This is the third post in a series of posts on “idols” in Christianity. I have specifically been exploring those idols that are stealth, in that by themselves they are necessary and beautiful parts of the fabric of Christianity – but can sometimes be valued in our hearts and in our practices ahead of the Triune God.
I wrote about the idol of Salvation HERE. In that initial post I detailed the context and definition of the word “idol.” It may be helpful to read or re-read that part of the post before moving on.
I then wrote about how we can make our pastors and preachers and ministers idols HERE.
Today’s article will focus on how we as Christians can turn “church” into an idol. I will be writing soon about my convictions around what New Testament “church” is. So much of it is centered in the Eternal Purpose of God. For today’s purpose, though, I am using “church” how most of Western culture defines it – the place you attend worship services, and the people who gather at that place.
With this (mis)definition in mind, there exists a list of “must haves” in order for a “church” to be:
- a pastor or preacher or minister
- qualified elders
- regular meeting
- practices, ordinances and sacraments
- a sermon
A quick perusal of most church websites prominently detail these elements, and how they practice them, as what makes them different or attractive. Do you notice what is missing? It’s actually not a “what,” but a Who – JESUS.
“Churches” are often evaluated on the basis of:
- weekly attendance
Countless hours are spent in committee meetings on the above where Jesus is noticeably absent.
“Church” leaders often plan and manage with a motivation to appease the members and to keep the giving flowing. Jesus is not the Head. The primary outreach question is “How can we make our church more appealing to the outside community?” The best question is “Where is Jesus already at work in our community, and how can we join Him in His work?”
Think about some of the things we Christians sometimes say (with well-intentioned hearts, no doubt) about “church.”:
I have been praying that my lost loved one would get back in church.
I got married and felt like I needed church.
I have kids now, and so I need to go back to church.
My church saved me.
You can’t leave the (this) church! You’ll lose your covering!
They don’t go to church (usually said with sadness or judgement about another – as if because they don’t, they are lost).
Am I the only one that thinks this is way off target? Doesn’t this sound like idolatry?
Any understanding of “church” must start with Jesus Christ.
When we value elements such as pastors, preachers and ministers, elders, meetings, traditions, practices, sacraments, sermons, songs and prayers above Jesus – we have ordered things backwards.
When “churches” are evaluated on how many butts are sitting idly in the seats on Sundays; on how big or fancy or expensive or how many our buildings are; on whether the tithing and giving is high or low or growing or shrinking – we have aligned our hearts with the world.
When “church” leaders plan and work with self preservation and the sustenance of the establishment in mind – man has assumed a headship that was not his to assume.
When we claim “church” is our savior, or the agent of saving someone we love; when we think “church” will make us have a great marriage or be better parents, or when we hope “church” will put “blessings” in our bank accounts – simply by walking through the doors once a week; when we hold “the church” over someone’s head like a threat that they will lose a magic bubble of protection; when we judge someone else we barely know on the basis of whether we see their smiling face on Sunday or not – we have lost our first love.
Jesus had something to say about this, to a church long ago:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:1-5
Jesus said that when we place anything (anything) ahead of Him – even “things” of Christianity and church – we lose our first love, Him. If this is not repented of, He will remove the lampstand (representing our church) from His Presence.
The Presence of Jesus is church. He is the Church. His Presence equals Life. The absence of His Presence is death.
I think we wrongly see “church” as what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed do it – rather than as a Person, Jesus – and His Presence and work among us.
“Church” is not the agent of change for the world – as we so often speak of it and practice it, and value it in our hearts – Jesus is. The Bible does not say, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten church.” I often hear Christians say, “The church is the hope of the world.” This is kind of half-right, which really makes it all wrong. The full Truth is that Jesus is Hope in a Person (1 Timothy 1:1), and it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Christ comes first. He has a mission in the world, an Eternal Purpose. His Church is birthed via His Family and Bride and Body and House being established and expanded as the Kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus then Mission then Church. That is the proper order. If we plant Christ in the earth, His Mission in us will bring about His Church, and change the world. If we plant “churches” with “mission statements” expecting the world to come and see Jesus – well, it’s plain what that has achieved isn’t it?…and it’s far from Heaven on earth.
Jesus is all and is in all (Colossians 3:11). Only He is Pre-eminent. Only He is Supreme. Only He is Central. Only He is worthy of our worship, our lives, and our love. Let us set down the idol of “church” – if it is before Him – and return to our first Love. For in Him, we will find true “Church,” and more than we could ask or imagine.