In the late eighth century B.C., the king of Assyria sent military forces against Jerusalem, Judah’s capitol city and religious center (2 Kings 18:7). Assyria was the dominant world power, and had already overthrown the northern kingdom of Israel, taking those rebellious kinsmen of Judah into captivity (17:6-23). A officer called Rabshakeh, serving as spokesman for the Assyrian forces, approached Jerusalem’s city walls to threaten Hezekiah king of Judah, and to demand his surrender and submission. Rabshakeh claimed that Judah had no substance on which to base their confidence (18:19). He even claimed that the Lord would not prove helpful to Judah in this circumstance. To prove his point, Rabshakeh asked, “But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?” (v. 22).
Rabshakeh displayed a misunderstanding of God in his supposedly rhetorical question. He believed that because these various places and instruments of worship had been removed, the Lord would not bless Judah. However, God had commanded that the people were to worship in a specific place and in a specific manner:
Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD…Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee (Deut. 12:11,13-14).
Rabshakeh displayed a gross misperception of God and of religion. There were associations that he believed had to be included for religion to be complete. Yet for religion to be God’s religion, those associations had to be removed. The popular associations with religion that exist today may not be the same as they were in Rabshakeh’s day.
But there are new and multiplied popular associations with religion. As was the case with Rabshakeh, when these popular associations with religion are removed, many feel that they are not worshiping God.
There are many who feel that religion is incomplete without man made additions to music in worship. Most people have come to expect a musical extravaganza in worship, replete with mechanical instruments, choirs, soloists, and such like. If these “essential elements” are not present in worship, people will assume that the worship must be inferior. Yet God gave specific instructions regarding music in worship: Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16).
From these and other passages, one can see that the music in worship is to be vocal (particularly “singing”), spiritually instructive, and interactive. When a church does not add to this, they do what is pleasing to God. When a church sees any additions or changes present and removes them, they do what is pleasing to God.
Many believe that a church must have one man “in charge,” who is to be called “The Pastor.” They are also convinced that a church must be part of a larger organization that regulates and oversees the church. Yet a plurality of elders is to be installed “in every church” where there are qualified men (Acts 14:23; cf. Titus 1:5 -9). It is this group of men who collectively serve as shepherds, or pastors (1 Pet. 5:1-4). It is they, not a larger organization, who have been given the charge to oversee the church (Acts 20:28; cf. v. 17). Deacons are to serve under the eldership (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). When a church ensures that they are following this Scriptural pattern of organization and no other, they do what is pleasing to God.
Most people want their church to observe special holy days, or holidays, such as Easter and Christmas. Yet such things are not part of the Christian religion, because they are not part of the New Testament. Special days had been part of the Old Testament; but in light of Christ’s abolition of the Old Testament, the Colossian church was commanded, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). The New Testament was now the only standard by which the Colossian church, or any church, could be judged (John 12:48; Col. 3:17). The churches of Galatia were falling into apostasy; as Paul by inspiration laments, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11). God instructs particular acts of worship to be offered on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), but He does not attach special significance to any particular day of the year. When a church likewise refuses to attach special religious significance to any particular day of the year, they do what is pleasing to God.
Rabshakeh thought that King Hezekiah would bring God’s displeasure upon Judah because Hezekiah had removed what some thought to be essential elements of religion. But contrary to this opinion, Hezekiah “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 18:3). And the Lord showed His favor on Hezekiah and displeasure with Assyria when His angel destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers that were preparing to attack Judah (19:35). Although some may feel that their associations with religion must be included for religion to be effective; the Lord will show His favor on you if you choose to disregard the popular associations with religion, and choose instead to please God (1 Thess. 4:1).