When “church” Becomes Idol…

***Disclaimer: for this particular post the word “church” will be used in reference to church as a place, program, service, institution, gathering, etc. Obviously, these things should not define “church”, but we are going to look at what happens when the things above somehow sneak in and become more important than Jesus, and people knowing Him as Lord.***

Idolatry is very much still around today. Every single one of us could find an idolatrous area of our lives if we took a long enough look at ourselves. This happens when, for whatever reason, we are deceived into thinking that something else is more worthy of worship than our King, Jesus. Often times these idols sneak their way in because they are not inherently bad things…at all. In fact, they are sometimes very good things that have either pushed Jesus off His throne in our lives, or accidentally become the priority over Jesus. This happens when we believe lies, or UNtruths that are injected into our lives by the enemy. “How though, could ‘church’ become an idol!?”, some of you may be asking…

I was recently at an event with about 50 other Christians. During the event everyone took time to go around, and share “success” stories of things that had been happening in their lives as they pursued being a “Christian” in their context. The purpose of these stories was for edification for those who were there. As people shared others were ecstatic and huge smiles began to form on their faces. After a few minutes of these stories something hit me…and my heart grew very heavy…

First, here is a few examples of these “success” stories:

“…when my neighbor found out I go to church he came to ask me if he could come with me!”

“…it was so neat…after we met and started building a relationship she agreed to come to church with me.” (She had been invited several times before)

“It’s so great, several people have joined us at church.”

…and so on and so forth…

The entire evening, other than perhaps during a prayer to “bless the food”, the name of Jesus was not mentioned once. No stories about Jesus being introduced to anyone, or anyone being “invited” to experience Jesus as a powerful and living God right here and right now. No stories of anyone being impacted in any way by Jesus Himself. Again, the NAME of Jesus was not mentioned once. Was it on purpose? Of course not. Am I certain that everyone in that room loves Jesus? Yes. Was this neglect of Jesus intentional? Of course not.

You see, somewhere along the way the works of scripture got transferred out of the hands/responsibility of the ordinary believer, and placed into the hands of the paid clergy. The way “success” and “effective ministry” is measured shifted from individual life transformation (Which is very difficult to measure, fabricate, & force.) to a generic “how many people are here”? When the responsibility of the individual believer to make disciples was shifted to the paid clergy the ability to do so seemed to go with it. This is not the individual believers fault. Over time what it means to be a follower of Christ has changed, along with the methods and language we use to communicate such things…

When anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives the focus goes to that thing…and off of Jesus. That thing takes the throne. We are guilty of idol worship. When our primary goal is to get people to go to church (Of course, with the desire and hope that they will eventually “meet Jesus”, or make a decision to follow Him at some point) we have replaced Jesus with church. We communicate with our actions and words that “church” is savior, and forgiver of sins. We bow down in worship to church. “Church” did not die on the cross for our sins – Jesus died on the cross for us, His Church, His Bride, so that He could become all that we worship. As the TRUE lover of our souls our number one desire MUST be to introduce others to Him. As a part of the process we become a part of the body of Christ! We naturally gather with other believers as a result, but hopefully not spend too much of their time with those believers. Hopefully, we will then begin introducing others to…yes…Jesus…not our new church.

I am around different types of people all throughout the week, as I am sure many of you are. Something I have noticed in the people I am around who do not claim “membership” to a particular “church” as a building with a name, or institution is the things they place value in. Every single time I am with these people they are full of joy as they share stories of individuals who they have been discipling, and walking with. They share about how Jesus is becoming Lord to these people. Then, they invite me to this new believer’s Baptism after they have led them to Christ! A natural result is always that these new believers are connected with the body of Christ in some form or fashion-usually very healthy. They may not be filling the pews of a church on Sunday morning, or “serving” in a church program. But, they are actively out proclaiming to others this new love they have found in Jesus as He has become their Lord. There is much freedom in the above…it feels weightless, and light…it feels like a journey of obedience & dedication to Jesus.

This is far different from the conversations I have with others who have dedicated and given their lives to the “church”. Discussion is more about endless struggles with sin and trying to manage that sin. It’s about the uncomfortable invitation to church on Sunday they have extended to their neighbor for months-wondering why their neighbor won’t come. It’s about how good and funny their preacher’s message was the previous Sunday, and how much they loved “that one song the guy played”. Again, none of those things are necessarily bad, but when they take the place of Jesus as Lord in our lives we become idolaters.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of any particular model of “doing church”. I think that conversation is silly – we don’t “do” church. We BE Church. If you are BEING Church, and obedient to Jesus at your church then these words are not for you. I am not at all submitting that this is the case across the board. I am simply sharing observations I’ve made in cities all over the country (three of which I have lived in for long periods of time) among people in both scenarios. If Jesus is your Lord in both words & actions then let’s praise Him for that! If something else has sneaked in and taken the place of Lord (perhaps “church”) then may we all run hard after Jesus together to place Him back on the throne in our lives.

“Jesus, we trust you. You are so gracious. Thank you that you pour out your grace over us when we can’t seem to “get it right” over and over again. Empower us by Your Spirit to see the You in us be reproduced into the You in those You have placed in our lives!”

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Beloved…

Not trying to be lame, and post other people’s stuff; Derek Webb is just so legit. I’ve listened to him for years, but the words to his songs are coming alive more and more as I listen lately. This song is called “Beloved”, and is another one of Derek’s “letters to the church”… (He is NOT writing this to a form, model, or institution. He is directing this at the people of God who make up His Church-keep that in mind as you read or listen)

“Beloved” – By Derek Webb

beloved these are dangerous times
because you are weightless like a leaf from the vine
and the wind has blown you all over town
because there is nothing holding you to the ground

so now you would rather be
a slave again than free from the law

(chorus)
beloved listen to me
don’t believe all that you see
and don’t you ever let anyone tell you
that there’s anything that you need
but ME

beloved these are perilous days
when your culture is so set in it’s ways
that you will listen to salesmen and thieves
preaching other than the truth you’ve received

because they are telling lies
for they cannot circumcise your hearts

(chorus)

beloved listen to me
don’t believe all that you see
and don’t you ever let anyone tell you
that there’s anything that you need
but ME

beloved there is nothing more
no more blessings and no more rewards
than the treasure of my body and blood
given freely to all daughters and sons

Again, Derek is speaking of unecessary things added, and ways we have been decieved. What do you think? What truths do you see here?