smashing serpents

Here is my latest entry for Our Daily Journey, where near the end I abandon the wisdom of my teachers and experiment with allegory. In my defense: 1) If you are going to experiment with allegorical interpretation, then a devotional seems to be the place to try it; 2) Technically I’m only reappropriating Jesus’ allegory–so he did it first; and 3) Allegory may not be as bad as we think–see David Steinmetz’s classic essay, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis.”

read >Numbers 21:4-9
So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed! (v. 9).

Martin Luther King famously said that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. He meant that white and black Christians worship in separate churches—which often is still the case, but recently I have noticed a new kind of Sunday morning segregation. It is increasingly common for churches to divide according to worship style, holding traditional services for older folks who love organ powered hymns and contemporary services for younger people who enjoy choruses led by praise bands.

Churches do this because it works—many grow exponentially as they meet the felt needs of their worshippers—but something about this practice doesn’t feel right. Shouldn’t Spirit-filled Christians be willing to worship together? Your style may not be my preference, but why can’t we appreciate our differences and sing each other’s music?

Our problem may be old-fashioned selfishness, but I fear it might be worse. Could it be that we have created an idol out of our worship? Are we unwilling to allow Jesus to meet us in fresh ways?

We may be like the Israelites who were so impressed by the bronze serpent which had healed their poisonous bites that they began “offering sacrifices to it” (2 Kings 18:4). There was nothing wrong with the bronze serpent—centuries later Jesus will use it to refer to himself (John 3:14)—but it was only a tool.

You may have heard God’s voice while singing “Amazing Grace” or felt particularly alive during the chorus of “As It Is in Heaven.” Thank God for that. But remember that the bronze serpents in your life are never meant to be ends in themselves but to lead you to Jesus, who, when he is “lifted up…will draw everyone” to himself (John 12:32).

Real worship focuses on Jesus and waits on neighbor.

more > Read John 9:24-34 to see how glorifying the past (Moses) can blind us to God’s work in the present. See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 to learn how bronze serpents divide the body of Christ.

next > Bronze serpents don’t appear only in worship but also with favorite pastors and Christian authors. How can you tell when your honor for God’s minister turns into idolatry?

8 Comments

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  1. I appreciate the comment that I recently heard from a “worship leader” with regards to his choice of songs. He includes those that attest that our faith is more than five years old, and those that show that God’s mercies are new every morning.

  2. Jonathan Shelley April 19, 2010 — 2:54 pm

    Mike:

    Thanks for the link to Steinmetz’s article and for the thought provoking devotional.

  3. Great thoughts … and as the wife of a worship leader I can speak only for what happens in my house. My husband spends hours praying and seeking the Lord’s direction about what music – songs, styles, etc – to use each and every week. And ultimately, week after week God has blessed that faithfulness.

    The discipline of worship is, after all, not about musical style or longevity of song but about a heart passionate for the Lord. What happens in the “song service” is irrelevant if those who are present fail to attribute worth to the One who is worthy of all our praise. That has nothing to do with songs sung but rather with the attitude and heart of those present.

    As for the “debate” (idolatry!) over which songs ought to be sung, I stand solely on the Word of God which consistently in the Psalms and elsewhere points to the need for a “new song” … which, shocking I know!, even once described “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”

    (Psalm 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1, Isaiah 42:10, Revelation 5:9, 14:3 – all from NASB)

  4. I heartily agree with your warnings against idolatry. I think I am more prone toward idolizing teachers than musical styles.

    I think the age-segregation is more pervasive in our churches than just music.The trend seems to be that people go from youth group to college ministry, to either a singles group or a young married group, and so on, with each having life-stage specific small groups, classes, and social activities. I have found it difficult to form relationships with people with an age difference of much more than a decade, but I would love to have more deep intergenerational interaction.

  5. Dr. Wittmer asks: “How can you tell when your honor for God’s minister turns into idolatry?”

    Such a good thing to think about. Well, I hope I can honestly ask myself these kinds of questions:

    — If the minister were to leave the church to serve elsewhere, would my first inclination be to follow?

    — Will I read and prayerfully consider a review/critique of his latest book or blog?

    — Do I only consider attending conferences or seminars because he is speaking or presenting?

    — Am I open to reading viewpoints that are opposed to his? Am I personally offended at any disagreement aimed at him?

    — Has my spiritual diet (books, blogs, speakers) been reviewed and and discussed and even approved by a mature Christian friend or pastor? How would that friend or pastor describe my view of God’s ministers?

    Thanks, Dr. Wittmer, for posing the question!

  6. Mr. Kakkuri, I like appreciate your list. Those are some concrete tips on soul-searching. I’m especially drawn to your last point, as I realize that I don’t think about or discuss my media diet as a whole.

    Dr. Wittmer, good post.

  7. Smashing Serpents and Smashing Dragons would be great names for a Christian rock band.

  8. Thank you for your encouraging comments. I am away from technology for a few days, and am checking in from an Apple store (which means that I am typing these comments on an iPad!).

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