Israel’s history in the Promised Land was often a checkered history at best. It was a history peppered with times of compromise, sin, and apostasy. To be sure, there were times that could be described as glorious and that were full of the purpose and potential of God, but there were also the dark times where unrighteousness reigned. From time to time, reformers would come and, because of their message, the culture would shift, if only temporarily, towards God and His laws. But far too often, their work would stop short of a total cultural revolution. Over and over the scriptures would record the following words, “However, the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places.” (1 Kings 22:43) It took the work of such reformers as Hezekiah and Josiah to actually go up to the high places and tear them down. “Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the city gate.” (2 Kings 23:8)
Most churches are good at rooting out overt sin from their congregation. Few churches are like the church at Corinth that allowed open and overt sin, such as the inset that was going on, to continue unchallenged in their mists. But for many churches, the high places still remain. The high places were places where people would go to sacrifice to god, sometimes even to Jehovah, but their sacrifices were contrary to the laws of God. God had required that His people come to the altar at Jerusalem to offer their sacrifice and not to offer their sacrifices under “every green tree”. High places, at first glance, look holy and religious. After all, they were going there to offer sacrifices to Jehovah, but they were an offence before God. How do we know if something in our church has become a “high place”? Here are three characteristics of a high place.
- Worship at a high place is worship that is contrary to the word of God. No matter what we are doing, no matter how holy and religious it sounds, if it is contrary to God’s word, it’s a high place. The writer of Hebrews calls them “dead works”. (Hebrews 9.14) The only solution for dead works is “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1)
- Worship at a high place is a worship of convenience. May times they sought the high places because they were close and the journey to Jerusalem was long. It was “convenient” for them to worship at the high place rather than to travel to Jerusalem. Unfortunately Christianity is not a life of convenience but a life of obedience. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
- Worship at a high place is a worship that is devoid of the presence of God. We can try to convince ourselves that God is present in our worship, but confessing it does not make it so. I have been in churches where they say, “Isn’t the presence of God here today?” but, honestly, if He was there He must have been hiding. It is true that God is always with us, but there are times when His presence is with us in a manifest and tangible sense. Speaking of Jesus, the scriptures say, “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen 49:10 KJV) When we come to worship, if it is not to come before Him and enter into His presence, then it offers little to both man and God.
The church at Laodicea was a church that had found it comfortable to live with the compromises of the high places, yet God rebuked her saying, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19) Love does not tolerate compromise. Love is willing to tell us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. Love knows that compromise will always lead to a snare, but love also knows that the truth will always set us free.
More to come… David Robison