Sunday, September 6, 2015

God's Judgment on Manmade Religion

The Prophet Jeremiah gave his prophecies in the time immediately before and immediately after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, followed by the subsequent exile of the Jews to Babylon. His sermons before those events were proclamations of God's judgment against Judah, for which these events were His judgment.

Notice the pattern in the quotations below:

Jeremiah 3:17: "They shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart."

Jeremiah 7:24: "They did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward."

Jeremiah 11:8: "They did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart."

Jeremiah 13:10: "This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them."

Jeremiah 23:17: "They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'"

Do you see what each of these verses says? God doesn't chastise Judah for a lack of religiosity. Rather, He chastises them for religious practices according to the inclinations of their own hearts. Judah even proclaimed her innocence (Jer. 2:35), and pretended not to understand why He was angry with them. God acknowledges that they have continued in their religious activities, but not according to His purposes (Jer. 7:9-11): "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, declares the Lord." Look also at Jer. 7:21-26.

God makes a final effort to call His covenant people to repentance (verses 5-7):  "If you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever." Yet, in the face of His mercy, Judah refuses. Jer. 8:6: "They have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turns to his own course."

What was the real religious devotion of Judah? (Jer. 9:13-14): "They have forsaken My law that I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts..." It is that same error described above: will-worship. They preferred the spiritual exercises that they had invented (or borrowed from their pagan neighbors) over those commanded by God in His word.

This is a description of two times in our own Western history: it was part of the complaints of the Reformers against the Church of Rome that she had polluted Christian worship with pagan images and pageantry not authorized by Scripture, and again in the "seeker-friendly" neopaganism which is spreading in our own time.  Rome has added additional "sacraments" and dogmas, not to mention the superstious praying to angels and saints. She is the exemplar of "following their own hearts." And why is that so bad? Jeremiah answers that question, too (Jer. 17:9): "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." While Rome pretends to an authority to legislate faith and morals beyond the mandates of Scripture, God says that the reservoir from which she draws is deceitful (which is not to exempt Protestant innovators of the same criticism).

Judah's apostasy here is in violation to the First and Second Commandments of God (Exodus 20:3-4). While Rome attempts to obscure the Second by subsuming it into the First, by doing so she merely demonstrates that her error is no accident, but is willful and deliberate. In my own tradition, it is called the Regulative Principle of Worship, and is explicitly enjoined in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 109: "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself." That is our rejection of the worship in the Church of Rome.

This truth led to an essential warning in the Westminster Confession of Faith (XX:2): "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to His Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

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