"And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands."
"He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered."
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
It is common Christian teaching that idols can be and are deceptive. They are not always enveloped in shrines of gold and surrounded by candles that announce what they are. The danger of the idol is that the offense and the sin of it all does not lie so much in the thing itself, but in the heart that worships it. It is in the heart of man that the power and sin of the idol is to be found. The stones, wood, and senses of this world all serve their purposes daily without being abused beyond the intended scope and eventually will perish with use. They are not pagan in their own condition, only finite. Wherever we have a longing, a hunger, or a dependence upon that which was intended for The Eternal Living God to supply, we have supplied an idol it's pagan status.
Thus anything can become an idol if the heart yields and assigns it that status. This is bad news for a people who's heart is deceitful. As John Calvin once said:
“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” –John Calvin, Institutes, 1.11.8
There is one idol today in particular that I see which seems to stand almost completely unopposed in the Christian churches of America. When you first hear of it, it may not convince you immediately for the devil that it is, but this, I believe, only adds to it's subtlety and consequently, its danger. The idol of human sentimentality is enjoying great sway over it's adherents...
I mean this. American Christianity has almost exclusively become religious sentimentality, and the god of this new relevant religion, the very god that is now worshipped across the nation, is sentimentalism. This culture loves and reverences nothing higher than its own feelings of tenderness, sadness, and nostalgia. Every tear is self-indulgent. Whether it is the sentimental stories that dominate our sermon illustrations or the talent show that precedes the message, we look for something to invoke and stir up our own emotions. We look for worship experiences to be a sort of theatrical performance that provoke the inner parts of our own human senses and cause feelings, emotions, and imaginations to swell towards the surface where we can then experience it and appreciate it for our own sake. So called Christ followers will look high and low, search far and wide, and jump church to church to find the emotionally charged atmosphere that satisfies their longing as nothing else can do. Without this euphoria, the experience is said to be dry, hollow, unfulfilling, and not conducive to "good" worship. Of course, for those such as these, the "worship experience" will always be unfulfilling when the tender sentiments of human emotion are not played upon and made the target of the experience. This begs the question, Who exactly is being worshipped again? Meanwhile, the Crucified Lord of Creation bids us come, to take up our cross, die to self, and follow Him into the crucified life, that we might then worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. Today, that particular call seems more despised by the new relevant religious than the atheist, and is therefore largely ignored...
Do I advocate for stoicism? Am I at war with any display of feelings? No not at all, quite the opposite actually. Jeremiah wept in his service to The Lord, John The Baptist raised his voice unto his generation. The Church in Acts knew little of stoicism. What I am saying is that they also knew little of sensationalism and mere sentimentality. The worship did not have to be hyped up or synthetically energized by leveraging carnal emotions. The Spirit of God moved these men, not only to tears, but to obedience, and martyrdom. Not by the flesh, but by the Spirit. I am advocating that the emotion of a man may be, and often is a genuine byproduct of The Spirit's moving; but it can never be the means nor the WAY into God's presence. If you come some other way than Spirit and Truth, you will come to some other god. THAT is idolatry, and this is how subtle it is.