The Essence of Idolatry

When we think of idolatry we frequently think only of pagans bowing down to some statue they regard as a god. Because of this perception, many Christians think there no longer exists a problem with idolatry. After all, we don’t construct golden calves and bow to them. We’ve moved past that issue.

If we believe this, it is to our own detriment. Idolatry is much more subtle than we realize. It is more seductive and much more common, too.

A.W. Tozer once provided a wonderful explanation concerning the essence of idolatry. It is a warning we all need to heed.

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.

“When they knew God,” wrote Paul, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, What is God like?”

An ever-deepening problem in the modern church is the increasing infatuation with the idea of “relevancy” — especially in the west. Just visit any “Christian” bookstore and you will see this is true. The highest percentage of shelf space is dedicated to books about how to use God’s power to obtain worldly gain. God is viewed as a means to our own desired ends. And this attitude perfectly illustrates Tozer’s point.

Thid-BibleThe God of the Bible is first concerned with His own glory. The “relevant” god of  modern Christianity is first concerned with our comfort. This “relevant” god is too much like us, too much like our culture and is nothing more than a creation from the minds of men. Without realizing it, too many people have done exactly what Tozer warned against — they’ve gotten the wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” Which makes them idolaters, worshipping a god every bit as created by men as the golden calf the Israelites made.

Perhaps digging deeply into Scripture to discover the true nature and character of God is the most “relevant” thing we can study after all.

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 The Essence of Idolatry

  1. Anthropomorphizing.
    Good post. I enjoyed it.

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