Vol.VI No.IV Pg.1
June 1969

The Sacred Groves

Robert F. Turner

God authorizes the assembling of saints (HEB.10:25 1CO.11:18-f.14:23-f) which, in turn, certainly authorizes a place of assembly. I am well aware of the brethren's tendency to stretch this into banquet halls, fishing camps, T.V. and coffee rooms, and of course, the elaborate and costly "sanctuaries" which are more showplaces to satisfy the pride than just a place to assemble and worship God. These gross abuses have led some to remark, "Christians could worship God out under a tree;" and so they could. But only the "gross abuse" of a remedy would lead one to suggest that all meeting places be sold.

Meeting under a tree is not, of itself, a guarantee of true worship. In OT times, groves of trees became places of idolatrous worship. The Asherim was "probably a wooden symbol of a goddess Asherah" (as footnote to EXO.34:13) and DEU.16:21 shows that the growing tree was associated with such pagan worship. Gideon cut down the Asherah, and used the wood to offer burnt offerings to Jehovah (JDG.6:25-27) (see K.J., "sacred groves".). The thinking of many brethren would certainly demand that we have the very finest tree available — carefully trimmed, watered, and decorated. I suppose we could get up a "crash fuss" over what kind of tree was scriptural (Remember the oaks of Mamre, cedars of Lebanon, etc.??).

Elaborate buildings indicate poor, and oftimes sinful judgement on the part of brethren; but meeting under a tree doesn't indicate soundness. Big congregations often get that way by catering to the whims and pride of the people; but a little church may be just as proud of its martyr status and far more "whinny". Although there are right and wrong ways to "build up a church" we must not allow ourselves the luxury of such loose thinking.

These "externals" are evidence of something far more important — the deep-seated attitudes that produce such fruits. If we are filled with "churchanity" instead of Christianity we need a new heart. Moving out under a tree could reveal some "stuffed shirts" but "stuffed heads" would remain to plague us. "Except Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain.