I said something that was a bit controversial right at the end of Sunday School class last week that prompted a murmur from the back of the room. I’m not wise enough to be able to interpret whether that murmur was approval or disapproval. But I ain’t taking it back, no matter which it was.
We were talking about interpretation of scripture in our “God’s Holy Fire” series. I said that I have a rule-of-thumb that I employ when I find myself defending my views and interpretations: Am I defending them because I believe they represent the one and only way to do or view something that is pleasing to God? Because, I pointed out, if that’s true I can get in a lot of trouble very quickly.
My example was prayer, borrowed from the class teacher (an elder of my age) from earlier in the discussion. Is there one and only correct way to pray? If so, is it in a closet? An upper room? With head bowed? With face upraised toward God? With arms upraised as well? Kneeling? Standing? Sitting? Prostrate?
How can we be absolutely certain that any scriptural alternative is the one and only way to view or do – and still please God? Are a lot of our “either-or” logical boxes really “both-and”s? Could some of them be “neither-nor”s?
So much of the “doing” questions have to do with worship. I’ve even heard defenders of a given “one way” call upon the Old Testament admonition to carry and not touch the Ark of the Covenant, and point out the penalties that resulted from disobedience.
I go back farther, to something that I’m convinced was related to worship rather than porting God’s earthly throne with due respect. I go back to Cain and Abel. As nearly as I can tell, neither was commanded to sacrifice. The urge to do so – to thank and worship God – simply welled up in their hearts and each expressed it according to his character. One expression was favored over the other – but God reassured Cain that if he did what was right, he would be accepted. And there was a warning about sin trying to master him.
The point? Worship came from the heart. There was something wrong with Cain’s heart. Nothing has changed. Worship has always taken the form of being a sacrifice of thanksgiving and recognition of God’s glorious providence. It still has to do with blood poured out. Practice became precedent. Precedent became custom. Custom became prophecy. Prophecy was fulfilled. A sacrifice was made that ended all others; yet ideally we still respond with sacrificial praise that can add nothing to God’s glory. But it comes straight from the heart.
In fact, I would venture to say that the condition of the heart is the most important factor we can contribute to worship.
Can we offer worship with a pure and undivided heart of thanksgiving and praise if we can’t perceive the good that God is doing among us in many different ways? Can we do so while appointing ourselves the feng shui experts of worship? (I believe that feng shui is Chinese for “I don’t like the way you’ve done things here.” I could be mistaken. But I’ve been one of those “experts” and I don’t ever want to go back to being one again.)
Maybe the same thing can be said about the “viewing” questions.
Is it grace that saves us? Faith? Baptism? Obedience? Or all of the above, plus a few more? Or is it Christ?
Is the Bible inspired by the Spirit word-for-word? In principle? In purpose? In completeness? In essence? In totality? In part? Or is it simply inspired?
Is God all-knowing and all-good and all-powerful? Some combination of the preceding? Mostly all three? Unquestionably perfect? Or just incomprehensibly God?
I know that inquiring minds want to know. I know I do. So I keep searching, seeking, asking, knocking, trying, stumbling, feeling myself lifted up – over and over and over. I may never know all the answers. But I will grow, and I will learn, and I will do whatever it takes to find God’s heart and draw closer to it.
And there is, without any possible fallacy in believing it, one and only one extraordinary Way to get there: His Son.