The worship of the Church is dismally weak. Worship is fundamental to the Christian life. But do we ever stop to consider what worship is all about? Do we stop to consider that the world views worship one way and God views worship another way? Many Christians do not stop to consider what worship really is.
The world does worship wrong. Every false religion has, basically, one form of worship–man, the worshiper, tries to act in such a way so that the deity will respond to the worship with his blessing–rain for crops, health, 70 virgins, etc. This format is essentially “Canaanite Worship,” false worship.
One of my favorite passages of the Old Testament is Elijah’s “duel” with the prophets of Baal as recorded in 1 Kings 18. The main point of this passage is not worship. However, this passage does have much to teach us about the nature of true worship and false worship:
1 Kings 18:17-40 (ESV)
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”  And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.  Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel.  And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.  Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.  Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it.  And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”  Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”  And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.  And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”  And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.  And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down.  Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”  and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.  And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”  And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time.  And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.
 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”  Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”  And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
It is a bad time in Israel. The king, Ahab, has married himself a Sidonian woman named Jezebel who brought Baal worship with her and now has made it the “State Religion” of Israel. Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh–the One, True, and Living God, the God of Israel–challenges the prophets of Baal to a duel of sorts. The prophets of Baal and the prophet of Yahweh will prepare identical offerings and will wait to see which God answers by fire.
Here is where we see false worship. Look at what the prophets of Baal do–there are two statements. The prophets of Baal call to their god from morning until noon crying for Baal to answer them. It is said they limp around the altar as they are crying out to Baal.
Who was Baal–he was the Canaanite storm god. Among other things Baal was the one who was supposed to provide rain–which is why it is particularly interesting that Israel was in the midst of a three-year drought, a direct slap in the face to Baal.
Elijah can’t resist some taunting. He chides that Baal is on a journey, or he is asleep and can be aroused by louder crying. Perhaps the funniest charge against Baal is that he is not answering because he is taking care of his business in the bathroom!
Make no mistake, this is not idle taunting. The implication of Elijah’s taunting is clear–Yahweh is everywhere so He never needs to “journey” (Yahweh is not “territorial,” as the false gods were said to be. The whole world is Yahweh’s territory); Yahweh never sleeps and therefore never needs to be woken up; and Yahweh is never unavailable because He is tending to his “physical” needs, like going to the bathroom.
How do the prophets of Baal respond? Their “worship” becomes more frenzied. Now, in addition to their afore mentioned actions, they add cutting themselves until their blood gushed out. From the text we see that self-mutilation was a common practice in their worship. Their “worship” has no effect and the refrain of the text is the same “There was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” Baal was shown to be a fraud.
Notice, though, the practice of the prophets of Baal. They acted in such a way so as to entice Baal to answer. It is almost as if they were thinking, “If I can only inflict enough pain on myself, Baal will see how much I care and he’ll have to respond, he’ll have to!” This reminds me of Linus’ vigil in the pumpkin patch in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Linus thinks his sincerity will draw the Great Pumpkin. Linus’ sincerity, and the sincerity of the prophets of Baal, simply doesn’t matter–the object of their “worship” was a figment of their imagination. Yet they still try do act in such a way so as to provoke the “deity” to respond. This is the epitome of false worship. From ancient times until now false worship still looks the same.
True worship is a response to God, not God’s response to us. Look at what Elijah does–he does everything in terms of keeping the Law, the covenant of Yahweh. Elijah asks Yahweh to respond but he asks Him to respond because (in the covenant) He had revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and He claimed for Himself the title “God of Israel.” So, Elijah is praying and acting in response to something Yahweh has already revealed. Even the subsequent slaughter of the false prophets (and, yes, it was a righteous act for Elijah to do this) was in response to God’s revelation–the Old Testament Law commands all false prophets to be put to death.
Look at the order: God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, telling them who He was and what He expected of them. It was then incumbent upon Israel to respond to God in worship. Thus the biblical order of worship, and all true worship, is shown: God acts–He is the initiator, we respond because we are the responders.
(Interesting Side Note: The prophets of Baal shed their blood to get their false god to respond. God shed His blood for us to make a way for us to respond to Him. Interesting, isn’t it?)
Adjusting your “Worship Worldview” will have a profound effect on your Christian walk. Here are some outcomes of holding to the true order of worship:
- You will view your life as an act of worship in response to God’s gracious work of salvation through Christ. The hymn I’ll Live for Him who Died for Me comes to mind. You will not live the Christian life to “get” things from God. Rather, you will live our life in repentance and faith because God has already given you so much. (see Romans 12:1-2)
- Corporate worship services will become a time for the covenant community to respond to God. People will sing more heartily, the arguments over worship style will be greatly reduced (if they don’t disappear all together), and everything done in the service will have one goal–to worship God alone, our “Audience of One.” (Note: I believe every aspect of the worship service must be preceded by the reading of scripture. So if your going to sing the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, the referent passage from Isaiah or Revelation should precede the congregational singing. This preserves the biblical order of worship and reinforces that the congregation is responding, not initiating.)
- The people of our churches will want to live God-centered lives and do the work of the church (missions, personal evangelism, etc.) as an act of obedience to the clear command of God as revealed in scripture.
I have a friend who, after I shared my faith with him, answered “You can’t clean up a turd and I’m a turd.” His unfortunate statement shows a worldly attitude–I have to do something to bring myself into a position so that God will accept me or reward my self-help work. In other words, I need to act in this way or that way so that God will respond favorably to me. I think we all expect that attitude from the world. But that attitude has invaded the church too.
Churches design services “To bring people in.” That is idolatry; it is placing the pleasing of man above a proper response to God. Churches seem to do things–like extra emotional, “God-is-my-girlfriend” songs–to create an emotional response in the people of the congregation so that God is impressed with the crying, etc. and will come into the congregation’s presence. That is pagan worship, right in the middle of our churches!
Our worship must operate under one umbrella: We are to worship (corporately and individually) in response to God. We do not worship to get, we worship because we have been given. Changing the way we think about worship will change the way we live our corporate lives and our personal lives and will have a lasting effect on our world as we lay our treasures up in heaven.