Mrs. Benson is a member of the Bethel PRC in Itasca, IL.

At the end of the 20th century God is pleased to withdraw Himself from men. This is nowhere more painfully witnessed than in the visible church on earth, that earthly body which, in order to live (in Christ), must ever remain faithful with respect to her end: that all things be done to the glory of God. In the 20th century the church, in following after the world, has shifted her underpinning principle from the glory of God, to a philosophy and theology that is man-centered. The church has corporately left the pursuit of the knowledge of God and His Word, to court the harlots of experientialism and emotionalism us un end in themselves. And this has resulted in the neglect, and finally the loss, of the knowledge of God’s character and of His Word. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in the worship services and external activities of the church. If we desire to preserve our generations in the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, we must be zealous to look long and hard at the church of today, and at ourselves as individuals, to determine whether or not we are “courting harlots.”

In Leviticus 10 we find the record of Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron who decided to come before God in the newly built tabernacle with “strange fire.” God had told them exactly how He was to be worshiped, and they had devised their own method of placing fire on the altar, in direct disobedience to God’s command. As a remarkable revelation of the gravity of this sin, God immediately struck them dead with fire from heaven. Our Lord says in Matthew 5:17, 18, “Think not that I came to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

This and every Old Testament law applies today, in principle. We are given instruction in the New Testament about what to do in the worship service. Our Lord says in John 4:23, 24: “But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Worshiping “in spirit” refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, without the use of physical or earthly “props” (John 14:16, 17); and “in truth” refers to the Word of God, which is the living truth (John 1:1, 2; I Thess. 2:13; Acts 17:11). In the New Testament He commands that in the worship service we preach the Word: sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; pray; give tithes; and administer the sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper. Nothing else.

Is this exactly and only what we do, or do we go to worship with all kinds of “strange fire”? In the church today we may witness the following as part of the worship service: skits, puppet shows, soloists, candles, idols of all kinds (manger scenes, statues, various biblically thematic paintings including Christ, Bethlehem walks, etc.), missionary reports, concerts, Sunday school programs, liturgical dance, responsive reading, holy laughter, and many more. Strange fire! While some of these things may be appropriate in another setting, in the worship service they are “strange fire.” That for which wehave received instruction from God’s Holy Word, we may not add to, subtract from, or neglect, as did Nadab and Abihu, or we are “courting a harlot.”

“Strange fire” in the worship service is only one result of “courting harlots.” All throughout the life of the church there is evidence of that courtship. God’s Word declares in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”

As you are driving around, pay attention to the signs at churches and Christian schools, advertising the latest “harlotry” to entice people into the church. God declares that He will draw His people with His living Word and Spirit – but the church today does not trust the faithful proclamation of that Word, or is not satisfied with the results our Sovereign God is pleased to produce. The church is going to use skits, seminars on everything from soup to nuts, puppet shows, self-helps, biblical dramatizations. And the list goes on and on to include anything that feels good and fills the pews. Along with the “harlotry,” many take God’s Word and change it to fit the “sensitivities” of the audience. Sin is a mistake, homosexuality is an inescapable orientation, women preachers are filled with so many gifts that they can bypass God’s command, creation is a matter of “interpretation,” murder (by abortion) is choice, etc.

Do not be numbed because everybody “feels good,” and is sincere, and the pews are full. The pews were full in the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, and they are full today. The church of that day was painfully sincere, so much so that many of God’s people were martyred for their reform. Would anyone dispute that, as a whole, that branch was cut out of the tree of life? If you dispute this, you must ask yourself, “Does God’s character and Word mean anything at all to me?”

With respect to knowledge of God’s character and of His Word, the church at large pays little attention. It is astounding to note that in the day of experientialism and emotionalism, the majority of the churches’ children are herded out of the worship service. God requires (OT and NT) that God’s people worship and grow in spiritual knowledge as a family. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” and the church is depriving the children of the preaching of God’s Word, God’s primary means of grace (Ram. 10:14, 15).

Though there are many examples to demonstrate the current “harlots at large,” I offer the following two examples:

First. Recently I saw a writeup for a “Bethlehem Walk,” which read in part as follows: “This bustling town from history filled with smells, sights, sounds, and things to touch will flood the senses and make memories for family traditions.Please begin to pray even now that the Holy Spirit will use this event to impact each visitor for eternity (italics mine). The direct focus is on having the experience, so that faith might be produced and might work eternal salvation. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” How can we bring the knowledge of God and His Word when our intent is to produce a physical experience?To be sure, the experiences of the senses and emotion feel good, but do they work faith? Not according to God’s Word. In addition, this particular activity touches the issue of the second commandment: idolatry. If we use the “Bethlehem Walk” as a means to approach God, to “impact each visitor for eternity,” how is the idol in the manger different in principle from any other idol? Is God’s Word and Spirit so anemic, so ineffective, that we desire objects to see, smell, hear, and touch to produce or confirm-faith? This was a major principle that was at issue in the 16th century Reformation. Of course; we do not hear much about that anymore. At the time of the Reformation it was the priest, the confessional, the penance, the statues, etc. Today the idols before God take a different shape and character, but they are the ‘same in principle. The same harlot.

And then we have the newest and fastest growing craze, that of Promise-keepers. I know it feels good. I know it is an emotional experience. I am convinced that some of the men love the Lord. I know they mean well. I know they get lots of self-helps. But why do they need it? Recently I spoke with a gentleman who was relating how wonderful his pastor was, and ‘as an example he stated that his pastor was so dynamic that he got 75 men to attend the latest rally of Promise Keepers in Chicago. I asked him gently, “But how is his preaching?” He replied, “Well, I don’t know, I never thought about it before.” Maybe that is why he needs Promise Keepers! If the church you attend is not placing you before the face of God every Lord’s Day, with a knowledge of His Word and character, then, in obedience, you must search for a church that does, not resort to “courtship with a harlot”! (Incidentally, God’s Word and the faithful presentation of it are the biblical measures of a minister.)

Another man, when challenged about his involvement in the organization, replied with much emotion (and very little knowledge): “How would you know? You can’t possibly imagine what I felt when I sat and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ with 75,000 men. It was the most awesome feeling!” No doubt it was an awesome feeling in and of itself, but when 75,000 or even seven, men gather together to sing, (or do anything else), and several denominations are represented which do not even recognize the deity of Christ, then which amazing grace are they singing about, and to what god? I would say it is amazing grace that God does not strike us dead with fire from heaven when we yoke His name to a “harlot,” neglecting His ordained means of feeding His people, the Word preached in the church of Jesus Christ.

The church of today needs reforming as badly as it did in the 16th century. But reformation hurts! It means tremendous upheaval, and it never leads to a lot of the “feel-goodies” that the church has become so attached to at the end of the 20th century. Perhaps, if the Lord tarries, we will see that reform, and out of the ashes will arise the glorious bride of Christ in the 21st century. Perhaps the Lord, for His glory, will be pleased to spare only a small remnant, as in the days of Elijah and numerous other periods of history.

One person said in a discussion with me, “I know the church needs reform, but I’m not personally responsible to reform the church.” Perhaps not, but God does require obedience. Either you and I are walking daily in the sight of God, reforming ourselves toward God-centered life and worship, with a knowledge of His Word, or we are “courting harlots.” If it is the latter, as in Hosea’s day, our children will be forgotten of the Lord. God is faithful in all that He promises.

Jesus Christ, who is the Word, entered human history and took hold of His eternal kingdom with a gripping violence (Matt. 11:12, Heb. 4:12, 13). When God’s Word in its absolute and unchanging truth comes to us, let us pray that it does violence to our will, experience, and emotion. If it “feels good” it is a harlot, or we are in hardhearted rebellion. When God’s Word has cut deep and haps the Lord, for His glory, will changed our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, then and only then do we experience the eternal and lasting emotion of wonderful, peaceful, and blessed assurance in the faithfulness of His work. He is able to complete that work which He has once begun in us. To many, that is not as titillating as the harlots of experientialism and emotionalism. But it is God’s way and will, and it produces a full, rich, and eternal peace.

Let each of us think on the glory of God alone! Let us reform ourselves daily with that purpose, to the end that God may be glorified, being assured by His Word that in the way of our faithful (often painful) obedience to His will, He will work, by the knowledge and use of His Word, the fruit of righteousness in us and in our seed. .He is drawing ever nearer to that final day when all of His people will be gathered in. May we and our children be found among that remnant which He is always faithful to preserve.

Above all, to God be the glory, for of Him, through Him, and unto Him are all things!