Though we do not bow down to idols made of stone or wood, the heart idols are numerous in our culture. Money, sex, family, reputation, fame, friends, leisure, religion, material things, politics, food, and the list could go on and on. That idols prevail in a culture that is enmity against God is to be expected. Yet, it seems idols can creep into the worship of the Church also. Two of the most detrimental idols within the Church are materialism and low views of God.
Materialism is harmful because there exists such an attraction in the human heart for shiny things. Our hearts are made for God yet they also as Calvin once said are idol factories. Good things are good things as long as they don’t become ultimate things. If Christ should be anything in the lives of his followers, he should be preeminent above all. Anything else that gets first place is disrespectful and demeaning to him. The first problem with materialism is we impoverish ourselves spiritually when we give ourselves over to this heart idol. Our devotional lives become stunted when we begin to try to hold on to the things of the world while also holding on to Christ. Our hearts aren’t large enough to love the things of the world system as well as God. Jesus himself said not to store up treasures on this earth where moth and decay could reach them. We are to store up treasures in heaven.
I’ve always been encouraged by Hebrews 13:5 which says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” What struck me odd was the why given for the command. Keep yourself away from the love of money because he promises to never leave or forsake you. That seems odd until you realize why money and material things are so addicting and enrapturing. We are trying to fill a void or find security apart from the very source of peace and rest. Money and material things can never offer the peace Jesus gives. The second problem with materialism is we are called to address the physical and spiritual needs of the world. 28,000 children died today from starvation and preventable diseases while most self-professing American believers did not bat an eye. How can a materialistic Church reach a material culture for Christ? I submit it cannot!
The second and likely most pernicious idol are low views of God. A.W. Tozer wrote in his wonderful little book The Knowledge of the Holy, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of him.” We have created an idol in our hearts when we envision God as someone the biblical record either denies or doesn’t teach. Most people in our culture and increasingly in evangelical churches are sliding further and further away from the biblical God and thus giving themselves over to the worship of an idol. Everyone seems to love waxing and waning about the love, mercy, and patience of God yet there’s little talk anymore about the holiness, justice, or wrath of God. This is dangerous because the cross was in response to both the love and the justice of God. R.C. Sproul said, “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath is an idol.” Santa Claus theology cannot cope with the complex and multifaceted evils of the world and cannot offer a God who is able to save. Only the biblical God is worthy of worship. We dare not capitulate to what the culture deems acceptable in our preaching and teaching lest we put God out on the dock. It seems better to be out on the dock with God than stuck in a crumbling house of cards in our culture.
What can we do about these two specific idols within our culture? I’ll offer a few admonishments.
1-Preach the entire Bible, verse by verse and book by book. God inspired 66 whole books. The value of preaching the entire Bible is you can address numerous issues and provide an adequate portrait of who God is from Genesis to Revelation.
2-Repent. The great hymn writer William Cowper remarked, “The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.” The best solution to idolatry is to turn from it and flee to God.
3-Address pressing physical and spiritual needs in the wider world. It is a tragedy that there are still over 6000 unreached people groups and that there are in fact starving Christians. The vast majority of Christians are now in the Global South and most live in destitute impoverishment. As Phillip Jenkins noted, “When American Christians see the images of starvation from Africa, like the hellish visions from Ethiopia in the 1980s, very few realize that the victims share not just a common humanity, but in many cases the same religion. Those are Christians starving to death.” We need to partner with mercy ministries and missions organizations to address such concerns.
4-Despite how uncomfortable it will be from time to time, preach on money. Jesus mentioned it a lot. Many times what we do with our wallets tells a lot about our hearts. When we find ourselves blessed with extra funds, our standard of giving should rise; not our standard of living.
5-Model the love and self-giving humility of Jesus to your congregation. The Church has to see the ministers giving, teaching, serving, preaching, and sacrificing or they will not do it themselves. We must both share and show the love of God.
I agree with Jim Hamilton in his Revelation commentary when he said, “We must come to the point where what matters most to us is faithfulness to God. Faithfulness to the word of God and the gospel must be more important to us than pleasure, more important to us than leisure, and more important to us than life itself. We must value faithfulness to God and his word more than we value the ability to go on living our peaceful, happy lives.” May it be so!