These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.
4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.
We live in a time when people in the church talk about “worship wars.” It’s been going on for a while, not sure when it started because I think I was born into it. When I was a kid, it was all about the red hymnal versus the blue hymnal (since then a third one has come out to supposedly replace both). Then I started to hear about contemporary worship versus traditional worship, probably about when I got into college. And the discussions keep moving and shifting and changing, but it always boils down to personal preferences being held up as God’s sovereign plan for how all Christians should worship Him.
But when I read this section in Deuteronomy (and other passages like it), God makes it clear that it’s about His commands. First of all, He commands throwing out everything that reeks of the ways that other people worship false gods. Then He says that He will choose a place for everyone to come and worship Him. The people are moving into the promised land, taking possession of it. They are instructed to tear down altars to other gods and to only worship in one place, together, as a community.
(not to spoil the story for you, but they don’t exactly do this – God’s people time and again fall into bad worship habits that eventually lead them to worship something other than the living God)
So maybe the point isn’t about the type of worship, but about the place, the community. Maybe a modern day example is those who say “I can worship God anywhere, why should I take the time to come to church?” The reason is that God has asked you to do it. And He knows we need to be one community, one body of Christ. We need to come together for worship to build each other up in our faith and learn together. It’s not about being your own individual self, but about setting that aside for the good of those around you. And sometimes that means singing out of a hymnal that you don’t like or along with a musical instrument that annoys you. Because it’s good for others to hear it. And in that worship, we rejoice.
So what do you say? Ready to tear down those altars to your own preferences?