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Volume 14, Issue 3: Poimen

Idolizing Sincerity

Joost Nixon

Worship is a dangerous activity because it involves the meeting of men, who drink iniquity like water, with a God more perfect than light. In the words of the Puritan-of-the-forgotten-name, "We serve a precise God." Far from the breezy, careless attitude that we impute to the Most High, God cares about the nuts and bolts of our worship. What we sing and how we pray and the order of it all is not indifferent to God. Accordingly, Scripture specifically commands us, when we enter the house of God, not to act hastily and offer the sacrifice of fools (Ecc. 5:1). Who are these careless fellows? Solomon leaves no wiggle room: fools are presumptuous men who reason that wrong worship offered sincerely is still acceptable to God.

If we pause to reflect upon that for a moment, this truth will sober us. The Bible tells us that there exists a class of people who enter worship, who act with haste and spontaneity, and who never dream that their sincere attempts at piety are acts of evil for which Christ had to die. It has been said that sin is merely a perversion of something good. Sincerity is good. But America has made an idol of it.
We have done this, first, by equating spontaneity with sincerity. Careful planning is old mahogany and dim light, hotel carpet in the living room, stifling air, and a fork for every course—even the soup. Careful planning is formal and formal things are rigid things, and stuffy things, and dead and impersonal things. And, after all, didn't we all accept Jesus as our personal Savior? And is He not our Friend? Well, friends are about skylights, and decaf coffee, and convertible VW bugs, and personal relationships. And personal relationships are about informality, and intimacy, and starting sentences with "And." True worship—sincere worship—can't include all those formal things. It's simply antithetical to genuine heart-religion.
So reasons the modern evangelical mind. And quite sincerely.
Yet, somewhere we have lost our way. Sincerity is good, for to act insincerely is to act hypocritically, and that is certainly wicked. Whatever we do, we ought to do it because we are convinced God requires it. But just because sincerity is necessary for right worship does not mean that it is sufficient for right worship. The absurd notion that all God requires for right worship is warm fuzzies radiating from a sincere heart has given birth to untold evil in the church.
Sincerity is good, but it is not a panacea that renders all actions righteous. The idolater who sacrificed his sons to Molech did so with sincerity. How else could he bear to look on while his sons roasted in the flames? But did the man's sincerity suddenly make this repulsive and abominable act a pleasing and acceptable aroma to God? Could anything be more preposterous? Or take Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons, who in their priestly office offered to God a little bit of spontaneity and innovation which the Lord "had not commanded." There is nothing in the text of Leviticus 10 to indicate they did so in duplicity and hypocrisy. We have every reason to believe they were quite sincere. But their sincerity did not save them. Fire came down from heaven, and they were utterly consumed (Lev. 10:2). Again, sincerity is necessary for right worship, but it is not sufficient.
Now let's make some application to our day. Across America millions will enter churches this Lord's Day with good intentions. In fact, the charitable thing to believe is that no one comes with the express intention of doing evil. And yet nevertheless, there is a class of people who, though they sincerely desire to do good, all they accomplish is evil (Ecc. 5:2). They act with haste in the house of God. Impulse and emotion dictate their actions, instead of the Word of God. They are sincere. Oh, most assuredly, yes. And they are zealous too. But their sincerity is not an informed sincerity, their zeal is a "zeal without knowledge" (Rom. 10:2).
If we are to take this lesson to heart, then we cannot just assume that what we do in worship is right. We must think it all through deliberately with an open Bible in front of us so we avoid the errors of sincere men who are sincerely wrong. We must inform our sincerity and educate our zeal so that we act in worship just as God would have us to act.
Sincerity is good, but it is "not good for (sincerity) to be alone." She was created as a helpmeet. She was created to be wed to truth.

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