The Dreaded Subject of Worship
I remember a professor of missions that I tU studied under under many years ago who took this to its limits. He was sold on what he called “incarnational ministry,” or becoming like the people you serve in every way. He quoted from the life of Hudson Taylor who apparently sported the pigtails of the Chinese he served, along with wearing their clothing. He often referred to Christ, who gave up all that He had and was to put on human skin and identify with the people He had come to save. But he also believed that incarnational ministry included depriving your children of shoes or education if that was the norm in the society you lived in.
We could debate the pros and cons of this concept for a long time. We could explore the boundaries and limitations of that kind of adaptation. But one thing is clear from Scripture, such enculturation does not include taking on the sins of the society in which we live.
Deuteronomy 12 wraps itself around specific instruction about worship and ends with a caution about enculturation that is repeated over and over again in the Scriptures.
“The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).
We would be quick to say that we would never adopt such a system of worship today. I’ll bet the Hebrews said the same thing—before they did it! History tells us that Israel would ignore this instruction on more than one occasion.
Much has been said and written about how worship ought to be carried out. The infamous “worship wars” continue to this day though perhaps not with the same intensity as they did a number of years ago. I don’t intend to carry on the argument here.
But the warning is valid. We need to be extremely careful that we don’t cross the enculturation line into sin. Jesus took on flesh but He didn’t take on the sins of the flesh. He did not compromise who He was to embrace who He had become. The Holy God remained holy even beneath human skin.
I suppose the question to be asked could be this one: “Does what we do in worship accurately reflect the One we are worshiping? Is it holy as He is holy?” We often plan our worship to please the people in the congregation rather than planning that worship for God, who is not only the subject of our worship, but its object as well.
And perhaps in that misdirection lies our problem.