(This is a re-post of an article I published on this blog in June 2007. My thoughts have been on this subject a lot lately.)
As Israel came to worship, God demanded simplicity. In Exodus 20.24, he told his people, “You need make for me only an altar of earth.” It was not to be made of dressed stone. It was not to be atop a platform standing high in the sky. A simple earthen altar is all that God wanted.
Israel’s neighbors had erected elaborate and ornate temples in which to worship their gods. Pagan religion was a spectacle, a show, an event! Yet, Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth, demanded simple and reverent worship from his people.
I am reminded of the churches without walls that are so common in Third World countries. They are simple structures; basically, a few columns and a thatched roof—enough to keep worshipers shaded from the sun and protected from the rains. These structures are not much to look at, but they provide a place where Christians can gather and worship God. Each Sunday, thousands from all over India come to these places to pray, sing, study and commune.
Our world is filled with ancient cathedrals and modern arenas—ornate and imposing buildings constructed ostensibly to facilitate worship directed to God, but are they not really more for our sensibilities and comforts? I cannot comprehend the millions upon millions of dollars spent to build these structures and to keep them operating.
And, worship has become an event for so many, a show, great spectacle. Praise bands, graphic arts displays, Hollywood-style productions—and, yet, the Israelites were told, “You need make for me only an altar of earth.”
It is in the simplicity of our worship that the heart shines forth and the passion of our faith is most clearly seen. As we gather each week, let us join our voices in pure song, let us join our hearts and minds in prayer, let us open our ears to the honest and straightforward Word of God, and let us share at the table our remembrances of our Lord.