Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Idols in the Church of America

#2.jpgThis post concerns tonight’s Nightline show about the Ten Commandments. The second commandment concerns idol-making and idol-worshiping, and there are some things said here that are often enough missed.

20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 20:5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, 20:6 and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.


God is “jealous” for his love and that is why idol-making is wrong. A little lesson: “I’m sooo jealous” is a commonplace expression today, but it’s an erroneous one most of the time. Most of the time it means “I’m so envious.” We envy what others have; we are jealous of what we have. God is not envious of us and what we are doing. God’s honor is wounded, his glory is clouded, and his love is broken when any of us decides to focus our love and our worship and our allegiance to anyone but God. God is Jealous for his love and for his glory and for his honor.

That the point of idol-making has to do with God’s Jealous love complements what Jesus said: the laws are about either loving God or loving others. The 2d Commandment is about loving God and we don’t love God if our loyalty is split.


Yet another idea: I have long suspected that we are not to make images because God has himself made the image, and we are the image. Humans have been placed here by God as the apex of creation and God reserves the right to keep humans central in his creation plan. (By the way, this does not encourage arrogance and hybris, but is a development of our wonderful placement by God in his world. We usurp the role of God and we deny our responsibility when we make idols and worship them.)

Now a big point: anything that we do or make or construct or achieve, and then admire to the point of worship is an idol. The issue here is making something and then worshiping what we make with our own hands; what we make does not get us beyond the created world. God alone is worthy of worship, so only God can be worshiped. It is too simple to equate idols with things that gobble up our time and our attention. This commandment drives the point deeper: it is about making images and then worshiping what we make that forms the core of this commandment.

There’s a powerfully deconstructing point here: to make something and then to worship what we ourselves make is a rude form of self-worship. It is to set ourselves up as gods.

Perhaps the best example I’ve seen of violating the Second Commandment is Michael Jordan’s thorough self-exaltation in his Hall of Fame speech. 

God reveals himself through the Voice and through the Deed, but not through a physical image — so any image distorts Who God is or pretends to know what God is like. God is too vast, too big, too mysterious for the image to capture what God is really like.

Written into the fabric of the 2d commandment is that there is but one God, something observant Jews have always reminded themselves of daily (Deut 6:4-5). To worship something other than that One God is to play pretend; it is to pretend there is more than one God. But there isn’t. (It may well be that images of Yahweh are being prohibited.)
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posted October 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I think part of the problem is that people define “worship” differently, so they don’t see that as part of their problem.

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Ryan J Riehl

posted October 1, 2009 at 4:39 pm

a friend of mine has an interesting exegesis of the second commandment. its very different than the classic, “don’t make little statues, and oh, try to avoid whatever else you chase after too.”
he gives the second commandment a more precise definition like the third and fourth, under the broader first “Don’t have any other gods before/beside me.”
I think you like it. He wrote it up in a blog post here:

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Carl Franzon

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm

The understanding of jealous is important. I understand the meanings as such:
jealous: protective of something which is yours
covetous: wanting something that belongs to someone else
envious; wishing ill of someone because of what they have
It seems that any discussion of idols must go far beyond these few verses. The Bible has a lot to say about idols. One of the features of idols is not only that we fashion them, but that they are created to serve us, and that we in some way have power over them.

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Allen Garry Bunyan

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Self worship the highest form of idolatory has been around for ever,well almost just ask Lucifer.Causing the fall of more nations than we can remember, Egypt,Babylon,Greece and Rome etc.America now holds the scepter when it comes to idol worship,Who will Americas next idol be?Revelation 3:14 is Gods word to the church in America the verses that follow describe what ails the once mighty nation today.Maybe,just maybe there’s hope yet,but that’s not what the words in the book say.A revival in America you say?Maybe if you turn from your idols and pray,we will do the same, and ask God once again to Bless America,it will take a miracle.Amen.

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Dana Ames

posted October 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Ryan @ 2,
that’s awesome! Tell Alex, right well said.

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posted October 1, 2009 at 10:35 pm

A helpful thing I heard from Earl Palmer long ago is that idolatry often happens when something good is elevated to a higher place than it deserves. When our lives are centered around “Jesus and …” rather than just Jesus. So for example aspects of Christian experience that are good in their proper perspective (like Bible knowledge or “signs and wonders”) can become idols.
If we are talking about idols in “the Church of America” (which I would interpret as “the Evangelical church in the U.S.”), I can think of a few things that often become idols:
Patriotism (“God and country” as though they are equal loyalties or part of one package)
“The American dream”
The traditional family (a good Christian should be married with children and others are marginalized)
The Bible

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John W Frye

posted October 2, 2009 at 1:53 am

At the risk of being misunderstood, I think some of the current evangelical wrangling is over man-made, i.e., human-produced constructs–can a theological system built by humans become an idol that we become very “jealous” over (zealous)? Can a particular version of the Bible be an idol? Or form of church or worship? Can a view on some burning social issue be an idol? I think people who bristle and reject others over anything man-made violate the JESUS CREED and tip their hand to their sanctified idolatry.

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posted October 2, 2009 at 6:59 am

I think that you are right.

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James Reiner

posted October 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Wow! Great stuff. I have never thought of the idea that God prohibits idol worship because as image bearers we are the image.

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posted October 4, 2009 at 7:32 am

A friend has asked me to attend a church called ((not naming the city) SPiritualist church. They believe in God and also believe in mediumship where you can contact those who have passed. Does this go against Christian principles, the bible. As long as I believe that Jesus Christ is the messiah and died for my sin would it be ok to attend this church? Thanks

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posted October 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

It seems to me that as revelation has progressed. We see Jesus restating many of the commandments and making the point that the most important thing for God is what is going on in our hearts.
We could see the shadows of this even before the “10” when Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted. And we can see the idea further developed by many of the OT prophets, who condemned the children of Israel for just going through the motions of a religious worship.
Therefore, I would expand the idea of an idol to include anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts and minds. This would mean that if I am finding my “peace” about the future in a good retirement plan then I need to ask myself if that has become an idol. If I find my “worth” in the work that I do and not in my identity with Jesus Christ then maybe my work has become and idol. If the only “love” I feel is when I am involved in a human relationship, then maybe that has become an idol for me too. The list could go on.
I guess my point is I need to move past the mere actions of what could be idol worship, and ask the Lord to “search me and know my heart” and see if there be any wicked [idolatrous] way in me.

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Pastor David

posted October 6, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I agree, my point as well….perhaps in our shedding of gods and goddesses, the truest ?god? in our lives is becoming?ourselves. Perhaps when it really comes down to it, the thing that we are really counting on saving us? the place where we find the most security and love is in the self.

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Lourens Grobbelaar

posted October 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

You make the statement: “It is too simple to equate idols with things that gobble up our time and our attention.” The reason I think we often equate this to idol worship is that it does show peoples’ allegiance and what they truly worship in life.
I agree that self-exaltation is a form of self-worship. Jesus, the only man worth worshipping was pretty keen on humility, even to the death.
Do we not also at times shape God with our ideas about God into an image we feel fits our lives and worth worshipping? Has the creation not become the creator? Isaiah 44 speaks of creating Idols. We create God in our image to our satisfaction. This however is not to deny we do not know everything about God, but that a lot have been revealed, and about the rest we should maybe take care to say to much with to much authority.

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Don Heatley

posted October 6, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Great thoughts, Scott. I am in the middle of a series on the Ten Commandments and just preached on this last week, so it is fresh in my mind. I’d like to share a few thoughts from that message.
Although idol worship is more than just giving time and attention to things other than God, I think we sometimes make our own ideas and concepts about God an idol. We are scared of an infinite and uncontainable God. In order to manage our fear, we continually make attempts to control and compartmentalize this infinite God. In turn, we create a false god and put that false god ahead of the one true living God. How is confining God putting other gods first? Because once you define and limit God, it is no longer God you are following.
Few of us are sculpting totems in our garage anymore, yet all of us still fall prey to making idols. Sometimes we do that by putting other loyalties ahead of our loyalty to God. When we put our allegiance to our country, or our political ideology ahead of Jesus, we are worshipping other gods. As has been said by many others, the cross is not wrapped in the American flag, nor the flag of any other nation. I don?t care if you are a George W. Bush supporter or a Barack Obama supporter. When we put our allegiance to a political figure or cause ahead of our allegiance to God, we are breaking this commandment.
I believe following Jesus inevitably leads us to engage in politics and social issues. We aren?t supposed to be detached from the world, but we must be careful. I have seen Christians, on the right and the left, get involved in causes and as time goes on, the causes connection to following Jesus becomes tenuous. These people become more likely to speak the words of Jon Stewart or Rush Limbaugh, as the case may be, than the words of Jesus of Nazareth. When we take a stand on some social issue, if our stand generates from being first and foremost a liberal, or a conservative, and does not first spring from the teachings of Jesus and being a worshipper of God, we are breaking this commandment. When we put our allegiance to a particular church, or denomination, or branch of Christianity be it Evangelical, Pentecostal, Emerging or whatever, ahead of Christ, we are breaking this commandment.
Our concepts, theologies and doctrines can easily become idols.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 8:27 am

what book is the first verses? it is stated (20:4,5,6) but what book of the bible?

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John hardy

posted October 9, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I unfortunately am in a living situation where my parents worship. It is higher than anything for them. Finding comfort in money goes against what Jesus says in Matthew 6:24. Is this too not considereda blatant violation of the 2nd commandment.

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posted October 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

What about when people, like myself pray to St. Jude, or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Is this wrong. They have these statues throughout our churches. Very confusing.

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glen h

posted October 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I am with gloria what about mary and st jude

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Your Name

posted October 10, 2009 at 7:20 am

I do not see statues of St. Jude, Mary, St. al. as idol worship, so long as your veneration is not of them, but to the creator. Your focus needs to be on God, not the person in the statue. Use them as examples of how a prayerful, observant life in God can be lived; they are not to be worshiped, God the creator of all is the only object of our worship and devotion. Those who have gone before us can serve as worthy examples of how we can and should lead our lives.

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posted October 10, 2009 at 7:48 am

Did Jesus ever pray to a ‘statue’? Did any of the Apostles, in the Bible, ever pray to an ‘graven images’? Does the Bible instruct us to pray to any ‘so called saints’ or their images? The Bible tells us that we can go directly to God with our prayers. That is why the curtain in the Holiest of Holies was torn right down the middle when Jesus was crucified, so that you and I could enter bodly into the presents of God with our prayers.
God said their is “none beside me.” So who are you praying to when you pray to an image? It certainly is not God. Find the Church that teaches about the One True God that robed Himself in the flesh of Jesus the Christ.

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posted October 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

Unforunately many do not feel worthy enough to pray directly to
God they feel someone else must intercede on their behalf. And
many of them are taught in church concerning the way to pray.
I think God knows their hearts as he not only hears our prayers
he reads our hearts.

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posted October 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Dake’s version…”Thou shalt not make unto thee ANY graven image, or ANY likeness OF ANY THING that is in heaven above, or that IS in the earth beneath, or that IS in the water under the earth.”
Then the scripture goes on to address bowing down and worshiping these images.
This is not intellectual, there is no negotiating or bargaining here: no image…no idol…no sin. That goes for the church as well. No means No and not make unto thee ANY means ANY. Simple.

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posted October 10, 2009 at 6:36 pm

“any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water . . .”
Does this mean that if we interpret this literally, then we are in error when we make a photograph or a video? They are certainly likenesses?

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Your Name

posted October 11, 2009 at 8:11 pm

God himself ask Moses to make a snake sculpture to cure the bitten, Whao God himself, that’s the problem when scriptures are read literally without understanding. Then we have to throw our beloved photograph, videos and all the art made throughout the world that remember us of those who came before or are remember for their deeds. That includes throwing baseball players cards, posters, and on and on……

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posted October 12, 2009 at 10:35 pm

For Nikonhermit & Your Name: Nikonhermit first-The Dake Bible explains in the footnotes that scriptures should apply to the times. To take a picture of the sky that is used as a picture (my opinion) only…is just that. The likelyhood that someone could and even would idolize it is there but that’s not the purpose the picture. To carve, hew or sculpture an image to worship or to bow down to an image to worship defines the purpose of the image. If we read the scripture (Dake) it clearly explains that we must apply the scripture to the times for these types of situations. Back when this was written there was obviously no cameras of any sort so we must understand that what you produce and it’s purpose carries a lot of weight as well as what’s in your heart.
Your Name: It appears that you have the priviledge of an UNDERSTANDING that wasn’t shared. I understand that if I take the scriptures literally 1ST and then apply them to the times when apropriate rather than to my own selfish needs…it’s takes some work and is generally not easy. On the other hand if the scriptures make what I do difficult or create a need for me to further apply myself by investigating, researching or do some additional work it may become easy for me to find that the literal application is not what was intended by the scribes.
I hope my replies have been with grace as I wish you all well in your search for the truth.

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