7 Sneaky Idols Destroying the Church Today

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“Put away your idols.”

I traveled to India several years ago for mission work. I loved the culture and the people. One of the interesting sights along our travels was how common statues of idols were.

India has hundreds of gods in Hinduism, and while we were driving or walking along, we would pass a little shrine with a statue of one of those gods.

As a person of the Western world, I don’t see shrines and polytheistic gods dotting the landscape.

Or maybe I do. Just because we may not have statues of gods on our streets or in temples, that doesn’t mean we don’t deal with idolatry. 

What is an idol? An idol is worshipping the work of our own hands. Whether we make a physical idol or bow down to our own intellect and philosophy, we can participate in idolatry in a number of different ways.

The scripture is replete with examples of the people of God being told to get rid of the idols in their midst (Genesis 35:2, Joshua 24:23, Isaiah 31:7, Ezekiel 14:6).

In essence, it’s mentioned twice in the 10 Commandments: You shall have no other gods before me, and you shall make no graven images. Literally the first two.

From Jacob in Genesis to Ezekiel, hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel, Yahweh’s chosen people, the tribes he delivered and protected, continued to go back to idolatry. And God keeps calling the people back to himself.

Why is idolatry a big deal? First, because there is only one God, and to worship anything or anyone else is a lie.

Second, worshipping other gods has an effect on our behavior. In the scripture, idolatry always coincided with oppressing the poor, violence toward the innocent, and sexual immorality.

What are the idols the church should get rid of today? Here are seven.

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1. Lethargy/Passivity

1. Lethargy/Passivity

Lethargy/Passivity (called to be bold, make a stand)

In the parable of the soils, one of the plants was choked out and died because of the cares of this life and the distraction of wealth. Not prostitution or drunkenness or murder. Those sins are serious, but they didn’t choke out the life of God and kill the gospel.

The simple cares of this life did (Matthew 13:1-23). When Joshua was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land, part of the charge was to go to war with the enemies in the land, with giants and powerful armies.

God spoke to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

A generation before, the fear of those giants caused the nation of Israel to shrink back and not fight, and that generation lost its promise.

We should take note. As disciples of Christ, we’re now in a war between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, a war for the souls of people.

We are also called to be strong and bold (Ephesians 6:10), but the cares of this life distract us from the fight, cause us to shrink back, and not take up our calling. The Church has a mission. We must reject passivity and accept the purpose God has for us.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).

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2. Follow Your Heart

2. Follow Your Heart

(Heart is deceptively wicked, can’t trust our own hearts, no good thing in me).

We hear it all the time. Follow your heart. Do what you feel is right. Movies contain this theme, and songs celebrate this idea. We’ve come so far as to make it sacred. To disagree with someone’s self-identity is tantamount to evil and hate.

And “follow your heart” has entered the Church. It colors our sermons and reading of the scripture, even going so far as dismissing or twisting verses that challenge it. The Bible is clear, however. The heart isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.

Paul the Apostle declared there was nothing good in him, meaning his human nature (Romans 7:18). Paul could read this in the Old Testament.

Solomon remarked how people’s hearts are full of evil, universally (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Jesus taught throughout his ministry how we aren’t made unclean by what is external to us; sin comes from our hearts, emanates from within us (Mark 7:21-23).

Thankfully, we weren’t left there. Christ died and rose to change our hearts so we can be born again and live for him. Instead of our hearts, we can now get revelation from the one who knows all and loves us through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Let us not follow our hearts but follow the Spirit.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV).

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3. Compromise

3. Compromise

The Bible makes the transition to salvation as radical as possible. From death to life. From the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. From slavery to freedom.

These are all metaphors where the scripture attempts to express the absolute gap between being children of wrath and children of God. Following Christ isn’t a social club or self-help program. We have died to this world and been made alive in Christ.

Further, we’ve been recruited to fight with love for the souls of people through sharing the Good News and prayer and worship. There’s no middle ground.

As Jesus speaks directly to some of the churches of the first century in the Book of Revelation, he says to the infamous Laodiceans how he knows their actions, that they’re neither cold nor hot. As a result, Jesus claims he will spit them out.

He’d rather they be one or the other. Trying to find a middle ground in the war between God and Satan is worse than choosing a side.

While there is room for personal conviction throughout the New Testament, there are enough clear teachings on belief and morality to challenge any person or culture. Often, we compromise out of fear or a false idea of love.

It isn’t love to compromise regarding sin. Sin destroys and kills, and love doesn’t desire their destruction.

For some, living in certain countries, standing for God’s truth means we will pay a cost, even our very lives, and yet the Bible promises this won’t be for nothing (Revelation 12:11). For our sake and others, we must boldly stand for what is true, speaking the truth in love.

[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6, NKJV).

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4. Reliance on Programs for Church Growth

4. Reliance on Programs for Church Growth

The Western Church loves programs. We’ll make a class or a program out of anything. We’ll give it a snappy name and make a logo, book, and sell it on Amazon. All of that can be done apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a program or using people’s gift of administration to help certain things work smoothly. We should learn skills of healthy leadership.

But God loves to do new things, and too often we take a move of God and try to formulate it to try and reproduce it. We can’t. We might be able to build a company or an organization, but what happens when God wants to move us forward and change everything around? If we believe there’s power in the program or book, it’s difficult to let that go.

When Jesus arrived on Earth and began his ministry, the Jews had programs galore. They had traditions coming out of their ears. But they literally worshipped before a Holy of Holies absent of the Ark of the Covenant, the manifest presence of God.

And when God in a man showed up, they rejected and killed him. Let’s not make the same mistake. This is God’s work, and his presence and leading mean something eternal. Ministries, names on a building, and more can be used, but they are temporary. Let’s hold our own work loosely.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Psalm 127:1, NKJV).

So he answered and said to me: This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, NKJV).

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5. Leaders with Large Platforms

5. Leaders with Large Platforms

Just as we Christians love our programs, we love to put leaders on a pedestal. Some men and women are especially gifted as teachers and communicators, and we should acknowledge the gift, even honoring a person’s commitment and faithfulness to the call when so many others would have quit.

Yet we should celebrate the God who gave the gift, not the person he’s using. Even a person’s faithfulness is due to their reliance upon the grace and Spirit of God, not their own ability. The celebrity culture isn’t meant for Christians, no matter how gifted we are.

And we find it problematic and dangerous when a leader is propped up as a celebrity. Biblically, God raises up leaders, but the design is clear. God doesn’t raise up leaders to be the focus of a ministry but to teach the Church to do the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Even humans with amazing spiritual gifts are fallible and capable of flaws, and we must discern by the Spirit whatever anyone says, not simply take it as true at face value (1 Corinthians 14:29).

Further, leaders with big platforms can either compete or be a distraction from our commitment to Christ. We don’t belong to a man or woman or denomination or worldly organization. We belong to Christ alone.

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or ‘I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name (1 Corinthians 1:11-15, NKJV).

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6. Emotionalism

6. Emotionalism

There are two main ways of dealing with the world, somewhat personality-driven. I’ll be dealing with both and detailing the main issue with each. The first is emotionalism. Most people don’t make decisions based on logic, despite what they say.

Great ads make an emotional appeal. The ad might give facts regarding the product or service, but the appeal is emotional. Be better, feel better, be like that person or family, don’t miss this opportunity, etc.

People share ads that “made them cry” about families. The issue becomes when we do the same in the church. Our emotions were created by God and designed to exist within relationship with him. The gospel isn’t based on an emotional appeal, nor is it designed to make us happy.

Happiness is temporary, a result based on stimuli. We are called to die to ourselves, take up our cross, and have true life (Matthew 16:25-26), the opposite of happiness. But having true, eternal life gives us God’s joy, something no one can take away.

When we give the gospel or try to attract people to our churches with an emotional appeal, we’re robbing them of the true gospel of self-sacrifice which will give them what their souls long for, eternal hope, joy, peace, and love.

Emotionalism leads people to seek their own pleasure, which becomes what we call licentiousness. Our emotions are redeemed by following God and submitting to his revealed Truth.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4, NKJV).

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (2 Peter 2:19, NKJV).

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7. Intellectualism

7. Intellectualism

The second way of approaching the world, based on our personality, is intellectualism. Some people are extremely smart. They have talent in processing information often difficult for others, or perhaps large amounts of it.

Just as God has given us emotion, he gave us a brain, and we should exercise it with education. However, we must be careful when dealing with the intellectual. Philosophy and academia have wrestled with the same questions for thousands of years, to no effect.

Intellect alone can’t bring us to truth. The Apostle Paul understood this better than anyone. Probably the most educated of the apostles, he started out killing Christians with that big brain. It took the revelation of Jesus to correct him, not a better argument.

Hence, when writing to the Corinthians, Paul explains how he didn’t come to them with clever arguments. He didn’t want their faith based on clever arguments but upon the person of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

This is after he explained how the Jews were offended by the cross (emotionalism) and the Greek philosophical culture thought the cross was stupid, so they both rejected Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).

Even if we spend every moment of our lives learning information, our intellect is woefully limited. Again, our intellect is redeemed when we submit to the revelation of God who knows all and loves us. This we have through the Spirit of God.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8, NKJV).

Father, help us to put away these idols and return to you and you alone, the only sure foundation for love and life (1 Corinthians 3:11-17). Amen.

For further reading:

How Can Busyness Become an Idol?

How Can Marriage Become an Idol?

Can Being True to Ourselves Become an Idol?

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This article originally appeared on Christianity.com. For more faith-building resources, visit Christianity.com. Christianity.com


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