What in the world does that even mean? It sounds pretty technical, but in reality it is rather simple. A polytheist is someone who worships more than one god. And functional speaks of how someone actually functions and lives, not simply what they profess with their mouth. Hence the question is, are we people who really worship many gods?
The obvious answer is no. Of course not. Christians worship only one God. There is only one God, the God presented in the Bible. All true Christians readily acknowledge the truthfulness of this. But my concern is whether the way they live their lives is consistent with such a confession. And I think many of us have deceived ourselves. We claim to worship only one God, but in reality our worship and devotion is shared. And God simply will not tolerate sharing worship.
Deuteronomy 16:21 offers a strong, clear warning against this. It says, “Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.”
Notice the language in the first phrase of the verse. It commands Israel not to set up (which literally means to plant, another great picture) Asherah poles, poles used in the worship of the goddess Asherah, beside the altar of the Lord. The picture is one of shared space.
I believe there is a valuable truth presented to us in this important verse. Israel’s warning was not about getting rid of YHWH, but about sharing their worship with other gods as well. It wasn’t that Israel would be tempted to tear down the tabernacle/temple and be rid of YHWH. Their temptation would be to worship other gods along side of Him.
But YHWH would have none of this. Because he is the only true and living God, this is absolutely unacceptable. While other gods are real in the sense that they provoke real worship and devotion from their followers, they are not real in that they genuinely do not exist. Thus, God cannot stand worship due to Him, the one true God, being offered to gods that do not even exist. The end of Deut. 16:21 states that He hates it.
The critical point to be understood is that God expects EXCLUSIVE worship. He does not share worship, devotion, commitment, allegiance, or love. The first two commandments imply the same. He is the only God and Israel is to have no gods before Him. Likewise, they are to make for themselves no idols. Worship of YHWH is to be exclusive.
In many ways, we are like the Israelites. Our problem is not that we don’t want to worship God. It’s not that we want to get rid of Him. We just want to set up altars to other gods next to him and worship them too. We want to share our worship. We love God, but we love other things too. We worship God, but we dedicate and serve other gods as well. We will attend church and read our Bibles and pray and love others, but also pursue our own life goals, seek our own relational fulfillment with other human beings, and commit ourselves to the pursuit of earthly pleasures. Unfortunately this will usually suffocate God out as we surround Him with new idols and objects of worship.
The question we must answer is not whether we love God and worship God, but whether we love and worship ONLY God.