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Replay: Could the “Sunday Thing” be an abomination to God?

Posted by on Feb 16, 2013 in gathering | 15 comments

Replay: Could the “Sunday Thing” be an abomination to God?

Six year ago, I wrote a post called “The Sunday Thing.” The post was triggered by a post written by another blogger which also caused me to think about a passage in Isaiah. You know, God told the Israelites to offer sacrifices, burn incense, hold feasts and festivals, pray, etc. But, according to the prophet Isaiah, God saw those things as an abomination at times. Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered if God thinks of the things we do as abominations – even when we think we’re obeying him? How do we ensure that the things that we do are not unpleasing to God?

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The Sunday Thing

It is very important for believers to meet together. That is clear from Scripture. However, is it possible for us to put so much emphasis on one gathering of the church (say, Sunday morning, for instance) that we forget God’s purpose for the church?

Rick at “The Blind Beggar” examines this question in his article “We Aren’t About Weekends“. Most of his information comes from an article in Leadership Journal written by Bob Roberts. Consider this snippet:

If my church is primarily about the Sunday event, then doing kingdom work is secondary and actually unnecessary. If the Sunday event and church programming is primary, then I’ll spend all my time, money, and energy [on] what happens inside the church.

I think Rick (and Bob, of course) is onto something here. Do we focus our time, energy, and resources only on those who are already part of the kingdom of God? Or do we go “out of the camp” in order to engage those around us – in order to be salt and light to the world? (By the way, I realize that the answer to this question is both/and not either/or. However, is it possible that we can lose our focus?)

If we examine the money/time/effort/resources spent on preparing the location for the event, acquiring those who perform during the event, rehearsing for the event, and setting the schedule for the event, we might find that the event is much more important to us than we first thought. Is this what Jesus taught us? Is this what Jesus said was important?

Could it be that the “Sunday Morning Event” could become for us what the sacrifice became for the Israelites?

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:11-17 ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. (Hosea 6:6-7 ESV)

How do we ensure that our gatherings become more than ritual? How do we make sure that our lives as the church become more than a Sunday morning event? How do we gather so that our meetings are not simply rituals that are unpleasing to God?


15 Comments

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  1. 2-16-2013

    Truth!

    “convocations and… worthless assemblies” No, of course it’s not ALL bad, but I would agree that we have created a potential idol of our Sunday morning event and our songs.

    Mostly, I weep because so many believers would prefer to bring a useless sacrifice of ‘going to church on Sunday’ rather than enter into the edifying relationships of fellow Christ-followers. Some may be willing to do ‘both and’ but whatever happens, don’t take away that Sunday ‘worship’ service, they feel naked without it. (I know, because it took me a while to feel differently…)

    Malachi 1:10 reminds me of the potential heartache we bring to our God when He says “Oh, that someone would shut the door of the temple…”

    He is too often grieved…

    Perhaps one of the best things that could happen is that we might ‘shut the door’ until we get our priorities straight.

  2. 2-16-2013

    As usual, some thought provoking stuff. I agree with Heartspeak, it is hard to get out of the Sunday church-worship thing, and perhaps even harder to get away from the pastor-leader-tell us what we should be thinking and doing-in control & has all the answers thing. We are, for the most part, brought up in that mode, and it is ingrained into us that this is the proper way it is done. Not only do we have to overcome inertia, we have to climb out of a very deep rut. Even when we do, we need to guard against slipping back into that ditch, especially if we are called to lead in some way.

    It’s the same with Sunday worship. It’s hard to overcome when all of society is geared that way. We need to build community, and that takes work, especially in today’s hard driven, busy every moment society. Choices, hard choices often have to be made. Do I use Saturdays to stay ahead of work? How late do I stay in the evenings? Do I work to get ahead and make life easier for my family, or do I spend time with them being a family and building community? Do I take time to get things done, or spend that time joining with others to worship and make disciples?

    These are not always easy choices. I know, I am self employed and must stand or fall on my own. Achieving sales goals, even realistic ones that meet our needs while recognizing that God is our provider are hard. Very hard in today’s economy. I could very easily spend long days and weekends working more to grow sales. It’s even easier to justify, after all I would get recognition, and be able to glorify God, and think of all I could do with that extra income. But I have to stop and ask if that is the way HE would have me do it.

    In that sense, Sunday worship and maybe Wednesday nights would make it easier. It’s a nice set schedule with none of those pesky relationship moments to compete for your time and attention. There is just one problem, it’s not what God said to do.

    Do we meet on Sundays? Yes, we break bread, spend time in fellowship, and then maybe worship and share some things the Lord has been showing us. Sunday nights, we gather and usually show some sort of “educational” video for the kids. Currently, it is a series on early US history. We just finished one on the Bible and thought this would be a nice change of pace and was needed as well. Mondays some of us participate in a barbershop chorus, and we gather Tuesdays and Fridays for worship and fellowship.

    We have not yet arrived, I am all to acutely aware of failings and short comings, things like lack of growth, lack of connections with other believers in the community, lack of outreach to the community … you get the drift. Some is fear, some lack of resources, some just plain old being unsure of the next step. On the other hand, we have been warned of the Lord not to run ahead, but to be deliberate and wait for His strategy. So we wait, maybe not patiently, but we wait.

    Enough rambling for now …

  3. 2-16-2013

    Whenever we get human beings together, and they do things the same way repetitively, there is always a danger of ritual creeping in. We’re human. We like to do things the same way every time… it’s easy and doesn’t require much thinking.

    But just because the majority of us do things the same way, it doesn’t mean everyone does. And history repeats itself. There were those before us in the mid-1800s who were tired of the status quo (the major denominations of the day), seeing some very unscriptural practices, who started reading their Bible, and who broke away to do things differently. God always has His remnant…

    We were given three jobs to do: be witnesses, worshipers, and workers. All of us. In the OT, it was all laid out for us (by God). But those were a shadow of the things to come.

    I don’t want to get too long-winded… but just want to say that others have had the same issues before we came along.

  4. 2-16-2013

    Yes, my wife and I were just talking recently about how we have to be deliberate in what we do in order to avoid falling into routine. For example, as leaders we have to be deliberate in not meeting in the same place, especially our own home. We also need to be deliberate in not taking the lead in discussions, all easy to say, not so easy in practice.

  5. 2-16-2013

    We are capable of chalking up Sunday attendance week after week as an acceptable sacrifice of time and (if we tithe) a sacrifice of money too.

    But while we make ourselves feel comfortable that we’ve ‘done our bit’, we may have forgotten the real sacrifice we are called to offer daily.

    So we do our own will, but not the Father’s will, and we expect him to bless us! His grace and love are poured out freely upon us all. But blessing requires obedience.

  6. 2-17-2013

    I am reminded of Matthew 23:23; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

    I fear in many ways we have become scribes and Pharisees. We go through all our rights and rituals, we do the the “things” we should do to be good Christians, yet we neglect the weightier matters. We strain at every jot and tittle, while neglecting intimacy. Focusing on looking and acting in an “acceptable” manner, we become like those bowls, clean on the outside, filthy and of no use on the inside. I guess that’s just the natural state of the fallen man, but we are not to walk that way but rather be led by the Spirit.

    I suppose the first step is becoming aware so that we allow the Holy Spirit to cleans us, and help us back on His path and I suppose this is something we will wrestle with until we see Him face to face, both individually and as His church.

  7. 2-17-2013

    Alan,

    “Could the “Sunday Thing” be an abomination to God?”

    Without doubt!

    “Could it be that the “Sunday Morning Event” could become for us what the sacrifice became for the Israelites?”

    Again, without doubt!

  8. 2-17-2013

    It’s all about the heart!

    We can’t serve both God and (any other thing – good or bad) – Matthew 6:24. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (mt 6:21)

    Whatever we treasure most as a Church…aka…whatever our main focus is as a church – is what our heart will go toward.

    I remember the Lord speaking this to me when we were helping lay the foundation for the previous church we were apart of. We had such a beautiful relationship & community focus and a shift happened and instead of being the Church —- we started having meetings on planning how to be the Church. We started to focus entirely on the Sunday “worship experience” which was totally not what we had “signed up for”. God so clearly showed my husband & I that if we shifted our focus as a church in this way, that not only was it not what He desired but that who we were as a church would never be the same and it would change EVERYTHING. The ‘leadership’ went ahead and changed focus…and that foundation of relationships collapsed, everything changed & everything that church is & does now is a direct result of that change of focus when the foundation was being laid.

    Our focus changes everything. When we focus on the Lord, we are transformed by the renewal of our minds! He transforms us by our closer walk with Him and makes us more like Him – able to discern what He desires (romans 12:2). He will make our hearts right & will guide us when we are focused on Him!

    When we stop talking about Him as much – and start talking about ____, we need to be alert and repent!

    When we make Him the priority, we can trust He will guide us – and that includes how and where to spend our resources and how we function as a Church. If there’s any other focus,then how we spend our resources (time money), how we spend our time together, our goals and our blessings – it all changes.

  9. 2-17-2013

    “Abomination” is a very big, nasty word. I would be as slow to apply it as to apply “heresy.” Isn’t it a relief to know that God looks on the heart, so presumably a very formalized (non-organic, if you wish) church activity could still be of value to individuals and, as a result, to God.
    “…When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
    In context, the issue was not their activities… sacrifices… coming to the temple… but the state of their hearts. Of course, their resulting actions revealed that state. Adapting that model for present-day Christians, the issue is not going to church, makings it the big event, but the state of our hearts. To use coarse terminology, I don’t think God gives a rip about the specifics of what we do or do not do… He is busy looking inside.

  10. 2-17-2013

    Heartspeak,

    I think even our “non-Sunday morning gatherings” can be an abomination to God… of course, we can’t be, because we are God’s people. We must constantly keep listening to God in order to follow him in his desires…

    Kevin,

    I don’t think that all “Sunday things” are an abomination to God. I do not think that all planned “worship services” are unpleasing to God. This post is to get us to think about what Isaiah and Hosea said in our own context.

    Ron,

    You mentioned a key topic: ritual. I think rote repetition can be a dangerous thing…

    Chris,

    Can the same thing happen to those who gather in homes?

    Aussie John,

    Yes, so how do we keep our own times of gathering (however, whenever, and wherever we gather) from becoming unpleasing to God?

    Randi,

    “It’s all about the heart…” Yes, if our heart is being changed by God. Then, it is all about the heart.

    Tom,

    I think that God cares how we relate and interact with one another. The Israelites were doing what God told them to do, but – like you said – that wasn’t the issue. They were not caring for their neighbors – especially the poor, widows, orphans, immigrants, etc.

    -Alan

  11. 2-18-2013

    Agreed Alan, and it was not my intent to convey that, but share rather some of the obstacles, difficulties and pitfalls we have faced. I believe we all face these sorts of things as we walk out the difficult task of being deliberate in what we do and how and why we do things. It is not easy, and the answers are not always clear, or popular. Even if we succeed, it is far too easy to fall back into the “comfort” trap without even realizing we are headed that way. We have to be constantly on guard, examining what we do in light of the Word and asking Holy Spirit to shine His light on what we do.

  12. 2-18-2013

    Alan,

    Hebrews 3:13; 10 24-25 along with all the other one anothers.

  13. 2-19-2013

    Kevin,

    No, I didn’t think that was your intent. I was just sharing some further thoughts. And, yes, I agree with you about obstacles.

    Aussie John,

    I like those passages. :)

    -Alan

  14. 2-24-2013

    Wow! This reads as if you stepped into my husband and my hearts in the last few months. We have been seeing this trend unfold in our own local church for some time… the need to be in services and meetings taking far more resources and precedence the work of reaching the world for Jesus. Since the new year began we have been struggling deeply with the question of whether we can even remain in a church where the work of God has been abandoned for the work of the church and where we see Christians worked to death for the sake of the church instead of believers sacrificing their lives for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

    Thanks for sharing,

    kathleen

  15. 2-25-2013

    Kathleen,

    I’m guessing that those brothers and sisters were not being worked to death for the sake of the church, but instead they were being worked to death for the sake of maintaining an organization, structure, or programs. Yes, “busyness” is a huge problem…

    -Alan

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