By Lane Noble
I want you to picture a church building. You have that picture in your head? Great. Now, I want you to imagine the pastor of this church preaching. Got it? Alright. Now this particular pastor is a faithful preacher. He is preaching the Word of God so obediently and articulately that everyone in the room should be entranced by it.
Now, I want you to imagine that in front of this pastor, there is a table. On this table are two marble busts of two different gods. These gods both have offering plates in front of them and they are full of money. In some cases flowers and valuable items have been placed in front of them.
Now you have three sections of pews. In the middle section, the Christians are listening intently to what the pastor is saying. Their Bibles are open, they’re taking copious notes, and they are prayerfully considering what God has to say to them through His Word. On the right side of the sanctuary, you have another set of pews that are listening to the sermon, but they’re not really considering the message very thoughtfully. They have their eyes on the god on the right side of the table and, once the sermon is finished, they plan to pay homage to it again and then go and spread the message. They also glance over at the pew section on the left side of the building to scold them.
This left pew section is also listening to the sermon, and they’re considering the message, but it’s not sufficient. This message needs to be better, and they wish the pastor would look down at the god that they are staring at and pick it up and praise it. At the end of the sermon, they too would pay homage to their god and spread the news about it to as many people as they possibly could. They would also scold at those staring at the other god on the opposite end of the sanctuary.
The Christians sitting in the middle of the church were trying not to notice the facial expressions and disdain their fellow church members were making towards one another. They tried to ignore it. Jesus was to be their main focus. They prayed for their family members in Christ. They prayed for unity, only for the same thing to happen over and over again Sunday after Sunday.
During the week, the pastor tries to take down the shrines to these gods, only to be viciously attacked by his church members for doing so. He talks to other pastors and asks what he should do.
“Keep this god and destroy the other. Preach about it weekly. It’s biblical.”
The pastor, worn out, finally rebukes his church for idolatry, only for them not to hear him. They’re too focused on the idolatry on the other side of the church, and they can’t see their own sin.
These gods also have names. The god on the right is named, “Tradition,” and the god on the right is named, “Bitterness.”
These two gods are regular attendees at our Sunday morning gatherings, our Sunday evening gatherings, our Wednesday night gatherings, our small groups, our church memos, our seminaries…anywhere there is a corporate gathering of Christians, they have found themselves there, and there are always people who set them up and pay homage to them and chastise their fellow Christians for not doing the same.
This is a very serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed. In order to address it, however, we need to see what these gods are and what they represent, and then we can identify how we can destroy these gods and convince others to abandon their worship.
God: #1: Tradition
Tradition is the god that has been around the longest and, odds are, there will always be people in the United States who submit to it. Hopefully it will decrease, but the cultural pressure to worship it will likely always overwhelm some people.
Tradition says that the United States should be held in higher regard than it should be. It says that domestic and political freedom should be protected and that only governments who represent those freedoms should be obeyed, contrary to what is stated in Romans 13. They would give up their lives before giving up freedom of speech, press, the right to own weapons, etc. etc. These are the people that are willing to be revolutionaries if they decided that they had to be.
To these people, the United States is a Christian country that must be kept a Christian country, and that this is their “home sweet home.” Their highest good is keeping this country their “home sweet home” and traditional American values rule over everything else.
Like every unbiblical philosophy, there’s usually some grain of truth to it. The freedom of speech is a beautiful right that our government thankfully still protects, with a few exceptions of course. It is true that many of the rights and philosophies that are outlined in the constitution of the United States represent a biblical form of government. While not perfect, the people who worship the god of tradition are not wrong to be appreciative of how good we have it in this country.
However, the people who worship the god of tradition usually say with their mouths that Christ is their supreme King, their other words, conduct, and engagements throughout their lives say otherwise. They are so focused on keeping the United States, and the church, in line with “traditional American values” that they neglect what Scripture says about kingdoms and nations and what God’s Word says about sharing the gospel and loving your neighbor and, in particular, loving your enemies.
How do we destroy this idol? If an “American value” contradicts scripture, it goes in the trash. Simple as that. We repent of our wrongful thinking and we evaluate what our greatest treasure is. Our greatest freedom is in Christ. He has set us free from the bonds of sin and one day we will be free in the new heavens and the new earth with Him, and so it will not matter if the United States somehow becomes a totalitarian regime in the future. No one can take away the promise that we have in Christ.
Anybody who tries to confront someone about this idol will likely be faced with scorn. The best thing to do is to constantly and persistently remind these people of where our true loyalties lie. We should set an example for them, inform them, and, often, these people repent and reorder their desires.
God #2: Bitterness
What is the god of bitterness? That seems rather unexpected for someone to say doesn’t it? Where and how is this god being worshipped? It’s being worshipped in reaction to the people who worship the god of tradition. You see, because of all of the destruction that those who worship the god of tradition have imposed upon the church and the world, and all of the damage that they’ve done to the great comission from Jesus to go into all of the world and preach the gospel, these people see it as their religious mission to act as a sort of leftist version of the puritans. In their eyes, those who have worshiped the god of tradition need to be the constant subject of rebuke until their is no trace of it left in the church.
This person also tends to see any sympathy towards any form of conservatism as sinful. Even if the concept to which sympathy is extended is biblical. In the worldview of the god of bitterness, the main focus of preaching, teaching, and writing needs to be those who worship the god of tradition. It’s not just about truth. It’s not about God’s Word. It’s about what the people who worship the god of tradition have done wrong. The ones who are dead and the ones who are still living. In the eyes of those who worship the god of bitterness, the people who worship the god of tradition are one of the biggest problems the church faces. The other problems aren’t as big of a deal as this one.
This idol is more difficult to destroy because it is being mobilized by both anger and increasing cultural pressure. There is no easy answer for convincing people to abandon worship of the god of bitterness. The first step to take, just like in helping the tradition worshippers, is to affirm what they get right. Obviously we can affirm them in confronting those who worship tradition. We can rightly affirm that the church, both historically and currently, has not done enough to oppose racism. We can affirm that many Christians don’t tackle the abortion issue correctly. We can affirm that many Christians, both in the past and now, haven’t and don’t react to the LBGTQ+ revolution correctly. However, there is a biblical way of handling those who bow down to the god of tradition, and it’s not going to happen through the constant nagging of the other side.
Those who worship this god are very unlikely to recognize that bitterness is their god, which is one of the reasons that we must be examples to them, remind them of biblical truth when they need to be reminded of it, and distant ourselves from their idol worship when they decide to participate in it.
What is the root and solution to all of this?
It will ultimately be through faithful preaching and obedience to the Word of God that others will be changed. We do absolutely nothing by complaining and ranting about all of the faults of the evangelical church or the culture. It has been tried many times before. It doesn’t work. It can’t work. It is only through the preaching of and obedience to God’s Word that a culture is changed, and, honestly, seeing as our culture or the evangelical church hasn’t changed much, maybe it’s time for us to take a look at ourselves and see how we might or might not be obey what God has revealed to us in Scripture.