Series Theme: When we think of idolatry we often imagine scenes of a carved image from the Old Testament or a false religion today. Idolatry seems like an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism calls this “secret idolatry.” This doesn’t mean you are bowing down to an idol in the privacy of your home. Rather, it means that something without religious significance has become more important than God in your life. Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series will examine several modern day “deities” that can wrestle away our hearts quicker than we think.
Appearance is tricky thing in the church. It can become a dangerous thing in two directions. In more formal churches, newcomers or young people can easily be looked down upon if their appearance doesn’t match the traditional custom. Judgments of a person’s faith and their standing with God can easily be weapons wielded by churchgoers in the name of appearance. Deep down, we probably want people to match our expectations of appearance because we think it builds the community atmosphere of church. Often, arguments about appearance merely seek to build a person’s faltering insecurity. It’s truly a sad thing when appearance gets in the way of a person’s faith and what Jesus has accomplished for them. If you’re someone who has felt estranged or alienated from church because of what someone else said about your appearance, try not to give up. The most important part of church will always be about receiving God’s Word. Satan wants you to quit doing that.
There’s another side to appearance that can be dangerous too. When I think about this aspect I often draw upon my experience in high school as parallel. I’m pretty sure everyone has experienced this same thing in some way so hopefully you can relate. In high school, appearance was king. Having the right brand of clothes, fitting in with the popular hairstyle, and showing everyone else how many friends you had were all examples how important appearance was during that time of life. But, what we eventually realize is that those things really aren’t all that important. I can remember feeling great stress and anxiety in high school at not having the most popular clothes but now I hardly think about it. In the end, it never really impacted my life. How many times have we learned the same lesson about appearance? One aspect of maturity is being able to focus on what is truly important and being able to block out what is really not all that important.
The fascinating thing is that this high school brand of appearance-seeking is one of the most common trends in American Christianity. Christians, particularly those in evangelical-based churches, are continually fed with the impression that appearance is so important to faith. It even parallels high school in the way it boils down to hairstyle and clothing choice. Check out any megachurch/non-denominational pastor and you’ll see what I mean. Chances are they go to great lengths to send a non-verbal message through their appearance. That message most often is, “I’m relevant, please listen to what I have to say.”
This trend is obviously a great contradiction as one of the most beloved themes in the Bible is that God loves us regardless of our appearance, in fact, despite our unworthy appearance. Even though many of these churches will emphasize those qualities of God, they will at the same time send these strong undertones of the importance of appearance. And, naturally, we want to be part of that just as we did in high school. Who doesn’t want to be relevant and popular? This is such a dangerous thing because any focus on our own appearance as a measure of our status with God, or other Christians, will only lead us to despair. And it detracts from the power of God’s Word. If people only listen to a pastor because of how he looks, from the glasses, to the hairstyle, to the jeans, and whatever else it may be; they are saying that the actual truth of the message is at best, secondary, and at worst, unimportant. The same thing applies to choosing a church or even being a Christian at all.
Consider what James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures (James 1:17-18).” True blessings from God are not attractive because of their appearance. They come down from above – from God. Without God’s grace in bringing those blessings to us – we would not seek them out. Even Jesus was characterized as having “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2) Blessings from God are born of the Word of God – the most important being your Christian faith. Don’t let self-righteous Christians judge your faith based on appearance. But, don’t let modern Christians lead you by appearance away from the truth of God’s Word, either.