Contemplating Our Religious Freedoms

As Americans, we are all very familiar with that great charter of American freedom known as the Bill of Rights. In particular, the first amendment is perhaps the most familiar to us whereby our right of free speech, assembly, press, governmental petition and religion, are all clearly affirmed. In short, we as Americans can go to church where we want and when we want. But in recalling this crucial American truth, it seems that the more fundamental question regarding our right and freedom to worship still remains unanswered. While we are all free to worship God (as American citizens), we must still consider whether or not God actually receives our worship. In other words, we may ask: “Are we using our freedoms in a way that pleases God?”

Consider for a moment the ancient precedent of worship among the Jews in 1st century Palestine. The Roman Empire afforded the Jews adequate religious freedom such that they could offer their worship in the temple in Jerusalem. Their Sabbaths and their many religious holidays kept the city of Jerusalem bustling with busy worshippers who came faithfully to the temple, enjoyingWhat is acceptable worship in the sight of God? their civil right to do so. Now, recall with me a day in which a young rabbi entered the temple in Jerusalem during one of the busiest holidays of the year: the Passover celebration, where nearly 3 million Jewish pilgrims would come in order to offer their worship to God. Amidst all the religious excitement, the hustle and bustle of this booming worship service, there was a serious, and even violent disruption: A loud commotion erupted with the sounds of coins dropping to the ground, the loud crack of a whip; sheep, cattle and numerous people fleeing the temple, while countless doves made their desperate escape from the temple courtyard. What happened? An unexpected visitor came and disrupted the services by exposing the unacceptable expressions of worship in the temple. The disrupter’s name: Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 2:13-16). Consider the following observations regarding this important event: 1. These Passover worship services were protected by the secular laws and leaders of Rome and 2. The worship rendered was deemed as acceptable in the eyes of the religious leaders of that time and place, however the worship that was offered in the temple was regarded as detestable in the eyes of almighty God. Why? Because these specious worshippers were not rendering true worship to the true God, rather they offered a form of worship that was created in the image of their own human wisdom and desires, thus converting the house of God into a shopping mall fully stocked with man-made religion.

So what is acceptable worship in the sight of God? How shall we exercise our American religious freedoms in the name of Christ such that God is honored by our words and actions? We can address these questions with many texts of Holy Scripture, but let us briefly consider one in particular, written by that ancient monarch: King David. In Psalm 15:1 David considered this same important question regarding the matter of acceptable worship. As the psalm unfolds, David reviews the answers to his question about the acceptable worship of a godly person. Four descriptions of a true worshipper are then given: 1. He (the true worshipper) has a God-centered life (v. 2); 2. He loves his neighbor by forsaking gossip and evil hypocrisy (v. 3); 3. He has discernment in all aspects of his social life and commitments (v. 4) and 4. He does not use people for his own gain, but has genuine love and compassion for others (v. 5a). Such a man will “never be shaken” (v. 5b).

In a sense, Psalm 15 sets aside all of the mechanisms of “doing church” and gets to the heart of true worship by examining the worshipper’s relationship with God and with man. It is all too easy for us to “do church” through the hustle and bustle of activities and programs, but God calls His children to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. As His children, we are free to worship Him only in the manner that He has prescribed in His Word – this is the only way that the children of God can please their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1-10).

Originally published in the Winston Salem Journal with the title: What Religious Freedoms Do We Really Have?, July of 2003 – with this link printed for a more expanded look at Psalm 15:

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