Of Frogs & Fish Part Five
“We Cannot Be Both Christians and Idolaters”
A biologically truthful analogy for this situation would be that different species of fish are suited to different oxygen levels. All fish need oxygenated water (yes, even lungfish that can survive for periods of time out of water). A trout will die in water which the carp thrives in, yet all fish need oxygenated water.
We cannot be both Christian and idolaters. We need the oxygenated water of worship of God through Jesus Christ rather than the deoxygenated putrid water of idolatry. However, just as different fish will have different capacities, different abilities to cope with low oxygen levels, so Christians in different situations will cope with different effects of false teaching.
So, maybe some have left denominational structures, as they recognise the idolatry that rejection of the word of God has brought. This might be by their immediate leadership within the denomination, their minister or pastor, or lay leaders. Or maybe it is the practical rejection of the word of God within their congregation, a refusal to trust in God.
Some may be more sensitive to idolatries, which we all battle with, than others. But if we are ‘carp’, and we observe ‘trout’ gasping for oxygen, oxygen levels are falling. We may have different tolerances or different temptations to idolatry, just as in the early church Christians had different tolerances of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the idolatry that surrounded it, but idolatry itself is not neutral. What none of us can survive, just as no fish can survive deoxygenated water, is idolatry.
So, if some of us observe others writhing in the agonies of conscience, we should take note. Maybe it is a greater sensitivity, but it is a sensitivity to something real, as Paul warns those whose consciences are not troubled by idolatry at all. He has to tell them, “I do not want you to be participants with demons.” Idolatry is not neutral, even if idol meat was. Idolatry is not neutral, even if some of us can resist the temptations false teachers are presenting in our current situation. Maybe we need to hear the warning to “take heed lest he fall” and “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” And whilst for others of us, we need to flee idolatry, that may not be weakness or oversensitive consciences, but obedience to that command of Paul’s, “Therefore my beloved, flee idolatry.” This can be expressed in many different ways.
We face different temptations to idolatry and will have different thresholds dependent on a wide variety of factors – our marriages, families, financial situations, freedoms on the ground, and sensitivities of conscience often due to our pre-Christian lives (which are to be respected in love according to Paul). Surely this is the key question in the face of false teachers who peddle idolatry in the guise of Christianity. Surely this is the main concern in the face of heterodox teaching. Yes, the scriptures teach separation, as well as mercy, as we have seen. Maybe we adhere more to one set of scriptures than the other. But what is non-negotiable for us all? What should we be talking about?
Keeping ourselves from idols and so continuing to love one another in obedience to Christ so showing that we are his disciples. Idolatry sucks the oxygen out of the water we swim in, it incurs the jealous judgment of God. What would be the early warning that idolatry is on the rise, the early warning that oxygen is being sucked out of the water we swim in? A lack of love.
We are commanded to love one another as He has loved us. The mark of Christian maturity is love. The activity that assures us most that we are his children is not only the doctrine we believe – and certainly not our political strategy, however Biblical we believe it to be – but that we love with actions and in truth. This is how people are to see that we are his disciples, that we love one another. If there is or has been a lack of love amongst us, is this not evidence of idolatries that are simmering below the surface and erupting? As James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?… You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?’ But he gives more grace.” How we need more grace in our current situation to rise above the idolatries of heart that are quenching our love for one another. How we need more grace.
 1 Corinthians 10:12b, 22a
 1 Corinthians 10:14
 Romans 14-15, 1 Corinthians 8
 1 John 3:16-18
 James 4:1, 4-6a
 1 John 5:21 (New International Version)
This Anglican Futures think-piece is actually signed. The Revd John Parker at Cornerstone Church, Colchester is the author. www.anglicanfutures.org