Saturday, April 24, 2010

What happens in (the sanctuary) stays in the sanctuary?

This blog was pulled from portions of a paper I wrote for my Old Testament class. The original title of the paper is listed below. If you are interested in reading the paper email me at:
Worship that God Despises:The Failure to Integrate Worship and Social Justice in the Book of Amos

Worship is an important topic that all Christians must engage. Unfortunately, for many modern Christians our understanding of worship is limited to music and our engagement with the issue is limited to whether or not a guitar should be used in our Sunday morning worship service.

Worship is far too important for simple answers and petty arguments about styles and preferences. One of the harsh realities contained in the message of the Old Testament prophets is that all worship is not pleasing to God. There is some worship that God despises, and the people of God are held accountable for their faithfulness in worship. The book of Amos was a powerful message in its day and remains a very important message of correction for the people of God today.

Most scholars agree that the context for Amos' prophetic ministry was a time of relative peace and economic prosperity in Israel.(1) This led to a growing disparity between the poor and the wealthy.(2) The poorer class was being exploited by the rich who used these gains to support extravagant lifestyles.(3) This injustice was at the heart of Amos' prophetic message of judgment for Israel.

What exactly is the nature of the injustice that Amos' is prophesying against? To put it simply, their worship was not consistent with their lifestyle. Their religious practices were not properly preparing them for their mission to be the people of God in the world. Worship should be about more than celebrating our successes, it must paint a picture of what life is supposed to look like and shape a certain kind of society.(4) At this time, Israel had slipped into a state of religious hypocrisy.(5) They were orthodox in their style of worship, but their hearts were clearly not engaged. The primary evidence of this was their disobedience in personal and social behavior.(6) What happens in the sanctuary must affect our lives once we leave, this is the nature of authentic worship.

The powerful critique of worship presented in the Book of Amos is extremely relevant for the church in America today. The religious environment between the world of the book of Amos and our world today has many parallels. Similar to Israel, we are a nation that has enjoyed many years of peace and prosperity. We are overly confident in our military strength and successes. We trust in our wealth more than our God. Moreover, there is a definite gap between the wealthy and the poor. The rich enjoy luxurious lifestyles, often at the expense of the poor and less fortunate. All of these conditions parallel the environment in which Amos brought his prophetic message. I am not suggesting a parallel theologically or politically between Isreal and America. I am simply bringing out that the prophetic correction contained in the book of Amos is very relevant for the church today.

However, it is not enough simply to draw parallels between our socio-economic situations. As Christians, we must ask ourselves if our worship mirrors that of the Israelites. Is God pleased with our worship? Would Amos have the same prophetic pronouncement of judgment for the church in America were he around today? Is our worship divorced from our social ethics and efforts to strive for justice?

The prophetic critique of worship in Amos is enormously relevant for the church today. We need to heed this message and begin to think critically about our worship. Please allow me to suggest a few practical ways that we can move forward and allow this text from the Scriptures to shape and form our lives for the glory of God.
1. We must rethink how we do worship. Our worship needs to be based upon a biblical concept of God and draw the people of God into mission. It must be more than a social club or therapy group.
2. We must allow our theology and knowledge of the Bible to inform how we think about our social systems, politics, and the way we treat our neighbors both individually and collectively.
3. Every church and individual Christian needs to get involved in social justice efforts that are consistent with biblical values. May the people of God worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). May our worship glorify God in word and deed.

1Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 31 (Waco: Word Publishing, 1987), 283.
2 Ibid., 284.
3 Ibid., 283-84.
4 M. Daniel Carroll R., "Can the Prophets Shed Light on Our Worship Wars?─How Amos Evaluates Religious Ritual," Stone-Campbell Journal 8, no. 2 (2005): 218.
5 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 284.
6 Ibid.


  1. Well, you know that I am right there with you. To live out our worship should be the first item on our to do list for the day.

  2. My two favorite quotes:
    1. "Worship is far too important for simple answers and petty arguments about styles and preferences." Well stated.
    2. " I am not suggesting a parallel theologically or politically between Isreal and America." Thank you.