One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is that idolatry is the basic condition of mankind. We love darkness (John 3:19). I was discussing this recently with my ministry partner because we’ve both had the experience repeatedly where you give someone a good book, that might have something that’s just a little bit off in it. Instead of getting the really good meat out of it, they latch on to the one thing that is really off in the book. I was telling my wife about this and I felt like God said “Don’t feel bad, they do that to my book and it has no errors!” In other words, the idols of our hearts latch onto and create false doctrine even when it is not there!
False doctrine is not so much about a particular bullet on a statement of faith, though. It’s more about the spirit which animates that doctrine or movement. You could reduce key pieces of that spirit into words, but what we’re really describing is how people worship idols inside the church. I’m going to address several of the most common here:
This is the most obvious one. Churches worship money. Some talk about it more than they talk about salvation. That’s a pretty good sign that you have swapped gods. Money is a tool for the Gospel. That’s it. If you are trying to get blessed, you are serving mammon, not God. If you think God is you driving a fancy car, you are in idolatry. Real Christians try to bless, not be blessed. Check out this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIdTFSIj8AI
This one is common across all denominations. Men love to worship men, and the church is no different than the football field in this way. Some churches will treat pastors as if they are part of some god-like class of people that stands apart from all others. They, like the pope, speak ex cathedra, and everything they say is gospel. Their every wish is met at the snap of a finger by an “armor-bearer.” They are considered super-spiritual and super holy.
Success is the idol of many pastors and whole church movements. Being a “made man” a pastor of a big church is the sign that you have arrived, that God has blessed you and that you are the real deal. It can be a sign of that, or it can be the sign that you worshipped success and did whatever it took to get it. If you gather a big crowd, in the church world that is seen as success, but it may be nothing than you are teaching a pet doctrine that everyone loves to hear. Or that people love to be around the appearance of success, which you give off because you worship it. Every work will be weighed by God. Some that look great, will be simply wood, hay and stubble.
The opposite of worshipping success is worshipping authenticity. The notion here is that because you are chill, you don’t wear suits, you just “come as you are.” Your pastor wears jeans and a t-shirt, you sip coffee in your service that you are real. Sorry. Instead of being changed into God’s image, you want God to be in your image. Somehow the white, young, American, middle class, liberal look is authentic—because you happen to be that. And your parents generation who you don’t respect, is not those things, all the better. Repent .
This is becoming less popular, but still a big deal among some circles. Do you feel guilty if you didn’t read your Bible today? Nevermind that for the first three centuries of the church there was no Bible. Nevermind that for the next 11 only a few monks had them. Are you afraid of saying anything without a Bible citation? Is God only able to speak to you through the Bible? If so, then your God is not God, your God is the Bible. Since that the only thing that can speak to you, it must be God.
Your denomination, church fellowship, church network, movement or you yourself have great doctrine? If you praise your doctrine, your doctrine is your God, since only God deserves praise. The Pharisees loved their doctrine. They loved their movement. They were after all much better than the Sadducees. They did after all understand the Bible quite well and all it’s predictions of Jesus. But when He came in the flesh, they killed him, because he broke their sabbath doctrine. What if a prophet of God came and cursed your doctrine and your church movement?
The Holy Spirit
What??? How can God Himself be an idol? Well for over a thousand years the Catholic and Eastern church managed to reduce Jesus to icons and idols. Should it be a surprise that now that we have learned more about the Holy Spirit that we have made Him into an idol as well? We worship the “fun” instead of “man.” You can see this on full display when you go into a Charismatic church (and I’m Charismatic). The laughter tunnel. The “manifestations” We love people with a big amazing “God story” Not because it brings us closer to God but because it’s exciting and impressive. So it’s not really God in the person of the Holy Spirit we worship. It’s the life he brings that we turn into a dead work.