They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV
Whatever book of the Bible I happen to be reading tends to have a discernible impact on what I write. Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was working on a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
Recently, I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. This got me thinking about idolatry in general and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see in the Old Testament.
As I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a bit). The book of Hosea makes a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). Biblically there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God.
Apostasy always follows a lifestyle of idolatry.
Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some modern-day idols are without question more of an issue among Christian leaders while other idols affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we see in the Church. When the church gets a handle on the idolatry problem we will see fewer people leaving the church.
Our most beloved Christian idols are:
This is definitely a leadership idol that can easily spin out of control in a pastor’s life. Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness. Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for. Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy desire to see churches grow. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for recognition.
Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture. Even though biblical standards for success are vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38). A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers.
God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. However, God is also unapologetically judgmental. God judges anyone who refuses to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.
There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than the God of the Bible (Ezekiel 18:23).
In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage.
Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades. In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable.
In 1st Timothy 3:6 the apostle Paul cautions Church leaders against placing new Christians in positions of leadership. He had observed that when new converts become leaders they also become prideful and unteachable. Sometimes these leaders become so swollen with pride that they begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other older more mature Christians. Sometimes they begin to think they know more than even God. Truth-be-told a twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye and twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong. In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity. Until churches stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age.
Idols must be cast down. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to humble obedience that can only be born out of pure love for God rather than the blessings He gives. Getting there will require ruthless self-examination and honest prayer.