I don’t feel like the modern church does well with its own idolatry. The church points out the false gods of those outside of the bride of Christ but I don’t think we do a good job of pointing out our own false gods. This is partially because we have mistaken the role of the prophet. We tend to think that the prophet goes to those who are not followers of God and shouts “you are sinning and not following God.” That does happen. It is what Jonah reluctantly does. The beginning of the book of Amos is another example of a prophet doing just this. Amos looks to the nations surrounded Israel and says:
3 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Damascus,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because she threshed Gilead
with sledges having iron teeth,
4 I will send fire on the house of Hazael
that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.
5 I will break down the gate of Damascus;
I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven
and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden.
The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. (Amos 1:3-5)
HOWEVER preaching about the sins of those who aren’t followers of YHWH isn’t the primary role that the prophet fills. Typically the prophet goes to the people of God and says “Hey you’re supposed to be acting like the people of God and you’re not.” The prophet primarily confronts those who claim to be the faithful.
Which is why I think the church struggles with its own idolatry. The church doesn’t confront its own false gods. We would rather preach against other people’s false gods. Here are some of the idols that I believe are inside the church being worshiped instead of God.
Celebrity – Celebrity is the cultural currency of the world outside the church, and unfortunately it is also the cultural currency of the church. The celebrity pastor is a pretty big thing and it isn’t even really a new thing. Of course, pastors aren’t the only ones being turned into celebrities. Bloggers, bible study leaders, and others are turned into idols that Christians flock too. We have established a culture within the Bride of Christ that lifts up celebrity status as the goal, we just say we’re going to use our celebrity status to tell people about Jesus. Therefore Pastors aim to be writers and speakers rather than pastors.
Power /Success – Just like the world around us we love success and power. Our love of success and power often leads to us idolizing them. Somehow a successful person must be holier than an unsuccessful person. If they are powerful God must have honored them with the power and if they are weak it is probably because of immoral choices. So we treat weakness as those it is the result of sin and power as if it is the result of holiness. You doubt this? When is the last time you heard someone demand drug testing of corporate executives before their companies could receive government subsidies (corporate welfare) versus when you heard the same request concerning the weak and the poor? We proclaim the weak messiah to be Lord but we lift up power in our churches.
Relevance – This one might be a stretch but I feel like many in the church feel the need to make sure that the gospel relates and connects with “real” life. So we lead parenting classes, financial courses, etc. etc. These are good things but they aren’t the main thing. Still we put our trust for church growth in our ability to show that the message of Jesus relates to better lives. Christianity isn’t about people living their best lives. It is about Jesus making the way inviting us to be a part of His kingdom of grace. We don’t shape the gospel to fit “real” life, we allow the gospel to shape our lives around it. I doubt the apostles lived “their best lives”, but they did live faithful, kingdom lives, which cost them everything.
Size – Bigger is better. We all know that. So many things in the world around us point to this. So we live it out in our churches too. If you aren’t growing then you aren’t being faithful. After all, healthy things grow. At least that’s the analogy we often use in the church, never stopping to think that it is actually healthy things mature, not necessarily grow. How many 10′ tall people do you know? If you met one do you think they would be very healthy or riddled with health issues because humans weren’t meant to grow to such height? Jesus’s ministry shrank from possibly 25,000 followers to around 300 at the point of his death and resurrection. Was His ministry healthy? I think so!
There are so many other things I could mention. Money. Beauty (look at the beautiful people we put on our stages). Etc. Etc. We sing and talk a lot about being so different from the world but most of the time our churches live out the same values as the world. We trust in strength and power. We shout down and hate our enemies. We show favoritism to the rich and powerful. And so on and so on.
Our Lord won His victory on the cross through weakness, suffering, and apparent defeat. Maybe our churches should be more like that. Are you looking for a church right now, maybe consider finding a weak one.