“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me… Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:13-17
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? … He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:6-8
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
“I hate your worship!” is not exactly what you want to hear at the end of an otherwise sweet worship time at your church. How could God be so unappreciative, so fierce in his evaluation of anyone’s sincere praise? Apparently he cares about, not only how we worship, but the way we live in between worship times.
In each of the passages above, the worshippers were doing all the right things, the things God had prescribed. If we attended one of their “services” we would most likely have gone home reporting that they had “good worship.”* Despite their adequate performance and spine tingling dynamism, the Lord said he “hated” it! It wasn’t the wrong music, inadequate enthusiasm, or incorrect theology that offended him – not to say that he has no concern about music, enthusiasm, or theology (theology in particular). You can’t be a good worshipper and worship the wrong God or a wrong idea about the right God – they call that “idolatry” – a theme which deserves elaboration, but that’s for another time. The worshippers (so-called) that the prophets addressed in these passages cared only about how they looked and sounded in their performance of worship – emphasis on “performance” – and didn’t care about anyone else, the poor in particular.
Not only did they not concern themselves about the poor, but in some cases they actively abused and oppressed them for their own gain. Always the easiest target and least able to fight back, the poor are often the first to be taken advantage of by self-indulgent abusers. Timothy Keller wrote, “A lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart… One’s heart attitude toward the poor reveals one’s heart attitude toward Christ.” (Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just)
I have many issues with what we consider “worship” in many of our churches. I know that sounds like the curmudgeonly snark of one who insists on relocating back to the good old days of hymns sung to organ music. But it’s not the style of music to which I object or the instruments we use to accompany our singing. In this case, it’s not even the theology of the lyrics to which I address myself. What is most problematic to my mind is the lifestyle of the worshippers when the worship service is over, an indifference to the destitute in particular.
The very terminology of “when the worship service is over” is telling in itself, don’t you think? Maybe at the core of the inadequacy of our worship is that we relegate it to a certain time and place, and when that time has elapsed and we leave the place, we cease worshipping God and return to worshipping something else – like ourselves! Self-centeredness and worship are as antithetical as any two things can be.
Tangentially, it’s anti-worship when, in our worship gatherings, we want what we want in the way we want it for as long as we want it. When we’re worshipping we tend to want to feel good and look good doing it; and if those things aren’t served to us on a platter we write notes to the worship pastor or whoever will listen about how we need “better worship.” We want the service to “serve us” instead of to serve God and please him.
But like I said, that’s a bit off topic. The point I’m compelled to make is… Well, I’ll have to make that point next time in Part 2.
But first, an asterisk…
*I’m sure you’ve either used or heard the phrase, “good worship.” Not having been selected for the committee that approves of new expressions to be included in the Dictionary of Contemporary Christian Vocabulary, my opinion is entirely unofficial and doesn’t represent the views of any station or denomination. But I can’t stand it anymore; I have to tell someone about how much I object to this phrase, and would like to make my case for it to be banned from all Christian conversations! Okay, I employ hyperbole. It’s not quite that big of a deal, but since I’m entitled to my opinion and empowered by the Internet to express it, I will.