Friday, September 30, 2005

Christian Idolatry

It was great having Adam Ellis spend last week with us as he was taking his grad class at Lipscomb. Not only did I get to talk theology and play Halo2 with him, I got to get his class notes and he gave me a slew of CDs with talks, lectures, and sermons on them. Rob Bell, NT Wright, Stanley Grenz, Mike Cope, and Randy Harris. One in particular from Randy Harris hit me like a sledgehammer to my forehead.

Harris is speaking to a unity meeting between Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches. To give some context, in 1906 the U.S. Census Bureau officially recognized a split in the Christian Church along denominational lines, based particularly on the use of instrumental music but there were others, with the Churches of Christ going non-instrumental and Christian Churches going instrumental, and I’ve really simplified that. With the 100 year anniversary of this event coming up, there have been unity meetings concerning trying to get back together in some areas and the event Harris is speaking at is one of those.

The talk was called “Focusing Your Vision.” He was assigned to talk about Exodus 32:1-6 and he digs deeply into idolatry. The point he makes from this passage and it’s very clear in verse 5 is that the people of Israel did not abandon the worship of God/YHWH; they added the worship of idols to their worship of God. And this becomes a pattern for the people of Israel, with Solomon and Ahab being primary examples.

Of course, Harris doesn’t let us in the church go scot-free. He gives a three part quiz to tell if we are idolaters or not.

  • If we pay more attention to the seen and the present than to what lies behind it even if what is seen and present is good.

  • If we give part of our lives wholly and completely to God and have other parts where God barely touches it.

  • If we talk more than we listen.

Now, I could talk a lot about those three things, but it’s in the first one that Harris really hit me. He said there are three examples of this in how the Churches of Christ and Christian churches are totally united.

  • Nationalism
    We have married the destiny of the church and of the Kingdom of God with America's destiny to such an extent that we are far less willing to take the hand of our brothers and sisters in other countries than we are to grab our flag or a gun to kill them. The Kingdom of God existed long before America did and will exist long after she is gone. The prayer should not be “God Bless America” or even “God Bless the World through America.” In my opinion, it should simply be, “May Your Kingdom Come.”

  • Ecclesiolatry
    We have made the church into an idol. We have made doing church in a certain way so important that we lose the reason for doing church, i.e. the gathering of the community of faith, whether on Sunday morning with 800 people or Friday at lunch with two. This is one of the reasons I love the discussion Tim Woodroof (my preacher) has of this in A Church that Flies. We have forgotten that form should come out of function, not the other way around.

  • Bibliolatry
    We have made the Bible into an idol. I have definitely seen this one in the Churches of Christ. We have made the Bible God, not the Word of God. We have put the Bible in such a place that we forget that the Bible points to and reveals God; it is not God. We have made the interpretation of certain passages litmus tests for faithfulness and forgotten that Scripture was not written in a vacuum. It was written by men (and women) who existed in a certain culture, just as we exist in a certain culture that we read it through. It is simply impossible to read the Bible totally objectively. Just the fact that we’re reading it in English means it was interpreted in a certain way.

There’s a lot more in this talk, particularly about the ways that Harris gives to avoid these idolatries. I wish all of you could hear it, but as I’ve listened to it three times in the last week, it’s had a strong affect on me. If you know me or are coming to the Zoe Conference next week, we might be able to work something out so that you could hear it.

I pray that God gives us the strength to stop worshipping our idols and devote ourselves totally to Him.


Fajita said...

That Harris dude knows stuff. What he says is risky and offensive because it further erodes what the C of C holds as its distinctives. So that's why I am glad he said it.

Kingdom, not denomination. Kingdom, not document. Kind\gdom, not country.

Tony Arnold said...

You are all heretics. I am going to sit on my wooden pew with no air conditioning, commune with my Welch's grape juice, sing out of tune a capella and ignore all this subversive devil talk.

And if you find a baby Jesus out in the church yard, please let us know. We haven't seen him since last century when we threw out the bath water.


DB Carden said...

I find it difficult to strip some of this stuff away. It is like a residue that won't wash off. I have heard BST talk about it like we are some dysfunctional family in rehab some of the things we think we need to justify and talk about. God, strip away our churchiness and helps us to not be so caught up in our dysfunction, but to be caught up in you, your purposes, your goals and you alone. Jon Foreman -- "I pledge allegiance to a country without borders."

Tara said...

Hey! I keep seeing your name on my sister's blog, so I thought I'd pop over and say hi. And, wow. Thanks for the post. I've gotten to hear Harris speak a good bit out here, but I missed this particular event. Anyway, hope all is going well. Take care!

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