Whose church? Whose terms?

“Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites . . . On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel.” (1 Ki 12:31,33)

“Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:9)

In an earlier post, I cited the passage from 1 Kings to illustrate what is at work when ministers set out to build a following.

It’s the antithesis of Paul’s declaration that he was “only a servant” assigned to a particular task in erecting “God’s building,” the church (in this case, in Corinth, 1 Cor 3:5-11).

The fundamental difference between the two approaches is, well, fundamental.

When you go back to the early days of God’s relationship with his people, there are some extensive blueprints for that relationship that are recorded in detail.

Consider, for example, the plans for the tabernacle, its furnishings and its priesthood. There God spells out, in no uncertain terms (spread out over several chapters in Exodus no less) how this tabernacle will be laid out, the materials for its construction, the size and orientation of its components, etc. The furnishings, the altars, the priests and their garments are all specified in detail, ending with this reminder: “They are to make them just as I commanded you” (Ex 32:11).

You may have heard sermons or teachings on the rich symbolism contained in these passages. Books have been written on the subject. And there is a lot to be gleaned from these studies.

But there is something quite simply revealed that can get easily overlooked while ruminating on all the detail: The Lord is describing worship and service on his terms and no one else’s. It’s to be done as he commands.

We may be living under a different covenant, but covenants are still agreements and agreements still have terms, no less today than centuries before Christ.

The worship, the ministry, the teaching, the appointment of elders and deacons, care for the people of God—these are all on God’s terms, not ours.

The tabernacle, the bronze altar, the blood sacrifices—all the elements and the ritual and ceremony have been set aside because their foreshadowing purpose has been fulfilled in Christ. But grace does not release us to freelance the worship and service of God.

As much as the phrase has been overused, there is still “strange fire” (Lev 10:1, also rendered as unauthorized or profane fire) offered by the people of God. And God rejects it.

And why does this matter? Because Jesus called disciples, and those who follow in some ways but draw the line in others are setting their own terms.

Persons who set their own terms are not disciples, and you cannot “make disciples” (Mt 28:19) if you are not one yourself.

That doesn’t mean ministries or churches will not grow. But they will grow like this: “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones” (Hos 10:1).

That sounds every bit like what Jeroboam did, draw up plans for a following. In time, others like you will find you, and your rationalizations for the compromises in your faith will become, in their eyes, like holy writ. You will make persons like yourself, but they will not be disciples of Jesus.  

Have you ever collided with someone who holds onto their traditions like a dog does a bone? There’s a reason for that: The one I follow says so.

The journey to authentic faith starts with two words: Follow me.

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