I do not remember exactly how long ago it was that for the first time I just sat and shuddered at the implications of verses like Zephaniah 1:5 and 1 Kings 11:4. “… those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Molech.” “… when Solomon became old, his wives turned away his heart to follow other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God.”
As the implications cascaded through my mind, my naivet? was shattered. Previously I had assumed there were only two possibilities. Either a person worshiped God or idols. But here was a disturbing third possibility. An Israelite could attempt to worship idols alongside of God. And if this was possible for them, could not a Christian sing praises to the Lord while also engaging in idolatry? And if so, what might this look like in an American context?
The Many Faces of Idolatry
For the most part, Americans are not confronted with the carved stone and wooden variety of idolatry which plagued ancient Israel. Yet the underlying dynamics of secular idolatry is identical to that age-old scourge. In the ancient Near East, people were tempted to serve various gods because they believed those gods could provide for them. In America, people can be tempted to serve many different vehicles (wealth, social contacts, work, power, possessions, knowledge. etc.) because they believe these paths will protect and provide for them.
In a secular context, gods do not take the form of wood and stone; instead the type of pernicious adoration which might try to sneak under our radar will probably be more in line with Paul’s warning in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5. Greed amounts to idolatry. And there are many forms of greed (Luke 12:15). All forms of greed constitute serving something other than God because of what it is believed to provide.
Baal is the Hebrew word for master. Whether someone’s master is a power represented by a stone image or a secular recipe for success, both sets of beliefs lead to serving one’s baal in place of the Creator.
Monotheistic & Polytheistic Christians?
Biblical monotheism involves the worldview that the Lord is our ultimate Source for everything we need. Polytheism either cuts up the pie allowing many ultimate sources or it at least involves the practice of hedging one’s bets. A polytheistic worldview can always make room for one more god to ensure my well-being.
If a Christian were polytheistic, what might this look like? Perhaps on Sunday he or she would gather with the saints to serve God. The motive to worship might be to praise God for salvation or it might be to ensure salvation. Then from Monday through Friday, life would serve those forces which provide for prosperity and well-being. Because God is not really believed to be the Provider, he or she would perhaps live under the weight and worry of being responsible for where the buck stops. When financial blessings flow, they might be viewed as “all mine” since he or she was responsible for them. Except for perhaps a token contribution on Sunday, resources might be used with a self-centered mentality.
The monotheistic Christian as described in Scripture also worships on Sunday and goes to work, but it is an entirely different week. God is praised for providing salvation and one’s resources. Since God enables the means to make wealth, the fruits of one’s labor are viewed as God’s blessings. Ideally, the work itself would be done to serve the Lord and not just for a human boss. The goal is more than just making money; it also involves representing God and His ways in the workplace. When financial resources flow, this is understood as God’s gracious outpouring. God’s generosity is used both for sustenance as well as to generously honor the Giver and further the Supplier’s purposes in this world.
Zephaniah 1:5 says, “… those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Molech.” Is it not naive to think that just because people worship on Sunday, this guarantees they are not also idolaters? Considering how the threat of idolatry was a continual problem throughout Israel’s history, would it not be naive to think this greatest of dragons has simply vanished?
Gaining a firm understanding of this danger, the necessity to believe and adopt a biblical monotheistic worldview should be clear. Recognizing our Creator for who He truly is, instead of living under the virtually impotent and boxed-in variety of a god, empowers all of the difference.
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