Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.
Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.
Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.
Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.
In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.
We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.
I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.
To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.
Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.
The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.
Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.
We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.
Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.
Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.
The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone, by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.
You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.