The Idol God Is Breaking in the American Church


Previously, I’d commented on an article that posited a slightly different idol that afflicts Americans:

Idol #1

But after recent political upheavals that left a lot of Christians wringing their hands, I read a different article a Christian friend posted:

How Cruz’s Dropout Exposes the Corruption of the American Soul

The sheer brazenness of the title was enough to suck me in, plus it’s CharismaNews, so it’s bound to have hyperbole galore.

I was not disappointed.

Or, actually, I was.

Like far too many articles in Christian sources today, the foundation rests on fear. Despite the fact the Bible tells us over and over NOT to fear, Christian media love to fan the fear.

And the fear this article fans is one I see rising everywhere: The fear of not having power.

I’d use the polysyllabic word powerlessness instead, but the “not having” carries a nuanced interpretation I think must be stressed. This is about control too.

Right now, American Christians of many stripes are scared to death that both they and the American Church are not in control of power.

Consider the following:

  1. Declining church attendance
  2. A string of losses in high-profile national, state, and local legal battles and protections
  3. A presidential race where no clear “Christian candidate” remains, in fact, the remaining candidates seem the polar opposite

Most interesting is the swiftness of this reversal of fortune. And it has been a dire and fast fall.

But here’s the thing…

We Christians look at patterns of events in the world and in the Church, and while we’re good at noticing them, we’re terrible at providing solutions because we misinterpret what is happening behind the scenes. Only later does it turn out that what we thought was A proves actually to be B.

So while gloom, doom, and The End get bandied about by Christian Chicken Littles driven by fear, I want to propose that our fear of judgment on America is wrong, and that the actual judgment is on the Church. I want us to consider that all these dark happenings are good because God may be breaking an idol in the Church.

Broken idolAnd what is that idol? Well, I mentioned it already: Power.

But not all power. Instead, I think that God is forcing the Church to stop investing so much time, effort, and devotion to man-made, secular power.

The #1 form of secular power obsession in the American Church for the past 40 years has been political power. Guess what? The previous couple elections punched in the face the idea of the power of the Christian voting bloc, and the 2016 presidential race shot it in the head.

To this I say, good. I also say that Roe v. Wade didn’t just turn America into a wicked charnel house, but it ingrained in the Church the wrongheaded idea that the godly response must come primarily through political maneuverings, which may have set the progress of the Christian Church back by 40 years. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but in the wake of recent events, it seems crystal clear.

Some of that failure in politics comes from a declining church attendance. With that has come the fall of the über-pastor, and with him/her, the importance of the über-churches they pastor. And what accompanies that fall? A loss of man-made power. The media stops focusing on the same old Christian faces, and instead shoves microphones in the faces of other 15-minutes-of-famers.

Where does this leave the American Church? Pretty busted. Heck, we can’t even keep pervs out of bathrooms.

All that man-made, secular power? Gone.

And I firmly believe God has purposefully taken it away. Good for God.

So Christian, stop blaming this on the devil. Stop blaming this on evil groups and people. Stop blaming, period.

You see, a Church that relies on man-made, secular power is no Church at all.

This is the Church:

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

—Zechariah 4:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

—Acts 1:8

Where is real power, Christian? In the Spirit of God. And honestly, in a supposedly charismatic generation, the Spirit of God and the power He alone brings has been #2 for a long, long time. God’s not going to let that be the case anymore.

This is a good thing.

The reason all the man-made, secular power sources are now failing Christians is because God wants them to fail so Christians will start getting serious about living by the Spirit, and not by manmade, secular power.


Feel a little naked right now? Honestly, that’s where we are as Church. Naked and exposed. Because we’ve been doing it wrong. And for a long time.

I hope a lot more starts to fail for us. Because perhaps then we’ll get serious about what it means to have no power in ourselves or in other men yet have all the power of the universe and beyond available to us.

We haven’t seen that in this generation. Heck, we haven’t seen that in a few generations.

Better start learning what it means to cultivate humble, Spirit-driven power, because that’s the only power that will get us through the days ahead.

13 thoughts on “The Idol God Is Breaking in the American Church

  1. Heartspeak

    Yes! And Amen!

    What so many cannot comprehend is that back in the 1st century, there was an occupying army, hostile governments and a truly Godless (but not godless) society and culture. Yet, Christianity grew rapidly. We cannot use the tools and standards of our world while ignoring the power and authority of God and expect something similar. We’ve been spoiled, coddled and pampered and are too unfamiliar with God’s ways.

    However, God is on the move and He’s cleaning house and raising up a people who will call upon Him and will seek His ways.

    • Heartspeak,

      All that 1st century stuff happened from the bottom and proceeded upwards. Individuals reached out to other individuals. Rodney Stark says that the Church in Rome grew largely from its helping the sick and dying that had been abandoned by Roman society. It offered a place for women that no other religion afforded, gave them rights, and protected them. And it did so not in government but in the community of the Church. Eventually, this “trickled up.” That’s not how we do now, is it?

  2. Dan, I believe God’s plan was that the church would influence the world. What happened is the church was/is influenced by the world. Therefore, the church seeks after the power of this world rather than the power of the Holy Spirit.

    • Jon,

      My reply to Heartspeak encapsulates some of what I would say in response to your comment. I think the nameless, faceless people are still advancing the Kingdom. We Americans need to learn how to better become nameless and faceless. We tried the secular power route with all its name cachet and face time, and it hasn’t worked. At all.

      • Dan, there always has and will be a faithful remnant as E.H. Broadbent illustrated in his book, “The Pilgrim Church.” The question is will we be among those faithful ones?

  3. Julie

    Great post, Dan. In some ways, unless I let someone raise fear in me, I’m rather excited at what lies ahead. God does great things in weak people, and for the church to lose it’s ground as the “normal culture” and lose it’s grip on political power, I look forward to see how God moves in His strength. It is exciting to think of the Christian church as being the oddity and the outsider, that intriguing place and people so unlike the rest of the world. As you say, we have been pretty much like the world, and have tried to wrestle it into our image, for too long. It’s only in these recent years when things have been going so “badly” for the church politically that I have really started to expect God to do what He says in the word. It sounds strange, but when everything was safe and tidy and according to our rules or whatever, I didn’t really expect God to do anything because we didn’t need Him to (though of course, we very much did). I rather look forward to the election(s) and my continued opportunity to be on a losing side. Because I know, more than ever in that situation, that I’m not on the losing side.

    Probably sounds a bit kooky, but I don’t know how else to put it.

  4. Heartspeak

    I was commenting just yesterday in staff meeting that what we have today is the shell of what happens when, as Dan puts it, ‘things trickled up”. Our mistake today is assuming the structure caused it and we wonder why we’re hollow on the inside. What we see today is equivalent to a how we might see a volcanic caldera. There is evidence of significant power having been released but somehow we seem to think that if we just make more volcanic rim shapes, we’ll release a volcano. It doesn’t work that way in the Kingdom.

    We’ve little to no memory or awareness of the history of how God works. But it’s all there in scripture and in obedience to him rather than the god of ‘the way we’ve always done it’.

    • Heartspeak,

      That attributing success to good programming, wise planning, great structure, or brilliant execution is, in itself, a power statement. We keep going to that well too. Gotta stop.

  5. Diane Roberts

    You are absolutely right, Dan. After all, the Bible says that judgement will begin at the house of God–NOT begin in the country.

    • Diane,

      Is a removal a judgment? I dunno. Part of me wants to say this is not a judgment as much as a “you can’t have this anymore,” with something being taken away. It’s more like th dad who locks up the kid’s Nintendo Gameboy because the kid played it all the time. Maybe that is a judgment. Again, I dunno.

  6. Dire Dan : “The #1 form of secular power obsession in the American Church for the past 40 years has been political power.”

    You’re rating this as the Numero Uno “obsession”? Really?

    Dan, I must have been living some kind of very special, sheltered life, but I can’t honestly say that out of all the many churches I have ever been in or pastors I have heard preaching that anyone had American politics as their big, week-in-and-week-out OBSESSION that the congregation would be hammered with every Sunday. If anything, everybody have been pretty restrained on the subject, other than an occasional mention with nothing but generalities about making “prayerful decisions about whom to vote for” or an occasional pamphlet listing candidates positions.

    But “idolatry” and “obsession”? All I can say is that I must have been living on different planet than you. Maybe things really are crazy in the churches in the Midwest where you live. I don’t know, but I concede that is possible that maybe things have gotten crazy elsewhere.

  7. Aussiejohn


    You’re so right! I have been a part of local churches for more than 60 years, for most of the time serving in one capacity or another, the later 20 years as a pastor. The trend you speak of has been subtle at times but ever growing.

    Leaders and Christians in general have not understood what Paul did as he repeated what God had told him in 2 Cor.12:9 ” But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me”.

    The path of spiritual growth to maturity is a downward path as it was for Christ Himself until He was elevated to glory. That’s a hard, and unacceptable lesson to learn.

    A deacon I knew epitomized the attitude which I’ve found common in my country and yours when I visited: When doing some teaching on the meaning of the word deacon, he bounced to his feet and shouted,”servant! I’m no man’s servant!”

  8. Milton Stanley

    You’ve written here in the past about Rod Dreher’s *Crunchy Cons*, but have you been following his weblog writings about his upcoming book on what he calls the Benedict option? Dreher seems to be saying that Christians have already lost the “culture war” and at this point the church needs to focus on not going down the same path of worldliness as society at large.

    As for Bob Russell’s assertion, sports may be in the top three or four idols in the American church, but I have to agree with you that self is at the top.

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