[Church life] From the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO.
Are we in danger breaking the commandment and don't even know it?
by Bob Hostetter
King Ahaz wasn't looking for trouble, necessarily. He had imply
traveled to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-Pileser, the
Assyrian king who had recently come to Ahaz's aid. There, a pagan
altar caught his eye, and he sent back instructions to Uriah, the
priest of God at the temple in Jerusalem.
"So Uriah the priest built an altar, just like the plans King
Ahaz had sent him from Damascus. Uriah finished the altar before
King Ahaz came back from Damascus. When the king arrived from
Damascus, he saw the altar and went near and offered sacrifices
on it. He burned his burnt offerings and grain offerings and
poured out his drink offering. He also sprinkled the blood of his
fellowship offerings on the altar. Ahaz moved the bronze altar
that was before the Lord at the front of the Temple. It was
between Ahaz's altar and the Temple of the Lord, but he put it on
the north side of his altar" (2 Kings 16:11-14, NCV). Ahaz didn't
have the bronze altar, the altar of God's house, moved out of the
temple. He simply had it moved aside, and placed the new altar in
the temple as well.
We may be doing much the same thing in our churches. We haven't
turned our backs on the one true God or stopped worshiping Him,
but we have allowed some of the pagan idols that surround us to
creep into the sanctuary. Sometimes we have lugged them in
ourselves. And some we have even placed in prominent places.
We don't keep a golden calf in our vestibule or chant prayers
to an image, but that doesn't necessarily mean that our lives are
free of idols. It may just mean that our idols are more subtle.
It may mean that the idols we worship, we worship in ignorance,
as the ancient Athenians did (Acts 17:23). Here are a few of the
We shop around until we find a church we like. It's natural to
consider practical needs when evaluating a church and its
ministries. But in doing so, we become consumers and not
followers of Him who said, "For even the Son of Man did not come
to be served, but to serve ..." (Mark 10:45, NASB).
The idol of consumerism goes deeper than that, however. We attend
for a while and eventually join - until something happens.
Perhaps the pastor failed to visit us in the hospital. Or the
lady in the nursery snapped at us when we were late picking up
our children. Or the church grows to a point where we don't feel
"at home" anymore.
So we move on. We find another church, until something happens
there. And then we move on again. Through it all, we treat the
body of Christ like a mall or a health club, instead of seeing it
as God sees it: as a community, a family, a body.
Walk into any Christian bookstore and many churches, and you'll
see that we Christ-followers are as prone to celebrity worship as
everyone around us - perhaps more so! We idolize famous ath-
letes, authors, preachers, singers - not primarily because of how
God uses them but just because they're famous. And sometimes we
rush from church to church or conference to conference following
not God, but the "anointing" we believe that person has. Author
Marva Dawn writes: The danger of such "fame" became apparent to
me several years ago when a teenager who had heard me speak at a
large youth convention saw me in a store in Portland and begged
for my autograph. I asked her why my signature was more valuable
than hers. We are all equally significant members of the Body of
Christ, are we not? We all have crucial parts to play in the
church's ministry to the world. The Church should be the last
place where anyone is thought to be more important than anyone
Many evangelical churches have bought into a culture of
excellence that values the flawless, flashy performance, the
charismatic personality, the insane pace. Spiritual director
Kasey Warren Hitt says, "Working as a youth pastor in a large,
growing church that had a high level of excellence was
exhilarating at first. It felt professional, a cut above the
rest. I believed we had figured out how to make the Gospel of
Grace attractive, through the most relevant music, drama, decor
and message. But I couldn't escape the feeling that something was
not quite right. Looking back after a battle with burnout, it
dawned on me: we preached and performed grace, but our lives did
not reflect grace, neither for us nor for anyone else. Therefore,
it felt like a false invitation, something we knew in word, but
America itself is a prominent idol in many evangelical churches.
Author and pastor Mike Erre writes "Call it patriotism, call
it activism, call it anything you want, but all too often it's a
thinly disguised form of idolatry. We're fortunate to be
Americans, and we can afford to be justifiably proud of our
nation. But it's so easy to step across the line when singing the
praises, not of God, but of America and the American way."
Bob Russell cites what one man wrote when he heard that flags
were about to be removed from the church sanctuary and used only
for special events. "As a member of this church and a U.S. Navy
veteran, I challenge the authority and necessity of taking down
the American Flag and the Christian Flag from the Sanctuary. What
kind of church are we becoming?"
How ironic that churches, pastors, and church members who claim
to follow the One who talked repeatedly about seeking out last
place (Mark 9:35), taking the lowest position in a social setting
(Luke 14:10), and including the least "important" people in your
plans (v. 13) seem so enamored of size and success. Pastor and
author Jim Kallam points out:
"Scan ads in Christian periodicals and you'll reach this
conclusion: Success can be yours. If you need to know how to
market your church, try this or that program .... Listen to how
we describe churches. Our words ooze success: 'Fastest growing
church in the Southwest.' 'Largest in their denomination.' 'The
church with the key to reaching the next generation.'"
Kallam goes on to mention a book that identifies the top one
hundred churches in America. Think about that. Do you doubt that
size, prestige, and fame were among the criteria for making the
Casting down our idols
These are just some of the idols that have crept into our
churches. They may be harder to recognize than a golden calf, and
harder to correct. But our modern American idols are as abhorrent
to God as the idols that tempted ancient Israel. If we don't do
something about them, they will corrupt and devastate us just as
they did the Israelites.
So how do we cast down our idols?
The first step is acknowledgment. When we recognize an idol, we
must be humble and repentant, call our pet idolatries by their
proper name - sin - and confess each to God.
Once aware of an idol, we must not only refuse to bow to it any
longer but also avoid reinforcing it. We must clearly and
consciously "set apart Christ as Lord," even as we are careful to
make our case "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Russell says one way to accomplish that in the church is
by using humor whenever possible. "For example, we have three
preachers on our preaching team. I wear a tie when speaking, but
Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman do not. So we frequently joke about
it during the sermon and try to make the congregation see the
levity of it."
Finally, casting down our idols will mean giving ourselves anew
to prayer and devoting ourselves to the cultivation of new
beliefs and new behaviors. We must beg God to replace our false
gods with His sufficiency. We must yield to God our consumer
attitudes and let Him teach us how to serve, how to give our
lives, how to excel in the "grace of giving" (2 Corinthians 8:7,
We must turn our backs on celebrity worship and learn instead to
value and imitate the "meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29,
KJV). We must relinquish our allegiance to "excellence" and
pursue both quality and grace. And we must likewise surrender our
exaltation of America and our embrace of success, asking God, in
the words of the hymn writer:
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee (William Cowper, 1772).