The Church and Her Idols


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

I recently read an important article called “Why Do So Many Churchgoers Have Abortions?” It is a very good question indeed. But it is really just a subset of a much bigger question: “Why is the church so much like the world?” In fact, plenty more such questions immediately come to mind, questions such as:

-Why do so many churchgoers divorce?
-Why do so many churchgoers fall into sexual immorality?
-Why do so many churchgoers regularly engage in known, sinful practices?
-Why are so many churchgoers indistinguishable from non-Christians?
-Why do so many churchgoers have idols in their midst?

The list could go on and on. And a good part of the answer is one which most people in the pews and most leaders in the pulpits refuse to even countenance: Why are there so many non-believers in our churches? Regrettably, many of our churches are filled with people who are not regenerate, who are not actually born-again.

They go through the motions, sing the hymns, and have an outward show of religiosity, but inwardly they are still at heart rebels against God, and have not truly made Christ Lord. They are still acting as the boss, and they refuse to truly and fully turn over their entire life to their maker and their judge.

Our churches are full of those who do not really know him. And our churches are full of idols. But this has always been the case with God’s people. I have been reading the book of Jeremiah in my daily reading again, and there are of course plenty of warnings about idols found therein.

God’s people of old were just as rebellious, just as distant from Yahweh, and just as full of idols. Jeremiah chapter 2 for example is a devastating critique of the people’s idolatry, and Jer 2:11-13 is just one key text from this important chapter:

“Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols.
Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the LORD.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Wow, what a powerful indictment of a wayward people? Or consider Jer 5:21-24:

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes but do not see,
who have ears but do not hear:
Should you not fear me?” declares the LORD.
“Should you not tremble in my presence?
I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail;
they may roar, but they cannot cross it.
But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the LORD our God’.”

Are things really any different today in so many of our churches? Is there a genuine fear and awe of the living God? Or has God been tamed, domesticated, and brought down to our level? Is he just our friend, buddy, or worse, a celestial servant who exists to do our every bidding?

Do we think we can just snap our fingers and get God to do whatever we want? Of course it should be the other way around. We exist to do his bidding. We exist to serve him. We exist to bring him honour and glory. Yet far too many believers think that God is a heavenly Jeeves who merely exists to give us all our selfish wants.

We have turned God into an idol in other words. He has become an idol fashioned in our own image. We decide who and what God will be like, and expect him to march in step with our demands. That is a very dangerous place to be in. As Jer 5:11-13 warns:

“The people of Israel and the people of Judah
have been utterly unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord.
They have lied about the Lord;
they said, “He will do nothing!
No harm will come to us;
we will never see sword or famine.
The prophets are but wind
and the word is not in them;
so let what they say be done to them.”

It is because we have rejected the true prophets of God and embraced the false prophets that we have been lulled to sleep. We think things will continue to go along just swimmingly. We vainly believe God is just peachy keen with a wayward church, and no harm will befall it.

Well, God is no man’s debtor. He does not owe the church in the West anything. It can easily go under in a day if God removes his protective hand from it. And that may well be the case in the decadent West, where the church has become just as decadent in so many ways.

So I return to my first question: “Why Do So Many Churchgoers Have Abortions?” The answer seems clear: “My people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” as Jesus said in Matthew 15:8. There is plenty of superficial religion in our churches today.

Just how much of our Christian life is mere churchianity? Far more than most of us dare to acknowledge. But God will not always allow his name to be dragged in the mud and his honour to be tarnished. We all need to go back to the messages found in Revelation 2 and 3. We all need to repent of our dead works and our lukewarmness.

And we need to do it soon. God’s Spirit will not always strive with man, as we read in Genesis 6:3. A time of reckoning must come. Sure it may not be in the form of another flood, but God will not allow his bride to be stained, impure, defiled, and unclean. He will act to present a perfect and spotless bride to the Son. He has to act.

So let us not read over the warnings as found in Jeremiah so glibly. They are just as relevant for the church today as they were for ancient Israel. And in the process, let us keep asking the hard questions, such as why there is so much abortion and other sin in our churches today.

Let me conclude with two important quotes:

“The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody. He manages to stay pretty much with the constitution. Never break our by-laws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much like one of us…we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for.” -A.W. Tozer

“The ‘god’ of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The ‘god’ who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible Conferences is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form ‘gods’ out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a ‘god’ out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. A ‘god’ whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits nought but contempt.” -A.W. Pink

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