Idolatry Is Alive and Well in Evangelical Christianity
In the last verse of the epistle of 1 John, we read these words from the NIV translation: “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” This is a seemingly odd way to abruptly end the epistle. But when you read the same verse in the NLT translation, it gets clearer. “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” But my favorite is from the Message translation in which I include part of the previous verse. “This Jesus is both True God and Real Life. Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles.”
So this is what idolatry is, putting anything in our lives that is more important than the Lord. But it is subtle this idolatry thing. It comes up in ways that many of us don’t even recognize until our hearts have been captured.
In our current cultural environment I see this idolatry expressed in these three Ps: Politicians, Pastors, and Personalities.
Let’s start with Politicians. We are in the midst of an election, so it is no surprise that there is much discussion about who Christians should vote for and why. But lately I have come to this interesting conclusion. It matters who I vote for and yet it doesn’t matter. What I mean is, in a democratic political system people have an obligation to vote intelligently for men and women they believe will do the best for society. While this true, it is not the complete story.
No matter who wins, Christians should also believe that God is completely in control. This implies that He can still accomplish his will, no matter who is in power, period! An interesting illustration here might help. I am opposed to abortion and believe that taking life in the womb is wrong. A recent study published by Christianity Today, noted a downward trend on abortions since 1992. Of the past three administrations, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, only Bush was a declared pro-life president. Both Clinton and Obama were supportive of keeping abortion legal. But interestingly, these statistics showed that while the rate declined in all three administrations, the greatest decline happened under Obama’s administration, followed next by Clinton’s, and then Bush.
Now the reasons are more involved than this post can address, but my point is simple. God can intervene no matter who is president, or governor, or any other elected official for that matter. So yes, we should vote for the person we think is the best candidate for our values. But if we believe that person is God’s only solution and begin to elevate that individual to some divine like status, then we have become idolaters.
I love to hear certain pastors and preachers more than others. I especially enjoy Steven Furtick because I believe he rightly preaches the word and has some terrific spiritual insights. But if I see him as infallible and become defensive if there are legitimate criticisms of his ministry, then I have relegated him to an idolatrous status.
Years ago ABC news did an exposé on certain pastors and televangelists who were engaged in blatant, inappropriate activities. The evidence was crystal clear, yet many of their supporters blamed the media as tools of the devil. This is idolatry at work.
When famous personalities, whether athletes or entertainers become Christians, I have often seen churches and other evangelical groups immediately reach out to them to share their testimony or even preach to an adoring congregation.
This can be very dangerous because these babes in Christ need time to be discipled, learn about their new found faith, and be more anchored in Christ before being promoted publicly. Spiritual immaturity can raise its ugly head in a public setting and many times pride takes over. This can translate into making bad decisions and behavior that bring reproach to the faith or even worse, they could walk away from God.
A recent example was when Joel Osteen invited Kanye West to speak to his congregation, not only about his conversion but also to comment on spiritual issues. Since that broadcast, there have been speculations about West struggling with mental illness and that has led some people to shake their heads about the reality of his conversion.
So how can we know if we have fallen into an idolatrous pattern? I don’t think there is a surefire way to always know, because it is ultimately about a heart attitude. But here is a practical gauge: if you as a believer talk or post significantly more on social media about a politician, a pastor, or a personality than Jesus, you might ask yourself if that individual has gripped your heart more than our Savior.
Remember, Jesus has to be our number one at all costs. He said if we love anything or anyone more than him, then we are not worthy of him. So at the end of the day we want the real thing and not a clever facsimile.