Dan, Bethel, and Parachurch Organizations
1 Kings 12:25-33 is a pivotal section of scripture. In those verses we get some insight into God’s thinking about what He said about worship. God wanted the kingdom split at that juncture (1 Kings 11, 12:1-24). However, He didn’t want changes in worship, like changes in the manner, the place, and the time of prescribed worship. To keep his crowd and make it all more convenient, Jeroboam built new places of worship at Dan and Bethel. “But God didn’t say that they couldn’t worship somewhere else!” He did say Jerusalem, but He didn’t say “not Dan and Bethel.” And Jeroboam did argue the advantages of Dan and Bethel. And that reminds me of Saul arguing the advantages of what He did. Stuff makes sense to us that is different than what God said.
Today God prescribes the worship in a place too—the church. I’m happy about all the writing today that criticizes the modern violations of the means and manner of worship. I believe we have New Testament absolutes about the kind of music God wants to receive in worship. I think contemporary Christian music is a travesty. But what about all the deviations of New Testament place of worship? Why then the silence about this aberration? The worship prescriptions of Romans 12 don’t stop at vv. 1-2. You move to vv. 3-8 to find the place of the “reasonable service,” that is, “spiritual worship.” The place is the church. Is modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism moving out of the limitation of the church akin to Jeroboam moving out of the limitation of Jerusalem? I believe they are.
The church is the New Testament temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17). The church is the means by which God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10). God designed the church to protect and propagate the truth (1 Tim 3:15). God has chosen in this age for the church to judge all matters (1 Cor 6). Unto God is glory in the church (Eph 3:21). Jesus gave His authority and the promise of His presence to the church (Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-17; 28:18-20).
Neither the college, the mission board, the convention, the association, the fellowship, nor the camp are found in the Bible. They fall outside the limits of biblical teaching, like Dan and Bethel did and like the cart that carried the ark did. Some might say that those things are not prescribed, but neither are they wrong. They are simply out there to supplement the church. They come up beside the church (“para”) to help the church. Consider what God says about the issue of place with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:30: “And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.” Worshiping in Dan was a sin.
Some might argue that these organizations are just additions. They aren’t replacements for the church. But they are innovations that deviate from scriptural worship.
Someone might say that they are well-intentioned. They’ve got good motives. Uzzah seemed to have a good motive too when he touched the ark. And Saul had a good motive when he kept the best of the animals to use for sacrifices.
Someone might contend that these people are doing good things. They have good preaching, good music, and say the right things to one another that are helpful for the Lord. They are a good opportunity to serve. For instance, in the chapel at the Christian university, the preacher preached a good message and the student body sang really good hymns to worship the Lord. Is that true? If you took various components of Jerusalem worship and moved them to Dan and Bethel would they be acceptable? Verse thirty of chapter twelve says it was a sin. It was a sin. Deviating from God’s prescription for worship is sin.
Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Romans 14:23 says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” God says do it this way and we do it another way. That’s sin. Jesus always did the Father’s will. Like Him, we are to be sanctified by the truth, not by our opinions, by what we think will work, or by what makes us feel good. We are not sanctified by an unbiblical way of doing things.
The Jews thought signs were an effective means of accomplishing God’s will. The Greeks thought that wisdom would work if relied upon. Fundamentalists and evangelicals think that parachurch organizations will help. They can even start listing all the good ways that those non or un-scriptural organizations have helped, just like Charismatics will list all the ways that signs have helped their ministries. But then in 1 Corinthians 3 we see that if we don’t do it His way, it is wood, hay, and stubble. It’s not how God wanted us to build.
So, in other words, I’m not wanting people to have their works be worthless. I don’t want them to be sinning. We probably would all say that we want God to be honored. So I want you to think about this. The fact that I wrote this could become the big deal here. The big deal is our worship of God. What God says about that worship is the big deal. I can’t make someone’s worship valueless. They do that to themselves. I’m just reporting.
OK. Now this is the part that most will think is the tough part. I could have even left it out. But I don’t want to be confusing here. Still, however, I’m going to put it in the way of question. What about Bill Rice Ranch, The Wilds, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Ambassador Baptist College, Baptist World Mission, Baptist International Missions Incorporated, or the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches?
I’ll ask it before you do. What about Jackhammer? What about ‘What is Truth’? Fair question. These aren’t organizations. These aren’t institutions. I’m not serving the Lord at Jackhammer. I’m sent by my church to preach where ever I preach, including online. Jackhammer is nothing more than an element like an offering plate, a cell phone, or a letter. Everything I write here represents my church, exactly what my church would teach. I don’t compromise anything my church teaches to write here. Jackhammer and What Is Truth for me are elements in the ministry of my church.
Many of the arguments for parachurch organizations parallel very closely to the kind of rationalization that Jeroboam made in his own heart. They will work better. They’re just necessary in the times in which we live. A lot of good experiences have been had in and through them.
I know my last three paragraphs might be the most popular in the whole piece. The other popular thing, even more important than judging whether the teaching is scriptural, is to make sure that I’m practicing it all consistently. But read everything that comes up to those three paragraphs. Think about that first and consider whether parachurch organizations are sin.