Don't let this good thing become ultimate!
I am re-reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods. There are so many great thoughts to ponder there. I’ve been very busy, so I haven’t had the time to blog on as many as I would like. Today is semi-quiet and I have time to put some words to one of the things I read this morning while waiting for CavWife’s car to be repaired.
Keller was talking about religious idols. Not graven images that people bow down toward. Rather, the types of idols that religious communities are prone to worship instead of the One True God. To some people that may sound strange, but it really isn’t.
“Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.”
Being a part of the Reformed community, I have seen my share of all three. At times I’ve been guilty of worshiping them in some way, shape or form.
Keller is not saying it is wrong to pursue truth, seek to be effective in ministry or live an upright and godly life. The problem is when any of these takes the place of Christ as the basis of our standing before God.
Presbyteries are funny things. They are to hold ministers and churches to the doctrinal standards of the denomination. But we can easily focus on the minor points and exclude brothers unjustly for not signing every jot and tittle of our doctrinal standards. This is merely the opposite extreme of not holding people to established standards.
But it is not just Presbyteries or denominations. Christians can go at it rather heatedly over fine points. People can leave churches over fine points of theology. It is not the discussing of them that is the problem, but the lack of love in which we pursue it because we worship our theology more than we love our brother made in God’s image.
Central to the debate between Van Til and Clark
In one of the books I’ve got stashed in a box until I get to Tucson, there is a quote by Dutch theologian Herman Bavink from his deathbed. It basically reads, “My systematic theology cannot save me.” He was counting on Christ, not his theology, to save him from God’s wrath. We can worship truth instead of the Truth.
When we do this we condemn those who disagree with us. We are unable to graciously disagree with others on lesser points. This ought to be a sign to us that we have gone off track and have put our theology (or moral rectitude) above God.
We can do this, as mentioned, with moral rectitude as well. When we put one sin above others- common ones include homosexuality, abortion, and drunkenness- we condemn those who commit those sins while ignoring other sins which we tend to commit- like gluttony, gossip, covetousness, and deceit. We assume a position of moral superiority instead of humbly offering the gospel as one sinner to another.
When we worship success, we can quickly sacrifice doctrine and morality to achieve it. Having a big ministry (or business) becomes the standard by which we measure people. The book Outliers (which Keller mentions in another chapter) points out that most of what makes a person successful (or a failure) is beyond our control. So we are exalting or ignoring people based on God’s providential working in their lives. Their worth, or future effectiveness are not based on past performance. We are not justified by success (nor condemned for it).
It is so difficult for “religious” people to see their idols because they seem such a part of our religious communities. But we become toxic, harming others based on our standards instead of treating them with love, humility and grace. We live out of step with the gospel, and keep people from the gospel. May we let go of such worthless idols that we might grasp the grace that is ours through Christ.
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