John Cheek suggests that false gods are close to home.
"You ought to invest in a gun...you'll be a lot safer, that way..."
Those words were spoken to me at the beginning of 2018. Not, I hasten to add, by a member of the National Rifle Association, in America. Nor by a gang member in one of Britain's inner-cities. This was advice from a well-known, respected church leader from my hometown. Someone whom I regarded as a friend.
I couldn't believe it. As a Christian, I told him, I ought to put my trust in Jesus Christ, not inanimate objects. Certainly not those designed to kill.
Sadly, it seems that Christians in America, or so we're told, indulge in worship of the gun. Men and women of God stockpiling loaded weapons and idolising them.
Perhaps the reality isn't half as sensationalist, but that shouldn't be the point. For our society, and Church, over here, has its own idols in our midst.
At the beginning of this year, Britain's biggest building society claimed that public uncertainty over Brexit, has caused house prices to all but stagnate. Nationwide figures appeared to show that increases have slowed around the country and, in London and the south-east, actually began to fall. Everywhere the news was reported, it was couched in terms suggesting that we should all be deeply concerned about this development.
"The market's in bits. Brexit has smashed the property market sentiment to smithereens," said Jonathan Samuels, chief executive of lender Octane Capital. Whilst this may seem like a touch of estate agency over-exaggeration, what is perplexing is that something, anything which may make homes more affordable to the average person, is regarded as 'bad news'.
To be clear, I don't think that there's anything sinful in properties, per se. Legally-owning your own home isn't morally-wrong in itself. But like putting your trust in firearms, so having faith in bricks-and-mortar is just as illogical and unbiblical. The concept of home-ownership has become a modern-day idol. Inside and outside of the Church.
Let's be honest, your social-status today in many local churches often depends on your profession, marital-status and whether you own your own home.
Years ago, shortly after we married, my wife and I moved and joined a new church. We later began attending a weekly 'house-group' there, having asked to be placed with one which met on Thursday evenings. The makeup of the group was ahem, conspicuously middle-class - and all married couples. My bikers' jacket and ripped-jeans stuck out. Did we have children? No. This was met with open-mouths. Did we own the house we lived in? No, we rent. By now, we were viewed with suspicion by those sitting facing us in the opulent sitting-room. Five weeks later, my wife and I were taken aside after an evening service, by a church elder. We were told not to return to the house-group. He proceeded to give us a dressing-down, because we had been "too friendly" and "knew too much about the Bible."
We knew the truth. We didn't meet their societal standards and expectations regarding appearance, home-ownership and middle-class values. Associating with us was below them.
How many other 'believers' have the same attitude, today? The same idol worship of so-called 'status' and whichever possessions convey it.
How much of western Christianity is really the upholding of middle-class conventions is a moot point. American speaker and author Tony Campolo used to perform a dialogue between an imaginary parent-and-child:
"You need work hard at school, my child."
"To get a good education."
"To get a good job."
"So you can afford to own lots of things..."
At a time when homelessness is ever increasing, and two-thirds of the world's population would regard us as kings and queens, for the relative-splendour in which most of us live in the West, perhaps it's time for Christians to drop some idols and false gods: in particular, the worship of home-ownership.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees, "You are the ones who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is prized among men is detestable before God."
We ought to put our trust in the word of God, not inanimate objects. It's worth remembering that, especially when we next go to church and decide to view others upon whether we're jealous of their home, or not. Being house-proud can work in many ways and none of them impress our heavenly Father.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
View all articles by John Cheek