[When God’s word (represented faintly by Moses holding the stone tablets in the background) isn’t our guide, our worship, sincere though it may be, is actually sinful.]
The Christians I know understand who deserves their worship: the three-Persons-in-one God of the Bible and him alone. So if my Christian friends heard a suggestion to add to the list of “beings worth our worship,”1 he or she would almost certainly recognize that the resulting religion would no longer be Christian. In other words, we get the First Commandment. (Though, of course, comprehending it isn’t the same as obeying it.)
Christians, at least in the South, tend to be a lot fuzzier when it comes to getting the Second Commandment. “Alright,” we think, “no statues. Gotcha.” But aside from getting that there’s something questionable about venerating statues, many evangelical Christians are at a loss to explain what it looks like to take the Second Commandment seriously. As someone else has said, “Yeah, I believe in the Ten Commandments—all nine of them!”
What we need to see is that worshiping God in ways he hasn’t commanded isn’t an issue of preference. The Romans weren’t totally wrong when they said de gustibus non est disputandum (“in matters of taste, there can be no arguing”). But the Second Commandment doesn’t address matters of taste—for example, what instruments we like in our worship services or whether we prefer the sermon to be 25 or 45 minutes long. Instead, it gets at the heart of what it means to live our whole lives (to use another Latin phrase) coram deo, “before the face of God.”
True religion (as directed by the Second Commandment) matters because the true God (as named in the First Commandment) matters. Breaking the Second Commandment breaks the First Commandment as well because it betrays a lack of trust in him. We don’t trust that what he’s given us in the Bible is enough for us, or we don’t believe that his rules for worship are enough to sustain our faith. We might (if pressed) admit that we find God’s instruction in the Bible—or God himself—boring, and we could do a better job of worshiping him if we were allowed to make our own choices (because, as the thinking goes, we know what God wants better than he does). In any event, when we refuse to worship God only as he commands (thus breaking the Second Commandment), it’s only because we first stopped trusting and obeying him above anything and anyone else (breaking the First Commandment).
But how do we know that? Is that a massive overstatement or a boogeyman argument? Not if we learn from the history of Israel, which shows that being fuzzy on the Second Commandment opens the door to wholesale rejection of the First. That’s what we’ll see in the next post.
1. The English word “worship” developed from an Old English word used to describe the “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown”; that is, something that has worth-ship. The term only took on explicitly religious overtones in the Middle Ages. The original meaning is preserved in the archaic (but still intelligible) title of “Your Worship” and “The Right Worshipful,” both of which are sometimes used for mayors and magistrates in the United Kingdom and former Commonwealth realms (“Worship,” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, 2001-2017. Web. 1 February 2017).