Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 30 April 2003 0 Comments
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What do you mean when you speak about idolatry among Christians?


     Idolatry means ascribing to anything less than God the qualities that pertain to God alone. Infallibility, inerrancy and eternal truth are but a few of these God qualities that have been applied to people, books and churches. In the history of Christianity, various bodies of Christians have claimed infallibility for the ex-cathedra utterances of their spiritual leader, inerrancy for the words of scripture that human beings wrote, and absolute truth for human formulations of doctrines and dogmas.

     Recognizing the weakness of such idolatrous claims for particular people, human creations and human formularies, they developed an even stranger claim that the Holy Spirit somehow directed the leader in his (not her) infallible utterances, since God would not let the Divine Church live in falsehood, or that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of the Scriptures so that the words were inerrant, or that the Holy Spirit assisted the Church in its doctrinal formulations so the Creeds might reflect God's ultimate truth.

     Each of these claims borders on the ridiculous. The evil that has been done by papal claims, biblical claims and doctrinal claims can be documented all too easily. One has only to look at the Crusades, religious wars, the Inquisition or at the way the Bible has been used in the defense of such outdated evils as the divine right of kings, the condemnation of science, slavery, segregation, second class status for women, homophobia and religious persecution. People also justify aggression by claiming an ultimate justice for their own badly compromised national vested interest.

     There is an ultimate truth of God, I do believe. No person, no nation and no institution, however, can claim to possess it without becoming idolatrous. Idolatry is, therefore, a fact, a dark fact, in Christian history.

John Shelby Spong




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