Idolatry in Church
Idolatry in church. The title sounds ridiculous. Does it really happen? Is it even possible? Churchgoers don’t worship statues. They don’t pray to icons or to Mary.
When gathered together, we worship the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ. Our songs sing His worth and our preaching expounds His character.
But unfortunately idolatry is alive and well in the Church of Christ.
Most of us think of idolatry as worshiping something physical. We think of countries such as Papua New Guinea and Ivory Coast, Africa where scarcely dressed tribal people kneel to totem poles and try to appease their gods with ritualistic dances.
Our concept of idolatry is also largely shaped by the Old Testament. Despite the First Commandment not to have other gods (Ex. 34:14) Israel’s history is stained with the worship of false gods such as Baal, Asherah and Molech. When Israel entered Canaan, God told them to remove the high places, smash the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. The worship of false gods in the Old Testament is predominantly tangible in nature.
But not entirely. Because idolatry is first and foremost a dysfunction of our desires and beliefs, the prophet Ezekiel can say that the idolatrous elders of Israel had “idols in their hearts” (14:3).
This concept of spiritual idolatry is picked up by the New Testament writers. With a few exceptions, idolatry in the New Testament is predominantly spiritual and internal in nature. It happens when God’s people bow down to their man-made “statues” of pride, self-centeredness and greed. And the Sunday morning service can turn into its house of worship.
These “church idols” may be harder to locate then the stones and poles of the Old Testament, but they are there. How tempting it is for example, to worship the god of control or human preference. Many a church has split because one person’s personal opinion dictated entire church practice.
What about serving the god of approval? We can “serve” the Lord, while craving the compliments and the recognition of His people and becoming disgruntled when it is withheld.
What about the god of good impression? Coming to church hiding behind a façade. Answering the question “how are you doing” with an automatic “really good”, while racked with guilt or discouragement on the inside. We're good in keeping up appearances instead of being real. Unfortunately, church culture often feeds this kind of dishonesty.
What else? The pastor can be worshiped. A church building can turn into an idol. We can idolize other families or couples that seem to have it together. We can worship personal experiences and human skill.
Idolatry in church exist. We need eyes to see where idols hide. Idols can't coincide with our worship of God. They must be demolished, individually and corporately through the power of the Gospel.
Jesus can help us overcome every form of idol worship. He came to set us free from lesser gods, so that we might worship Him in Spirit and in truth (Joh. 4:24). True worship opposes idolatry. Confession of idol worship opens the floodgates of God’s grace. And as we grow in our love for God we will see that our distaste for idols will increase.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Joh. 5:21).
“Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God” (1 Chron. 22:19).