“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
All People Have Corrupted the Worship of God
Whoever defiles the worship of God does not really know God. No doubt, many people will claim that they never intended to move away from the true worship of God. But it doesn’t really matter what people claim or intend, because the Holy Spirit pronounces that all those who substitute the worship of God for demons are apostates. For example, Paul declares that the Ephesians were “without God” (2:12) until they learned the true worship of God through the gospel. Paul does not label only the Ephesians as being “without God,” but actually labels all people functionally as being “without God.” Specifically, he says that all people have become “vain in their imaginations.” Even though God has revealed Himself clearly through creation, all people have refused to worship or honor Him.
Paul condemns all the gods that the Gentiles worship as false gods. During Jesus’ days, the Samaritans were probably the “closest” to worshipping the one true God. Yet, Jesus proclaims that the Samaritans really didn’t know what they worshipped at all (John 4:22). So although the Samaritans didn’t give themselves over to significant sin or flat-out idolatry, there was still no pure and undefiled worship among them. A few people may not have given themselves over to full-blown idolatry with all its gross sin, yet Paul’s proclamation is still true: the leaders of this world have not understood God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Now, if even the most intelligent and distinguished people have fallen into idolatry, what about the rest of the population? It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit designates all of humanity’s worship as being degenerate. A person’s speculation about God may not necessarily lead to more errors, but speculation is surely the beginning of error when it happens. Although a person may not do anything “worse” than worship an idol, idolatry is no light sin in God’s eyes. Jesus Himself says that all people are guilty if they have not been instructed from God’s Law about true worship (John 4:22).
Even the great philosopher Socrates in Xenophon applauds the advice of Apollo who urged each person to worship his or her own regional god. But what right do mere mortals have to decide how God should be worshipped? Moreover, everyone will usually follow their own personal wisdom rather than submit to the will of others. Therefore, past tradition and current common consensus are too unstable to truly guide people in the worship of God. Only God Himself can lay down the proper instructions for worship.