Idols in the Sanctuary

 When Paul toured Ephesus, he noted that the Ephesians were very religious (Acts 17:22). They had shrines to everything; even one dedicated to The Unknown God. But Paul explained that they were missing the point.  He might say the same thing if he toured our churches today.

Idolatry does not necessarily confine itself to shrines outside the church. Due to an alarming rate of biblical illiteracy, as well as growing Western egocentrism, Christianity has done what the Ephesians did. It has added Jesus to a plethora of other gods, many of which are heavily glossed with spirituality and encased in selected Bible verses. But they are gods, nonetheless.

The most subtle and attractive of these gods can walk arm-in-arm with even those who would most loudly decry their presence. Yet, these impostors waltz right into the church services and out again every Sunday without challenge, often receiving a heaping dose of praise from the very pulpits that spawned them.

Personal well-being and self-worth are attractive gods that have wormed their way into American hearts without apology. We can easily embrace a God who promises health, safety, and comfort. But is it truly Yahweh we worship or is it our own satisfaction? Whose name is really on the gold-plated shrine: God's or ours? Do we really worship the Lord Himself or is it His comforting promises? Romans 1 describes in unflattering terms those who "worship the creature rather than the Creator."

Health and prosperity are twin gods as false as Romulus and Remus, yet they are worshiped to some extent by most evangelicals as though the blessings were Jehovah Himself. They are "claimed," "believed for", and enthusiastically defended, but when adversity or persecution hits with fury, we recoil in disbelief, feeling as though our god has betrayed us. And so it has.

Family is also a god that marches boldly alongside the Real One. We proudly champion this god as though surely the Lord would make an exception to the First Commandment in this case. The homeschooling movement danced perilously close to this shrine without realizing the danger. As attractive as it seems to make a spouse or precious children our whole world, we can easily slide those relationships into first place. We justify the substitution with scarcely a nod at Matthew 10:37 in which Jesus clearly says that if we love anything more than Him we are not worthy of Him.

Idolatry is not always foreign to the church. Its most tantalizing shrines are to those ideals that sound spiritual but are well-disguised substitutes for God Himself. Self loves to cloak itself in religious finery, and if we are not on guard, will replace the Triune Person who alone claims the right to be God.


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