Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Keeping God's Worship Pure
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
This week we look at the final part of Question 109 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the Second Commandment?” The last section of the answer reads, “The sins forbidden in the Second Commandment are… simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.” Last week we considered the sin of superstition. Today we look at various ways in which the pure worship of God is corrupted and opposed.
In the verse above, Simon the Sorcerer, or Simon Magus as he is sometimes known, tried to buy the office of apostle so that he could wield the power of the Holy Spirit. For this outrageous proposition he was sternly rebuked by Simon Peter. Much later in the Middle Ages, church bishoprics throughout Europe were often sold to the highest bidder. The winner would then be the bishop of that region, giving him not only ecclesiastical but political power and authority, including the right of taxation. Often a single wealthy prince or knight would be the “bishop” of several regions, greatly increasing his power, wealth, and importance. However, as the Protestant Reformers loudly complained, such “bishops” never preached, never baptized, never heard confessions or said mass, in other words they were not really bishops at all. Some of them would rarely, if ever, even visit the regions over which they had been appointed.
Church historians refer to these unsavory practices as the sin of “simony,” which is defined as the buying and selling church office; “pluralism,” which is having multiple offices at the same time; and “absenteeism,” neglecting the duties of an office through absence. The Catechism rightly includes these sins under the prohibitions of the Second Commandment. For each one of them is an idolatrous corruption of God’s spiritual worship, where the administration of God’s worship becomes a means of gaining or increasing carnal wealth and power. With the separation of church and state that we know today, such sinful practices have largely gone. However, using the worship of God as a means of gaining money and power is just as prevalent today, as any trip to the Christian bookstore will quickly confirm. Moreover, anyone who goes to church or who participates in Christian ministry chiefly for some earthly gain is guilty of the sin of simony.
Sacrilege is when we treat God or the things of God with contempt or irreverence. It comes from two words meaning sacred and stealing. To be sacrilegious is to steal from the sacred things of God. God must have the chief place in my heart, the highest honor and greatest importance. He deserves all the glory, reverence, and awe that I can muster. Therefore, to think about or to act towards God irreverently is to rob Him of what He properly deserves. All flippant or frivolous portrayals of God, even where they are done by believers with a good intent, are sacrilegious. God is holy. He must always be treated as holy.
The rest of the Catechism, dealing with the neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances commanded by God, describes broad categories of sin we must continually guard against. It seems to me that our nation has become more and more guilty of this sin as Sunday becomes more and more just another work day or shopping day. When employers require their employees to work on Sunday they hinder and oppose the worship of God, who commands us to come together on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day. Likewise, when I consider Sunday as a day to get my chores done rather than the day I should set aside for the worship of God, I treat God’s ordinance for worship with contempt. For at least a generation we have been sowing this disrespect and irreverence for God, and we are now beginning to reap in earnest a corresponding disrespect and irreverence for people at every level of society. May God grant that we would hallow His name and reverence His worship, and may He be pleased to heal our land!