The Bible speaks pretty clearly on idolatry. It’s a big no-no all throughout Scripture, for obvious reasons. Just a few examples to refresh our memories:
“The acts of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” - Galatians 5:19-21
“Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”” - 1 Corinthians 10:7
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” - Colossians 3:5
As any Christian that reads the Bible knows, this is only a small taste of what the Bible says about idolatry, but everything we read about it in Scripture says the same thing: avoid it, don’t practice in it, it is a work of the flesh, and a serious insult to God.
And yet, it’s very possible that your church may be practicing in it every Sunday. Heck, every day even. That might seem ridiculous to some Christians, but it’s true. Most of us when we think of idolatry we imagine the images carved to look like animals out of gold, silver, and jewels, as the Bible describes how it happened a few thousand years ago.
What we sometimes fail to consider is that we can make literally anything an idol. We have a lot more ways of practicing this egregious insult to our God than we want to admit, and its prevalence within our local Christian churches has become a problem.
Worshiping something, anything, besides God, is idolatry. It doesn’t have to be a statue or a physical image that we literally stand before and worship, but that’s certainly one of the ways of doing it. Here are six ways your church could be practicing idolatry today.
Idolizing the Local Church
This one is sadly common, and it begins with our church leaders in how they set themselves up to be an idol for people, rather than God.
When churches brand themselves, cast visions, missions, and create a culture and an environment in their church that demands members/attendees be devoted and in service to them, idolatry is an inevitable result.
The church becomes a social club. A clique. A group with its own culture, membership standards, and a laundry list of events and activities makes for easy idol material. The membership agreement requires that you be active in the church, and your activity in the church soon leads to being consumed by it, rather than your relationship with God.
What you consume will consume you, and when you spend all of your time serving your church out of reverence for the church rather than God and being led by the Spirit alone, you may not be able to help but place your church on a pedestal in your mind and heart. A place that should be reserved for God alone.
Your church is not equal to or synonymous with God, no matter what your church leaders may have told you, and no matter how much you love your church.
If you believe obeying your church’s membership agreement/covenant/constitution is equal to obeying God Himself, you may be idolizing your church.
If you believe serving God just means serving your church, you could be idolizing your church.
If you believe Christian giving and stewardship just means paying tithing to your church, you could be idolizing your church.
If you believe you must attend church in order to truly be a Christian, that you must be involved in your church to truly be a Christian, or that you must not question or criticize your church because that would be “sinful” or “against God” in some way, you are probably idolizing your church.
Church idolizing is common in money serving churches which spend a lot of time, money, and effort on selling members a brand and a clique to be accepted by through things like catchy slogans, cool logos, friendly and welcoming staff, and tons of activities and events to be a part of. Once they’ve sold you their church “brand” and convinced you to become a member, your staying there practically relies on your idolizing of the church.
It’s also common in very legalistic churches, where heavy emphasis on works for the local church are made mandatory and synonymous with obeying God Himself. Whereas a money serving church will use materialism, consumerism, and your own self absorption to make themselves an idol to you, legalism makes church idolizing inevitable by demanding your service and attendance to their church in order to be considered a truly faithful and obedient Christian.
Pastor idolizing is almost as common as church idolizing in Christian churches today. This form of idolizing is pure man-worship, and it’s almost scary how Christians may find themselves discussing their pastor almost as if he/she were above them in value to God, or better than them as a person, simply because they’re the pastor.
We sometimes turn our pastors into these rock gods, celebrities, and public figures to be praised and worshiped and adored. Granted they do have a gift and a calling to lead, teach, and preach, but we must not think this makes them somehow more valuable to God than the rest of us. That it makes them higher than we are, or holier than we are.
If you believe your pastor has some special access to God that you don’t, you could be idolizing him/her.
If you believe they are holier than you or less sinful than you, you could be idolizing them.
If you believe your pastor has any kind of authority over you as a Christian or an individual in any way, spiritual or otherwise, you give them far too much power over you and your life, and you could very well be idolizing them.
I have been guilty of this myself in many ways personally. When beginning this journey to check churches, I found myself standing up to, and sometimes even ridiculing some of Utah’s Christian pastors for their antics, and immediately feeling a sense of fear at what I’d done.
Fear of men. Fear of men in power, and of men who have been given authority over others, and control over others. Or rather, men who have taken authority and control over others. The fear of these men is a form of idolizing, because they do not deserve it, and they have no authority over me, or you.
The fear stems from a belief that they are somehow better than me, higher than me on an invisible scale leading to God. It stems from a belief that I must treat them better than I would someone else, simply because of the title they hold in their church as a “pastor.”
It is a fear that was quickly snuffed out once God reminded me why I started doing this in the first place. It’s not for them. It’s for Him, and for the flock. And it’s a healthy fear of God that gives us the strength and the courage to completely disregard the manipulation and the fear that men try to put in us with the lie that they are more important to God than we are. They’re not.
Idolizing the Worship Team/Experience
This is an obvious one to spot on Sunday. The worship services in modern Christian churches have become rock concerts designed for anything but worshiping God, and in many cases it’s a lot more about praising and worshiping the worship team itself, rather than God. That, or the experience it gives you personally.
If you’re thinking about how awesome and amazing the worship performance at your church is rather than how awesome and amazing God is, you’re idolizing the worship team and experience.
If your opinion of a church rests highly upon the worship “experience” itself rather than how focused on God Himself they are, you’re idolizing the worship team and experience.
If you view the worship team reverently, with praise and an adoration that you don’t give to others in your church simply because they’re in a position of fame and talent, you could be idolizing them.
If your reason for going to church is actually to get to watch/experience/hear the worship music and the worship team perform, then you are absolutely idolizing the worship team and experience.
Idolizing the worship team and the worship experience is just another side effect of attending a money serving church, where virtually everything they do is focused on getting you to idolize the church, the pastor, the worship team, and anything else they can think of to hook you in and keep you there.
Having an awesome worship experience is a big focus of money serving churches because just like a cafe or a bookstore, a rock concert brings in more members and keeps them coming, and more members means more money.
Do yourself a favor and stop caring about the worship service experience entirely. Worship is about God, not you, not your church, and not your worship team. Worship is between you and God, not you and your church, or your church’s worship team. If worshiping God relies on the talents and performances of others, I wonder what you would do if you lived anywhere but the privileged first world where tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars can be wasted on such frivolous things.
The only thing you should care about when you’re worshiping God, is worshiping God. If you think you need a full band on a stage with lights and fog and a teary-eyed singer with her hands in the air, singing your favorite “Christian” song, then you are thinking about a lot of things, but not God Himself.