The Second Commandment: our failure, Christ’s fulfillment (part 2)

Another homily on The Second Commandment:  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – nor bow down to them nor serve them.”

We’re continuing to use the Westminster Larger Catechism’s thorough and biblical exposition of the Ten Commandments – to show us our sin, that we would repent and flee to our gracious Savior.  Again, if you think you’re pretty advanced in your obedience to God’s Law, five minutes with this catechism should disabuse your mind of that confidence!

So what are the duties required of us in the Second Commandment?  I’d like for us to consider one phrase in the Catechism, answer 108.  Not only are we to keep pure and entire the worship God institutes in His Word.  But we have a corresponding duty of “…disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship…”  The Scriptural background for this phrase includes Psalm 16:4, where David notes that “their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, nor take up their names on my lips.”  Another is Acts 17, when the apostle Paul is in Athens.  He sees the city is wholly given to idolatry – and so his spirit is provoked to preach the Gospel:  in the synagogue and in the marketplace.  He calls idolaters to repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Jesus.  David and Paul both disapproved, detested, and opposed all false worship.

Why?  Because they recognized false worship is eternally fatal.  False worship results in men, women, and children being led away from the one true God – and the Gospel of His Son.  What Paul encountered in Athens is obvious enough.  Pagan idolatry and superstition are still prevalent today, and will be until the end.  But Israel’s history is also a history of idolatry.  They engaged in something called syncretism.  That is, they took the worship God commanded them to observe in His Word – and mixed it with elements of pagan worship.

Do we believe there is such a thing as syncretism today?  When we talk, for example, about appealing to the culture – and using cultural forms of image media and even popular music to make the worship of God more appealing & relevant, we’re on shaky ground.  Who says the “immersive media experience” you might enjoy at IMAX belongs in God’s house – where He has expressly forbidden the use of images in worship?  Who says the pumped up feeling you might enjoy at a rock concert belongs in God’s house – as if getting whipped up like Baal’s priests on Mount Carmel is a spiritual experience from the one true God?

Why are we so reluctant to “disapprove, detest, and oppose all false worship”?  Because, as John Calvin rightly said, alluding to Ezekiel, our hearts are idol factories.  We have our own carnal ideas of God and His worship – and they are indeed our “sacred cows” or better, golden calves.

So let us repent of our indifference to the dangers of false worship.  Let us embrace the Savior who died to deliver us from our self-destructive idols – and to enable us to worship His Father in Spirit and in Truth.  And let us be renewed by His grace to battle against our own idolatrous addiction to false worship.  Yes, and even to “disapprove, detest, and oppose ALL false worship.”

Published by pastor tony phelps

Pastor of Christ Our Hope PCA in Wakefield, RI

2 replies on “The Second Commandment: our failure, Christ’s fulfillment (part 2)”

  1. Hi Tony, are you aware of any studies on any studies that have done specifically on the topic of “syncretism”? The only thing I’m aware of is Beale’s “We Become What We Worship”, but that’s not quite there.


  2. Hi John,
    No, I’m not aware of any extended studies on how syncretism manifests itself today. Such a book would probably not sell well. I think “cultural contextualization” is such an deeply ingrained presupposition – even among those who supposedly subscribe to WCF 21.1 – that such questions are not even asked. Though it may not have been necessarily identified as such, the Westminster Divines were addressing the matter of “syncretism” in the Church of England with its maintenance of “popish ceremomies,” etc. False worship blended together with the worship God commands in His Word. Perhaps the most influential work at the time of the Westminster Assembly was George Gillespie’s “A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland.” He was one of the Scottish Commissioners to Westminster.


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