What is an idol? Something that is supposed to represent God? The dictionary defines it thusly- a false god, an object of passionate devotion. Idols, in practice, become the object of worship because the god they supposedly represent is unseen or “unseeable”.
Since the realm of spirituality and religion involve the intangible, mankind has always attempted to relate to that sphere through elements of concreteness which form the substance of the tangible realm in which we live. Thus we enjoy, in fact seem to require, rituals and symbols in our pursuit of the spiritual. Within the church, these rituals and symbols have become not only our attempt to reach out to God but also the mechanism by which we establish and enjoy a sense of community.
As the primary concrete item in the entire theology of institutional Christianity, the Bible has always been integral to the liturgy of church. Worship apart from the presence of the Bible is unimaginable in the minds of most Christians. The Bible has historically been an item on prominent display in all churches and cathedrals. It was and is as much of the traditional church building as the steeple, the altar, or the pulpit. In other words, the presence of a Bible was an understood element in any Christian church.
To say that Christianity reverences the Bible is an understatement. It is the oracle to which every Christian minister turns to receive the wisdom of God and thereby translate appropriate insights to his congregants. It is the standard by which every action and thought of mortal men is to be measured and judged. Since a doctrinally oriented, dogmatic religion, such as Christianity, can only survive in presence of undisputed and undisputable authority and instruction, the Bible is absolutely essential. Without it, the church ceases to exist, along with its leadership and power.
Within the Christian church, Jesus is known as the Word. His words are the Truth. Jesus’ and by extension God’s words are His essence, the part of God that man must accept and understand. To study God, to really know Him has always been seen as an exercise in studying His words, which means parsing the Bible. To study God’s word is to study God. To hear God’s word is to hear God. Since God cannot be seen, to see the Bible is as close to seeing God as you can ever get.
As I consider the role of the Bible in Christianity, I ask myself how is it different from the idols of the past which the book itself condemns. Why was idolatry condemned in the first place? I conclude that it was condemned because it pointed to a false god. If that is true, then anything that directs man’s attention to a false picture of God becomes an idol.
The Bible is certainly an item of divine devotion. Could it be classified as a false god? As has been noted above, it is generally accepted as the voice of God. God’s voice, representing as it does, the required knowledge of Him, becomes his essential element. That voice, in the form of a written text, is subject to many different interpretations, as we must all observe. Some of those interpretations must represent a false or misleading voice, leading to an incorrect understanding of God, which amounts to a false god. Some may want to argue the point, but for me a book which so readily leads to false conclusions about God is an idol.
One can easily imagine that the God behind creation is a complex and even humanly incomprehensible subject. With that given, one must question the ability of the written word to convey a remotely adequate picture of God to the human mind. To therefore pay such homage to the sacred text as the church always has would serve to limit man’s understanding of God and things spiritual to what was known and written 2000 years ago.
Why would we accept the assumption that to this day, God never speaks to the individual human heart in non-verbal ways. Who has the right to say that God cannot communicate to me directly without the involvement and sanction of the church? Countless preachers and others claim that they are given insight through the Holy Spirit.
The reverence for the Bible as the only source of spiritual insight for the entire period of human history is an absolutely essential element of the institutional church, empowering it as the sole interpreter and disseminator of its message. The insistence on “sola scriptura” has denied those outside the church hierarchy the right to seek God and His Kingdom on the inside where Jesus said it was to be found. The Bible as a tangible symbol (idol?) of God has perpetuated the notion that God is remote, somewhere out there. It has allowed the church to emphasize certain scriptures which seemingly support their doctrine and completely ignore others that are inconvenient. If there were no need to protect, promote, and explain the Bible as the only revelation God would ever make, then the church would cease to exist as we have known it. The Bible exists as the Christian idol because it serves man’s purpose in maintaining the status quo and not because it serves God’s purpose in opening the mind and heart to something truly new and wondrous.
The false god that the Bible represents is the perception of the church as God’s on earth instrument, imparting righteousness through its rituals and precepts. No one owes any reverence to the church or its doctrines, supposedly derived from the Bible. The church house is not where we meet and worship God and never has been. God is everywhere and we cannot avoid being with Him continually. God speaks his will from inside of us, and no church doctrine can ever limit Him in speaking to me and you heart to heart. The doctrine of “sola scriptura” only confirms an institution. It does not adequately define, limit, or replace the intangible God who remains incomprehensible despite 2000 years of organized religion. Give up your idol and dare to know God face to face as He intended.
While we naturally seek a God of transcendence, the Bible bound church constantly pulls us back into the Book, in effect, confining God and our understanding of spiritual reality to what can be expressed in the human language of 2000 years ago. No, God is too big to be limited by a book, especially our feeble understanding of that book. He is complex, subtle, counter intuitive, incomprehensible, mysterious, and transcendent, and He operates in ways that defy the attempts of organized religion to limit His purpose, scope, and efficacy.