Idols In Every Church

This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.

As statues come down and teams change their names during this summer of unrest, I wonder about the monuments and memorials in our own churches.

It’s good that people are noticing the names and histories behind all those centrepieces in our public squares. Until now, it was only history buffs who paid any attention.

The church should be no different. We are fond of naming our halls after church builders and major donors. Inside, you will see benefactors’ names attached to stained glass, crosses and baptismal fonts. Pew Bibles and hymn books are placed in someone’s memory. I’ve even seen plaques over dimmer switches.

We might also question the names of our congregations. Should we name anything after a sinful human soul?

Genealogists and history buffs love names because they’re part of our historical record. Local history is about people – pioneers and bush whackers who survived and thrived. It’s possible that all these names inscribed on church plaques testify to the faith of the departed and a witness by family and friends. And it’s true that we need to encourage philanthropy and be thankful to God and each other.

But what does all of this communicate?

To the congregation, it’s the fact that it was built and maintained by people just like them. Generous people. It’s unspoken incentive to do likewise.

But it’s a different message to the unchurched, those searching souls who happen to find themselves in our midst. I’m reaching back a decade or so, prior to my own conversion, but if memory serves, the takeaway for me was a congregation which glorified themselves more than God. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the image.

When I was a journalist, stories we did about benefactors and cheque donors used to rankle. I understood the desire for personal recognition and self glorification. Human nature. Perhaps I looked at the shiny, happy donors with a tinge of envy. Their wealth and all. It didn’t sit well.

When I became a believer, I was hit by the Biblical truth of our Lord’s warning:

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 NLT)

I love how The Message puts it:

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. … When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Memorials in churches are a subtle form of idolatry, taking our attention away from the true object of our faith.

I don’t mean to villainize church donors and their families. But we need to ask why we recognize and immortalize ourselves and each other. We are invited to examine our hearts.

Let’s give careful consideration of what all those plaques in our churches communicate and what they stand for. What a wonderful opportunity to explore scripture. It might be painful, especially for those congregants whose ancestors are named. But communicated the right way, it would be a tremendous teaching opportunity.

The church is called to give glory to God, whose love for us is so deep, wide and complete that He chose to come down from heaven and live among us. We need to marvel and meditate over that a lot more than we do. Churches need to be focused on the glory of God, not ourselves.

Renewal is about rediscovering what’s most important, peeling back the skin, biting into the fruit, examining the core, and using those precious seeds to plant anew.

8 thoughts on “Idols In Every Church

  1. Hello,
    Although interesting in the questions that you raise, I thoroughly disagree with trying to rewrite history. Who has an unblemished record? Better to add a postscript about our understanding of the person now than to remove memorials. Tearing down statues in public places is ludicrous. Face the facts of history squarely and live with our “mistakes”.

  2. Good to hear that your congregation’s donors see fit to give glory to God. Sadly, that’s not the situation in many other places. Andy.

  3. I agree, what we need is reasoned discussion and debate. You raise a very important point: how do we recognize those who have contributed? Jesus certainly praised those who had great faith and gave everything they had. How do we, as the hands and feet of Christ, do that today? “Well done, my good and faithful servant” are the words we all want to hear.

  4. Any plague I’ve seen begins: “To The Glory of God,”such and such has been donated by so and so.’ Such gifts and memorials have always pointed me to the generosity of the donors desire to glorify God alone. I take that part of the message on the plague very seriously and I am thankful and inspired by the dearly departed’s concern of leaving this final and lasting testimony to God’s glory.

  5. I appreciated this blog. I never thought of the memorials in this way before. Thank you Andy.

  6. Andy:

    Thank you for your continued work sharing your blogs! I may not agree with all or many of them, but they are refreshing and they allow me time to connect with the Holy Spirit. This morning’s read was especially endearing to me, since it does represent my thoughts clearly and reflects how I believe God wants us to be. So thanking for sharing!

  7. All it requires is that we recognise that we owe Jesus a debt so huge that we can only respond by giving up any right to ourselves and inviting Him to come into our lives and take them over. How difficult could that be?

  8. Joan Knox sustaining elder at Kortright Presbyterian Church Guelph.

    These thoughts on the post are quite thought provoking.

    It seems to me there must be a way going forward that honours and respects the contributions of those who have walked before us. Those who have contributed to the building up of the church of Jesus Christ “that does not idolize” their service in Christ.
    Tearing down statues of of Historical Ancestors to me seems senseless.
    Would it not be a more educational approach to have a “factual-honest historical accurate ” plague laying before the Canadian people the sins of our Ancestors .
    Do I think for a moment these are words to place on these plaques .Of course not. Right now I’m taking to the church of Jesus Christ.
    Historians as mentioned in this article and those within PCC who are gifted with the proper words can advocate for another options that promote unity across Canada and our churches.
    Thanks for hearing my thoughts
    In Jesus name

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