If you are holding to an ideology that doesn’t bring you closer to God, then you need to rethink your ideology.
It is far too easy to make an idol out of our theology. Healthy theology will bring you closer to God. Unhealthy/unbalanced theology will fill you more with yourself. And that is true to the left and to the right.
Theology for theology’s sake does us little good. Being liberal or legalist for its own sake does us little good. Far too often a theological label becomes a symbol for something deeper – being a person who cares or a person who takes God more seriously than other people often in contradistinction or comparison with others.
It is important that we assess the heights to which we elevate theological labels and what we tell ourselves about the labels we adopt.
In the Bible idolatry almost always came from the outside. It came from the Egyptians. It came from the Canaanites. There are a few exceptions like Gideon’s ephod in Judges 8 but by and large even the idols that cropped up among the Israelites came from outside influence (golden calf of Exodus 32-34 for instance).
The same is true today – theological idolatry comes from the outside, and depending on which influences sway you most (your theological leaning will be determined) – modernism, post-modernism, post-post modernism, secular humanism, etc..
In the Bible, Idols serve various purposes and it is important that we tune into their purposes so we can identify if we are committing theological idolatry:
1 – Idols become a visible explanation of past success
We see this in Exodus 32 with the golden calf when it is the calf who was said to have brought them out of Egypt. Do we attribute our salvation with our methodology or theology rather than God?
2 – Idols blend secular and sacred, again coming from outside pagan influence
We see this when things like modernism or post-modernism upend our faith in one direction or the other. We don’t even know we are doing it – it is so natural to us to blend cultural biases with our faith. It is very hard NOT to do this! And it is a misnomer to think that the past is always better and more bias free than the present. We see this in the Bible in places like Isaiah 44 and Habakkuk 2 where idols are and wood to warm your food are cut from the same tree. It is a non-discerning blending of the secular and the sacred. The reality is BOTH pieces of wood are being used to fill your belly, not just the one you set on fire but also the one you worship.
3 – When you place anything above God in direct or indirect worship
People aren’t bowing down to wooden and golden idols in church so much but it can be done subtly. We must ask who and what we are putting before honoring God and being faithful to him. One of the things we see in these passages in the prophets and Judges 8:27 is that idolatry is spiritual adultery. We must be faithful to God in all things.
4 – Looking for an object for future hope.
We want to control our future but we cannot. So we do things to manipulate the outcome and often forget to seek God’s help in the process. Like an idol, that is spiritual magic and manipulation rather than faith. Again, see Judges 8. Maybe we seek a bigger budget rather than God’s daily provision in order to secure a vibrant congregational future?
5 – When you cling to visible representations of invisible things
This is a big sign of spiritual immaturity – people want Sunday to look just right. If the visible is out of line so must the invisible, the feeling goes – the bread must be set correctly, the giving baskets separate and apart – little discernment that your life is out of order 143 hours a week…it must look right! In some assemblies, removing an American flag would cause an uproar amongst some.
6 – And if you really want to tell if you are worshiping an idol take note of the 2nd commandment – do not worship or serve them, God said.
Take note of who you serve…who you put first and WHY. Do you serve the rich above the poor, take their advice over the other? Are you serving nationalism or Jesus? The purpose of the church is to worship and serve God. He never comes second. Second is idolatry. Pay attention!
In all things we must declare our fidelity to God and serve him only. We must be faithful and avoid the spiritual adultery that is idolatry!
If you would like to hear more thoughts on this, I encourage you to watch today’s video on the Wineskins YouTube channel!