Book Sale

Monday 10 October 2022

Snakes In The Temple

Have you ever wondered why the Western evangelical Church is in such a sad state? There are various different reasons, but one serious problem is the rampant worship of false gods in the Church covered with a veneer of corporate talk, and high energy nonsense. 

One of my favourite books addressing this issue is David Orton's, Snakes In The Temple. Orton's books is an incisive discussion of the difference between success and faithfulness for a church and its ministry leaders. Too often these two things are confused. Orton shows the clear differences. 

Orton, who leans more to the Pentecostal understanding of Christianity, speaks with prophetic clarity about why so much is wrong in so many Churches today. Australian, and Western, Christianity has given itself over to the Baals of success, money and power. In effect Orton's argument is that much of the Church is run more like pagan temples to the gods of mammon, rather than temples of worship: 

"Whole denominations, ministries and churches bow to the Baals of productivity and power. We want bigger buildings, bigger budgets and bigger badges - all for the kingdom of course. Historically, though, these have been the Church's icons of power and wealth. It's not very different from my experience in the corporate world...We are shouting from our conference platforms and through our glossy magazines, "Well done, good and successful servant" (pg 87). 

Who doesn't want to succeed? But the principles of success that dominate the Church today are often more driven from corporate culture that biblical culture. And they would be alien to the faithful men of Scripture like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and others. 

One of Orton's core points in the book is that idol worship is effectively self worship. In worshipping the work of their own hands those who idolise success are worshipping themselves. Which is a core teaching of Isaiah 44:

"9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isa. 44:9-20). 

To worship yourself is the height of idiocy. But then, it is also a common sin. 

I read this book when I was still training to be a pastor, and it has been a guiding rod for helping me measure whether I am pursuing faithfulness, or just chasing success for success' sake, which is different. The pursuit of success leads to pragmatism, pragmatism leads to departing from God's ways. The pursuit of faithfulness requires constant re-correcting to make sure you are following God's word not man's. 

Orton comes from a different stream of Christian theology to myself, and I have found his critiques quite useful as a result, because the mirror he puts on his own denomination has allowed me to see the flaws in my own. His humility to call out the problems with his own tribe, enhances his credibility as well. 

This book is simple and powerful. And one of the few theology books I come back to often. Few Christian writers, that I have encountered, recognize how the Baals rule much of the modern Church. Orton is one of those few. 

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