Monday, June 01, 2009

Excitements & Idolatry

The Sights, Sounds, and Spectacles of Spurious Spirituality

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Exodus and Excitements

The problem being raised is not new (Read Exodus 32:1-35.). Upon their exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel were not content in worshipping a God they could not see or feel, a God who was apparently not meeting their needs. "Is the Lord among us, or not?" they asked, as they grumbled against Moses and God because of a shortage of water in the wilderness (Exodus 17:7). Not content to walk by faith and to trust the Lord to meet their needs, the children of Israel wanted tangible proof that the Lord was with them. So as they wondered and wandered, they grew increasingly restless and unsatisfied.

In spite of Mount Sinai acting like a volcano for reason of the Lord's presence (Exodus 19:18), and when later Moses delayed on the mountain and did not return to give them a "signal" report of the Lord's dealings with him, they couldn't stand the drab silence. They needed something more, something visual and exciting. So they demanded of Aaron the High Priest, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him" (Exodus 32:1).

So being the accommodating religious leader he was, Aaron took their sacrifices of praise, their jewelry, and smelted and engraved the precious metals into the image of a powerful bull. To the mass of religious voyeurs he then declared, "*This is your god,* (lit., 'these are your gods'] O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). Israel no longer needed to wonder if the gods were with them. One had miraculously jumped out of the fire! As Aaron explained to Moses, "I threw it [i.e., the jewelry] into the fire, and out came this calf" (Exodus 32:24).

But not only did the Israelites possess "the need" to see their gods, but also "to get high" over them. So in an act revealing the utter ungodliness of the audience-driven and seeker-sensitive approach to ministry, Aaron announced,"Tomorrow shall be a feast [a celebration] to the Lord" (Exodus 32:5). It was on his own initiative Aaron decreed this feast, for the Lord had already mandated the three feasts Israel was to observe, and this wasn't one of them! (See Exodus 23:14-17.).

So the next day, the Exodus narrative describes the frenzied excitement that built up around the entertaining image of the bull. Upon hearing the wild worship going on in the camp when he and Moses descended from the holy mount with the two inscribed tablets of stone, Joshua supposed that the celebration was "a sound of war in the camp" (Exodus 32:17). But Moses knew differently. "It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat," he said, "but the sound of singing I hear" (Exodus 32:18). A celebration was going on.

To explain the displeasure of God against this kind of stuff happening in the church under the guise of worship, the apostle Paul referred to this incident. To the Corinthians he explained, "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.' Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed . . ." (1 Corinthians 10:6-8a, KJV).

Signs and Adultery

In working His messianic miracles, his "signs and wonders," Jesus attracted crowds (Matthew 8:18; Mark 9:25; Luke 5:19; John 5:13). Jesus exorcised demons out of afflicted persons restoring them to spiritual and emotional health (Mark 5:1-20). He caused the lame to walk and healed the sick (Isaiah 35:6; Matthew 11:4-5). He even raised people from the dead (John 11:1-46). Can it get anymore exciting than this? Expectancy built up among the Jewish people as they observed the signs and wonders Jesus worked, as He temporarily put a stop to disabilities, sickness, and death (John 21:25).In some instances, Jesus requested those He healed to keep it quiet (See Matthew 8:4; Luke 8:56; John 5:13.). But often they disobeyed Him and told others, indicating that though they liked what Jesus did, they would not listen to what He said.

The miraculous displays left many voyeurs craving for more. Jesus' miracles piqued the curiosity of many Jews. They were spectators of spectacles. This helps explain why at the height of His ministry, certain Jewish leaders came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You" (Matthew 12:38). Signs and wonders made for good theater.

So Jesus censured the sign seekers telling them that, "*An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign . . ."* (Matthew 12:39a). He then proceeded to explain that, "no sign" would be given to them except "the sign of Jonah the prophet," and that the repentant persons who had lived at the time of both Jonah and Solomon would rise up to judge them (Matthew 12:39b-42). The Jews wanted theater, but all Jesus would talk about was their guilt and the coming divine judgment. Jesus seemed to know that spectacles produced spectators, but He was looking for followers.

Question: On account of the present cravings for spectacle spirituality, how much of the "we-got-to-feel-it" atmosphere which is aroused in our worship celebrations indicates that, like Jews of His day, Jesus might consider us to be an evil and adulterous generation?

No stranger to controversy that comes from standing for God's truth amidst a multitude's cravings for show-time religion, Methodist evangelist Rev. Mr. Beverly Carradine (1848-1931) perceived that, "The whole demand for signs springs from unbelief."[1] He then continues,

We are referring to a spirit of doubt that will not take God’s word nor move forward as He directs without some peculiar display of the divine presence and power, which in our conceit we dictate to the Lord and also decide as to its fashion, form and continuance . . . The Lord seeks to bring His followers into a life of such faith in Him that they will not ask nor care for strange sights and sounds . . . If we want to please God we must throw away every doubt when He has spoken; quit asking for strange tokens and wonders; and, resting on His word, say, “No matter what happens, I believe God; and though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. [2]

We should know that Jesus is not looking for fans, but for followers (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 16:24; 19:21; John 10:27; etc.). He calls us to the cross, and not to celebrations, to self-denial, and not to self-indulgence. He told His followers,"If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24).

Self-denial is not a "feel good" experience. In fact, sin and its guilt, which lies at the heart of Jesus' atonement, makes us to feel bad about ourselves; and this may account for the reason there is so little preaching about sin and guilt in contemporary churches these days. Such a message would spoil the celebration.

But the need to be entertained not only manifested itself amongst the Exodus Israelites and the Jews in Jesus' day, but also the pagan Greeks. . . .

To be continued. . . .

The Truth:

"And My people are bent to backsliding from Me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt Him." (Hosea 11:7)

1. Rev. Mr. Beverly Carradine, "Gideon," Master Christian Library (Ages Software Version 8, Albany, Oregon, 1997) 18. Carradine’s life is explained by Gene A. Long, "Time and Location Line of the Life of Rev. Beverly Carradine," ( 2005. He refers to Carradine as, "The Prince of Holiness Writers."
2. Ibid. 18, 19.