7 ways to test if your church has become your idol
Loving God is the first commandment for any believer. Many things in this world jostle for our love and attention, notwithstanding our own church communities. Churches become our idols when we feel more connected and devoted to them than to Jesus. This drifting away from loving God first in church life can be ever so subtle, often for reasons that are even good. How do we know if our churches have morphed into our idols?
Luke 10:27 ESV And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
There is an invisible hierarchy in everyone’s heart, one with different levels of priority and affection. An idol is anything we place on this hierarchy above God. It does not have to be a false god or physical item, even our relationships and passions can become our idols.
Colossians 3:5 ESV Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
The Bible gives a few examples of the types of church organisations that can become idols. They will predominantly be:
- Outstanding: They give us great church worship experiences, preach God’s Word diligently, offer great family programmes, and work hard to serve their communities and resist false teachings. They can become so well known that their church names become “brands”. The challenge for us is that we can become enamoured with our church yet forget to love God first. | Revelation 2:2-5 ESV “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
- Controlling: They do not hold us accountable for studying God’s Word for ourselves and will dictate what we can or cannot do based on their interpretations of the Bible and historical traditions. They may lay out protocols of how their staff represent their church, rather than represent Jesus. The challenge for us is that we defer what we believe to what other human beings say, and fail to develop the maturity and wisdom to test the spirits behind what we are being told. | 1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
- Led by a charismatic leader: They have a high-profile pastor. The challenge for us is that we can find ourselves quoting the pastor more than we are able to quote Jesus Himself. We buy books written by this pastor and fail to read the Bible itself. We become fans and followers of someone who is outstanding in their knowledge but that is not the One who was crucified for us. | 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 ESV For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
- Ritualistic: They instruct us to follow rituals and traditions outside of what Jesus taught us, giving us a false impression that these qualify us for a relationship with God when all these could, in fact, be displeasing to God. | Mark 7:6-9 ESV And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
How to test if our church has become our idol
Here are seven signs that a church has become our idol.
- When we can say, “I love this church” but will hesitate to honestly say, “I love Jesus”.
- When we only feel “connected” spiritually when we are doing something at church, but seldom when we are praying on our own to our Father in heaven.
- When our church relationships become more important than our relationship with Jesus; we are more committed to staying in church community more than we are to worshipping God in spirit and in truth.
- When we compare our church to other churches and wonder how to make it more attractive, instead of ensuring that people worship God in spirit and in truth as our priority.
- When we become disillusioned and disappointed by what our church or other church-goers do or do not do for us, rather than look to God who will never forsake us or leave us.
- When we invite people to church to learn more about Jesus, rather than introduce Him ourselves, because we aren’t confident that we really know Jesus.
- When we say, “this is how we do things at my church,” rather than “this is how I follow Jesus.”
All idols will invariably lead us away from being the worshippers that God seeks. They may meet some immediate need but they will never truly quench our souls. The basis for our faith is, first and foremost, about studying the Bible for ourselves and learning to follow God’s Spirit in a one-on-One relationship. God’s personal reminder in Revelation 3 is truly a sobering wake-up call for all of us. May we not fall into the trap of only having a reputation for being alive, when God considers us dead in our faith.
John 4:23 ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
Revelation 3:2–3 NLT “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.
Jonah 2:8 ESV Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
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