The Travesty of Worship in the High Places

By Larry Ray Hafley

The title above is not mine. The article below is not mine. Read it with pleasure and profit from it. We will have more to say about the article at its conclusion. Now, the article:

A determination to “worship God in one’s own way, ” rather than according to the way commanded in His word, has characterized the rebel-heart of sin corrupted man from the earliest days of human history. It was “the way of Cain.” And sinful man is still loathe to believe in a God who is so narrow as to accept only such worship as is freely, lovingly and adoringly offered Him in full conformity to the pattern He has Himself carefully prescribed in His Word.

Considerable attention is given, in the scriptures, to “the place which the Lord thy God shall choose.” Twenty-one times, in the book of Deuteronomy, such a place is mentioned; nine times it is accompanied by an explanatory clause, “to put his name there” though this thought is to be understood in every reference to the place.

As relates to His people, “the name of the Lord” is of deep significance. References to it may be found from Genesis 4:26 to Revelation 22:4. From the earliest time God has been calling out “a people for His name” a people upon whom His very nature and character are to be impressed; His workmanship, a people for His eternal glory and praise!

The habitual practice of calling upon his name has been an outstanding characteristic of God’s greatest servants through the ages. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David and the prophets often called upon that incomparable name (Gen. 12:8; 26:25; Psa. 99:6; 116:2-4; etc.).

On many occasions the Lord is said to act, or is called upon to act, for his name’s sake – that His name may not be dishonored (Josh. 7:9; 1 Sam. 12:21). Yet, many of His own servants have acted in such a way as to bring dishonor and reproach upon His worthy name! Thus they have caused the name of the Lord to be blasphemed among His enemies (2 Sam. 12:14; Rom. 2:24; etc.).

With this in mind, one may grasp something of the seriousness of violating the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain!” So also may one better evaluate the Lord’s commendation of those who, in the midst of wholesale apostasy, “thought upon His name” (Mal. 3:16) and had “not denied His name” (Rev. 3:8).

Furthermore, this enables one to more fully appreciate the sacred significance of the place (physical location) where the Lord has chosen to put His name, and the place (spiritual center) “where two or three are gathered together in his name!” But merely saying that we gather in that holy name does not make it true! Only as we come, with humble hearts, to the place He has appointed, and the manner He has prescribed in His word – only then do we really gather in his name! And only then may we rightfully claim His presence, and experience the greatness of His power as He honors and blesses His own word of truth!

The Place of God’s Own Choice

In Deuteronomy 12 several references are made to “the place which the Lord shall choose to put his name there” (vs. 5,11,14,18,21,26). Three times the admonition is given to “Take heed to thyself” (vs. 13,19,30). Rather than doing “every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes” (vs. 8), they are to do “that which is right in the sight of the Lord!” (vs. 25,28)

Two other expressions are of special note. “Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God” (Deut. 12:4). This is a prohibition of their worshiping the Lord in the places where the Canaanites had worshiped their idols. Again, “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God” (vs. 31). This forbids their worshiping the Lord after the manner in which the Canaanites had worshiped. Everything connected with Canaanite worship was abominable in the sight of the Lord; thus were the Canaanites to be totally wiped out – even to their names!

Instructions Concerning Worship

Knowing that he was soon to be taken from his beloved people, Moses delivered a lengthy address (recorded in Deuteronomy 5 through 25) concerning the worship and service that Israel was to render unto the Lord, their God. In chapters 12-26 he dealt with specific matters, and particular circumstances, with which they would have to deal once they had entered the land of Promise. In chapter 12 he deals with the objects, places and modes of worship that Israel will find in the land they are about to occupy. He makes it quite clear that there is to be no toleration or imitation of Canaanite religion. The objects (vs. 3), centers (vs. 2) and forms (vs. 30,31) of Canaanite worship are to be utterly destroyed! Israel is to serve Jehovah alone, the place and manner of the national worship is to be according to the Lord’s own direction – not according to their own designs!

Moses calls the attention of his brethren to a number of important matters. They are instructed to destroy the high places of the heathen (vs. 2). They must not presume to do “whatsoever is right” in their own eyes (vs. 8). Heed must be given that offerings are presented only at the place appointed by the Lord – where His people are to do all that He has commanded (vs. 14). If they and their children are to prosper, they must hear and observe His word – doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord their God (vs. 28). They are specifically warned against trying to pattern their worship of Jehovah after that of the idolaters that God has commanded them to drive out of the land (vs. 30, 31)! And I think that God must feel like vomiting every time He sees one of His churches presuming to worship Him, and do the work He had commanded, by aping the world’s methods and singing the world’s tunes.

The ways of the heathen are an abomination to the Lord; He hates them! They even sacrifice their children by fire, to their idols! And Israel must never do that! If you want to know just how much God hates such rebellion as turns away the hearts of His people from following His order, just read Deuteronomy 13! The only way to serve the Lord acceptably is by doing what he has commanded – plus nothing; minus nothing (vs. 32). And that principle holds just as true today as it did the day that Moses first proclaimed it in Israel!

The Wretchedness of Israel’s Ways

The history of ancient Israel is filled with illustrations of her failure to follow the divinely appointed order of worship. David’s “new cart” (2 Sam. 6:3) and the 46great altar” built by Ahaz (2 Kings 16:15) are but isolated illustrations of their departure from God’s ways. Nehemiah 8:17 shows how lightly great and good men had treated God’s instructions; from the days of Joshua, to the end of the Babylonian Captivity (almost 1,000 years), the Feast of Tabernacles has not once been observed in the manner that the Lord had commanded!

But, we must not too quickly assume an air of spiritual superiority over such a “disobedient and gainsaying people!” In reality, the history of the Lord’s New Covenant people has too often mimicked the rebellion of our predecessors under the Old Covenant! Spiritual principles that fairly shout from the book of Acts and the epistles have been totally ignored by many who, in other respects, have been mighty leaders among the people of God. And any modern Nehemiah who dares rock the ecclesiastical boat, by insistently calling his brethren back to “the ancient landmarks” of the faith, is certain to be resented, rebuffed and rejected – even by many who insist on their love for the Lord!

Particular About His Name

The Lord has always been jealous for His holy name. He has been most particular with regard to the place that He chose to put his name.

From the very founding of the covenant-nation, He made known His intention to search out a place for His “memorial name” – a place to which His people were to come and meet Him in worship. At first He placed His name in Shiloh (Jer. 7:12); but, ultimately, He chose Jerusalem (2 Chron. 6:20); acceptable worship could be offered to Him only in the place that he had chosen for that purpose.

Nevertheless, the people of Israel constantly flouted the commandment of the Lord. Her wicked kings and people worshiped idols and raised altars to them throughout the land (2 Kings 17:10). Even those who served Jehovah so far abandoned his appointed order that, instead of approaching Him at the place he had chosen, they imitated the Canaanites by sacrificing to Him in the “high places” which they (without his consent) devoted to Him (2 Chron. 33:17). Needless to say, their sacrifices were rejected; they were an abomination to Him!

High Places and High Places

Recognition of two distinct kinds of “high places” in Israel will help to resolve a number of apparent contradictions in the scriptures relative to the taking away of the same: (1) by King Asa (1 Kings 14:14; Cf. 2 Chron. 14:3); and (2) by King Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43; Cf. 2 Chron. 17:6). The matter is compounded by realization that the writer of the Chronicles, who pictures Asa and Jehosphaphat as taking away the high places, elsewhere declares that they did not take them away (2 Chron. 15:17; 20:33). And the perplexity is deepened when one reads, in the very context where it is said that Asa failed to remove the high places, that the writer of First Kings specifically states that He did remove “all the idols” and that he even removed the queen-mother, Maachah, for having erected an idolatrous center of worship for her own private use (1 Kings 15:12-14).

The dilemma is solved by recognition that there existed two distinct types of high places – those used for the worship of idols, and those exclusively devoted to the worship of Jehovah, the God of Israel. It appears that both Samuel and Solomon actually offered sacrifices in these high places – though there is no evidence that David did so (1 Sam. 9:12; 1 Kings 3:2,3). Thus, it becomes apparent that Asa and Jehoshaphat destroyed the high places devoted to idols, but failed to destroy those wherein Israel attempted to worship Jehovah according to the method wherein the Canaanites worshiped their idols! Each context that mentions the destruction of the high places, by Asa and Jehoshaphat connects them, in some way, to the worship of idols.

No king in Israel was ever courageous enough to make a clean sweep of all the high places until Hezekiah destroyed them (2 Chron. 31:1). So foreign was this act to the prevailing concept of propriety that the messenger of Assyria’s king used it as a primary reason why Judah could not expect help from Jehovah (2 Chron. 32:12)! But God’s attitude toward this courageous act of Hezekiah’s is set forth in 2 Chronicles 31:20,21. The nation ultimately did manifest their approval of Hezekiah in that they buried him in the “chiefest of the sepulchers of the sons of David” (2 Chron. 32:33).

To the shame of undiscerning men, the fidelity and spiritual worth of some of God’s greatest saints are never recognized until they are dead and gone from this earthly scene. But the Lord is keeping records; those who are zealous for His holy name, and who endeavor to walk faithfully in the way that He has appointed, will not lose their reward! God is faithful to those who trust in Him!

For Our Learning

Instead of thinking this Old Testament lesson has no instruction for us, let us remember Paul’s declaration that the things which happened in those ancient times are recorded “for our examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Moses’ parting words to ancient Israel still have deep significance for a people who are nearing the consummation of the ages!

The place where the Lord put His name is no longer a particular geographical location; yet, it is still very real! The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:20 still contain a principle of gathering for a New Testament people – though it is one of which many seem to be woefully ignorant.

Jesus Christ established his church, set forth the principles under which it was to function, commissioned it with full authority to carry out His plan for this age, placed his name within it – His authority upon its service – and revealed His intention that, through its instrumentality, God would be glorified within its boundaries in every generation of this age -unto the consummation of the age of ages!”

There is not a shred of biblical evidence that Jesus Christ ever approved any departure from the institution that He Himself established. No church-institution founded by a mere man has ever been authorized to share in the work that Jesus specifically commissioned His church to do! And any attempt to do his work in a way that violates the specific order He established is equivalent to Israel’s attempt to worship Jehovah their God after the manner that the Canaanites worshiped their idols – in the high places! God has already rejected the worship of the “high places,” and forever!

To reject God’s order; to insist upon the right to “worship in the church of one’s own choice, ” to invent an “order of worship” contrary to that which he prescribed, and to focus attention on human feelings and worth, rather than upon the God of glory, honor, holiness, majesty and awe, is to practice that which is an abomination in His sight! It is nothing less than an attempt to offer Him that which He has already repudiated and declared accursed!

The high places still vary a great deal in their character. Some are obviously abominable! Others are so deceptively alluring as to tempt the most sincere heart that is not familiar with God’s wise plan. But the blessing, approval and “crowns” of the Lord are only for those who “strive lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5) – those whose hearts are glad to walk in the way of the Lord’s own commandment!

Reflections and Comments

The author of the lengthy article above is Eugene Garner, a Missionary Baptist preacher. The article appeared in The Clarion Herald, which is the monthly bulletin of the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, Rockford, Il. Surprised?

Soft, liberal, compromising brethren need to read and heed Garner’s plea for pure worship. Ironically, an article like Baptist Garner’s is “too narrow, too legalistic” for the Unity Forum’s being conducted by brethren in liberal churches and those in the Christian Church. How far have brethren drifted when a Baptist preacher writes an article whose principles and precepts are too binding and confining, too strict and stringent, for them to amen?

Of even greater irony is the fact that men like Mr. Garner are being joined by the liberal crowd while members of the church who demand book, chapter and verse are being jilted. Liberals woo and coo as they court and support their denominational “brethren,” but they stew and spew when they deny and defy their “legalistic brethren.” So, a Missionary Baptist preacher who accepts

(1) Calvinism – especially total hereditary depravity, irresistible grace (direct operation of the Holy Spirit) and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved).

(2) Perverted local church organization – Pastor system.

(3) Polluted worship – mechanical music, giving other than first day of the week, irregular observance of the Lord’s supper.

(4) Human names – Missionary Baptist.

(5) Salvation before and without water baptism – I repeat, a Missionary Baptist, as per Mr. Garner, accepts all of the above items; yet he is comforted, and we are tormented by the liberals in Jeroboam’s bosom.

Fact is, all must apply and appropriate the biblical principles so ably set forth by Eugene Garner. Jesus said, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9 – NASB).

If a practice or precept is not found in the “one faith” of the gospel, it is not of the “one Lord” of the church and should not be in the “one body” of the saints. That principle is the ground of our contention. Is it faulty? We contend for it and will continue to do so until shown that it is untrue. Good words and fair speeches may deceive some, but our aim is to reveal and observe all that is appointed in the New Testament and to rebuke and obscure all that is not approved therein. It is not a matter of God’s love, grace and mercy. It is not a question of one’s sincerity or desire to do right. It is a question of Divine authority.

Sadly, the travesty and tragedy of worship in “high places” continues. It will not be silenced by Garner’s eloquent appeal, as even his own Missionary Baptist practices so vividly demonstrate. This is, therefore, not the time (if there ever is such a time) for gospel preachers and teachers to cease sounding out the word of the Lord regarding true, scriptural worship.

Be not deceived: these issues will not die. The devil will see to that. However, opposition to them must not die, either. Faithful brethren must see to that.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 14, pp. 426-428
July 16, 1987