Idols for Destruction

I’m rereading Herbert Schlossberg’s book Idols for Destruction.  I first read it 25 years ago; I always planned on rereading it.  What I’m struck by is how many American idols I have set up in my life that need destroying.  One that by God’s grace I haven’t is this mantra “worship is adiaphora.”  At this altar liturgical, contemporary, blended, praise, cutting edge and bleeding edge worshipers are all said to be able to kneel.  I don’t think so.

To say “worship is adiaphora” is to say the high places in the Old Testament shouldn’t have been removed, the golden calf shouldn’t have been ground up by Moses, and the worship established at Bethel and Dan shouldn’t have been railed against by the Old Testament prophets.  All of these were styled as worship “as to the Lord,” but they weren’t His worship.

Is contemporary worship therefore equivalent to golden calves and high places?  Well, I know it’s not simply a matter of “taste” – you say potato I say potahto.   It’s not simply a matter of age – old versus new and the new or old by virtue of age has to be better.  It’s not simply a matter of style – hymn versus praise and the former being always more reverent and the latter always more heartfelt.

No, contemporary worship is a matter of experience versus faith, being justified by feeling better rather than by the promise of the forgiveness of sins.  The golden calf, the calf worship instituted by Northern Israel, and the worship at the high places were all more visible experiences than a God who dwelt invisibly in the holy of holies.  Those other forms of worship claimed to worship the only true God; they claimed they were “blending” elements of different worship style, but their claims were not accepted by God or His prophets.

Finally, we must note there was no room for compromise, no middle ground between the two styles of worship.  The calf worship of Northern Israel was not in fellowship with the worship of the Lord.  The high places were tolerated by some kings of Judah, reduced in number by others, and eliminated by one or two.  But even the high places where the true God was worshiped by God’s people under a different liturgical form were never something to be embraced.  They were the wave of the future, but they were not the way to go or to God.

Francis Schaeffer agreed.  He said, “From this time on [the time of Cain and Able] in the flow of history there are two humanities.  The one humanity says there is no God, or it makes gods in its own imagination, or it tries to come to the true God in its own way.  The other humanity comes to the true God in God’s way.  There is no neutral ground.”  (Genesis in Time and Space¸115)

It is adiaphora how one worships as long as the worship flows from God’s revelation of Himself and preaches, teaches, and confesses justification by grace through faith.  If worship teaches justification by feeling better, positive, happy, empowered, relieved, or hopeful, it teaches justification through experience not faith, that’s not adiaphora.  That’s wrong.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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One Response to Idols for Destruction

  1. Frank Rue says:

    Pastor Harris –

    I was just speaking about this very topic with my wife: the concept that we are unaware (historically) of the concern that the reformers had in adiaphora, wherein, if an object or method is benign, it may still illicit sinful thought or practice in those whose view of it is not so benign. When something labeled “adiaphora” begins to do this, it ceases, in my mind, to be adiaphora, but, instead, becomes an idol itself.

    Point-in-case is worship music, as you’ve pointed out from Schlossberg’s book. This has been a personal struggle for me, as well, as I came from a Charismatic and very modern worship scene, and have since left that for a liturgical, Reformed congregation. Because I believed I was of the right “heart”, it didn’t matter to me—initially—that I worshipped “better” when worshiping to a more modern praise song than to a hymn.

    But as I looked around at the human behaviors around me… as I reflected (using scripture to help discern my deceitful heart)… as I reviewed what makes historic and theologically-rich hymnody and psalters set apart from modern praise… it became clear that this was not adiaphora. Sure, many people want to make it adiaphora because it lessens the reprimand and puts them in the category of Christian liberty. In all senses, however, it is a violation of the prescribed methods of worship for the Triune God because it is a borrowing of either worldly or (in some cases) pagan worship practice.

    Hope you are doing well!

    In Christ,
    Frank Rue

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