In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul offers a scathing indictment of humanity. In Romans 1:18-25 he writes,

“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,7 in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

St. Paul could be talking about humanity today. In fact, there are many who think that the church of the twenty-first century faces situations similar to the church of the first century. Then, the church was surrounded by paganism. Today, the church seems surrounded by neo-paganism, and in many ways it is. The church then was infiltrated by many strains and streams of paganism. Today, many congregations and denominations are infiltrated by many varieties of neo-paganism. The church then needed to decide time and again who represented orthodox Christian teaching and who did not. The church day, however, seems to have lost that ability. Why is that the case?

Ever since the garden of Eden, humanity has been caught in a battle of information and misinformation. God says, and then the serpent says. Whom humanity believes creates its problems. For most of human history the broad dissemination of even basic information was painstakingly slow. Oral communication and tradition played a central role. Written communication was important, but replication of written texts was arduous. The invention of the printing press changed that radically, and at the time of the Reformation Luther had more items in print than any other person. The proliferation of written materials has helped create huge bodies of information for record keeping, learning, music, history, maps, news, governmental and legal documents, and so forth. A strong relationship to the written word was developed at the time of the Reformation, championed by Luther, so that people could read their Bibles. Even for those who did not read their Bibles all too often, people were nonetheless “schooled” in scripture.

In the modern age, although humanity has heralded the invention of mass communication as a great step forward for humanity, and in many ways it is, in terms of exposure and influence, the pervasive bombardment of non-Christian and increasingly of anti-Christian information leaves the impression that humanity has been left alone in the garden with the serpent, who is not only beguiling humanity but now attacking Christian humanity ever more frequently.

Viewed socio-dynamically, humanity is enfleshed and enmeshed in communities of idolatries. Everywhere we turn, whenever we are informed or misinformed, wherever we are confronted or confounded, we cannot escape these communities of idolatries, and it is inevitable that we will drag elements of these communities into our churches, if we still attend one. Furthermore, these communities of idolatries have tremendous power to distract and detach us from the word of God found in scripture, in sound Christian teaching, and in the pure proclamation of the gospel. If in doubt about this, reflect for a moment on how many of us find ourselves viewing the Bible with some degree of scepticism or worse?

St. Paul’s words to the Romans make exceedingly clear, however, that our relationship with scripture is not so much how we interpret it but instead how it interprets us, and it interprets us unmistakenly as sinners! In so doing, scripture is often painfully searching and truthful. Like Adam and Eve in the garden after hiding from and clothing themselves in their sin, scripture brings the voice of God searching for us in our fallenness, shame, guilt, and desire to live our sinful-filled lives “in peace and comfort.” Scripture never lets us have such peace. Like never before in human history, however, the words and message of scripture are now being washed away and drowned out by the unbelieving, predominantly adolescent media and electronic communication found all around us.

As a result, society has become a community of idolatry. No longer is it just the case that certain individuals or groupings hold agnostic or atheistic positions. Rather, society through its leaders, its media, its morals, and so forth has become not merely multi-cultural but perniciously poly-idolatrous, whose only seemingly cohesive element is reaction against and rejection of God. As St. Paul states, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, … Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

That sounds harsh, and it is. In contrast communities of idolatries, the church is called to be a community of fidelity, an assembly of believers, gathered around the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed purely in word and sacrament. God’s word of promise is the communication of the truth which calls sinners out of their communities of idolatry into his community of fidelity, God’s fidelity, demonstrated to us on the cross and at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God is faithful in his being, his word, and his actions, humanity can trust solely in God and his word. Faced with the flood of communal idolatry all around us, it is more important than ever for all of us to be immerse instead in God’s word to help stem the tide of unbelief not only in ourselves but especially in our world. With the power of God’s word, we are called to be a church, a community of fidelity in sin-crazed world of idolatry.