Be Not Idolaters

Jim Wilsford
Tallmadge, Ohio

God's will, set forth in the surprisingly few pages of the Bible, has the complex and difficult purpose of instructing man in his total religious life. To instruct in the rudiments of first principles; to describe the elements of the body of Christ, its work, and worship; and to direct the believer in his attempt to become a "partaker of the divine nature," name only a few of the difficult tasks accomplished by God's word.

In contrast to this great accomplishment, how many volumes or works would it have taken to identify the thousands of false doctrines and sins confronting the believers since apostolic days? To borrow John's words, the world itself would not contain the books! Because sins are not itemized and condemned, does not mean those sins or false doctrines are permissible, nor does it mean that man in generations following the Bible's completion is free to decide religious matters for himself. In lieu of specific itemization and condemnation, God has given truth in such a way that man may know what is right or wrong.

The Unstated

The realm of the religious liberal is the unstated, and therefore he operates on the assumption that he is free to improvise. He interprets his liberality as license to do what he pleases. He justifies himself with such trite overworked clichés, as "the Bible doesnt say not to do it" or "where there is no pattern." The shallowness of this sophistry was met during the instrument controversy by asking how many types of wood God would have had to condemn in the case of Noah's ark. Obviously the specification of gopher wood sufficiently excluded all others. Now we reason again in realms of work and organization, and now the liberals move again in the sphere of the unstated.


What moves the liberal to leave the sure ground of gospel pattern must be answered. And it occurs that the very basic motivation of liberalism must be defined and attacked. Granted that the rejection of New Testament authority resulted in Romanism and results in institutionalism and modernism, it does not follow that suddenly a group or a man decides there is no authority or pattern and moves to the sphere of the unstated to justify unscriptural works or worship or organization. Witness the gradual move of modern religion: In the nineteenth century's first half, Alexander Campbell could enter into honest debate with men of various denominations  Purcell, Rice, Walker. Each one tried to support what he said by the scriptures. Present in these debates was false doctrine and an attempt to support it from the Bible. Therefore false doctrine and an attempt at authority existed together. Today these same groups reject authority of the Bible and refuse to even attempt a scriptural justification of their religious conduct. If they are questioned about their practices, they answer as true liberals: "Where does the Bible say not to do it!"

If anything is learned from this history, it is that false doctrine and appeal to scriptural authority exist together and later the false doctrine, which cannot be supported by scripture, is supported by silence or by an appeal to that ambiguous plea of the unstated. From all of this there is a conclusion: If false doctrine and an effort to find scriptural authority exist together, false doctrine originates in some way other than by rejection of scriptural authority. Rejection of Bible authority is an effect of false practice. Thus we must search for the true cause of false doctrine!

In answering the question of the cause of false doctrine, two areas of false teaching refuted in the New Testament become fruitful: the idolatry of heathenism and the apostasy of believers.

I. The Cause of Idolatry

In modern terms man thinks of idolatry as statue worship and nothing more. In defining Idolatry western man must notice carefully the words of the Bible to gain understanding outside his experience. Notice the following passage:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . . because that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the image of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever" (Romans 1:18-25).

Verses 24-25 are particularly enlightening since they reveal two little regarded facts: ( I ) "Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts . . ." and (2) "Who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator." From these statements it is evident that the cause of the idolaters separation from God is his own heart's lust and the giving up to one's lust results in self-worship.

In considering that idolatry originated from lust, compare verse 24 with Ephesians 2:3 where Paul speaks to Christians who were formerly idolaters: ". . . among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and mind ...."

The evidence is too great to disregard. Idolatry's cause is in the man's lust and that lust is of the flesh and of the mind. When man does what he wants or thinks and not what God wills, he is like the idolater of old and the sin is essentially the same. The idolatrous image of stone is merely the reflection of what has happened in the mind. Whether a man rejects the authority of God appears to be conditioned upon whether he is forced to justify his actions. To illustrate this, notice the sequence of the lust to idolatry to rationalization the changing the truth of God to a liein Romans 1:25.

If indeed the motivating force of idolatry is lust, then it is significant that this sequence follows James' pattern for the cause of sin in James 1:12ff. Lust in the passage is that which entices man and draws him away to sin. Sin then, a missing of the mark or lawlessness (I John 3:4), is the illegal action resulting from lust. Therefore one must conclude that idolatry and sin have the same motivation; the cause of each is lust.

One example remains that illustrates the cause of idolatry as pointedly as possible. In I Corinthians 9, Paul is warning the Corinthians and says, "Neither be ye idolaters as they were." The expectation is that his condemnation be against the stone images to a people whose heritage was one of image worship. But he does not mention the Israelites' golden calf. He says instead, "As it is written, they rose up to eat and play." In short, the sin Paul feared of Corinth was the sin of Israel and that was the gratification of their mind and flesh in rising up "to eat and play." The cause of Israel's sin and idolatry was lust! Now isn't it always the same? Do not brethren innovate because they want to gratify the desires of their minds and flesh? What justification is there for modern recreational activities other than that those practicing them just want to? What justification was there for the instrument other than the fact that it appealed to the senses of the man listening?

II. The Cause of Apostasy Among Believers

New Testament apostasy takes two forms: prophesied apostasy and immediate apostasy. Turning to those apostasies encountered by apostles, one notes that in many cases lust is implied or stated as the cause of departure. Thus Paul warns the Philippians:

"For many walk, of whom 1 told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things."

Paul describes these perverters with four adjectival clauses, each of which indicates the nature and character of one who leaves the truth. "Whose end is perdition" simply states their fate, while the latter three give their motivation. When Paul says, "Whose god is their belly," again the motivation is seen as lust. The metaphor "belly" so indicates. Significant also is the fact that that which should shame them became the source of their glory? How many times is this the case? In our time men prostitute the church of God by changing its work and organization and then glory in what they have done. "We are the greatest generation the church has known," they seem to say. We have "bigger and better works," echoes in the brotherhood. Yet in almost every case these men are doing what they want rather than what God's will declares. The phrase, "Their god is their belly," is most descriptive of the modern liberal in the church.

Further in Romans 16:17, Paul warns to mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine, stating that they serve their own belly. Thus once more is the lust of the flesh named and condemned as the cause of false doctrine.

The conclusion should be evident. In the case of apostasy, the devil uses the same tool used in the idolatry of older timeslust. How applicable is the statement of Christ to Jews that believed on him, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do (Jn. 8:44). Again a pointed question; Just whose desires is the liberal in the church doing? If the new practices in work and organization are of God, where are they found in the scriptures? If these innovations in work and organization are of God, why must the liberal brethren resort to those denominational clichés: "Where does the Bible say not to" and "Where there is no pattern!" In short why must the liberal justify himself in the same manner that apostates have been using since the time of Paul?

III. Conclusions and Observations

The liberal spirit operating in the sphere of the unstated marks the controversy confronting the church. Common to this controversy are trite justifications used in previous controversy that only accentuate the unfounded position of the liberal. The false doctrines introduced are different from those of a century ago but the voice is unchanged. Men are calling still for those innovations that gratify their minds and their bellies!

When one views the wedge of division that is being hammered into the body of Christ, he sees unauthorized works in summer camps, entertainments, eating halls, and secular educational institutions. He also sees the unscriptural organizations necessary to carry out such works. Surely if ever, Paul's indictment stands: their god is their belly, their glory is their shame, and they mind earthly things. What is happening today happened to the idolaters and to those who marched to Rome, and to the Christian church one hundred years ago. Men have long risen up to eat and play; men have long been motivated by their attention to worldly things. The modern liberal is no new breed but he finds his identity in the curious way that he avoids the stated Bible principle to justify those works that gratify his belly.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 5, pp. 13-15 February 1966