5 July 2016
You wouldn’t think that going to church could be sinful. But that’s what the Prophet Hosea suggests when he says: “When Ephraim made many altars to expiate sin, his altars became occasions of sin.” The very act of worship could be sinful. It shouldn’t be, but it could be. And it becomes sinful—that is, it pulls us away from God—when it becomes idolatrous.
Now, we wouldn’t think of making a “golden calf” and praising it as God. But that’s just it: we wouldn’t think of doing that. Idolatry isn’t necessarily a conscious thing; instead, we sort of “slip into” it without thinking. And that might happen even in our worship.
About the only generations that were free of that temptation were the Apostles, and maybe their disciples. They knew—as we do—that worship is primarily about the reasons why we worship. We come here to praise and bless, to adore and glorify God [cf the text of the Gloria]. All the externals—the music, the vestments, our sitting and kneeling, and so on, are supposed to help us worship well.
Of course, when the externals become more important than God—when they become the reason for our worship, then idolatry has quietly slipped in. And so, the Prophet Hosea speaks to us today; he makes us stop and take inventory of what we’re doing here, and—more importantly—why we’re doing it. And that’s a self-check we each need to do from time to time.
You wouldn’t think that going to church could be sinful. And, of course, it shouldn’t be; but it could be. It all depends on why we come here to the altar. Is it to dedicate ourselves to God? Or is it to pour our hearts into something . . . other than God?