• Rev. Mark Tews

Modern Progressive Idols

“’Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:8). “Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jeremiah 10:5).

Throughout the last century, Christianity has been perceived as a drag on social “progress.” Biblical views are routinely dismissed as irrelevant and powerless to shape public discourse. Public life is dominated by idolatry that has moved society further from God and His standards. At the time Jeremiah prophesied, Judah also appeared to be on the wrong side of social change. Once a powerful nation, Judah was now vulnerable to the military and cultural superiority of the Babylonian Empire. It was tempting for them to think God had failed them and that the pagan gods wielded power in the world.

Into this seemingly hopeless situation, Jeremiah spoke a word of great comfort: it was the idols that were pathetic and powerless. They were nothing but carved and decorated logs. Jeremiah mocked the idols’ impotence. Today, idolatry is just as rampant. People of Western nations do not readily bow to carved statues as did these ancient nations. However, modern society nurtures its own idols: pluralism, socialism, communism, egotism, postmodernism, relativism, nihilism, humanism, naturalism, or materialism to name a few. Even among some Christian churches, idolatry persists as a gospel of social wellbeing or reliance on marketing techniques to prevail over the truth of Scripture.

In the end, all of these ideologies will prove impotent against the One true God. Some days, true faith in Jesus Christ appears to be held by a feckless minority, soon to be vanquished from the world, but Jesus promises that He will build His church and no power of hell can prevail against Him. We Christians should be emboldened by this truth to resist idolatry both inside the church and in the world around us. The idolatries of the world may seem invincible now, but they are powerless before the speaking and living One true God.

Government is often elevated to the position of an idol. Rather than facilitating independence, too many governments create dependency so that people turn to them as they would to a god. They want us to fear missing out on “free” things from the government, rather than allowing their people to pursue freedom. Either the government is a servant of the people, or the government will become an idol. You can see that on display here in America in the form of the pursuit of power, pleasure, and possessions.

The pursuit of power has become an idol for many people, not just those in government. Tragically, the lust for power leads only to destruction. The surest antidote to this unholy affection is looking to Jesus. Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45).

The pursuit of pleasure is a crafty idol. Our contemporary world affords us every opportunity to chase after our personal pleasures in a manner that could not even be imagined in Jeremiah’s day. If you say that we have worked hard and are too exhausted to read the Bible, go to church, or participate in faith-building activities, you are lifting up relaxation over God. Saying that you don’t have time for God’s Word and then binge-watching three hours of television shows is making your entertainment an idol. Hurrying through a prayer at the table so you can scarf down dinner puts your stomach as an idol over God. Many of us Christians too often worship at the shrine of pleasure.

The pursuit of possessions, also known as materialism, defines our world here in America. Do you feel that you HAVE to have that new phone or that new car? Yet how many people have so many material items in their house that they feel the need to go out and purchase a storage locker, all to store items they may not see or touch for years to come? Does this not elevate possessions as an idol? We could do much more good for this world if we spent less money on possessions and gave more to churches and faithful charities. I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15).

Idolatry can be subtle, like that confronted by the apostle Paul. In his day, people known as Judaizers were people attempting to combine Jewish religious practice with the Christian faith. They had sold the idea that the Galatians needed to be circumcised and keep kosher. The message seemed reasonable enough – after all, Jesus and all His disciples were born Jewish. Surely there would be no harm to being circumcised and keeping kosher. In fact, there is no sin in a man being circumcised or someone maintaining a kosher diet. The problem arises when the action is elevated to that of a necessary work to please God. That’s subtle idolatry.

Salvation can only be achieved through faith in the risen Son of God, Jesus Christ, and repentance of our sins. The only tenets necessary to bear the title of “Christian” are: the confidence that Jesus Christ is God, that He freely offered up His life as a sacrifice to atone for all our sins, that He was buried in an empty grave, that He rose from the dead on the third day, that He was seen by those to whom He revealed Himself, and that He ascended into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. As a child of God, a Christian can know these truths because they are the written Word of God.

Idolatry is a spiritual dead end. Whether the worship of idols made of stone or the worship of relationships, identities, or possessions destined to return to dust, idolatry only leads to eternal death. Paul counseled Christians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is [all] idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5).

Do not fear this world and its idols. Be bold and do not allow your faith to be confined only to an hour on Sunday mornings at church. Do not be afraid to confront the sinful condition of yourself or others. Trust the One true and living God, who forgives and who will never forsake you. Proclaim Him and His good news in and through your life every day in every way.