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Foundation Truth, Number 16 (Winter 2007) | Timeless Truths Publications

Building an Idol

I received an interesting telephone call from a man who is part of a people who long ago let down from what the Lord had taught them. The process of compromise has been working among them for nearly ninety years, and they are so changed that one can scarcely recognize the remains of their godly heritage in their spirit, their doctrine, and their lives. This man was not hungry for spiritual things. He was very sentimental, in the sense of “indulging the sensibilities for their own sake,” and had a peculiar reverence for the pioneer ministers (who were used of God so long ago). This reverence was not for what they taught or how they lived. It was part of a sacred history that proved the validity of the church of which he was a member. What those brethren had taught was not important to him. It was irrelevant to how he and his fellow adherents ordered their lives. He had actually seen the boat upon which ministers preached. He had actually stood in the meeting house in which camp meetings had been held, and his voice trembled with veneration as he related the experience. But when we emphasized that the importance of those brethren was that they taught the truth, and that we should live up to that truth, he was silent and wanted no part of that.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.”* (Matthew 23:29-31)

Here we see the same awe and respect offered to the murdered prophets of God (by building their sepulchres). That veneration is given by the children of those who killed the prophets. They go so far as to say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” That is a deception. They were flattering themselves. They did not realize how the truth in the hands of those slain prophets had provoked the carnality and desire-to-do-as-they-pleased in their forefathers. We know their characterization of themselves was a deception because these same people were provoked by the truth in the same way as their ancestors to the extent that they “crucified the Lord of glory!”* (1 Corinthians 2:8) As Jesus said to them, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers,”* (Matthew 23:32) and they did. Jesus foretold that they would kill, crucify, scourge, and persecute His messengers, and they did.

The scribes and Pharisees got a powerful inspiration out of building the sepulchres of the righteous and garnishing the same. It was very moving. It made them feel good. It was also very deceptive and misleading. It would have been far better to have been dwelling on the truth that those righteous had spoken, and its meaning to us today, than to have been reverencing their sepulchres.

A (professed) church of God minister said to me, “The church is my whole life! I love everything about it! I even love the ridiculous little inscriptions on the walls of the tabernacle at ——!” We would say with Jesus, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”* (Luke 11:28)

This process of building a conception of truth that is our own—not the conception given by the Holy Ghost from heaven—is nothing more or less than idolatry. If we do this, then we decide what is to be reverenced. Men naturally make their own choices in what to exalt. We are easily impressed and deceived, much more than we readily admit, unless we live very humbly and dependently by the help of the Holy Spirit. Consider Moses as he ponders the bush that burns, but is not consumed. It is an impressive phenomenon, but God helps him to get it in perspective. The important thing is what God tells him. Peter knew not what he said when he advocated, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”* (Matthew 17:4) I am glad that he said, “if Thou wilt,” and I am even more glad that his suggestion was not followed. How much we need direction from the Lord! After John attempted to worship at the feet of the angel, “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”* (Revelation 22:9) How much trouble would have been spared mankind if all submitted every thought to the obedience of Christ! See thou do it not!

Now every organization of man contains something of this reverence for things that should not be reverenced, for this is the nature of all worship, except those who are taught of God to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. This false veneration is not hypocritical or pretended, at least among the true adherents. It is real. It is wrong. It is deceptive.

In Jeremiah 10, we read of the process of setting up an idol. It starts with a man making his selection. He chooses a certain tree of the forest. He is drawn to one over another because of his inner inclination. God has nothing to do with it. The man is on his own. A man chooses his church, his religious beliefs. He is drawn to one over another because of his inner inclination. God has nothing to do with it. God will disown it. “I never knew you,”* (Matthew 7:23) He will say. It is not a choice that is of God. It is another way (John 10:1).

After the man has made his choice, he puts labor and sacrifice into it, and in his mind, this “sanctifies” his choice. The more labor and sacrifice, the deeper the reverence. In Isaiah 44:9-21 the process of making an idol is further described. The process of the smith forging an idol in the fire, and the process of an idol fashioned from the tree of the forest. The man actually planted the tree. As he labors on the idol, he uses part of the sculpturing process as fuel for his fire to cook his food. He uses part of the wood as fuel to keep warm. But he venerates part of it. Although he planted it, selected it, cut it down, expended much labor on it in carving it and shaping it, actually using a part of it for non-reverential things, yet “And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.”* (Isaiah 44:17) The inspired writer tells us that this is all possible because the laborer is deceived (Isaiah 44:18-20). How ridiculous to believe that something I grew, nourished, cut down, shaped, and partially used is my God, and will answer prayer and deliver me! But it is going on all around us.

Most people have no clue whatsoever to what it means to be lead by the Lord, or how that His leading fits and harmonizes with all His leadings down through the ages. Their reverence for the Bible and the actual presence of the Holy Ghost is established by the reasoning of man, not the power of God working within them. If closely questioned, and if they are honest, they will began to confess that they have just heard of it, and that it sounded good to them. Most people just get kind of nervous, and the whole subject becomes uncomfortable to them. As a man told me once, “Most [professed] church of God ministers think that discussing Bible truths means speaking so fast that you can’t get a word in edgewise.” Now, I am sorry to say that I know what he means. I have experienced it. Most Bible studies/discussions are an attempt to change the mind, rather than the heart. Almost all of them approach the subject from the wisdom of men, rather than the wisdom that descendeth from above. Such have the power to change the mind, but not the place from which proceed the issues of life. These approaches to the Bible will not deeply convict you of your absolute inadequacy to discover and keep truth by yourself. They will leave you with your axe in hand, exercising your best wisdom in the forest of human thought.

This disposition has always rejected truth as it saw fit, and adopted truth and turned it to its own ends. We might say that the current workings of God that portray truth to a group of human beings are the tip of a great spear, with all the weight of consistency and identical vision of all other workings of God behind it. This tip of truth comes up against the armor of human thoughts and ways. To reject the current workings of God is to reject all that stands behind it. When the religious leaders of the synagogue came up against the healing that Jesus wrought in the man that had been blind from his birth, they were at a serious crossroads. They lingered over the matter, trying to bend it to their purposes. They argued about it. Since they were not taught of God, a certain disposition prevailed in these arguments. They pulled the man’s parents into the picture. These parents were “wise” enough to avoid the controversy and keep their place in the synagogue. They continued to worship with the people who rejected God’s healing plan because He did it on the Sabbath Day. And when the healed man would not bend with them, they showed their loyalty to the conception of truth that they had built. You certainly could not rightly accuse them of compromising what they believed. Their rejection of God’s dealings with them was absolute; their loyalty to their own idea of what God was about was thorough and complete. “They reviled him, and said…. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.”* (John 9:28-29) “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.”* (John 9:34) On the Judgment Day, when all things are revealed, Moses will disown them. Their exaggerated idea of Sabbath Day sanctity will be discredited. The horror of their rejection of the Son of God and their appalling ignorance of whom He is will all be plain as day for everyone to see. It is already plain to them, as they await the Last Day. It was not God that crafted their idol—the idol that separated them from truth. They did it themselves.

I was in a meeting once where the Spirit of God was dealing, and people were being moved to decide between really following the Lord or not. A sister in the congregation became alarmed that some might become offended and stop attending. She did not seem to be burdened about the consequences if they kept professing without really having anything. She was in a position to stop the effort, and she did so. She made a long, impassioned exhortation about how everyone was loved, that no one wanted anyone to leave, etc. No one got any help. They all stayed, both at that place of attendance and in their inadequate spiritual condition. The congregation still professes to be a church of God congregation, but it is “Ichabod.” The glory has long departed. It was gone at the time of that meeting, years ago. Now it is desolate, indeed. This desolation is still unacknowledged. The causes are unrepented. The devil is not through. It will go further yet. Even to hell in the end.

It is such a marvel: how people see what they want to see. The prophet Isaiah marvels at the irrationality of the idol-making process (Isaiah 44:9-21). “And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?”* (Isaiah 44:19) How can they do it? How can I ignore the fact that I use part of the tree as fuel, and another part I regard as a god? What is the matter with me that I cannot see this?

Let me tell you a little about an unfortunate girl I knew in grade school. She lived in an area where the children (and their parents) were full of race prejudice. Her skin happened to be a little darker than average, so she was shunned. I was living for God, so I did not want to join in the shunning. I felt sorry for her. She had no friends. So I spoke kindly to her, and she responded eagerly and appreciatively to that attention. Of course, then I was classified with her, but that did not bother me. I was committed to doing the right thing. But then something did happen that bothered me a lot. She set her affections on me and regarded me as her boyfriend. I was not attracted to her in this way in the least. I had given her several books, of a spiritual nature, with the hopes that she would read these books and prosper from the contents. But I learned from her mother that she would not read these books. Instead, she reverenced them. They were a symbol that someone cared about her—cared about her specially, as a boyfriend would—as someone who desired her to marry her. Of course, the books did her no good in their real potential for her. She had transformed them into something else, and that transformation very effectively prevented her from getting the assistance and help in the books for her.

God has this problem with people all the time. He gave us the Bible to help us, and many, perhaps even the most, of professed Christians venerate the Book in such a way that it has become a symbol of what they wish to think. “I am a Christian, for I love the Bible.” They do not do what it says; they do not even know what it says. They give it a honored position in their home. They would never step on it or tear the pages out. They regard it differently from other books. They swear on it (although this is one of the very things that the Book tells us not to do).

God is constantly doing things for people that they take and bend to their own ideas. It is really astonishing to see how the slightest idea of God working among them is viewed as a vindication that their own ideas of things are right. “God is still with us; people are still getting saved among us.” “Don’t you see that things are just as they always have been?” “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man!”* (John 8:33) Oh, surely the Bible is true! “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”* (Isaiah 44:20)

God welcomes honest questions and an inquiring heart. He wants us to be Israelites without any guile. When we are ready to drop our preconceived ideas and look squarely at what God has established in His Word, He will answer us and satisfy our souls. Until then, we just churn in our own juices, making and unmaking idols, and desperately groping, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

What am I doing? This is nothing more than wood! Why am I shaping such a thing? How did I get started on this? This is not divine! This is just the product of my own thinking!

This separation between the pure and the vile is the starting point out of all confusion. Did God build the organization/group that I am currently fellowshipping? Is it maintained by Him? Did men take it over and God leave it to them at some point? Now, I assure you that you will not be able to really address these questions about where you are until you have died to all but Jesus and His will forevermore. Until that happens, you just can’t. It all depends on how single your eye is. “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.”* (Luke 11:34)

The man with the axe is driven by other considerations than a single-mindedness for truth and right. He desperately needs someone, something to pray to, even if he has to make it! Because his eye is not single toward truth, his whole body, attitude, everything is full of darkness, and he proceeds down the path of delusion.

But how about the dishonest, professed Christian? He has set his faith in a movement, and he must bend everything to fit with that. “All of the ministers together can’t be wrong.” They can. “There is much virtue and much to be appreciated among those in the group.” There was much virtue among the Jews, too, at the time that Jesus was in the world. The virtue was not a result of the deceived conditions of their leaders. The existence of the virtue among them did not justify or excuse the horrible spiritual conditions of the people, of whom it was said, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”* (John 1:11) Jesus came to call his people out of what was confusion and wrong. He did not put his efforts into their structure (Luke 5:37). Instead, their house was left unto them desolate. Jesus took all away that would listen and follow Him, and those who had not ears to hear remained, and lost what they had. It is the same today. To ignore this process, to pretend that God is still governing a group of people who rejected His government long ago and are on their own, is to carve an idol in our own heart and mind.

I am continually amazed at how folks will justify a group of people on one hand, and call for revival and overhaul of the same people on the other hand. They will steadfastly maintain that this is the truth, God is still with them, and that I should be there, too; while they are desperately striving to get the people to act like the children of God ought to act. We see you stretching out your rule; we see you marking out your line; you fit it with planes; you mark it with the compass. We see that it is your efforts expended on a tree that you cut down. We urge you to abandon this vanity and come to Zion to see what God has done. We are not drawn to your project, no matter how skillfully it is wrought or how great your sacrifice, for we have seen God’s work in the earth, and it has spoiled us for the most careful human craftsmanship. Hallelujah! You are wasting your time to impress us, for we tell you in the fear of God, that His ways are better, far better.

You do not tell the truth when you say that we are basically the same, just as the Samaritans were badly mistaken when “they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.”* (Ezra 4:2) They thought that a common doctrine, common heritage, made them the same. It is not the common doctrine or common heritage that gives unity; it is what we do with it. We will answer you with the words of Zerubbabel, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.”* (Ezra 4:3) You may think that sounds awfully harsh and cold, and that you feel shut out. Do you not have the same entranceway into this that we have found? The door is open to you, if you are willing to follow the Lord all the way. We would say to you, “It is worth it.” What God hath done is worth the cost. I would rather have the blessings that God has for all who follow with all the heart than to dabble around with my ideas of what God ought to bless. I am so thankful that I forsook my ideas! There is really no comparison. His ways are far above our ways.

“We will enter no door that is opened by men
Who promise a home for the soul;
For in Christ we abide in the church that will stand
While ages eternally roll.”*

Praying to something I prop up, made of my gatherings! As compared to petitioning the Living God for succour and strength! I am not interested in excursions in the forest. I am not interested in sharpening my axe. I have no desire to learn the way of the professed church of God heathen. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”* (Romans 1:18)

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”* (Hebrews 12:28-29)