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In the Gates

Against Pragmatism in Worship

The Second Commandment

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Exodus 23.23-25, 32, 33

When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you… You shall make no covenant with them and their gods…They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

2 Corinthians 10.3-5; Numbers 33.50-52

Note the careful and comprehensive prohibitions against pagan practices: do not acknowledge their gods, do not serve them, do not follow the ways of the pagans either in religion or life. All vestiges of pagan religious practice were to be overthrown and destroyed, to remove the temptation to incorporate them into the worship of God.

Why would Israel do this? In the days of Solomon this seems to have been standard political practice: a great king took wives from the surrounding nations in order to forge alliances with them, and they were allowed a little shrine for the worship of their preferred deity (1 Kings 11.1-8). But Israel was not to be guided by pragmatic politics, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.

The same remains true today for the Law of God is unchanged and unchangeable. Churches today think nothing of tapping into the forms and practices of pagan worship. When we all the shape, content, and style of our worship to be largely shaped by the preferences of secular pop culture, have we not brought the religion of fun and things into the worship of the Holy God? This is not to suggest that there is no place for “new songs” unto the Lord, even songs that use popular forms. However, such choices must be made within the larger framework of God’s liturgical purposes, forms, and elements, and without compromising the uniqueness of worship as a focus on the transcendent and holy God.

This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to and click on our Book Store.
T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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