Modern idolatry

Mankind has been engaged in idolatry from the beginning of time. The funny thing about idols is that we seem to be unusually adept at spotting the idols of others while remaining completely blind to our own. We easily spot the idol of the Israelites when they bowed down and worshipped a golden calf. We even ridicule their foolishness. Yet many American Christians are engaged in an idolatry every bit as foolish and heinous in the eyes of God. Our words declare our sole allegiance to God — but our actions betray our true allegiance. Today we often worship at the alter of cultural whim or the alter of the state.

Sometimes both.

The recent New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta is a good example. According to a story in the Baptist Press, novelist John Grisham spoke at the meeting and said it is time for Baptists to stop reading the Bible with so-called narrow literalness and celebrate diversity. The New Baptist Covenant’s own website encourages believers to put aside their differences — including theological differences. The implication is anyone who won’t put aside theological differences is intolerant and narrow-minded. My question is this: how many biblical doctrines are you willing to compromise for the sake of unity. If unity is the ultimate goal then should we compromise all of our biblical doctrines? That would certainly make unity with everyone much easier to achieve.

Mormons claim to have faith in Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to believe Jesus is the Son of God. I’ve even heard a Muslim say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. But the gods these groups worship bear no resemblance to the God I see revealed in the Bible. Only the Jesus of the Bible is capable of saving. Only the God of the Bible is worthy of our worship.

The primary purpose of the church is to bring glory to God. Part of that charge, according to Jude 1, is to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Christians are to glorify the one, true God, period. Compromising His identity for the sake of unity with those who deny Him is sinful.

shieldcoinssm.jpgAny god that is different from the God revealed in the Bible is a false god — even if it has been given the same name. It is idolatry to worship such gods. But many of us don’t see the problem with this.

Likewise, we mistake God’s covenant people — the church — with society at large. American Christians have developed an attitude whereby we think American citizenship is akin to being a member of God’s elect. An example of this was also on display at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration.

According to the Baptist Press report, Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, called on Baptists to take the lead in lifting children out of poverty.

Her solution?

For the church to speak against making president Bush’s tax cuts permanent.

“The number of children in poverty has increased by 2 million since 2000, and our uninsured children have increased by 1 million in the last two years, and our political leaders say we don’t have the money to provide five years of $70 billion but say we can afford to give tax cuts to billionaires in the top 1 percent, which costs $76 billion in lost revenue this year alone,” Edelman said. “That money could lift every child out of poverty and provide all uninsured children and pregnant women with healthcare. And you need to raise your voices and oppose any efforts to make those tax cuts permanent.”

In this “celebration” people who claim to be Christians are advocating the use of the state to accomplish the good works God has assigned to the church. And in our culture to question this is to be labeled as uncaring.

“Don’t you care about the children?”

Of course, but Jesus never advocated the state as an agent of God’s grace. That role belongs to the church — and for good reason.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus is teaching his disciples and says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither to people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everybody in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men…”

Now, who is Jesus talking about?

Believers. Christians. The Church — NOT the state.

And why are Christians to let their lights shine before men? (This is key)

“…that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The Church is to dispense grace so that the world may praise God. If we turn over our responsibility as God’s instrument of grace to the state what happens?

  1. God does not get the praise.
  2. People no longer see the grace they receive as grace. They come to view it as an “entitlement.” Something they are owed. They figure the state should continue to pay them simply on the basis that they want it.
  3. We create a society that views robbery as charity.

At this point many Christians would disagree with me on the basis of Romans 13 — claiming that God instituted our federal government and so we must submit to it if it decides to act in matters of grace in the church’s place.

In the first place that is an erroneous view of the biblical role of government according to Romans 13. The role of government is the restraint of evil, period. That is the biblical view and the view of America’s founders based on the Declaration of Independence.

eightballsm.jpgIt is completely consistent for a Christian to submit to a legitimate government as expressed in Scripture. But a government that oversteps its rightful authority deserves no such submission. The writer Albert Jay Nock probably expressed the differences between legitimate and illegitimate government better than anyone. In fact, he said there are two political institutions, not one — government and the state.

When the law is designed to secure an individual’s inherent rights against those who would violate them you have government. This is the kind described in Romans 13 and the Declaration of Independence. But when the law is perverted so as to legally disadvantage some for the benefit of others you have the state. Using the power of the state to force people to unwillingly pay to benefit others is contrary to legitimate government and Scripture.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

The prevailing theology of the day is unity above all else. Its goal is not to offend. Its gods are cultural philosophies and the state. And, even if it is completely successful, its only end will be to make the world a better place to go to hell from.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

One Response to Modern idolatry

  1. jobtwenteewun1to3 says:

    an excellent post. Thanks.

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