All Scripture quotes are from the New Living Translation, unless otherwise noted
Idolatry is the veneration, excessive honor, or worship of something other than God. In various cultures -- both past and present -- idols have come in many different forms. The most commonly known forms of idols includes statues, figurines, sacred pillars, poles, towers and rocks. Other forms of idolatry includes illicit sexual activity, greed, and the excessive love of money. God makes it quite clear in Scripture that He will not tolerate any form of idolatry (Exodus 20:4-6, Exodus 34:17, Leviticus 26:1-2, Deuteronomy 5:8, Deuteronomy 32:21, 1 Corinthians 10:14).
When speaking of idolatry in general, the Bible tells us that it's not good for God's temple to be shared with idols (2 Corinthians 6:16) and we are to keep ourselves away from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14, 1 John 5:21). Idolatry is one of the works of the flesh that can prevent us from entering His Kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21). God is very serious about the sin of idolatry. He warned of harsh punishment towards those who did not heed His divine instructions regarding idol worship (Exodus 20:4-6). Those who were involved in the manufacture of idolatrous objects were cursed because of their detestable occupation (Deuteronomy 27:15). We are not to fall into actions of worship towards anyone else, not even angels (Revelation 19:10, Revelation 22:8-9). Some people believe that it is okay to take something and use it as an aid to worship so long as it is for worshipping The Almighty God. However, in the Bible, the example of the Israelites attempting to do the same thing still incited God to great rage (Exodus 32:1-10).
Does idol worship still occur among those claiming to be Christian today? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. We can see how this happens by considering what the Scriptures say compared to common practices in the lives of those who claim to be Christian. So, taking the Bible, let's see how people today have been misled into idolatry:
One of the biggest things going today is accepted disrespect for the arrangement of marital fidelity. Unclean sexual practices are connected to idolatry (Colossians 3:5-6), and this includes fornication and adultery. According to Scripture, fornication is a major sin (Acts 15:20,29, Acts 21:25, Galatians 5:5) and is associated with idolatry (Psalms 50:18, Jeremiah 3:9, Jeremiah 7:8-9, Ezekiel 23:36-37, Romans 2:22, Revelation 2:20-23)
COVETOUSNESS & GREED
Covetousness and greed are forms of idolatry (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5). Closely related to this is the love of money. Although you can legally pursue riches, the excessive love of money is linked to idolatrous activity (Matthew 6:24). The excessive love of money is why Jesus was so angry at the merchants that set up shop in God's temple (John 2:15-16).
This is not saying it is a sin to have a lot of money though, as many godly people in the Bible had a large measure of financial wealth (Genesis 30:43, 1 Kings 10:23, 1 Chronicles 29:28, 2 Chronicles 32:27). The sin lies in your attitude towards the money: Are you freely giving it to the needy? (Matthew 5:42, Matthew 19:21, Luke 6:30, Luke 14:13) or are you hoarding it? (Deuteronomy 27:19, Matthew 15:5, 1 Timothy 5:8) Are you cheating others to gain the money? (Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:23), or are you gaining it honestly? (Proverbs 16:11). The apostle Paul spoke thoroughly against the love of money, that we should be content with having enough for our needs. He also reminded us of the evils that love of money can suck us into (1 Timothy 6:6-19). James supports this at James 1:15. And, as a last point, greed shows a lack of faith in God, because it shows one is not trusting that God will supply us with our daily needs (Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 13:5).
Many believers don't realize that this would include the veneration they give to a crucifix or a cross as well. The fact is, a crucifix or a cross can be used as a form of sacred pillar because some people pray to these in their attempts to worship God. Some even go so far as to kiss it, caress it, and essentially adore it. God has told us in Scripture to never set up a sacred pillar for worship, He made no exceptions to this. One can have deep appreciation for what Christ did for mankind without resorting to worshipful behaviour towards a cross or crucifix.
Then we have Deuteronomy 4:16-20 , which specifies that we are not to make any kind of image, not even in the likeness of a male or female, to set up for worshipping purposes. Again, there are no exceptions to this command. However, in many congregations the people use the statues of Christ, his human mother Mary, and a plethora of saints as part of their worship routine. They pray to, and kiss, these images. Remember, Scripture states that acts of worship belong only to God (Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9), and that we are to pray only to God and no one else (John 14:13-14)(KJV). Also, the Bible specifies that Jesus Christ is our only intercessor (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5), meaning that the veneration of Mary and the Saints is completely useless.
BALANCE IN HONOURING MEN
The Bible does say that we must pay our taxes, give honour to those who call for honour and give tribute to those who call for tribute. This is because it is God who actually allows the human leaders to be placed in their positions of authority (Romans 13:1- 7). Therefore, we are commanded to obey laws, recognize the authority of our human leaders, and live peacefully with everyone else. To do otherwise would be going against what God has ordained.
However, we must be on guard that we don't elevate our leaders to the extent that we actually deify them. We cannot regard them as equal to, or nearly equal to, God Himself (Isaiah 40:25, Isaiah 46:5). This includes political figures, national leaders, famous evangelists, even the Pope. There are no exceptions to this biblical teaching. The Bible tells us that we should be careful of men who elevate themselves as a god (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), and to be careful of putting all our trust in men (Psalms 118:8-9, Psalms 146:3, Jeremiah 9:4, Jeremiah 17:5).
The Bible considers venerating anything created (which includes men) and rendering sacred service to such things as exchanging the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25). Scripture also points out that God's ways are much higher than men's (Isaiah 55:9), and that sacred honour and glory belong only to God forever (1 Timothy 1:17).
So the gist of the matter is: Give honour when and where it is due, but save adoration and veneration for God only.
BALANCE WITH FLAGS
Exodus 20:4, and Leviticus 26:1 and Deuteronomy 16:21 Tells us several things: We aren't to make any images that represent things in the sky, the earth, or the sea to bow to or serve, and we also aren't to make sacred poles, pillars or rocks to bow to, or serve.
One thing many people don't notice is the idolatrous amount of honour they bestow on their country's flag. Before we go on, we want to be clear that we do not consider flags to be inherently evil. Flags are useful as marks of national identification, symbols of national idealogy, and banners of solidarity. Even in Scripture we see where God's holy nation of ancient Israel used flags for such purposes (Numbers 1:52, 2:2-25). Therefore, We are NOT saying that we should show disrespect to a country or flag; what we are saying is that we should keep a balanced view on the matter.
In many countries, citizens salute their flag, set up strict rules on the care and keeping of their flag, create laws regarding their flag, and even have specific ceromonies regarding disposal of a retired flag. Although we agree that the symbolism of a flag should be given its due honour and respect, we do not agree that excessive honour should be given to the flags. Remember, a flag is a symbol, not a living being. Flags aren't conscious of country, pride, allegiance, or patriotism. Respect the flag and what it stands for, yes. However, we do not support deifying the object.
People deify their flags quite easily; in many cases they don't realize they are even doing it. For example:
A national flag does have its place in every day society, we agree. However, nations must remember to put the needs and wellbeing of their citizen well above the flag. The citizens must also keep in mind that loyalty to God is paramount, and this requires giving due honour and respect to their national leaders.
We understand that these above mentioned concepts may be new to a lot of you, and may even seem strange. Nevertheless, think about this: who told you that it was okay to use these certain objects for worship, veneration or glory: imperfect men, or God's Holy Word the Bible? Who's words are you going to take? Remember the Scripture at Matthew 15:8-9, which says
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God."
We also need to remember, as tough as it can be sometimes, we need to purify our worship as best we can (James 4:8). We are also told in Scripture that we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).Therefore, we need to live by His rules, even though we may not be accustomed to them. Remember, the road to everlasting life is narrow and cramped, and few are the ones who find it (Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-24). This means that just because the majority of worshippers are going according to a certain custom, that does not necessarily make it a correct, godly custom.