1 “Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God. 2 You must keep my Sabbath days of rest and show reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.”
Leviticus 26:1-2 (NLT)
When this Word came to God’s people, they understood what God meant. Idols, carved images, sacred pillars and sculptured stones were easily recognizable. Typically they took the form that came out of a culture’s abilities to reason out what he or she looked like. Today they are a little more difficult for most people to see, especially within the local Body of Christ. Now some idols are easily recognized by the pew–images of Buddha, images from Hinduism, or any of other religions.
While many in the pew consider these the “great enemies” of the church, the most dangerous idols are those that do not “look like” (whatever that means) an idol. These idols take on a more subtle form and this makes them even more dangerous. Some of them are even found in buildings commonly known as “local churches”. Some of them have taken a material form, while others have taken the form of “beliefs”. Perhaps this was the concept that inspired Bill Easum’s book from a few years back, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.
Sacred Pillars and Sculptured Stones today are those things, actions, words and attitudes that become more important to us than the Kingdom of God. I am keenly aware that these musings probably will offend some. I humbly ask that you read through all 7 Sacred Pillars and Sculptured Stones to the very last paragraph and then ask yourself, “Do I have any Sacred Pillars or Sculptures Stones?” If I make you mad, ask yourself why I’ve made you mad. Analyze carefully any or all of these points you disagree with. It’s a good thing, a very good thing, to review our faith and our convictions in light of The Truth.
Here are some signs you have a Sacred Pillar or Sculptured Stone, in no particular order:
1. You Use The Offering As Your Ballot Box
Something has happened that has upset your sensitivities or you simply do not like it. Maybe a decision was made by your governance board that you did not like. Maybe it was something the pastor said that left you with a sour taste in your mouth. Maybe it’s the direction that the pastor is attempting to lead you towards. Or maybe it’s that you just don’t like the pastor. You cannot get your way so you express your displeasure by reducing your offering, or simply give it to some designated fund of which you approve. Your Sacred Pillar is, well, I know of no other way to put it than to say, it’s having it your way.
2. You Resist Change And Are Vocal About It
A man who had reached the age of 100 was being interviewed by the local newspaper. The reporter said to him, “I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of changes in your church over the years.” He replied, “Yes I have and I was against every one of them.” Anything that even vaguely looks like change you vocalize your disapproval. You mistakenly believe that the peace of God happens only if things stay the same and the waters remain calm. I know our world is changing fast, sometimes way too fast. And I will admit that some of those changes are not good. But I am talking to those who when they hear anything about change within their local Body of Christ their immediate reaction is to be very vocal against any such change; really, against ANY change. If this is you, then your Sculptured Stone is The Status Quo.
3. Your Church Budget Is Inwardly Focused
For a local congregation, the surest test to see if you are guilty of idolatry is to look at your budget. Measure how much of your budget is given to the mission outside your real estate compared to what you spend inside your real estate. A sure sign that idolatry has slipped in is when the bulk of your resources are spent on the building, those activities that happen inside your building, and the staff to maintain those activities. If 75% or more of your budget is used inside your real estate then you are inwardly focused and not externally mission driven. Your concern is more for your church than for the Kingdom of God. Your Sacred Pillar is your programs.
4. You Cannot Change Communion Table / Worship Table Except For Communion Sunday And The Liturgical Calendar.
I’m speaking now to more traditional congregations who have existed for some time, and I know some of you will take me to task for this one. You know what I’m talking about: that large brass cross, the 2 candlesticks, and that big family type Bible. I’ve often wondered where did this come from or how did it start. Right now I’m thinking about when Rehoboam became King. He did not seek God first and as a result, Jerusalem and the Temple was plundered by the Egyptian army. Among the many things stolen were his father’s shields made of gold. He replaced them with brass shields. These brass shields could be polished to shine like the gold ones, but they were only inexpensive substitutes.
We are living in a world that learns more visually. Worship tables that speak to the theme of the message help them connect with the eternal truth. But some congregations insist that it is sacrilegious to have anything on that table but “The Brass”. Like Rehoboam, you have substituted the real thing for an almost like imitation. Rather than focusing on the One to whom our sacred symbols point, you have made a Sacred Pillar of symbols.
5. You Must Use The King James Version
Now before you jump on me, read my statement carefully. I have not said anything against the KJV. In fact, when I’m in the mood for great poetry, it’s the KJV that I reach for. But for some, perhaps even many, the only translation is the KJV. At the root of this love affair for the “authorized” version is something much deeper. It is that love for the words of the KJV rather than their love for The Word, to whom the KJV and all other translations point towards. The insistence that there is only one true Bible translation clearly indicates a worship of paper and ink rather than the One who breathed inspiration over those who wrote and preserved these wonderful manuscripts. If you insist on the KJV, then you have made a Sacred Pillar out of the Bible.
6. You Cannot Remove For Any Reason The Memorial Furnishings Nor Their Plaques
If your local church does not have any of these, then take this moment to give thanks to God for this. Let me be very clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with offering God a tribute in honor or in memory of someone who has deeply touched your life. These saints are to be recognized as that “great cloud of witnesses” who challenge and encourage us in our Faith Journey. However, when those remembrances become more sacred than the Mission of the church, then something has gone terribly awry.
When that memorial was given, the furnishing or whatever it was, had both meaning and functionality. As the Mission of the church changes, sometimes our furnishings need to change. I was once told that I did not need to remove a particular furnishing because that family meant for it to be used and to be seen. That became more important than the Mission of the Kingdom of God. When Mission becomes secondary, you have made memorials the Sacred Stone.
7. You Cannot Alter Nor Change The Purpose Of Certain Rooms.
As the church expands because it has made a commitment to the Kingdom of God over church programs, inevitably there must be reassignment of spaces and rooms in order to make room for what God is doing. For some, this a cause for great alarm. Certain rooms have always had certain functions and they believe, wrongly believe, that those spaces cannot take on new meaning with new purposes. As the Body of Christ grows, new people appear whom God has called to make a difference in the world. The Sacred Parlor may need to become part of the children’s place. The library full of books that are rarely if ever checked out may need to become the food pantry. That largest room that once held scores of class members but has dwindled down to just a dozen or so, may need to become the single adults room.
And what I am about to suggest will be blasphemous to some and some will suggest that I need to be burned at the stake as a heretic. Perhaps it is time to change the sanctuary to a worship center. And when such changes are suggested, even urged, the reaction is sheer anger that such a thought could even be contemplated. That room has always been that and should stay that until Jesus comes back. When the old purpose is more important than the movement of God’s Kingdom, then your Sculptured Stone is the history.
And it’s not just the traditional folks that erect Sacred Pillars or Sculptured Stones. Even more “modern” and “contemporary” folks can like their stuff to the point that it becomes more important than the Relationship with God and the Mission of The Kingdom of God. So to keep us away from those Pillars and Stones, may I suggest we continually engage in some of these spiritual disciplines:
- Pray! Don’t pray that things stay the same or the way you want them to be. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Don’t pray for God to bless what you and your church are doing. Pray that you and your church are doing what God wants done. If we do this, then we never have to ask God to bless it–for He is already blessing it without us even asking. (A footnote: If you feel you must ask God to bless what you do, maybe it’s not what God wants done. I’m just saying…)
- Make sure the Vision is fresh. Visions serve a purpose but change according to what God is wanting to do in our current world. Vision is what we want to look like in 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years down the road. This image will be consistent with God’s planned work of redemption in our current world. A God-given Vision will be expressed in a single sentence or thought. Vision statements that require a paragraph or more are nothing more than an idea for the next Dilbert© cartoon.
- Evaluate the Mission, the things that you do and cherish. Measure the Mission BY the Vision. Ask the toughest question: “Are the things we do helping us become what the Vision says we need to become?”
- Get to know your community and world. This means getting to know people, and not just the people you normally hang around with. The way to know them is to do 2 things: First and foremost, see them through the eyes of The Father. Remove all human labels and categories. Second, as you see them with the eyes of The Father, take the time to listen.
- As you do that previous point, go back to Point 1 and work your way back down the Spiritual Disciplines again.
Can you think of any other Sacred Pillars or Sculptured Stones? Feel free to add the to the comments section below.