Yesterday I read a post on what Tim Keller has identified as the three biggest idols in the Western church today.
His list includes the following:
1. Experience instead of the Word of God.
2. Doctrine saving people as opposed to Jesus.
That’s a pretty good list, but those seem to be rather large intangible things. I don’t necessarily disagree with Keller’s ideas. I just think they are a bit too big to get our hands around.
Maybe it has to do with how I’m thinking about idols. A definition I like is: an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship. In other words, it’s something tangible that people confuse with God. There are a ton of idols out there. Here’s my own list of the three biggest ones that I can think of in the Western Church today.
1. Church buildings. Church buildings can be beautiful. I’ve visited many gorgeous churches and cathedral in Northern Europe over the last year. They are amazing architectural feats. They are filled with amazing art pieces. They are places where reverent worship of God can take place.
But they also happen to be places where people can become very attached to these buildings. You know what I’m talking about. Any suggestion for a change to a church can create huge arguments. Imagine where a suggestion to demolish a church will go. “But great grandpa Smith helped build this church and put in this pew right here.” Some people raise the importance of the building to the level of actual holiness. Let’s remember that the building is just a building ultimately. If a fire destroys the building, the church still lives on.
2. Our church habits. While not tangible as a category, I bet you can think of concrete examples here that involve tangible things. “This is our pew,” “We have always done worship at 8am,” “Martha takes cares of setting the altar, don’t mess with it.”
So many of these things become holy relics in a way – beyond the average lay person’s touch. We act as though we believe that disturbing any of these holy habits will bring about the wrath of God who will smite us for bringing change.
3. Organizational metrics. Metrics are a big thing. Businesses have metrics, non-profits do. So do churches. The most common metrics in churches are typically attendance, income, expenses, and pastoral visits. These aren’t necessarily bad things. They are organizational metrics. Often though, we seem to get stuck on these metrics as a measure of success. We get caught up in the “more-is-better” mentality of the world.
So how do we overcome these idols? First, pray. It’s God’s action, not ours. It’s good to remember that. When we pray, we listen to what God is calling us and our congregation to be and to do. Second, let go of the attachments. We are not in control. Ultimately, idols are humanity’s way of trying to control life and God. If something is tangible, it means we can touch it, measure, define it. When we are able to do those things, we think we are in control of it. But God doesn’t work that way. A good question for self-examination is: Are we attached to _____? What would happen if we got rid of ______? Would we still be a church? What would make us uncomfortable about getting rid of _____?
What do you see as the big idols in the church today?