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Lesson 8: Conformity, Compromise, and Crisis in Worship *

Introduction: Hillsdale University student David Wagner researched the history of the use of the pipe organ in church worship. Wagner reports that Thomas Brattle, a New England Puritan, died in 1713. He left his pipe organ to the church, but the church rejected the gift "believing it improper to use musical instruments in worship." Was the decision by the Puritan church a refusal to conform to the world, a determination not to compromise its worship of God? Apparently, in 1713 there was controversy over what kind of music constitutes proper worship! Three hundred years later, the same is true. Let's dive into our study of the Bible to find out what it means to "compromise" in worship!

  1. Examples of Sinful Compromise

    1. Read 1 Kings 11:4-6. What happened to Solomon in his old age?

      1. I thought you were supposed to get wiser when you got older! What caused Solomon to slip? (Read 1 Kings 11:1-2. God told His people not to marry women who followed other gods. Solomon disobeyed and it weakened his faith in the true God.)

    2. Read 1 Kings 11:7-8. What is at the heart of false worship? (Building an altar to a false god, and worshiping it.)

    3. Read 1 Kings 18:19-20. What was the worship conflict which brought Elijah and King Ahab into conflict? (You may need to read the greater context, but it was whether Baal, Asherah or Jehovah was the true God.)

    4. Read 1 Kings 19:14-18. This is dialog between God and Elijah. What was Elijah's wrong conclusion? (He thought that he, alone, was true to God. It turned out that at least 7,000 had remained true to God.)

      1. What was God's test for dividing those who were still worshiping Him from those who had sinfully compromised? (Whether they "bowed down" or "kissed" Baal.)

        1. What does it mean to "kiss" Baal? (Bowing down would be a formal act of worship. Kissing Baal, would indicate an affection for him.)

  2. Examples of Godly Compromise

    1. Read Deuteronomy 4:1-4. What are the two errors that God's followers can make in their effort to avoid Baal worship? (They can tell people that practices which are not sinful are sinful, and they can tell people that sinful practices are not sinful.)

      1. Is one practice worse than the other? (Apparently both are a violation of God's will.)

      2. When I was in college I wore a beard (and still do). One Sabbath, when visiting my girlfriend's church, I was asked to lead the church in prayer. I agreed, which meant I sat up front during the entire service. It turned out that the sermon was about the sin of wearing a beard. The preacher ended his sermon with something like, "Fidel Castro wears a beard, and we all know what he stands for." I was thinking, "What about the depictions of Jesus wearing a beard?" Was the preacher sinning when he gave his sermon?

    2. Read Luke 16:1-7. Is the manager a good man or a bad man? Has the manager compromised his principles to live a better life? (He is clearly dishonest, preferring himself to his master.)

    3. Read Luke 16:8-9. Who is the master? (Jesus is telling this story. He puts Himself in the place of the master)

      1. What does Jesus see as good in this story of dishonesty and betrayal? (That the manager is shrewd. Jesus says that His followers need to be more shrewd.)

    4. Carefully study Luke 16:9. What do you think is "worldly wealth?" (It must be the things the world considers valuable: money, beauty, influence.)

      1. What does it mean to "gain friends for yourself?" (Since "eternal dwellings" must refer to heaven, Jesus is telling us to use the tools of the world to win people to the gospel.)

    5. Read Luke 16:10-12. How is this an appropriate conclusion to the story we just read? (This makes absolutely no sense at first. The story makes just the opposite point! But, if we look deeper, we see that Jesus is teaching us in this parable that we need to be as smart (shrewd) as the world in bringing the gospel to others - and we need to use worldly wealth to do it.)

      1. What do you think is Jesus' definition of compromise? (We compromise the gospel when we do not use all of our available means to advance the kingdom of heaven. We are untrustworthy servants if we fail God in this!)

    6. Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. The apostle Paul explains his approach to winning others to Jesus. Is he a compromiser?

      1. Is Paul a hypocrite, believing one thing and doing another?

      2. What do you think Paul means when he writes "to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews?"

      3. Read Galatians 2:11-13. Wait a minute! Paul condemns Peter for becoming "like a Jew, to win the Jews," right? Isn't that what Paul just wrote that we should do?

        1. What difference do you see here? How do you explain Paul's rebuke of Peter? (Peter is not trying to win new converts, the "men from James" were already Christians. The problem seems to be that Peter's compromise is hurting the new Gentile converts.)

        2. What rule for promoting the gospel would you draw from Paul's argument for compromise and Peter's compromise? (Paul seems to say that in different situations he adapts himself to the culture to win others to the gospel. Peter is merely offending existing Christians.)

  3. Uncompromising Compromise

    1. Read Romans 14:1-4. I'm a vegetarian, so my faith must be weak! Read again 1 Corinthians 9:20. You smile when I write that I'm a vegetarian. What would your reaction be if I wrote "I am under the law?" One seems to be a harmless disputable matter (except I'm healthier!), while the other seems a serious theological error. How far should we take our willingness to compromise?

    2. Read Romans 14:13-18. Would you call what Paul is advocating here a "compromise?"

      1. What is Paul's standard for an uncompromising compromise? (Do not do anything that hinders someone coming to faith.)

    3. Let's see if we can reach some conclusions about worship. We learned that Jesus calls us unfaithful servants if we do not use the tools of the world to advance the gospel. We learned that Paul advocates conforming to different cultural (and theological?) views to advance the gospel. We learned that God tells us it is sin to prohibit things He has not prohibited (or to allow things He prohibits). We also learned that when Solomon brought in the cultural gods of his foreign wives, he sinned. Tell me what rule(s) for worship you believe God requires?

      1. Let's move you back in time 300 years and apply your rule. You are on the Puritan Church Board which just learned Thomas Brattle has given you his valuable pipe organ. How should you vote?

        1. What if I added the fact that a number of people who had no interest in the Puritan church would come to church if they could hear some entertaining pipe organ music?

    4. Friend, my view is that God's unwavering rule for worship is not to worship false gods. His secondary rule is to use our common sense and wisdom to adapt to the culture to advance the gospel. His third rule is avoid insulting those whose faith is weak - those who confuse their cultural preferences with God's law. To best follow all of these rules, my advice is to worship in a growing church (one that is advancing the gospel)which has a worship style you like.

    * Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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