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.
Idolizing the Bible
This one is so easy to do, and so hard to catch, because the Bible, unlike our modern day local churches, pastors, and worship teams, is actually Scripture.
It’s the written Word of God, infallible, inspired, God-breathed, and absolutely necessary for teaching in the Christian Church.
How do we idolize the Bible? Well, by making it more than that. And yes, we can do that.
When we make reading the Bible essential for our salvation, or required for keeping our salvation, or mandatory for being a member of our church, or anything along the lines of making reading the Bible equal to having faith in, believing in, and/or having a relationship with God Himself, then we are idolizing the Bible.
When we claim that today’s modern translated Bible is word perfect and contains absolutely no mistakes in any form, we are idolizing the Bible.
When we say that someone isn’t really a Christian unless they read the Bible every day, or at least very frequently, we’re idolizing the Bible.
When believe that our Bibles contain some kind of physical supernatural power that keep us safe, keep loved ones safe, or prevent themselves from being destroyed in floods, fires, and explosions...we’re idolizing the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God, but it’s not God Himself. It can’t save us from our sins, protect us from evil, or do anything that God does. Only God does those things. It’s our map, our teacher, and it gives us the knowledge of God that He wants us to have (the Gospel!), but it’s not the Teacher or the Savior Himself.
Idolizing Human Ideas & Philosophies
C.S. Lewis once said, “There have been men before … who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but to exist. There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
This is the act of idolizing human ideas, philosophies, science, and apologetics.
When your Christianity becomes all about man-made ideas and philosophies used to explain God or prove God’s existence to non-believers, it can be possible to eventually worship those ideas and idolize them, rather than God Himself.
The other part of this quote is about idolizing the act of spreading of the Gospel, rather than worshiping God Himself for giving it to us in the first place. Some Christians and churches become so obsessed with spreading the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission that it becomes more important to them than God, and worshiping Him.
If your church focuses a lot of its attention, sermons, activities, and events on debating opposing viewpoints, apologetics, and studying human ideas used to prove God or things about God, they could be guilty of idolizing human ideas and philosophies.
If your church’s sermons are more about giving arguments for Christianity than teaching the Word itself to believing Christians, they could be idolizing human ideas and philosophies above God.
If your church focuses a lot of time, money, and energy on spreading the Gospel while at the same time neglecting to preach it and teach it to the Christians currently attending its services, it is ironically neglecting the Gospel itself in favor of spreading its own influence in the world.
When churches start holding classes on man-made ideas and philosophies and/or quoting extra-Biblical books and sources written by men rather than teaching the Word itself, they could be idolizing human ideas and philosophies.
When the creeds and doctrines of church fathers and highly esteemed Christian men becomes more important, referenced, and looked to for guidance than the Bible or God Himself, human ideas and philosophies are being idolized.
This kind of idolatry is prevalent in churches that are very legalistic in its doctrinal positions where a differing view on a man-made doctrine or ideology can get you excommunicated and even labeled a heretic. All because you don’t line up with one local church’s particular denominational or doctrinal position on even the most minor of issues.
It’s also common in money serving churches that like to use Christian Apologetics as a product for sale to attract more paying customers...I mean, members. They’ll sell books, seminars, classes, conferences, and more, appealing to your own intellectual idolatry to keep you coming to their church. All while worshiping God Himself, teaching the Word, and preaching the Gospel is put on the back burner.
Idolizing Money & Materialism
This is a big one, and tragically, very common. Fortunately, it’s also easy to spot and avoid.
While more legalistic churches don’t tend to have this problem (they prefer other forms of idolatry), money serving churches are the master of this form of idolatry, where their true motives lie almost completely in growing materially and financially, rather than in faith toward God.
Megachurches idolize money and materialism in the most obvious of ways, making their size, rather than God, the focal point of their ministry. If you think megachurches are the only churches guilty of this, however, you’re terribly mistaken.
Even small churches have taken up the methods of material growth and financial prosperity that megachurches practice in order to eventually become megachurches themselves. In fact, it's now become the norm in Christian churches today, and we're finding more churches with the megachurch mentality than not.
We have another post listing several signs of money serving churches to help you spot this red flag of idolatry, but a few big ones to keep in mind are the following.
Tithing: Christian giving and stewardship is between you and God, not you and your church. If your church tries to pressure you into giving money to them for whatever reason they can come up with, they are probably a money serving and materialistic church.
No Financial Transparency: A church that keeps its congregation in the dark about its finances has something to hide, and it’s very money serving and materialistic.
The Building is Huge and Gorgeous: This is an obvious sign that your church serves money and material rather than God. If your church spends a lot of money on getting bigger and beautiful on the outside, its motives and goals are all about money and material on the inside.
Other Consumer Friendly Aspects: If your church puts a lot of effort into making its environment and culture very “consumer friendly,” or in other words all about making you comfortable and complacent at church, then its aim in the end is probably a lot more about getting more members and more money than about worshiping God.
There are probably a lot more ways of practicing idolatry than we acknowledge here, but these are six of the most common and most obvious ways which our local Christian churches can and do practice it today.
Idolizing anything but God Himself is a big problem, and it’s being done far too often in our own Christian churches. If your church is practicing idolatry, speak up. As Christians, we’re commanded to worship God alone, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Worshiping anything besides Him is not okay, and a disgrace at the very least when being done by our local churches.
If you think your church is practicing idolatry but you’re unsure, request your church to be checked by contacting us and we’ll let you know what we think. At the very least, make sure that your church isn’t doing any of these six particularly idolatrous practices, and keep your eyes on Him.