Being part of a church is a good thing because Christians need each other. We should be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10). We should encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11). We should serve one another (Galatians 5:13). And the list of “one anothers” goes on. But it is very possible for our participation in church to become idolatrous. How?
First, we need to understand what idolatry is. It’s not bowing down or singing to a statue. Idolatry is much more sophisticated than that. Idolatry is taking a good thing and turning it into an ultimate thing. The Bible often uses the term “desires” to point out idolatry. Scholar and pastor John Calvin once said the human heart is an “idol factory.” We can manufacture idols out of anything at an alarming rate. So if idolatry is simply turning a good thing into an ultimate thing, one can begin to see why and how church can become idolatrous.
Second, it’s important to understand the basic motivational structure of the human heart when idolatry has taken root. We all have an innate need to feel “whole,” “content,” “at rest,” “satisfied,” “justified,” etc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Idolatry is the desire to find this in someone or something other than Jesus Christ. Some people pursue this through the acquisition of money and possessions. Some people pursue this through accumulating the approval and praise of people. Some pursue this by racking up more “victories,” however that may be defined.
Some pursue contentment, satisfaction, and wholeness through church participation. Upon first blush, this may seem fine, but probe a bit deeper and you’ll discover not all is well. The million dollar question is this: why is this person so committed to church participation?
If it’s because they’re trying to impress God and get him to bless them, it’s idolatry.
If it’s because they’re seeking the applause of church staff or other volunteers, it’s idolatry.
If it’s because they’re attempting to convince themselves they’re “worthwhile” through ministry success, it’s idolatry.
If you’re using participation in church to give you a sense of wholeness, contentment, rest, satisfaction, or justification, it’s very likely church has become an idol. Church programs and activities can’t give you this. Only Jesus can and the two of those things are NOT the same.
How will I know if I’m making church an idol? Examine your heart. Why are you doing the things you’re doing at church? Talk to God about it and then respond when you see that something is off. Confess the sin of idolatry to him, ask him to purify your motives, and then seek to find your contentment in who Jesus is and what he’s done.