EKKLESIOLATRY

Stanley L. Morris

he first commandment of the Decalogue is: "You must not have any other gods before Me. You must not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You must not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God." (Ex. 20:3-5; Deut. 5:7-9.) God the Father and Christ are united (John 10:30; Col. 2:9). Except for Jesus Christ (John 14:6 and 1 Tim 2:5), NOTHING must be allowed to come between YOU and your God!

IDOLATRY

There are many kinds of idolatry mentioned in Scripture. All of them are soundly condemned. Usually we think of the physical objects that people worshiped (e.g. Baal, Asherah, Dagon, Chemosh, etc.); however, more subtle, unseen things can also get in the way. For example, "... covetousness, which is idolatry" (KJV, Col. 3:5) - pleonexia = literally, the constant desire to have more. See the parallel passage: "No immoral, impure or greedy person such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (NIV, Eph. 5:5.) Avarice is also closely associated with idolatry in 1 Cor. 5:10,11 and 6:9,10. This must have been what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 6:24 ("mammon" means money). It does not refer to money itself but the "love" of it --that's where the root of the problem is (1 Tim. 6:10, cf. Num. 22:1-38; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14; Judg. 17-18; Micah 3:11, 7:3; Mark 12:40; Luke 16:14,15; Acts 1:18,19).

BIBLIOLATRY

I have also seen some people turn their particular copy of the Bible or translation of the Bible into AN OBJECT OF WORSHIP. Out of an inordinate reverence (nearly superstition) for the paper and ink, these individuals would not even mark important notes there to remember. These persons usually do not know the Scriptures that well; they merely "revere" the Bible as a sacred relic from the past which is just too holy to be UNDERSTOOD. Others insist that the ONLY true version of the Bible is the translation that their parents or grandparents used exclusively. Usually, they are referring to the "unchanging" King James Version, even though there have been thousands of changes in it since it first appeared in 1611. (The first edition is almost unreadable today.) I always ask them: "Which King James Version?'' And, "Do you accept the Old Testament Apocrypha as inspired of God? No? Did you know that the 15 portions or books of the Apocrypha were included in the first edition of the KJV?" Their response is often stunned silence.

These unfortunate souls have acquired the mistaken belief that the Bible is intrinsically DIVINE, in and of itself, thus treating it as if it were a magical charm or amulet. Now, don't misunderstand or misquote me, I'm NOT saying that the Bible is not inspired. Several passages make it very clear that the ORIGINAL Holy Scriptures were "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16,17) from "men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:20,21 ). But, unchecked, there is a tendency for people to begin worshiping the physical instrument which God has used to convey His message (e.g. the bronze snake that Moses employed in Num. 21:4-9; it became an idolatrous snare to the Israelites in later years, 2 Kings 18:4). When individuals do this sort of thing, they are forgetting the very God who INSPIRED the original prophets or apostles who spoke and wrote the things which are contained in the Bible. Besides, any subsequent TRANSLATION of these sacred writings is only a frail, uninspired, human attempt to convey the meaning of the original language. And, no matter how hard human translators may try NOT to err, there WILL inevitably be some mistakes, even in their best efforts. No one Bible translation in any language can suffice for everyone for all time! The nature of language is to CHANGE, in order to adapt itself to the constant flux of culture through time.

WHAT IS EKKLESIOLATRY?

It is well known that false gods of one kind or another have always plagued humankind down through history, but there may well be an even greater threat to the people of God today than the more overt items mentioned above EKKLESlOLATRY. What in the world is that? Well, that's a word that I have just coined to describe what I am observing to be so prevalent today. Simply put, it is the worship of "CHURCH." Oh, I'm not saying that people are doing obeisance to the church building; I wish it were as simple as that. No, it is far more serious. The "edifice complex" is just the tip of the iceberg. Ekklesiolatry entails EVERYTHING inculcated within the modern usage of the English word "church". What is more important, The CHURCH or Christ?

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., the followers of Christ were so totally engulfed in an error called Gnosticism that it nearly snuffed out the faith (Jude 3) entirely. The rough elements of our historic faith were almost eclipsed by the theological demands of a clashing Greek philosophical world view. If certain valiant Christians had not protested, WE might not even be here! We would have been cut off from our roots.

In the same way, "ekklesiolatry" is the general condition wherein total allegiance is transferred from God to some man-made INSTITUTION (of whatever brand). There is heavy pressure by those in alleged "authority positions" (whether papal, pastoral, or presbyterial) upon those who have submitted to this self-appointed "authority" to cause them to conform. If these "leaders" succeed, they control the whole situation. They BECOME God. If they cannot achieve compliance, they quickly lose control. It is that simple. Therefore, they must always wave the big stick (the threat of excommunication) in front of the people to maintain "law and order" (cf. John 9:22; 12:42). That's precisely what gives them their "power." Take it away and they are ordinary men.

I used to think that the bane of our society was "denominationalism." I thought that all we need do was to narrow it down to the one true church of Christ. I now believe that the universal error is much worse than I ever imagined. "Joining the church of your choice" is only symptomatic of a much deeper underlying corruption. The correct term to describe this spiritual malady is not "churchanity," "Christendom," or even "Christianity," but "EKKLESIOLATRY" - a foreboding term indeed, for it portends of outright abandonment of the true worship of God in lieu of the more exciting liturgi-cal "worship services" invented by men to instill reverence (cf. Col. 2:20-23).

CONCLUSION

All of us are faced with a serious dilemma. Once we realize that it IS much worse than we first thought, what do we DO about it? What CAN we do about it? Who would believe such a "preposterous" thing? Surely you are NOT suggesting that ALL people in ALL "churches" are wrong? What would our community be without its fine, upright, law-abiding "churches" of the establishment? Are you seriously intimating that all people stay home and boycott those magnificent sanctuaries built to accommodate large crowds, to meet their "needs"? Are you saying that EVERYBODY ought to meet in homes? How far out can you get!? I guess the early Christians didn't know any better (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 10:32; 12:12; 16:15,32,34; 17:5; 18:7,8; 20:20; 21:8; I Cor. 16:15,19; Col. 4:15; 2 Tim. 1: 16; Philm. 2). They had not heard how ESSENTIAL our fancy church buildings and high-powered hireling homileticians are for running the religious industry. Maybe God will forgive them for their ignorance?