In the wake of a number of mass shootings in the United States, the debate regarding gun rights and gun control is again in full swing. As I have been following various discussions on social media, I noticed a number of folks will argue against gun control stating that guns are simply a tool. Additionally, as I have stated on my social media pages that guns are an idol in American Christian culture, a few folks responded by commenting that guns are tools and therefore cannot be idols.
These comments caused me to reflect on the various idols that compete with our affection for God in the American Christian church. Here are just a few that come to mind:
The interesting thing about these is that at a very basic level, they are all tools. None of these things are inherently evil, and in fact can be used for good.
Money, when used wisely, can be a great blessing to many. Politics can be a means to advocate for the poor, live as responsible citizens in our communities, and give a voice to those who otherwise may not have one. Firearms can be used for hunting and providing for one’s household. Individual rights are a foundational concept upon which healthy communities are built. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of how money, politics, guns, and personal rights can be tools for good; but I hope you otherwise get the idea. It is important to start here, because many people will staunchly defend these things under the auspices that they can be used for good.
So at what point does a tool become an idol?
A tool becomes an idol when it is no longer a means to an end, but the end in itself.
For example, if the Lord blesses a Christian with wealth and that wealth is not an idol, they will pray for wisdom regarding how to use it for God’s glory. They will not hold too tightly to the money or be devastated if it is lost for some reason, because their wealth will be found in Christ, not in their money. If the Lord blesses financially, we should praise Him, and if He takes our money away, we should still praise Him. No matter which circumstance we find ourselves in, our calling is still the same, to glorify God in our lives.
If wealth is an idol, one may try to hoard it, obtain more of it, or use it for their own selfish desires. When money is an idol, it becomes the goal, it becomes the focus; and it replaces God as our motivating force. This is why Jesus taught us not to love money, but to be generous and store up treasures in heaven (instead of on earth). Jesus wants us to avoid making money into an idol.
As another example, having the right to bear arms has its merits, similar to other personal rights that are established in the United States. Yet, we are in trouble when we seek to preserve a right simpy for its own sake. I will never forget when a brother from church and I were talking about these things, and he boldly declared, “The government can try to take my guns away, but I will die defending my right to bear arms!” You will notice, my brother did not state he would be willing to die for the gospel or for the glory of God, but for his personal rights to own a firearm. On top of that, his statement implied he would be willing to take another man’s life for that same purpose.
Are our guns or any personal rights really worth dying for or killing others for? Did Jesus teach these are things worth dying for? If we take just a moment to go through the teachings of Christ in the gospels, we will find that Jesus actually taught the opposite. Jesus taught His followers to be willing to lay down their rights for the sake of others, He taught us to love and pray for our enemies.
Our personal rights here in the United States, including the right to bear arms, are a blessing. We should consider how blessed we are, and how we are using these blessings to glorify God. Yet if we hold to these rights too tightly, they become the goal, they become an idol. If God wants me to lay down my rights for the benefit of others, then as a follower of Jesus, I should do so gladly.
In the interest of brevity, I will not expound on at which point politics become an idol, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this and hope you would consider contributing in the comments section.
Idolatry, being normalized and even promoted in the American Christian church, has had a devastating impact in recent years.
There are churches where the idolatry of money, politics, and guns have become so accepted, they are preached from the pulpit. It is a more obvious form of idolatry when churches preach a prosperity gospel, host political rallies, or raffle off guns to their congregants. This blatant idolatry should be condemned in the church and in Christianity generally.
Yet, idolatry can look much more subtle, almost the opposite of that mentioned above. In these cases, the church may choose to be silent regarding issues of money, politics, and guns; but this silence is a symptom of a deeper issue. I recall years ago, a pastor telling me they will not preach about money from the pulpit, because they have had congregants get angry and threaten to leave the church after such sermons. Another stated they will not preach about politics from the pulpit, due the same concerns. In each of these cases, the silence of the church is the result of fear. The idolatry of the surrounding culture infected the church so significantly, the church’s ability to speak the truth of the gospel in the midst of a secular culture is severely crippled, if not silenced.
At the end of the day, each of us needs to honestly evaluate our own hearts and priorities.
May we have wisdom to identify the tools in our lives that we have made into idols, repent of our sin, and remove those idols from the places of influence we have given them; returning that space back to God and God alone.
May we strive to live our lives in such a way that the only thing we hold tightly to is Christ himself.
May Christ be what unites us, may Christ be what motivates us, and may Christ be the model we all seek to follow.