When Jesus Becomes an Idol
Let me come directly to the point.
After 50 years in the American evangelical church, 30 of those years in leadership, I am becoming increasingly alarmed that a significant percentage of the Western church is moving towards, and in some ways is already moving in, profoundly dangerous spirituality as it relates to Jesus. Yes, I said Jesus.
From the beginning of God’s communication with His people, He has warned us repeatedly of the dangers of idolatry. God clearly declares in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The great sin of Israel after coming out of Egypt was creating the golden calf – a god of their own image, imagination, and design.
Though I have had growing concern on this issue for months, and have made it a matter of prayer and reflection, it crystallized for me in a moment several weeks ago in a weekly Sunday morning worship service. The moment was intense.
The worship leader and singers were passionately and sincerely singing the “latest chorus”. (Our worship songs now seem to have a shelf life of about 3 weeks. But that is a different article. Stay tuned.) I was doing my best to connect with the worship service, even though I did not know the song. But as I sang along, trying to learn the chorus, I suddenly realized something was very wrong.
The worship chorus was blasphemy. Complete, dangerous heresy.
I don’t want to identify the song exactly, or the artist, because I realize these people love God and love His Church and are doing their very best for the Lord. But the essence of the song was saying, repeatedly, that there is only one throne in heaven, and Jesus is seated on it, alone.
The problem here (and, I would argue, the camouflaged but dangerous heresy) is that according to your Bible, Jesus does not reign alone on a throne in heaven.
Now, please understand, the songwriter is seeking to describe the THRONE ROOM OF THE UNIVERSE. We are not dealing with some minor theological point here like the difference between baptism by sprinkling and baptism by immersion. We are dealing with the POWER CENTER OF ALL THAT IS. So let’s…you know…get it RIGHT. And, the most basic reading of Revelation 4 and 5 tells a completely different story. It clearly shows a Throne, surrounded by 24 OTHER thrones, with a Lamb (Jesus) standing “in the midst” of the Throne (5:6), and taking the scroll “out of the right hand of Him who sat on the Throne” (5:7). It is right there. In black and white. Since Patmos. The Lamb (Jesus) takes the scroll from the One “on the Throne.”
If we are not getting THIS correct – if, in all the early writing, recording, and reviewing of this song, someone, somewhere did not have the basic biblical literacy and presence of mind to say, “Hey – I am not sure this accurately reflects the Throne Room” – then what does that say about us as a community of faith? What does this say about the state of basic biblical literacy and theology in evangelicalism in America and the West?
Back to the worship service.
I got up, interrupted the worship leader, stopped the music, and said, “We aren’t continuing with this song. And, we need to be much more careful about the songs we sing.” I then gave a 5-minute explanation of the deep theological shortcomings of the well-intentioned song.
Friends, please listen to my heart. Words MEAN something. Words have impact. A word is not measured by its sincerity, but by its accuracy. And the words of this particular worship chorus, and many others like it that I am hearing across the nation, are both witness of and reinforcement to a very deceptive, dangerous trend.
Where We Are Right Now
In this modern manifestation of the Church, we have forgotten the Eternal One. The Creator. The “I Am that I Am”. And we have forgotten the Holy Spirit. The Wind, Breath, and Fire of God. And the Jesus we are so transfixed with and fascinated by? I am afraid he is one we have made in our image. He is not the true Jesus. We are – largely – worshipping another christ, even an anti-christ. We are worshipping an American or Western Jesus, not the Jesus of the Bible who is now seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
We have lost the fear of the Lord. We have lost the sense of majesty and holy reverence in worship. We have never had more stylistically Charismatic or Pentecostal worship in the American church as we do right now – but where is the Presence of the precious Holy Spirit? Where are the gifts of the Spirit in operation?
We have created a Jesus who is our “best friend”, but we don’t really wrestle with who He was in history. We don’t study the Scriptures in their context, finding the hard-earned rewards of proper exegesis, deeply and intently working to separate fact from fiction, history from myth. We are getting our theology, if that is what you can call it, from Instagram posts.
We are, in short, biblically illiterate, theologically shallow, and spiritually narcissistic. And this has given rise to “another christ”.
Great trouble is upon our world. Greater trouble is coming. It is at the door. And sincerity and good intentions and catchy beats and lyrics will not sustain us. We need to encounter and wrestle with God again. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Who is Jesus?
The Western church must begin to wrestle deeply to come to know Jesus. Not the “inner voice”, “best friend in my heart” Jesus, which can (in the midst of sincerity) still easily slip into a groundless, rootless, and hence, a subjective and meaningless Jesus – but rather the ACTUAL, true, historic Jesus. Who was He? What did He REALLY say? What DIDN’T He say? Who is this One whom I am following?
The Torah and the Prophets foretold a righteous Servant whom God would raise up from among the families of Judah. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is that Servant, that Herald, that Bridge to the Father. If we intentionally orunintentionally assign a Western view to Jesus that elevates Him above the Father, or that unintentionally results in Him somehow replacing the Father on the Throne, we are in danger of worshipping a God that Scripture does not portray. It is profound heresy.
Here are just a FEW New Testament Scriptures we must meditate on and allow to speak to us.
Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (I Corinthians 15:28)
…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (John 4:23)
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)
Lastly, Jesus proclaimed His dependence on the Father for the unfolding of the final reality, including the very timing of His second coming which was unknown to Him as the Son:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
Jesus, whom we worship, is not somehow a replacement or substitution for the majestic glory of the Holy One, the Ancient of Days, whom He came to this earth to represent.
The Jesus Who Came
Jesus came to earth with a specific mission: to reveal the heart of His Father and to finish His work, to announce the salvation of Israel and the nations, and to destroy the works of darkness. Jesus is the life-giving Vine into which we are organically connected for our sustenance – that we may know the Father personally. And of utmost importance, His identity as the Son of God is inextricably subject to the One mighty God and Father of the universe.
Are we seeking to worship Jesus Himself as He is, or have we slipped – perhaps sincerely and unknowingly – into a dangerous habit of imagining – “imaging” – who we think Jesus is, or want Him to be? Hear what the scripture says:
You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. (Exodus 20:4 NLT, emphasis added)
May we return to Jesus – a Jewish man from Nazareth – who is the Lamb, seated at the right hand of God Most High.
May we live to know Jesus as He is – and to reveal Him through our actions and our service to the world around us. Then the scripture will be fulfilled in which Jesus says, “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).