He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). -2 Kings 18:4
You may remember this story when the bronze snake was first instituted (Numbers 21). The children of Israel were wondering around the wilderness and in typical fashion started to complain about not having enough food or water and wondering around in the desert. A modern day equivalent is what youth pastors go through on youth trips when asking the kids if they want to eat at McDonald’s or Wendy’s.
In all seriousness, God sends poisonous snakes to bite them to show them only He has the power of life and death. When the children of Israel finally realize they are wrong and repent, they turn to God. God tells Moses to build a bronze snake and when the people look at it they will be healed of snake bites. It’s actually a beautiful picture of the Gospel. But, what happened then in 2 Kings 18?
The Israelites took a beautiful picture of the Gospel and started to WORSHIP that picture. It became an idol. In my own life, I’m amazed at how many good things I can turn into bad things.
In church life, it’s also pretty evident. There are a number of things in our churches that we do that may have been a good thing at one time, but now it’s become a bad thing. If that thing was gone, people would be incredibly upset. Here are some examples.
Like any of the examples below, buildings are of great benefit to churches. They provide meeting space, sometimes classroom space, office space, and a place to send your mail. As a church plant, it is difficult to operate sometimes when you’re not sure where to meet. You may see another church and think that it would be awesome to have a space like that one day. Many churches utilize their buildings throughout the week doing programs and projects and allowing other like-minded groups to use their space. That’s a great benefit for the kingdom.
We don’t necessarily need buildings to be a church. Buildings just make it easier for us to do what we nee to do. In China and India, believers meet in their homes. If we had to for whatever reason, we could find creative places to meet. Over time, people look at their buildings and they think, “Wow, look at our beautiful facilities.” They may even be struggling financially, but instead of selling their facilities and rethinking what they are doing, they eventually go into financial trouble because of their buildings.
Buildings are good, but they can often be idols.
People sometimes think they have to have “x” in their worship service (“x” could be piano, organ, guitar, drums, choirs, handbells, interpretive movement, etc.), but what is required? Psalms talks about praising God with stringed instruments, drums, and other instruments we don’t use today. Nobody tries to recreate Old Testament music instruments in their worship services, but if we were consistent our main instrument would be the lyre. I have no idea what that even is.
What is required from our worship services in regards to music? I think it’s really two things. Right words and right posture. We want to make sure the words we are singing are theologically correct. This means we shouldn’t sing heresy or false doctrine. Also, right posture is in the way we sing. Posture is about realizing who we are singing to which is God. It also means that we aren’t performing as if we were in a show. We aren’t doing things just because it’s the way we’ve always done them. We sing because God deserves the praise from our mouths.
Every church has programs they love. Programs can be good helping people share the Gospel more or disciple people more. Programs may even help children’s or youth ministries. But, programs are notorious for taking on a life of their own. They become the center focus of a church instead of the worship and glory of God.
4. Systems and Processes.
These are all the ways that you do things. For example, every church has a way that they handle contributions. Money comes in either online, Sunday morning offering, or offering box. That money has to be counted, deposited, and contributions recorded. There is a system in place to do that. There are systems for enlisting new volunteers, starting new groups, planning a worship service, assimilating new members, and many many more. I’m sure most churches easily have 15-30 systems all the time.
Systems are put in place to solve problems, and good systems handle big problems often for many years. However, over time, those problems might go away, or the church changes in growth, or technology allows those systems to be made easier. Instead of questioning the system, people would rather not change because they think “this is the way thing are always done.”