Idol Worship: How Your Church May Be Doing It and How To Fix It

American Idolatry_revised“If it feels good, do it!”

This has been one of our favorite slogans since the 1960’s.  It seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic view for church: “If it makes people come to church, we should do it.” Today, church leaders of every persuasion are willing to try anything if it works in drawing more people into their services.  If it “works” then it must be fine and stamped with the  approval of God Himself.

I can hear you now saying “Of course this is true!  Why on earth wouldn’t it be?”

Because it wasn’t!

One of the things that is clear for any to examine is that…God Seems To Care About What His People Do.


God was VERY specific regarding how people were to worship Him. He gave Israel precise details:  What they should do, what they must not do, when they were to worship, where they were to worship and how they were to worship Him. It seems that God has known all along how He wanted to be worshipped and cared enough about it to give us the details.

Has God changed?  Does He no longer care AT ALL about the what, when, who, where, and how of worship??

God’s People Like To Change How They Worship GOD, Always Have-Always Will

A re-occurring theme in the Old Testament is that the people of Israel continually fell into idolatry. God demanded that they worship Him alone, but they almost always came up short! God summarized their condition in the following verse:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jer.2:13 NIV

Notice the two aspects of Israel’s guilt: First, they abandoned the true and living God. Secondly, they did their own thing and worshipped in their own way. The cisterns are a vivid illustration of Israel’s love for worthless gods. They dug their own cisterns, meaning they worshipped other gods of their choosing, and they were broken, worthless gods who could do nothing and were no gods at all.  Read through Jeremiah over the next week and you will see this clearly.

The Changes We Make To Worship Are Often Subtle and Seem Like No Big Deal

What we should find instructive is that the people of God did not think they were doing anything wrong.  They didn’t think they had abandoned God, they simply added  a few improvements to their temple worship. They continued to go to the temple and worship God there, but they also did the other stuff. Read through the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and you will discover the people were very religious. They worshipped God the way they thought they were supposed to and they also took things into their own hands.

The High Places: Yesterday’s Man Centered Worship Model

Do you know the story about the high places?  The ancient world believed that places with high elevation were closer to God.  It is similar to our notion of being out in nature to commune with god.  The temple, where worship took place, was very far away from a lot of people who wanted to worship God.  Too make worship easier and more convenient for those who lived on the outskirts, Israel’s priestly leadership allowed high places to be built all over Israel.  This enabled the people in outlying areas to sacrifice to God according to his regulations, without having to go all the way to the temple.  They even staffed these high places with Levites. The high places also had the added bonus of helping the people feel closer to God, because they offered their worship at those high places.

Problem solved!  With the addition of these high places, everyone could worship God as often and conveniently as they wanted.    Of course there was one minor sticking point to this whole high places thing:   God.  God rejected their worship because His worship was only to occur at His temple. Period.  He judged Israel because of this practice.

Let’s not be too harsh on Israel. It is easy for us to look back and say, “How could they?”  I don’t think it was any easier for them to realize what they were doing than it is for us to realize what WE are doing.  People were uneducated, and relied heavily on their leadership for guidance in these matters.   Too bad for Israel that they didn’t have good leaders.  Here is God’s assessment of leadership:

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Jer. 5:30-31

God’s People LOVE to Do Things The Wrong Way!

The spiritual leadership of the people proclaimed things as true that were false, and they were doing their own thing ruling by their own authority, not Gods. The result:

The people loved it!                Let that sink in for a moment.

The people LOVED it!

There is a very instructive lesson for today’s church leaders in Israel’s history of idolatry.  At the very least, we should thoroughly examine our own practices. Perhaps we are guilty of the same thing?

Today, we can look down the long lens of history and see that Israel’s practices were blatantly wrong. But living in the actual moment, they could not see the magnitude of how wrong they were.  I wonder what the long lens of history will say about our day?

If you are a church leader, I challenge you to have the moral courage to look at what you call a “worship service” and ask yourselves and your team if you are being faithful to what God wants. Is it not at least possible that like the spiritual leaders of their day, you are doing your own thing? If you are doing your own thing, are you leading your people astray?

This is not just a question for church leadership. Every faithful follower of Jesus Christ should be asking the same questions about their own lives as well as the congregation they belong to.

If God’s chosen people could fall into idolatry over and over again while maintaining the appearance of a temple worship “service”, should we think that we are immune to it?

Lots of people read this blog, so jump in and share your thoughts.  Join the conversation!

Like this article?  Check out this popular post from Not For Itching Ears: Worship:  Why Your Church Is Failing and What You Can Do About It!

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on May 10, 2014, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Jim,
    we know that scripture says that true worshipers will worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’. A spirit renewed by God can worship him acceptably. A worshiper who worships God with a heart of integrity and love can worship God. God requires both of these to worship him acceptably, I believe. God states that a contrite and broken spirit he will not despise.

    He found David a man after his own heart. David changed the worship format of the original Tent of Meeting when he set up his own Tent for the ark in Jerusalem, and left the original Tabernacle built by Moses in (Shiloh?). The original alter of burnt offering was also left at Shiloh by David.

    David instituted ordinances of worship incorporating music (singing and instruments). Some of these songs are in the Psalms. I’m sure you know all this (maybe since you were knee-high 🙂 Was this sacrilege? Apparently not. The temple that Solomon built added this in as well. Also Solomon built ten times the lampstands and the tables of shew bread in the Holy Place than the original Tabernacle had been instructed to build. Solomon changed other aspects of the worship as well.

    The matter seems to be the intent and the purpose in the heart of man. Worship required a humble man or woman. Those who gawk around during the worship on a regular basis are not qualified to worship God. Worship may even be uncomfortable for them. Worship of God that imitates the late-night discos makes them more comfortable. This may be why these individuals prefer the sermon. In today’s ‘Word’ from the pulpit there is nothing to offend or challenge these individuals about what they are doing.

    In my mind today’s woes in the church are a matter of defective and false leadership. In many cases ‘kingdom builders’ instead of worshipers.


  1. Pingback: The Top 10 Posts of 2014 | Not For Itching Ears

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