending us, our lives were changed" (which means we were humbled by God as we saw the affects of poverty and shocked at the poor's living situation in comparison to ours).
Now everyone feels bad, and so to appease the guilt of our own decadent living and to please God, we give in hopes of bettering the poor's situation because they don't have the health, wealth and prosperity that we have. So who's really getting the glory? Who's getting appreciated? Us.
Really? Are we so deceived in our self-centered piety that we have to be noticed for our good works to the poor? It's repulsive and disgusting. This very approach erodes the dignity of the poor before our very eyes and robs the glory from God. Bringing a self-centered piety attitude is like a little piggy going to the market to be sold to the highest bidder. The gain is selling self-centered piety (in the cloak of false humility) at a price for the approval of man, fame, self-glorification, and raising thousands of dollars to go make a temporary visitation.
Yet we say, "It's glorifying God." Is it really?
Not so in the Kingdom of Jesus. Where has the art of secret giving gone? These are questions I believe we need to ask. A couple of places to begin: First, focus on deep friendships (apart from need-based relationships) and stop viewing others more in need than you as your charity project. Upon developing long-term relationships, ask the Lord to help you selflessly and sacrificially give, without any self-interest or return.
Paul said, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:7). Remember, the "decided in your heart to give" has in mind that Jesus Incarnate has full control of your life, not YOU as feel (self-rule) to make the decision, rather deciding how the Lord would have you love and give to pour Him out to others.
Without blindly assuming my own uncalculated love to help someone, pray, "Lord, what is the best way I can show my friend Your Love and Help?" With sincere prayers and humility, the Lord will show you and reveal what He wants to do. Second, when you give, don't make a big deal about it, especially to recipients and other believers. As you feel prompted to give, tell the recipient you believe the Lord led you to send the gift, and that is comes from Him. Tell them to keep it a secret and not tell others. Since everything we have is God's anyways, we have nothing to hold onto, we don't own anything. He owns us. God is using us to steward what is already His in another direction. This, I believe is true humility in giving.
Then, 2 Corinthians 9:13 will be fulfilled, "Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else."
So what's the conclusion to draw from? Pigs are fed scraps and build up toxins over time. Eventually, they are fattened and sold for market consumption. To name just a couple in areas in worship and in giving, much of organized religion has fed itself with me-benefit worship of God and self-centered pious giving (cloaked in false humility) for attention, gaining honor, success and the approval of man among Christendom and pagan culture.
What are we really "eating" in our practice to follow Jesus? Is this our identity in Christ?
It's easy to grow fat with "self" and build up these fleshly toxins by worshipping our way or giving our way. That's right, "my self" is the pig being marketed to the world. We want to be noticed, and make a name for ourselves and in so doing, market "self," or a "label" which is diametrically opposed to Jesus' teaching about His Kingdom Way of self-denial at the Cross.
The world is watching us, looking and asking, "Will the real Jesus please stand up?" Jesus is asking for His Body, His Family to surrender to His Way of doing things, and is preparing a viral movement of worshippers to infect the culture around them, living unto Jesus.
Shouldn't we examine ourselves, and ask "Have we produced fruitful disciples that mirror Jesus teaching? Or, something else?" Whose kingdom are we really building? Is it by my way or His Way?
Jesus' words certainly bring offense to my pride and my "self," and I'm thankful to the Lord for His gentle and loving instruction to show me different in His Word. Without His Word, anyone could (including myself) would be walking in self-deception and ignorance. I cannot just sit back and assume, no matter the depth my loving intentions, that the help or giving, in and of themselves are justifications for realizing what the Lord has already revealed His Eternal Purpose and Mission in His Son Jesus Christ. Our lense for paradigm thinking needs to change from "my loving intentions" to "His eternal purpose and mission in Jesus."
I understand that this blog may become offensive to some, but first, let's allow the Spirit to check our motives and behaviors at the door and really ask Him, "Is the way I am living unto Jesus look more like what is revealed by His words or what is not revealed?"
My hope is that all of our intentions are to discover how Jesus really wants us follow him, in humility, and "put to death" at the cross, our own preferences for worship and giving, and seek what the Lord has taught us in New Covenant living.
Quotes in this article taken from "Reclaiming Christianity" by A.W. Tozer and "Toxic Charity" by Robert D. Lupton.