The State of the Church, Part 20

Ezekiel 13:22 is an alarming verse. It tells us why those who teach in the Church will have a stricter judgment. “Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief, but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life.” Here is a concept that should be driven into the hearts of every minister, teacher, parent and probably all others as well. If we teach what is false, whether it is in the local church, the Church in general, or at home; it might dishearten the righteous and encourage the wicked not to turn from his wicked way. Teaching what is false is not a light matter, it is deadly serious. A driver of a car may believe something false and it might lead to a wreck. An engineer may believe something false and a building or bridge may collapse. But if a teacher of Scripture is wrong on the way of life, there are eternal consequences.

We live in a light and glib day where sin is scoffed at and dealt with as something wrong with a person’s self-esteem or a chemical imbalance rather than as sin. This is not to say that people don’t have self-esteem problems, but that is because all people love and esteem themselves too much and love and esteem Christ too little. There are physical problems with brains that cause behavioral issues. However, we must also know that sin in the heart is the real cause of sin and it tries to explain itself away. We explain sin away in our day by looking for causes in all places but the sinful heart in an effort to excuse the sinner. We say that a person has had a tough life or is in tough circumstances, but we hide our eyes from their heart as the real problem for sin. The sinful heart uses circumstances as an excuse to do what it wants and then to justify its own behavior. Ministers, counselors, and friends must be aware that what they are doing is possibly encouraging people not to turn away from wicked ways.

Rather than to encourage people in their sin and their idolatry, we must learn what the Word of God tells us to do: “‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6). This sounds hateful and certainly is not considered gracious and winsome in our day, but the ministers in modern America are unfaithful to God and to their congregations when they do not proclaim repentance to people. We see what will happen in v. 7 of Ezekiel 14 when repentance is not done: “For anyone of the house of Israel or of the immigrants who stay in Israel who separates himself from Me, sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet to inquire of Me for himself, I the LORD will be brought to answer him in My own person.”

This text shows us the gravity of the situation we have in America and the world. Ministers will not deal with the sins of their own hearts or with the sins of the hearts of the people. God has turned His face from the professing Church and has left us to our own devices. We have come up with various methods for church growth, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and all other things that one can imagine. We are simply following our own wisdom and think that God is blessing that when the numbers increase rather than realizing that judgment has arrived. As long as the professing Church does not turn away from its idols of the heart, then each time a person or group goes to pray those people are bringing idols with them to prayer. Even worse, we pray to God for our idols. We have idols in religious circles and mistake them for the desires of God and so we pray for them. When we pray for the idols of our hearts it is evidence that we are praying to an idol of our own imaginations rather than the true God.

An unrepentant ministry is a horrible judgment upon a professing Church and an unrepentant professing Church is a terrible judgment upon a nation. If it is true that God operates on the church through the true prayer of His people, then what a judgment for Him to turn His face and give them over to the power of their sin and idolatries! It is a terrible judgment for people to think they are praying to God and yet bring the idols of their hearts and then pray for the idols themselves to an idol of their imagination. God hates idolatry and hypocrisy. Both of these are done in the hearts of people when they pray with idols in their hearts. How awful for a ministry to be given over to prayer for idols and then not speak in a way that reveals idols in the hearts of the people. It is the spiritual equivalent of doctors not diagnosing illness or disease. We live in famine conditions regarding our spiritual state.

In modern America the professing Church has lost its authority to preach the Word of God and is now given over to the consumer model. The minister is a hired hand or CEO who is to make the church grow and keep the people happy. He is to give positive and uplifting sermons that are as short and comfortable. He is to be gracious and charming from the pulpit and in person and have a winsome personality. It is okay for some conservatives to preach about sin as long as it is about other people or perhaps some behavior modification that can be tweaked with the few helpful steps. While this sounds good to many and is certainly good for numbers in a time of spiritual famine, it is nothing but idolatry. Ministers are to preach the Word of God and to expose sin. Ministers are to search hearts with the Word rather than to hide the sin of the heart with gracious sounding words.

As we have seen in Ezekiel 13:22, when this is not done the wicked are encouraged to keep on living like they do rather than turn from their wicked ways. In our day the biblical teachings on sin and repentance have become lost. Sin is now just an outward act and repentance is an external stopping of the outward behavior. But how is this idolatrous? Let us do a short study on idolatry from primarily the New Testament. First, however, a verse from the Old Testament that shows idolatry as more than just bowing to an external idol: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). In this text we see that insubordination (disobeying a command of God) is as idolatry. The text in its own context tells us what that means. When a person rejects the word of God and chooses his own way, even if it appears pious, that person has chosen something over the Word of God and that is idolatry. It is obeying self rather than the Word of God. Saul rejected a clear command of God and followed his own heart. When ministers reject the Word of God for their own wisdom or some guru on a subject, they are idolaters. When a minister who has an idol of his own wisdom or the words of some expert or guru in his own heart when he goes to “pray,” that minister is inquiring of the Lord while having idols in his heart. We are told to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21), yet we drink them down like water. The Word of God is being rejected for all sorts of models of the church and of church growth. It is nothing less than idolatry.

Ministers and congregations are guilty of idolatry because of their immorality, greed and evil desires. “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Col 3:5). We can have greed in our hearts and think of it as success. We can desire success as preached today and yet it is nothing but greed as the text says. We can have all sorts of impurities and passions which are idolatry also. These things can be part of our religion and part of the so-called ministry. We can desire religious things from greed and evil desires. When what we call “ministry” flows from idolatry, we know that we are under the judgment of God. Ephesians 5:5 says the same thing. “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” An immoral person’s immorality is his idol. The object of the covetous person’s lusting and coveting is an idol. Even more, this text tells us that we can know with certainty that the idolater (immoral & the covetous) does not have an inheritance in the kingdom. If ministers are idolatrous, are they in the kingdom? Does God use non-spiritual people to build His spiritual kingdom? Each person must examine his heart to see if he is an idolater from Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5. They teach us that idolatry is really coveting. We covet a person sexually which is lust and covet property which is stealing. Coveting, then, refers to the passions of the soul and of the desires. We can covet people or possessions. We can also covet position, power, and honor. These things are not just for worldly people; these are for ministers and denominational leaders too. Idolatry is rampant among us because we see so much unfaithfulness to the Word of God and so much immorality and impurity. We see so much greed in the name of ministerial packages and we see the desire for honors. We see men not willing to preach the Word of God for fear of offending other men with no fear of offending a holy and living God.

Ministers are idolaters when they will not preach and apply the Word of God to the heart sins of the people. Saul the Pharisee, though he knew the words of the Bible well, did not understand the Word of God and so did not understand his sin. “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET” (Romans 7:7). How many people do we have in the world with vast amounts of biblical data stored in their heads while they are in total darkness? How many keep the externals and have no idea of the sin of their hearts? How many ministers are there with degrees and advanced degrees with “successful” churches (large numbers) because they will not preach to the hearts of men regarding their sin? How many people believe they are in the kingdom and yet are totally lost in darkness because men will not preach the Word of God?

Because of the idols in our hearts expressed in covetousness toward numbers of people and larger packages we water down the Word of God which is rebellion against God and a rejection of His Word. We can be orthodox and conservative regarding the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and yet our motive in it all is to gain a larger following and perhaps larger offerings. This is nothing but idolatry and an encouraging of the wicked not to turn from his wicked ways. If any church or denomination is going to truly turn from its wicked ways and not just liberalism, it must have men who fear no one but God and will preach His Word in truth and love rather than the effeminate American substitutes. Can we escape the conclusion that we are under the judgment of God and are in a terrible spiritual famine? Are we to the point where we can cry out with the disciples, “surely not I, Lord?” (Mat 26:21-22). Do we even think that we might have idols in our own hearts? Do we really care to find out as long as the numbers are steady or perhaps up? If the numbers go down, what is our real concern? Some of us might even have pride in small numbers and so think that this does not apply to us. If that describes anyone, then that person has pride in other areas and covets honor in a different way. Our hearts are so deceptive and we are so full of love for ourselves that our idol factories (covetous hearts) continue to pour out idols. If we will not deal with them through preaching and repentance, God will continue to deal with them in judgment. “Surely not, I, Lord?”

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