I spoke at Paradigm last Thursday night on the subject of worship. I reminded them that about half of all that the Bible says about worship is condemning false worship. As a matter of fact, the amount of Scripture devoted to false worship, along with the subtlety of false worship, should cause every Christian to approach worship with a healthy amount of fear lest we also become guilty of false worship.
A.W. Tozer, who served thirty-one years as the pastor of Chicago’s Southside Gospel Tabernacle (1928-1959), dedicated himself to calling the Church back to a radical obedience to Christ and warning about the menace of idolatry for civilized man.
In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, subtitled, “Why We Must Think Rightly about God,” he warns that idolatry, rather than beginning by creating an idol with hands, actually begins in the mind, and therefore the mind is the place where idolatry must be fought and rooted out.
He declares, “Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. “When they knew God,” wrote Paul, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Italics added)
If you read Romans 1:18ff, you will see that idolatry of the mind precedes the making of actual images that can be seen with the eye or touched with the hand.
This warning is needed even more today than in Tozer’s day. Today, everyone seems to be emphasizing worship and all too often with a concomitant deemphasizing of knowing God through His Word. Idolatrous worship is commonly understood to be worshiping the wrong God, but idolatry also includes worshiping the right God in the wrong way—contrary to His word.
The overarching requirement for worshiping God is “truth” (John 4:24). Tragically, many ‘worshipers’ today grant scant attention to truth; it is not uncommon to see worship leaders not even open a Bible when the truth of God is being declared—often because they do not have one with them.
When we worship God with any image of God in our mind, it is idolatrous. God cannot be reduced to an image regardless how grand it seems to the human mind. We should be thinking about Him as He is revealed in Scripture; His attributes, His mighty Works, His love, grace and mercy, His holiness, His trustworthiness…but never an image. Of course, the only way that worshipers can think on anything honoring to God in worship is by knowing His word, which, far too often, seems to be viewed by many as more of a hindrance to worship than a blessed essential.
True worship at a minimum is submission to God, and submission to God at a minimum is worshiping God as He has prescribed.
God does not want nor seek worshipers, but rather He seeks “true worshipers [who] worship the father in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).