2 Kings 17:32-33 (NIV)
32 They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.
33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
There is an influence to be made – either the culture upon worship or worship on the culture. This status is determined by which is actually served.
The king of Assyria had conquered Samaria, exported its resident Israelites and imported his own people from Babylon to occupy its towns and villages. These people came in with their own gods, ways and culture, but when lions began to kill many of them they thought it was because they were not worshiping the God of the land. They brought in a priest to teach them how to worship and began going through the rituals of worship. So they “worshiped” God, but still served their own Gods. The dominating element was the culture over the worship because it was the culture that was actually getting the true service.
This was actually the same for the Israelites even before their exile, and was a large part of why they were defeated by ungodly invaders. They had allowed this same thing to happen with them in reverse, even to the point of excluding their own God altogether. In order to fit into their surrounding culture, they allowed service of the culture to dominate what had been handed down to them regarding honor of their own God. They, too, went through motions of worship while still living a life that served the demands of an ungodly surrounding culture.
How, then, is it determined which is the dominating and most influential – worship or the culture? According to a clue found here, it is known by the nature that is taken on. Where there is service in worship, the heart is directed to what will determine its own appearance and way of life. For the Israelites, their desire to fit into and appear like their surroundings lost them the very presence of God.
2 Kings 17:15 (NIV)
15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”
Hosea 9:10 (NIV)
10 “When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.
2 Kings 17:22-23 (NIV)
22 The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets.
When searching for relevance in a present day setting, there will always be a draw by the surrounding culture to be guided by it even with regard to worship of God. While adjustments may be made to more effectively express worship, there is vulnerability in these adjustements to a transfer of service from God to the culture. When appearance and way of life begin to reflect surroundings more than a most holy God, there is a great probability that this transfer is taking place. Acts of worship may continue, but true service is determined by transformation evidence.
2 Kings 17:38-39,41
38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods.
39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”
41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.
There may be acts of worship, but who is truly served in worship will be known by who you become.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.