Idolatry in the Church of God

Study No. 2

  Bible students are familiar with the problem of idolatry with Old Testament Israel. From the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, to the groves, high places, host of heaven, and Baal worship, idolatry was the dominant sin of ancient Israel and Judah.

II Kings 17 summarizes these sins. The Kings of Israel and Judah, with few exceptions, led Godís people astray into idolatry. As a result, God rejected all the seed of unbelieving Israel.

But what about New Testament times? Was idolatry a dominant sin in the first century church? Is idolatry a major factor in the Church of God today?

The word "idol" in English has been derived from the Greek word ido, "that which is seen or known," and idolon, "idol." Webster defines idolatry as "worship or immoderate respect or love of a physical object as a god, or the giving of absolute religious devotion and ultimate trust to something that is not God." Is our god the God? If not, we are guilty of idolatry.


Idolatry Is A Basic Sin From Which We Must Flee

I Corinthians 10:14 says to "flee from idolatry." Verses 15-33 show why we must flee idolatry. We cannot have fellowship with demons, or partake of false Passover services. We are not stronger than God, but must forsake the company of those who are idol worshipers, those claiming to be Israelites but are not. On the other hand, if an unbeliever invites you to a feast, eat what is set before you. But if he says it is offered to idols, donít eat it, so he will not think you are hypocritical. Fleeing idolatry means that you will do all to the glory of God, without any appearance of evil, giving none offense to believers or non-believers.

Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the works of the flesh are . . . idolatry, witchcraft, hatred . . . ." Every one of these sins has idolatry as its base because it is worshipping something else besides God.


Idolatry Related Closely To Covetousness And Fellowship

Colossians 3:5-7 "Mortify therefore your members . . . covetousness, which is idolatry. For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them."

Ephesians 5:5 "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God." Verses 6-17 show that these things were being practiced by some "in the church." We are not to have fellowship with such vain talkers who have unfruitful works. Donít talk about their shameful sins. Know Godís will, and live it.

So then, idolatry in these passages is something that can be practiced by fellow believers. We are to stay away from such associations.


False Teachers Are Idols From Which We Must Flee

I John 5:21 says "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."

Why did John close his epistle with this curious statement? Because all through his letter, he had been talking about false brethren, false prophets, seducers, deceivers, antichrists, those who say they love their brothers, but actually hate them, I John 1:6, 2:4, 9, 11, 18-19, 22, 26, 3:7, 15, 17, 4:1-6.

Throughout I John,the apostle speaks of knowing God. The word "know" is the Greek ido, "to see," akin to the word "idol." We are to know God, not idolize the self or another man. "And we know the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life" I John 5:20. Any other belief or practice is idolatry!


Does Our Idolatrous Past Continue in Our Profession of Christ?

I Thessalonians 1:9-10 " . . . Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from Heaven . . . ." So, instead of worshipping a man, we need to be led by the Messiah.

I Peter 4:3 "For the time past of our life . . . when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries."

NOTE: This society encourages us to have personal idols, from sports figures, television and movie stars, rock singers, to religious leaders. Have we idolized religious leaders and/or organizations?

Israel couldnít wait forty days for Moses to come down from Sinai. They had to have a god, an idol. Can we wait until Jesus returns?

I Corinthians 12:1-3 "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit."

We were once led by false religious leaders. Will we be led again into error?

Acts 15:19-20 tells us that those from among the Gentiles who are now turned to God should abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. These are natural tendencies that must be avoided.

I Thessalonians 2:13 " . . . when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God."

Paul was commending the Thessalonians for not looking to the minister, but to the message. This implies that others did the opposite. They worshipped the man, because he gave the message. This was also a problem with the Corinthians.


The Problem With The Corinthians Was Idol Worship

I Corinthians 1:10-13 The Corinthian Church was divided into contentious groups, each claiming to follow a different minister.

I Corinthians 1:17-21 Paulís preaching was different from others, who sounded so wise and understanding. True ministers should not sound like know-it-alls, verse 26.

I Corinthians 2:1-6 False ministers, speaking enticing words of manís wisdom, were causing their followers to worship ministers as idols. The peopleís faith was in their wisdom, instead of God.

I Corinthians 3:3,19,21 The carnal Corinthians were proud of following wise men. But they had their eyes off of Christ.

I Corinthians 5:9-11 Donít have company with fornicators. I'm not talking about fornicators of the world, or covetous, extortioners, or idolaters, for then you would have to leave the world. But donít keep company with a man called a brother who is a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, or an extortioner, donít even eat with such a one.

COMMENT: These brethren involved in idolatry were not just bowing to an idol statue, but to men!

I Corinthians 8:1-13 Think of this passage in the context of todayís false religions. Better to avoid questionable fellowshipping than to offend weak brethren. I Corinthians 10:19-23 shows that God does not want us to be around idols. Verses 27-28 again show that we are to stay away from idolatry. Verse 7 says not to be idolaters, as the ancient Israelites were.

II Corinthians 6:14-18 Donít be yoked in fellowship with fornicating idolaters, for you are Godís temple. Come out and be separate.


The Fate of Idolaters

I Corinthians 6:9-10 Idolaters shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 9:20-21 "And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."

Revelation 21:8 "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."

Revelation 22:15 "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."


Symptoms of Idolatry Today

1. Immoderate respect or love given to a physical human being or religious organization. "Minister X says it is all right," or "the church says so."

2. Allowing a minister to verbally smite you on the face, to exalt himself, to bring you into financial bondage, II Corinthians 11:19-20.

3. Stating "God will take care of the problems in church leadership, and will correct them

if they are wrong."

4. Recognizing sins in the church and its leadership, but saying and doing nothing about it.

5. Believing that all who leave a particular organization are consigned to hell-fire.

6. A minister stating, "I will lead you into the Kingdom of God."

7. Accepting church doctrines and teachings without Biblical proof, and/or accepting doctrinal changes without serious study and questioning.

8. Fearing to openly disagree with church teachings.

9. Keeping quiet so you can maintain fellowship, all the while knowing things are wrong. Or stayng in a corrupt organization for the sake of relatives, or to be an example to weaker brethren who donít yet see the light.

10. The use of church positions of leadership given to those who are wavering, so as to keep them from leaving.

11. The member who knows it all, and wonít listen to the minister, or any other brotherís point of view. He is unteachable, an idol to himself.

12. Sermons geared to getting people to "support the Work," "stay in the body," "donít leave the flock," etc., instead of giving spiritual principles showing how to live a Godly life.

13. A church where one single head minister has absolute control.

14. A church that was incorporated with the purpose of "legalizing" contributions as tax deductions. (This is not true, because incorporation is not necessary to do so in the U.S.A.)

15. A religious group which imposes, directly or indirectly, the manners, customs, dress, and tastes upon its followers, as opposed to a group which emphasizes clear Biblical principles and not such peripheral issues. (E.g., a church that once taught it was wrong for men to wear colored dress shirts to services.)

COMMENT: If you see any of these symptoms in your group of fellowship, beware! Flee idolatry before it is too late. W

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