Monday, November 19, 2007

High Places

In the times of the ancient Hebrews there were many religious groups that established shrines and holy places on mountains. These “high places” had cultic qualities about them, in that if one sacrificed or prayed at these sites there was believed to be a better chance of getting prayers answered. The Israelites were drawn into these pagan practices and were often rebuked for trusting in these “high places”. Levi 26:30 (NIV) I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you.

Even when reforms happened within Israel and there was a turning back to the things of God, these high places were not dismantled. Paradoxical comments like these are a plenty during those times. 1Kin 15:14 (NIV) Although he did not remove the high places, Asa's heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life.

Holding onto rites and places that have no power in themselves seems to be a common religious theme throughout the ages. To this day people struggle with understanding that just because God worked through a particular methodology or person, doesn’t mean that means should be given any special significance.

Many evangelical churches have a practice called altar calls. What is now considered common practice in many of those churches was invented by Charles Finney in the 19th century. There is almost a cultic idea that walking the aisle to the altar of a church is somehow God’s means of bringing salvation to an individual. The very idea that we even consider the front of the room in which people gather as an altar is at best questionable. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did not institute a new round of altars being built. It’s astonishing that this idea is so commonly accepted that no one even considers that it looks more like the Old Testament’s view of “high places.”

Billy Graham is perhaps the single, most noteworthy proponent of this methodology and his organization says that only 3-5% that come forward actually love Jesus a year later. These are the code words for saying that they are found in church a year later. The idea that that is better than what anyone else is doing justifies its continued usage. Friends helping friends is not necessary in the "walk the aisle" mentality. Few who sign the cards ever discover the wonder of God's love as the ones who brought them don't know much more themselves. Besides its the pastor's job to disciple them anyway.

Some people even give the front of a church a special value or power. They often wait to go to the front of the church for prayer because that is where the “real” power is to be found. I was one of those people and when I think about it now, I see how easy it is to turn a common thing into a “high place.”

Another modern day version of a high place is the “weakly sermon” which is preached from a holy place, a church building, at an even holier part of the building, the pulpit. This preaching from the pulpit has the cultic idea that God’s word has greater power when it is referred to from this special setting. It is especially powerful when it is preached by a special, holy man, the pastor. Common folk need not apply.

If one listened to 10 teachings in a week via the internet, books or friends, there would still be an expectation from many Christians that you should still hear THEE sermon that is spoken from the holy place by the holy man at the holy time.

It’s rather bazaar that in a day when we have access to the best of preaching in the world that this relic from the past still carries so much significance in people’s lives. Actually studying God’s word is practiced by few but going to a “high place” to hear something that may be completely irrelevant or incomprehensible to the listener is of high value to way too many Christians.

When any methodology is given a special place in the hearts of people, there is a real danger of associating that common method with the cultic power of a “high place.”

Test yourself and see if you have made going to Sunday services a “high place” in your life. Don't go for 3 months and don't tell anyone it will only be 3 months. Do you feel guilty if you don’t go? Do your friends make you feel guilty or do they simply abandon you or are they really, really worried about you? What does your pastor think of your not going? (Teaching Sunday School doesn't count as not going.)

The Lord does require things from us and they have nothing to do with “high places.”

Mica 6:8 (NIV) He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

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