They Worship the Lord
and Serve Their Idols

The following article is likely to be controversial. So, before you begin to read it, try to set aside your traditions, preconceptions and biases. Then ask God to help you consider by His Word whether there is truth in what is being said [and make sure you read all the Scripture verses throughout]. ... And then ask Him what you [not someone else] should be doing to change it.

2 Kings 17:40-41 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did. (NIV)

These people did not invent their practices, they where taught them by the example of their forefathers, through passed on traditions and things taught by their leaders, even by professed ministers (priests) of the Lord. The Bible shows us clearly that it is hard for people to stand against the pressure of their own historical practice. Over and over in the book of Kings you hear that the people "did not turn away from" the sins of their forefathers. Traditions are hard to break. Yet God has always had some faithful who were willing to incur the wrath of their own people for the sake of turning to follow God's plan and practice [and how much harder that must be after generations of a particular false practice]. It's a sad indictment in Second Kings when it says that the people "would not listen" and that they "persisted in their former practices." Yet – I'm sure – the people would have been quick to assure anyone that by traditional practice and by the example of their predecessors, leaders and priests, that they were worshipping the Lord. But the Bible is clear that they were still "serving their idols" as well. In the words of God – to them and to us – echoed throughout the Bible, "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15)." You can't truly serve both!

Idols don't have to be things fashioned by your hands, but all to often throughout history they have been. The people of Bible times felt that they couldn't do without their idols. They looked to them for prosperity, for peace, for guidance, and as a common grounds to bring people together.

The One True God was different that all the gods and idols. He is immortal, invisible (1 Timothy 1:17), and as such could never have an image made of Him. His people were commanded to never make an image, not even shrines [houses], for Him (Exodus 20:4, 1 Kings 12:28-31). Only, by His own choice (Deuteronomy 7:6-7), did He choose for Himself a people, and He alone chose to dwell amongst them (Leviticus 1:34-35). Even as David sought to build a temple for God, God rather choose that Solomon would. Yet even in the splendor of that great temple, where God put His Name, it had no image of God, nor could it truly contain Him.

2 Chronicles 2:5-6 "The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. 6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? (NIV)

1 Kings 9:3 The LORD said to him: "I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (NIV)

Even after all that, the people still turned to other gods and idols. They made images that they professed were in honor of the Lord (1 Kings 12:28) and even worshipped images that were used to represent spiritual truth (2 Kings 18:4). Ultimately, the earthly Temple itself became an idol— a place where God was driven out (Ezekiel 8:1-6). It became a place of meaningless ritual [a shrine] (Malachi 1:10) and still later a good-luck charm (Matthew 23:16).

God's intent was always to have worshippers that would seek Him, and Him alone — to walk in His ways. In the New Testament, Jesus [God in the flesh, Colossians 1:19] pointed out that the days for any temple were no longer necessary and numbered. We could have access into His Holy Temple in heaven, through the shed blood of Jesus.

John 4:21-24 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (NIV)

Hebrews 10:19-25 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)

The church of the New Testament was a new living church that was commanded to keep "meeting together" and to be spurring one another on. It was not bound to a particular place and nation. This is why the apostles repeatedly emphasized that God does not live in houses made by men.

Acts 7:48-50 "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 49 "'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?' (NIV)

Acts 17:24-25 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (NIV)

Funny how a couple of millennia later we have hundreds of billions of dollars in buildings worldwide to honor a God who says He doesn't live in building made by hands! Much of modern church growth [planting] has become a term that references building a building and then trying to fill it.

The only temple of the New Testament is us, individually and corporately. God made sure that this would be the case by the prophesied destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:5-6).

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." (NIV)

We are individually a temple of God, because He dwells with us. This make us individually responsible to God for how this temple is used as well. Secondly, we all [every believer] are together a temple of God because He has promised to be wherever His people are gathered. This starts at two (Matthew 18:20). In this we are living stones that make up a living church. It takes all of us to make the whole church (Hebrews 12:22-23a).

1 Peter 2:4-5 As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:19-22 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)

Hebrews 3:6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (NIV)

If we are not being built together – with the whole spiritual church – we are not part of God's true church. This makes every believer accountable to every true elder of the church of God [as defined by Scriptures], not to one building, denomination, etc. It also makes every true elder of the church of God inter-accountable to each other as well, regardless of all the man-made divisions that have been created. The true church of believers is so, not because of denominational or building affiliation, but solely because God bought them and brought them together in Him.

Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)

Today the artificial barriers of buildings and denominations have become a pale [and counterfeit] substitute to the required fellowship and inter-accountability of all believers. The Bible is what matters, the truth is what matters — not man-made divisions and traditions.

Often, the buildings are used as an excuse to ignore God's judgment. When the church — which is any gathering of believers with the gifting and leadership that God [not man] ordained [by His rules] — comes together it was for a purpose. In summary, that purpose is, from 2 Timothy 4:2-3...

  1. Preach the Word

  2. Correct
  3. Rebuke
  4. Encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.

How much of this is really being done. Christianity "lite" [1/3 less gospel or more] has become the norm for preaching. Story telling with a few verses has become the cheap substitute. Correcting doctrine, or practice, is virtually nonexistent now for fear of offending someone or driving them from the church. Incorrect teachings and practices slowly become accepted because of this lack of correction. A pluralistic, relativistic, world-view of the world has entered the church building through this door. Rebuking, which is closely related to correcting, actually requires confrontation, something that is now discouraged by people that should be upholding God's plan rather than substituting their opinions as if they were more important than God's. Encouraging would be, on the surface, what the average church building is focused on, yet without the "careful instruction," the encouragement is hollow and often in the wrong direction [or traditions of man]. For many, the traditional need to keep the buildings full is more important than following God's command.

Mark 7:9 And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (NIV)

In fact, since it is God that builds the church [and equips it], if we were following His commands He would be filling our gatherings with believers!

Elders are those set apart by God to ensure that the church is staying pure [faithful to God's Word]. This may shock you, but a gathering of believers [a meeting of the local church] is supposed to be for just that; believers! From the beginning of the New Testament church, God began it with believers and He added to it... more believers!

Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

A gathering of God's people is called to practice discipline. That means that when there is sin [by God's standard], they must correct and rebuke. And when a professed believer stays unrepentant, that person — without partiality — is to be put out of the church, meaning the fellowship of all true believers. These day, if a church building even dares to discipline, the person just moves [as a welcome addition] to the building down the road. Our traditional divisions are nullifying the Word of God.

Matthew 18:15-20 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

Check out verses eighteen to twenty again. When the believers of a church act properly in administering discipline, God himself counts it as a done deal in heaven! Unless that person repents of their sin [publicly, even as the discipline is public], they are not to be allowed back into the church [wherever it comes together].

So-called "seeker sensitive" churches would hate to become a church like the one in Acts chapter five. After they carried out church discipline, albeit in a God implemented supernatural and dramatic way, something fantastic happened...

Acts 5:11-14 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. 12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

Did you catch that? No one dared to join them [verse 13] except for those that God was adding to their numbers as believers [verse 14]! But, today, filling the church building with sinners is more important. And since we've been doing it backwards, no wonder God's not filling the church as He did then.

Even within families, the church building is now being looked to as a means of saving children and spouses. "If I could just get them to go to church," or "If we could just have a better youth program," are common cries. In the true living church, the spouse is called to be the witness to the unbelieving partner (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) and the parents are called to be teaching their own children (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). While the believers are called to be reaching out to unbelievers of all ages, parents and spouses can not abdicate their responsibility to the church building. The aforementioned lack of sound doctrine has meant that turning kids over to many a church is to steep them in the traditions of the building, creating on both extremes theological liberals or legalists.

Am I saying that all churches buildings are wrong? No! In fact, it may even make sense for a fellowship to own a building. Unfortunately, the building, its history, traditions, and denominational nameplate have become the focus rather than a Biblical consideration of what the church should be.

Many churches are referenced in the Bible, almost all of them by where they were located (Acts 13:1, 15:4-12). Over and over the church was referenced as "the church at ______." There wasn't a need to have First _______ Church of Jerusalem and Second _________ Church of Jerusalem. There was "the church" at Jerusalem. Do you think that the church meeting together was always all of them in one "mega-church?" Though there were times that thousands of them did meet in one public building (Acts 5:12), the church met probably more often in homes (Acts 20:20, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:1-2). That didn't make it "churches," it was still the church of Jerusalem or the church of ________.

Acts 8:3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (NIV)

In fact, as the church underwent growing persecution, it virtually discontinued public gatherings in favor of the home gatherings. Though the need for hundreds of such home gatherings might have been necessary in a given city, it was still "the church of _______!" That way, when Paul sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus, he got all the elders (Acts 20:17).

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours:

Speaking of elders and deacons, any that did not meet the Biblical standard (Titus 1:6-9) were not appointed! If we believe that God equips and provides for His church, we need to trust that God will provide all the elders, deacons, and other gifting, needed for the church. When our building's traditions force us to waive the standards, to get the "required number," we once again are placing our tradition above God's Word. Before the standards were laid out in God's written word, the Apostles appointed these individuals (Acts 14:22-23), with the church (as a whole) subsequently being responsible for setting apart such individuals by the written standard upon the completion of Scriptures (1 Timothy 3:1-13). A person not qualified to be an elder in the church is not qualified to be an elder in any building either.

With the God-given exact right number of true elders available to the church, God has placed men into positions of authority for the purpose of maintaining doctrinal purity and tearing down any false practices and traditions that might arise.

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (NIV)

A group that did not practice church discipline was a mark of a group that did not have Biblical elders, and therefore was not part of the church of God. Any part of the church that fails to submit to the authority of the true elders of God's church is in rebellion against God (Hebrews 13:17). In today's church building atmosphere of "thou shall not judge," multitudes have forgotten where judgment is to begin (1 Peter 4:16-17!).

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." (NIV)

If the elders are entrusted with such a great responsibility, their burden of accountability is much higher as well, even as it is for all teachers (James 3:1). Consider the following passage in light of many a building's practice of sweeping leader's sin under the rug— some who have become masters at "the fine art" of cover-up. True and faithful elders of the church [universal] are called to expose this type of sin, even naming names!

1 Timothy 5:17-21 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. (NIV)

3 John 9-10 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (NIV)

Divisions arose, even in the early church, but the church was called discern by God's Word what was right — not to gloss over the differences and create a unity at all cost.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. (NIV)

While it seems a trivial thing for many church buildings to set aside the requirement for purity in God's church, it might be good to be reminded that this is the very reason Jesus came...

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (NIV)

At the end of a bunch of letters to the churches of Asia Minor [for every gathering that made them up!], a warning was given to the entire church [us too!]. The visual imagery of Jesus standing outside isn't one of being outside an individual's heart, it's our Savior standing outside the church door. In the midst of the wealth and trappings of our churches and traditions, I wonder how long He might have to stay out there. Isn't it time we look in the mirror of God's Word and see ourselves...

Revelation 3:14-22 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (NIV)

Some closing questions.

If your church was told tomorrow it's building was gone and you could never have another one, would your church survive?

    – How many churches have trouble "surviving" when something merely goes wrong in the building, or another building offers something more interesting?
    – What binds you together as a church, is it only the building?

If you knew that you could reach one person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but you had to give up your church building, would you do it?

    – Does your building consume vast amounts of money [both in costs to build and maintain] that God has said should be used for reaching the lost and helping the needy?
    – If you could spend the value of your building on missions, reaching your community [obviously by going out, because you'd have no building to coax them in!], and helping the needy – and if every church did this – what type of impact do you think it would have?

Are your stained glass windows, your pulpit, organ, memorial plaques, gold offering plates, the condition of the carpets, the church steeple, more important than doing what God has commanded?

    – If these things are not commanded, nor required by God, why do we have them?
    – Are these things necessary for believers? Are they good use of God's money? What do they teach people about priorities?

Are you trusting in the building [and events within it] to reach the lost, rather than obeying God to go out and reach them yourself?

    – If God has said the church is to be a gathering of His people, why do we try and entice the lost into our building, while they are still lost?
    – Will a lost person feel comfortable in your building, when they should feel uncomfortable by the conviction of the Holy Spirit in a holy assembly of believers? (1 Corinthians 14:24-25, 1 Corinthians 2:14)

Is the church something you leave when you exit the building, or is it something you are seven days a week?

    – Will people only know you are part of the church if they enter your building?
    – Are you carrying out the duty God has given you outside the church, or do your obligations/attendance in the building satisfy your "duty?"
    – Are you training your children in the ways of the Lord outside the building or are you trusting that they'll get all they need while there?

Is worship something you need the building for, or is it the state of your heart regardless where you are [and especially when you are together with one or two other believers]?

    – If you don't have the right special music, the right style of choruses and hymns, the usual order of service, can/do you still worship?
    – Is worship something you go to see, or is worship something you participate in with all you heart?

Is your building a place where a legitimate church gathering meets, with elders and deacons who meet the standards of Scripture and where church discipline is administered?

    – If your elders and deacons don't meet God's qualifications and don't uphold His Word in practice, what makes your assembly any different than the ones presided over by false priests "of the Lord" in the Old Testament (2 Kings 17:32-33)?
    – If your elders are not disciplined publicly for sin, is your church leadership in submission to and acting on behalf of God?
    – If your church elders are not maintaining doctrinal purity and administering church discipline, what makes your church any more God's church than the false worshippers of old where "everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25, Deuteronomy 12:8, Proverbs 3:5-7)"

How you answered the preceding questions will tell you whether or not your building is an idol [or a shrine]. Isn't it time that we started tearing down some idols and banishing some compromising traditions? Maybe another generation will say of this one, "They did listen, however, and stopped their former practices. They no longer serve idols, but the people worship the LORD!"

When the Son of Man comes,
will He find faith on the earth?
(Luke 18:8)