The Sin of Going to Church
Preached on Sunday morning, January 16, 1938
to tread my courts?"
Somehow or other in our religiously lazy, and indifferent age people have gotten the notion that if they go to church it makes no difference what church or what kind of church they attend. One service on Sunday is sufficient also, and thus they have done God a mighty favor. Others think that if they go to church it is an evidence of their goodness, and in some way or other their act of attending church is meritorious in itself.
One of the great functions of a minister, a true prophet of God, is to point out God announced to the prophet in Isaiah 58:1, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." Concerning the false prophets and those who did not denounce sin and uncover iniquity God said, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings."
The notion prevails among so many ministers today that their business is simply to proclaim what they call the positive gospel. To never disturb anyone in his sin, just proclaim what they think of as the love of God. Yet the Bible points out so clearly that no one can love the Lord Jesus Christ or have any appreciation of the love of God until he realizes the awfulness of sin. Christ is a Saviour from sin. Preaching can never ignore sin if salvation is to follow. Prophets are needed in ur day to point out iniquity! A prophet that tells only half his message is a false prophet. Paul says, "By the law comes the knowledge of sin." If people are to realize what iniquity is they must know the holiness of God and His standards given to us in the moral law. Preach the law. Hold it alongside of man's depravity, and men will realize their condition and what they justly deserve - wrath and judgment!
Isaiah describes the condition of our day when he declares, "O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths." And again, "For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed." God denounces the false leaders and the rubber-stamp rulers in no uncertain terms. For instance, in Isaiah 10:1 and 2, He declares, "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!"
In recent years we have heard something of the unrighteous decrees of men who have lifted their words above the words of God, and set their will above the decrees of the Almighty. Yes, we have heard of the General Assembly turning aside the needy from judgment. Instead of judging the Modernists, and correcting the compromise of the Board of Foreign Missions, the church has taken away the right of the poor of God's people. Likewise, God repeats with emphasis, "Woe unto them...which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him...they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah. 5:22-24). God's emphasis here is upon conformity to His law and His Word. Thus He declares in Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." "Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29). God exalts His word and demands obedience. "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you" (Jeremiah 7: 23). "And the Lord saith, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein" Proverbs 9:13). Thus the first chapter of Isaiah states, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land."
After one of our morning services recently a person was telling me that a pastor in a Presbyterian church (U.S.A.) near by was justifying his presence in the Presbyterian church to a friend by explaining that for every one who stands with the testimony of the Collingswood Church there are a thousand against it in the U.S.A. Church. This is the appeal to numbers, and immediately there flashed through my mind a very precious text which Moses gave to the children of Israel, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 23: 2). The thing that matters with God is not numbers, or a crowd, but whether a thing is right or wrong. He insists that, when an issue is raised, we stand on the right side, the side on which His law stands!
I. God Commands that we go to Church
"Worship God," is the emphasis of Scripture. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve," declares Jesus Christ. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, Jesus is in the midst of them. The passage in Hebrews 10: 24,25 is exceedingly important these days, "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." This verse instructs us to assemble ourselves together. There is great emphasis here upon the value of Christian fellowship. Some folk, he says, are falling away. They are not attending the services of the Lord.
It is even more important as the apostasy darkens and we see the day of the coming of Christ at hand that we come together for mutual comfort and help, encouragement and strength, communion and prayer, fellowship and praise, and worship. Yes, to exhort one another. Exhort one another in what manner and from what authority? Only the Bible! The passage continues, "If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." Ah, when we do not do that which we know is God's revealed will; when we continue to do that which God has so definitely told us is sin and we know it is sin, and thus we do not follow our conscience and do not live up to the light that God has given us, then indeed we are in a serious condition!
Men who willingly and knowingly compromise with the Word of God are sinning grievously against the Almighty, and they truly must face the fiery indignation. We cannot despise the truth of God. "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" Loyalty to the revealed will of God is demanded of every follower of Christ, no matter where that loyalty may lead him. Ultimately, of course, it will take him to Glory, but on this earth it may involve persecution and suffering. The glamour and the glitter of the world, the enticing attraction of being indifferent itself in these days of confusion and of unrest lead people farther and farther away from the things of God as they neglect. the assembling of themselves together.
The Communion itself, of which the Lord Jesus Christ said, "This do in remembrance of me," and "If ye love me, keep my commandments," involves the sitting down together in fellowship in a group. In fact, the function of the church of Christ is threefold. "Preach the word." This saves sinners and edifies believers. Second, "Administer the sacraments, the Communion and Baptism." Third, "Exercise discipline, and thus maintain the purity of the church and keep its flag flying as a true testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ." God requires us to tread His courts! How then does our text apply? The answer is seen in the following:
II. God Forbids Going to Churches that are Sinful
He does not require the treading of sinful courts; instead He forbids, and prohibits it. In the second commandment God speaks of these things. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." Here God definitely declares that it is iniquity to bow down and worship anything but the true God, and further that such iniquity will be visited upon the children.
In the New Testament, when the Lord Jesus Christ gives His definition of God by declaring, "God is a Spirit," He continues by explaining the way in which He must be worshiped, "And they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." The emphasis as far as our present text is concerned is upon the word "truth." God is to be worshiped according to His Word. He is to be worshiped according to His appointment; He is to be worshiped according to His ordering; He is to be worshiped in truth, not in error or in iniquity or sin!
This also is the great emphasis of the Old Testament declaration. In 1 Chronicles 16:29, what does it : mean to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness"? The Psalmist repeats, "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." God must be worshiped without sin. He cannot be worshiped in sin. This is one reason He demands that we come out from among them and be "separate from the unclean thing." The true believer in Jesus Christ hates sin. He does not want to be yoked together with sin. When he realizes that he is yoked in sin, he immediately breaks the yoke!
No Christian, for a moment, would think of bowing down before a heathen shrine in worship. Neither would he consider worshiping in a Unitarian church or a Universalist church. What Christian would go and worship in a Mohammedan ceremony? What true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ would think for a moment of bowing down before a Buddhist image? Why is it that a Christian would not consider such a thing? Because such worship would be sin; because such "going to church," if we may use the expression, would be iniquity in the sight of God. Such worship is contrary to the command of God as given in the Bible.
If God is to be glorified, His Word must be obeyed; and obedience in worship is just as important as any other obedience God demands. It is just this great demand of purity and holiness in worship-that has been lost sight of in these days of apostasy. Unbelievers yoke themselves with believers in supposedly Christian fellowship and worship. Men are thinking and writing about the atmosphere of worship and the form and ceremony and ritual of worship, and the psychology of worship. There is so much loose thinking by Christians themselves, about their worship, on just this point of the purity in worshiping God. While on my recent trip to the West Coast I saw a very interesting thing on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, and yet it is not an unusual sight in these days. All of the religious life of the students on the university campus is yoked together in one great unit for which there has been erected a large and beautiful building known as the University Religious Conference, with the motto, "Cooperation without compromise." On a slab outside the building, announcing the nature of the fellowship, it is declared that the conference is a conference of Jews and Christians; and a list of the various organizations, denominations, and bodies belonging to the conference is found. Such names as these occur: Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Methodists, Universalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptist, and so on. Actually, I would do my utmost to keep the name of my church off of such a list. What a vicious yoke of belief and unbelief, truth and error! Certainly the fellowship of such groups is, without any dispute so far as the Word of God is concerned, sin-terrible sin.
It is sin to worship in any church where sin and unbelief exist, where there is a yoke with that which is contrary to the Word of God. No Christian can worship in a Christian Science church without sinning against God in the act of worship. Christian Scientists, you know, do not believe in the blood of Christ. They do not come to the Lord through the only way, the blood-sprinkled way, of the cross. They deny the reality of sin. Even to pretend to worship God in such a state is iniquity. It is false worship!
I wish we could say these things more emphatically, so that people could really grasp something of the awful force of the iniquity God denounces in this connection. The state of sinful worship is described by God in the first chapter of Isaiah in the most striking language. "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." Think! He is calling the Old Testament church, the children of Israel, Sodom and Gomorrah. He recognizes that they have ceased to hear the word of God, that they have turned aside their ear from the law of God. Does it mean that they had neglected to come together, failed to sacrifice, or deserted the reading of the law? No. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord." In other words, He recognizes that they were going on with their sacrifices through the regular routine, and so far as outward appearances were concerned they appeared to be coming before the Lord.
He continues, "I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?" Hear the Lord now as He turns to condemn them and to give the true estimate of their assemblies, their worship services, their sacrifices, their offerings. "Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." What could be plainer? What could be stronger? The very service itself was iniquity in the sight of God. It was not worship. It was sin. Sin in which had come because of the fact that the children of Israel had turned aside from obedience to His word. And God said, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity!" Yes, they were a sinful church, that Old Testament body, at that time!
Then God continues with His hatred of sin, "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth." The very services and the ceremonies became to God something that He hated. God hates iniquity. This is in full consistency with all that the Bible teaches about sin. "They are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear." How far do the prayers of men get when they themselves are living in unconfessed and unrepentant sin? "Your hands are full of blood."
What is the demand of God? "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil ... If ye be willing and obedient." Truly "to obey is better than sacrifice," and to be disobedient to the word of God and to have iniquity and then to proceed to sacrifice is truly iniquity; so much so that God closes His eyes and stops His ears to the prayers of such people. Is not this straight? If God is to be glorified, the fact that we worship Him without sin, without being yoked to iniquity is exceedingly important. It involves even the hearing of our prayers and the favor of God.
This great truth of Scripture applies with irresistible force to the sinful state of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. I would no more think of worshiping in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. than I would think of going out and committing murder. It is sin! Iniquity does not just lie at the door of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., but it has been enthroned in the name of Jesus Christ as the will of the supreme judicial counsel of the church. There are many people who do not realize what has happened. They do not realize the iniquity and blasphemy of this body which has turned aside from its Protestant heritage! They should be told! Sin is sin even if a church commits it!
After speaking at one of the meetings on our recent trip to the West Coast a lady came up to me and explained that she was connected with a pulpit committee of a Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the Middle West. She wanted to know if it would be possible for me to arrange to candidate in her church. I looked at the lady in amazement and said, "You don't realize what has happened." Then I explained to her that so far as the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was concerned I was no longer a preacher of the Gospel, and that it was "sin" for me to proclaim the Gospel. Not only was it "sin" for me to proclaim the Gospel, but that it was "sin" for me to take the Communion; and that I had been forbidden by the highest court of the Church even to approach the table of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I further explained to her that she and I could not even sit down at the same Communion table, according to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. She was amazed! She said, "Has the General Assembly forbidden you to take Communion?" I explained it again. "Has the General Assembly forbidden you to preach the Gospel?" I explained that the Church had suspended me from the ministry, and later it had even : had all ordination rites revoked, and had notified every presbytery, and published it in the minutes, and mailed it to every minister in the Church.
I told her that she could not pay me with all the money in the world to go and worship in a Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In my mind it was a blaspheming body. When I explained to her, of course she was astonished. She did not realize what had happened. She went on to say that her minister never told her anything about it. Oh, the responsibility of ministers who keep quiet, not informing their people as to what has happened in these last days!
She wanted to know why we were deposed. I told her that we were deposed, and could not even touch the cup of the Lord Jesus Christ, because we insisted on the Board of Foreign Missions proclaiming the true Gospel to the heathen, and when the General Assembly refused to correct the Modernism of the Board, we joined an independent board which would preach the true Gospel, and when we refused to cease our activities in proclaiming the true Gospel to the heathen, by getting off the independent board, and refused to support, as directed, only the official agency, then they told us we were not fit to take Communion or to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This was the official action of the Church, and was done in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ! It is sin of the very highest order. It is worse than adultery. It is worse than murder. It is worse than any sin against man. It is sin against God, taking the name of God in vain! The Presbyterian Church, instead of repenting of this iniquity, instead of crying out to God for forgiveness has gone on deeper and deeper into the slough of apostasy.
Of course, in outward appearances, men still talk about the Gospel. Some men even preach it. Services are held. Communion goes on. The ordinary routine is the same. But this is the picture that God gives us in the first and also the last chapters of Isaiah. Describing such a state, God says, "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man." To make a sacrifice in a church, while it is yoked with sin that lieth at its door, is as bad as murdering some one. That is why I made the statement I did a few moments ago about worshiping in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Further, "He that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol." The burning of incense in a service of worship where there is sin is as bad as blessing an idol! Beloved, God speaks plainly! In other words, God says that the burning of that incense is not to Him. It is to iniquity! It is a violation of the second commandment.
"Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not." God's command to us in such a circumstance is, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. Her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:4,5).
Is the glory of God nothing? "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts." Is the holiness of God to be scoffed at? Is the beauty of holiness something which men themselves can arrange and establish by their iniquitous deeds, by their unrighteous decrees and their rewards to the wicked? No, never, never! These things must be measured by the Word of God! Thus, God emphasizes in Isaiah 66, "But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." How glorious it is " trembleth at my word"! Sin, God despises. Sacrifices, offerings, incense, services, proclamation even of the Word of God, lip service of God's truth, earnest, zealous efforts on the part of men, no matter who they are, or what they do, are as nothing in the sight of God as long as sin, awful iniquity, has established itself in the courts of the church in the "name of Jesus Christ." "Who hath required this at your hand', to tread my courts." This is the truth of our text.
This same truth can be seen very clearly in this contrast. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church has officially said that the members of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions have sinned against God because they did not obey the will of the Assembly and support the compromising official board and cease their activities on the Independent Board. For such a "sin" as this men are forbidden even to approach the Lord's table.
If the conduct of these men is not sin in the sight of Almighty God as revealed to us in the Scripture, then the action of the Church, declaring it to be sin, is the very height of iniquity. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5: 20). The Word of God standeth sure! Kingdoms rise and fall. Visible churches come and go, but His kingdom abideth still. He leads His own out, and He goeth before them, and in purity and holiness men will worship Him in a church that is living for His glory and that is obedient to His Word!
People do not realize the sin of going to iniquitous churches, because they do not know what the Bible teaches. They do not realize what the Word of God commands. How precious, how sweet, how lovely the Word of God is, because God in all His glory is the supreme fulfillment of all that believers may have. "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."
People of God, honest, earnest, faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, hearken unto the voice of His Word, as it comes not from any human mouth, but as it comes from the pages of Holy Writ. Glorify the name of God in separation from iniquity.
(Reprinted from Christian Beacon of January 27, 1938.)