Are You Playing Church

Bible Book: Psalms  50 : 21-23
Subject: Church; Commitment

Are You Playing Church? When Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he preached a message about children “Playing in the Market-place” based on Matthew 11:16-17, where we read, “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, / And you did not dance; / We mourned to you, / And you did not lament.’”

Dr. Havner explains, “We still have such children in the marketplaces, plenty of them in the churches. They have been petted and pampered until no kind of preaching suits them. If the wrath of God is proclaimed, the preacher is too severe; if love is preached, the minister is too sentimental. Thousands of church people would go home highly offended were either John the Baptist or Jesus the Christ to occupy the pulpit next Sunday.

We have encountered these children of the marketplace many times in our ministry. If we spoke in a low tone we were dull; if we spoke in a loud tone, we were deafening. If we stood still they pronounced us statues; if we stirred about, we were labeled sensationalists. We were much distressed until we learned to identify and classify these babes of the marketplace. . . .

First, they are children: not childlike as our Lord would have us be (Matthew 18:3) but childish.

There are babes who ought to be grown, milk-feeders who should long ago have reached a meat diet, still carnal and proclaiming it as the Scriptures reveal by envying and strife and divisions, walking as men, saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos’ (1 Corinthians 3: 3-4).”[1]

Maybe you have heard of children “playing church.” Dr. Sylvanius Stall (1847-1915), mentions “playing church” in a positive sense in his book titled, With the Children on Sundays: Through Eye-Gate and Ear-Gate into the City of Child-Soul. It is cute to see children make baby steps in this arena, but it is sad to see adults “playing church.” From 1 Corinthians 13:11 we read, “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” There comes a time to grow up. We read in Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

We read in Psalm 50:21-23, “These things you have done, and I kept silent; / You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, / And set them in order before your eyes. ‘Now consider this, you who forget God, / Lest I tear you in pieces, / And there be none to deliver: Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; / And to him who orders his conduct aright / I will show the salvation of God.’” “These things” in Psalm 50:21 refers to what was written before. Please note three things in the verses preceding in Psalm 50.

First, there is a call to worship (Psalm 50:1-6). Asaph begins this psalm in the following way, “The Mighty One, God the Lord, / Has spoken and called the earth / From the rising of the sun to its going down. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, / God will shine forth. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; / A fire shall devour before Him, / And it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, / And to the earth, that He may judge His people: ‘Gather My saints together to Me, / Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.’ Let the heavens declare His righteousness, / For God Himself is Judge. Selah”

Second, there is a critique of worshipping (Psalm 50:7). In this verse we read, “Hear, O My people, and I will speak, / O Israel, and I will testify against you; / I am God, your God!” At this point allow me to state, ‘If God is pleased, it doesn’t matter who is displeased; if God is displeased, it doesn’t matter who is pleased.” Sadly, much “worshipping” today is not according to God’s Word. Remember Nadab and Abihu. We read in Leviticus 10:1-7, “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me / I must be regarded as holy; / And before all the people / I must be glorified.’ So Aaron held his peace. Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, ‘Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’ So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.’ And they did according to the word of Moses.” Whether God sends sudden destruction or strong delusion, it is dangerous to worship God any old way. We live in days when people “do church” and “get their worship on.” May those who seek after relevance desire reverence with the same intensity!

Third, there is a contrast in worshippers (Psalm 50:8-23). Here we read, “I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices / Or your burnt offerings, / Which are continually before Me. I will not take a bull from your house, / Nor goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, / And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, / And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you; / For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, / Or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, / And pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; / I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.’ But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, / Or take My covenant in your mouth, / Seeing you hate instruction / And cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, / And have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, / And your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; / You slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; / You thought that I was altogether like you; / But I will rebuke you, / And set them in order before your eyes. ‘Now consider this, you who forget God, / Lest I tear you in pieces, / And there be none to deliver: Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; / And to him who orders his conduct aright / I will show the salvation of God.”

We find a parallel in Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, where we read, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear the word of the Lord, / You rulers of Sodom; / Give ear to the law of our God, / You people of Gomorrah: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ Says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams / And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, / Or of lambs or goats. ‘When you come to appear before Me, / Who has required this from your hand, / To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; / Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts / My soul hates; / They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, / I will hide My eyes from you; / Even though you make many prayers, / I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; / Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, / Learn to do good; / Seek justice, / Rebuke the oppressor; / Defend the fatherless, / Plead for the widow. ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ / Says the Lord, / ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, / They shall be as white as snow; / Though they are red like crimson, / They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, / You shall eat the good of the land; / But if you refuse and rebel, / You shall be devoured by the sword’; / For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Allow me to ask three questions.

I. Are you purposely offering acceptable worship?

The psalmist shares the word of the Lord, who says, “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me” (Psalm 50:23a).

Jeremiah mentions the “sacrifice of praise” twice in the book that bears his name (Jeremiah 17:26 and 33:11). From Hebrews 13:10-16, we read, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Regrettably, a lot of worship is not holy and acceptable, it is wholly unacceptable. For example, we find polluted offerings in Malachi 1:6-14, where we read, “A son honors his father, / And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, / Where is My honor? And if I am a Master,
Where is My reverence? Says the Lord of hosts / To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ ‘You offer defiled food on My altar, / But say, / ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, / ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, / Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, / Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘But now entreat God’s favor, / That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, / Will He accept you favorably?’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, / So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,’ / Says the Lord of hosts, / ‘Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, / My name shall be great among the Gentiles; / In every place incense shall be offered to My name, / And a pure offering; / For My name shall be great among the nations,’ /Says the Lord of hosts. ‘But you profane it, / In that you say, / ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; / And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ You also say, / ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,’ / Says the Lord of hosts. ‘And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; / Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?’ Says the Lord. ‘But cursed be the deceiver
Who has in his flock a male, / And takes a vow, / But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—
For I am a great King,’ / Says the Lord of hosts, / ‘And My name is to be feared among the nations.’” Further, we read in Amos 5:21-23, “I hate, I despise your feast days, / And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, / I will not accept them, / Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, / For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.”

In Isaiah 29:13 we read, “Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths / And honor Me with their lips, / But have removed their hearts far from Me, / And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”

We read in 1 Samuel 15:10-31, “Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night. So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, ‘Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.’ Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’ But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?’ And Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak on.’ So Samuel said, ‘When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?’ And Saul said to Samuel, ‘But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ So Samuel said: ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, / As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, / And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, / And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, / He also has rejected you from being king.’ Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.’ But Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.’ Then he said, ‘I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.’ So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.” From 2 Samuel 24:18-25 we read about Saul’s successor, David, who said, “And Gad came that day to David and said to him, ‘Go up, erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’ So David, according to the word of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded. Now Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming toward him. So Araunah went out and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. Then Araunah said, ‘Why has my lord the king come to his servant?’ And David said, ‘To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.’ Now Araunah said to David, ‘Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him. Look, here are oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for wood. All these, O king, Araunah has given to the king.’ And Araunah said to the king, ‘May the Lord your God accept you.’ Then the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing. So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.”

In Micah 6:6-8 we read, “With what shall I come before the Lord, /And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, / With calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, / Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, / The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; / And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?”

From Hebrews 11:4a, we read, “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. . . .” Watch your worship, God does.

II. Are you properly ordering your ways?

Asaph further chronicles the word of the Lord, who continues, “And to him who orders his conduct aright” (Psalm 50:23b).

From Haggai 1:5b we read, “Consider your ways!” In Jeremiah 7:3 we read, “Amend your ways.” Jeremiah also writes in Lamentations 3:40, “Let us search out and examine our ways, / And turn back to the Lord.” The psalmist writes, “I thought about my ways, / And turned my feet to Your testimonies” (Psalm 119:59). We read in James 1:2-8, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” From Proverbs 16:7 we read, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, / He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” John H. Sammis (1846-1919), encourages us to “Trust and Obey” (1887) the Lord in our daily life. He explains “there is no other way to be happy in Jesus.”[2]

III. Are you personally obtaining God’s witness?

God through the psalmist promises, “I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23c)

Remember, Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4b).

In Psalm 50:22 the Lord warns, “Lest I tear you in pieces.” This statement calls forth the image of a “lion” as in Hosea 5:14, where we read, “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, / And like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; / I will take them away, and no one shall rescue.” Another example is found in Amos 1:2, where we read, “And he said: ‘The Lord roars from Zion, / And utters His voice from Jerusalem; / The pastures of the shepherds mourn, / And the top of Carmel withers.” The Lord further adds in Psalm 50:22, “And there be none to deliver.” The term “deliver” relates to the term “salvation” in Psalm 50:23. The choice is clear between being devoured or delivered.

Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” From Romans 8:14-16 we read, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” We read about the certainty of God’s witness in 1 John 5:6-13, “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”


From Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

While church attendance is important, we must beware of playing church! From John 4:19-26 we read, “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”

Someone called my attention to a devotional by Dr. Vance Havner titled, “A Way to Hell from the Gates of Heaven.” Herein, he shares the following, “Almost inside the kingdom of God but still outside: John Bunyan saw this awful possibility and wrote about it in Pilgrim's Progress. The thought is frightening.
Samuel Rutherford used to list such celebrities as Balaam, Pharaoh, Simon Magus, Caiaphas, Jehu, and Herod, as well as many others who had foretastes of glory yet rejected God.
One may know the Scriptures, believe sound doctrine, belong to a church, preach, prophesy, cast out demons, yet still go to hell.
This fearful possibility makes a Sunday morning congregation of church goers a mission field, since perhaps half or more have joined a church without knowing Jesus Christ. Only God knows who is who, but we true Christians have reason to suspect that we are outnumbered by our own members, and we cannot reach our goals because of the interference of our own team. Fearless preaching that calls the righteous to repentance is in order.
Bunyan was right. There is a way to hell from the gates of heaven!”[3]

Only those who worship after genuinely repenting of sin and believing the gospel for salvation are truly worshipping, if not they are merely playing church.

Only those who worship in spirit and in truth are truly worshipping, if not they are merely playing church. Remember the words of Jesus to the woman at the well.

Only those who worship by faith are truly worshipping, if not they are merely playing church. The foolish nonsense that passes for worship in some circles is absolutely absurd!

Are you purposely offering acceptable worship?

Are you properly ordering your ways?

Are you personally obtaining God’s witness?

Are you playing church?

[1]Vance Havner, Blood, Bread and Fire: The Christian’s Threefold Experience, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1939), Chapter 4, [Note: Vance Havner served as pastor of FBC Charleston, SC from 1934-1939 according to his biography titled, Journey from Jugtown, Accessed 12/05/13, ]

[2]John Sammis, “Trust and Obey,” (1887)

[3]Vance Havner, Don't Miss Your Miracle, “A Way to Hell from the Gates of Heaven,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1984), #3, Database WORDsearch Corp.

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / / (251) 626-6210 © December 8, 2013 All Rights Reserved