THE EDIFICE COMPLEX
By Buff Scott (with a few thoughts of my own)
Are “Churches” Our Idols?
When Moses’ descent from the Mountain of God was delayed, the children of Israel built an idol in the form of a golden calf and bowed down to it, thus corrupting themselves (Exodus 32:1-8). If the title of this message got your attention, and if it can be answered in the affirmative, and I’m convinced it can, let me really make you cringe; get ready, here it comes . . . the Christian community should be charged with idolatry, for she has built for herself “golden calves” in the likes of church edifices while Jesus’ descent from heaven is being delayed.
If what I’m about to tell you draws you closer to the One who cares about each of us and away from our idols, my efforts will not have been wasted.
Church structures and edifices are our idols and we are idolaters. We esteem the “works of our mighty hands,” as though God Himself built them. Lest we forget, the Lord was provoked to anger when the children of Israel made Asherah poles as symbols of worship (1 Kings 14:15). We have constructed church structures and edifices as symbols of worship, the very thing for which God condemned old Israel. We fail to see that God no longer “lives in temples build by [human] hands” (Acts 17:24). His only sanctuary today is the believer’s heart (1 Cor. 3:16). But try telling the average pew-warmer this. He views his church edifice and its “sanctuary” as holy places, and feels that he must go there in order to worship and make contact with his God.
However, his “sanctuary” is no holier than the building’s restrooms. In Protestant church structures, the table on which the bread and fruit of the vine (Lord’s Supper) are placed should not be regarded as a sacred article. It is as common as our dining room table. Our Catholic friends who bow down to a table before entering their pews are bending their knees to common, ordinary articles, and their priests are kissing a common, ordinary commodity when they kiss the table upon which the “Eucharist” is placed. None—I say none—of these things are holy. The water Catholics dip their fingers into when leaving their “sanctuary” is no holier than tap water.
All of this translates into idolatry, whether practiced by Protestants or Catholics. How in heaven’s name did we ever get this way? Most of the blame may be placed upon the shoulders of the professional clergy. They devise, invent, create and lead and we blindly follow. Are we no longer capable of thinking independently? Where have all the free-thinkers gone? Why have we succumbed to being robots?
Men seem to learn little from history. Moved with pride, swept with unreasoning fears, in every generation there are those who spend their time and money to build the same idols and to perpetuate the same errors of their sectarian forefathers. There has never been a human idol built that did not betray God’s trust and eventually bring disaster to its builders and their idolatrous followers.
The issue is not whether it’s right or wrong to meet somewhere. The issue is whether or not we have built church structures and edifices and set them apart—sanctified them—as holy articles or entities. I say we have. If I’m correct, we are as guilty of idolatry as were the children of Israel who erected Asherah poles as symbols of worship. God told Israel in no uncertain terms, “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved [consecrated] stone in your land to bow down before it” (Lev. 26:1).
Protestants and Catholics have done just that! Catholics have not only set up “consecrated stones” in the form of church structures, but they have made idols and images and bow down to them. Protestants, on the other hand, have set up their elaborate edifices and crosses and view them as sanctuaries and revered designs. There may be a few exceptions, but the rule seems to be universal.
I’ve heard it said, “Our heart is where our money is” or “money is a heart issue.” There are some ministers today that will use these saying to “guilt” the people that attend their meetings into giving more. They’ll say things like, “Look at your check book, if you don’t see such-n-such church more that you see anything else, then your heart is not in the right place.” If we will think about the hundreds of thousands of dollars—yes, even millions—that are spent on church structures, designs, and edifices, and compare that amount to the few dollars we spend on seeking and saving the lost and feeding the genuinely poor, we don’t need a professor to locate our hearts. If this isn’t idolatry, I’ve lost my ability to reason.
Now here’s something I think that is even worse—‘sanctified’ pastors. There are churches where the pastor receives a $100,000+ salary, plus ‘fringe benefits.’ They become quite extravagant, and many go into debt, and are always bleeding the church for more money. They even have “healing” services, but I think they are for the healing of the pastor’s lust for more money.
I read an account about a hot-shot pastor that comes into a small town. Rural people would turn out by the hundreds to hear him. He’d have stacks of books and CDs in back, and the first thing he would do is to make an announcement like this: “We will sing one song, then we will dismiss for a while as you go to the table in back to pick up books and CDs, then we will resume our services. But before that we’ll take an offering. Now I want you to give generously because we have some leaches and parasites here who will not give anything.”
Now pastors today may not be that blunt, but that is exactly what they mean to say. Isn’t it amazing how gullible people are and how quickly they will empty their bank accounts to a man who needs lots of money for his ‘ministry’?
Religion is big business. According to heaven’s testimony, swindlers will not inherit the eternal kingdom of God.
Some ministers add to their performances by asking everyone to get out of their seats and “stand up for Christ.” they want to get everyone “worked up” before their message. they’d say, “If you do not stand up for Christ, you’re not of Christ.” They would prod everyone out of their seats. We have to take a stand and not fall victim to this ritualistic stage show or caving in to rude coercion.
We find that years later, after they have hustled and bled their victims of all of their money, some have made up their storys to incite and bleed the Christian populace. It works—at least for a few years, long enough for them to build a fancy mansion somewhere and fatten their bank accounts.
Thousands of believers were suckered. Thousands more are still being suckered by these fly-by-night orators whose only gods are money, power, and control.
During the performance of my duty as an emergency responder, we responded to a medical call in a prominent church in Chicago on a recent Sunday morning. The pastor is well known and the church would be considered a modern “mega-church” that is well attended. While tending to the patient, the church attendees seemed to barely notice that one of their own was in distress. We arrived just as a major push for an “offering” was being made; “I want every man in here to stand up and make a love offering of $50 for the man of God…” a minister declared from the stage. This charge was made repeatedly, along with the blessings that would come to the man that heeded this call. All the while, at least one other emergency responder in attendance had a look of disgust and awe at the blatant pandering going on. With them knowing that I am a minister, we had quite a lively discussion on the working of the “church” and needless to say, what was observed in that church seemed to confirm at least one person’s desire to stay far away from a “church” of any kind.
As a side note, look out for those “offering cheerleaders!” Usually, they’re just another way of bleeding you blind so that the “holy edifice” idol can be even more embellished and revered. Instead, let the collection plate and pledge cards pass you by and send your dollars to help feed the world’s poor.
All of the above reminds me of those “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). Religious swindlers will have to bear the penalty for their corrupted ways. Listen to Paul:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the [eternal] kingdom of God? Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the [eternal] kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The Christian movement is so contaminated with rotten apples that the world looks upon us in disgust. In the meantime, we refuse to be ousted from our comfort zone. The cushions are too comfortable, and we delight in being spoonfed by hirelings who induce sleep by their stagnated food (“sermons”). We are stalemated with no hope of recovery unless we revamp the whole system and start over.
Here is another story I read:
“The Church And The Chain Saw”
“In order to follow Jesus and serve their community unconstrained by institutionalized religion, a group of Christians in New Zealand dismantled their church building. Wayne Jacobson reports: ‘As they walked in that day to the main meeting room they asked where they should begin. They all looked at each other and in the same moment said, “The pulpit!” With relish they sawed it in half, kept going across the stage and eventually dismantled the entire building and hauled it away to the trash heap.’
“In the nearly twenty years since, they have thrived in God’s life together as his people in the community. It has not been easy, nor has it been without challenge, but many of them talked of how their relationship with God really began to grow when they removed the crutch the institution had become. Not having everything planned out for them anymore, they had to listen to God and do the things he put on their heart. They saw their fellowship with each other grow and became available to unbelievers in ways they never had when they were so busy maintaining their structure.
“They saw some amazing doors open in the community. One man from the village was talking to one of the former leaders and said, ‘I feel like I can really talk to you now.’ By removing the baggage from the gospel that had alienated so many people, they found a new openness to share the gospel with others. True life is found in giving up, not in holding on, as we follow wherever God leads us.”
—Alan C. Henderson.
My whole point has been that our priorities are misplaced. We spend millions of dollars on our venerated structures and edifices—which, in essence, are our idols—and very little on evangelism and feeding the world’s hungry. I will continue announcing from the mountaintops: We are as guilty of idolatry as were the children of Israel and the pagans of their day. I have no doubt that my analysis is correct.
Please understand that once we have formally “placed our membership” with a church or denomination, we get caught up in all their projects and programs—including the spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on sacred cows and idols (church structures and edifices). We feel obligated, if not compelled, to support those projects, programs, and endeavors—financially and otherwise—whether we agree with them or not. Pressure, in one form or another, is applied and we feel embarrassed if we fail to “contribute our share of the load.”
Because the Christian community overall, has moved from compassion to project, “all hell has broken loose.” Satan is at his best when 85 percent of our “church contributions” is squandered on materialistic projects and programs and only 15 percent is spent on evangelism and to alleviate the needs of the world’s genuinely destitute.
As for me, I think it best to remain a “believer at large” and support, independently and at my own discretion, any need or ministry I deed worthy. I will no longer tie my coattails to a religious party and be compelled to support, promote, and maintain its idols. I intend to remain free in Jesus, not in bondage to man’s inventions and holy apparatuses. If this stance calls down judgment upon me by modern-day Pharisees and the “powers that be,” I shall, with the strength of God, endure the onslaught. Give me freedom or give me death. There is no third option for me.