The Golden Calf of the Church Growth Movement

by Mike Ratliff

1 “ Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NASB)

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “ Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:1-4 NASB)

Those familiar with the Exodus of Israel from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan know that the journey was long and arduous. Only two men from those who left Egypt made it through the journey. The rest died on the way. Their children were those whom Joshua led to conquer and claim the land flowing with milk and honey. God tested them in the wilderness. They were put in circumstance after circumstance by God to see if they would repent of their stiff-necked resistance to His Lordship, and time after time they proved that they were temporal, fleshly people who did not trust Him. In this post we will look at a parallel between one of those circumstances and the condition of the Church in the early 21st Century.

In Exodus 24-31 Moses gives us his account of God calling him to come up to Mount Horeb to receive the Law. He is on the mountain with God for forty days. Before he departed, the people had promised to remain sanctified to God and obey their oaths. Moses is a man of God and very humble. God uses him mightily in bringing the people from bondage into the wilderness, but most of these people are not on the same page as him or God.

1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “ Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “ This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:1-6 NASB)

The Israelites either became impatient or panicked. They began to doubt that they would ever see Moses again. Their world view was one of temporal paganism. What has happened very recently to these people? Had they not seen the 10 plagues that God used to win their freedom? Did they not see God part the Red Sea? Didn’t God send them water from a rock as Moses struck it? Didn’t He sweeten the bitter waters by Moses simply throwing a branch of a tree into it? Didn’t God give them manna to eat from the dew which fell on the ground? Now their leader has entered the smoke on the mountain and has been out of their sight for 40 days and they are ready to return to paganism.

They talk Aaron into creating them a golden calf to represent their god. Aaron goes along. He mixes the idol worship with worship of the Lord here. He makes the idol and declares a pagan worship feast to it, but calls it a feast to the Lord.

This section of Exodus has always puzzled me. The fall into idolatry by the Israelites here was very rapid. Their leader tarried on the mountain so they quickly turned to a substitute they could see with their physical eyes. Notice how Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh, Aaron, leads them into this. Amazing!

Is there a parallel here for the Church? God the Son became a man. He was the Messiah. He lived a perfect life. He had disciples whom He used to minister to His growing Church after He left. Forty days after His resurrection He ascended into Heaven. Ten days later at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in power to the disciples and so began the Church that still exists today. However, Jesus has not yet returned as He promised. What has happened to the Church over the last 150 years or so? It has become largely apostate, contaminated with liberal theology. The Gospel, instead of being proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, has been edited and changed and conformed to an image. It has been altered to be “culturally relevant.”

This altered form of the gospel is called “easy-believism.” It is Christless and Crossless. It does not speak of the real Jesus, but another Jesus who never speaks of the cross or repentance or His Lordship. He loves people just the way they are. Since that is true then repentance is not necessary. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ does speak of the cross and repentance and His Lordship.

Some in this “push” to “evangelize” using this “image” of the gospel say they are doing this so they can force Jesus to return by bringing the whole world to Christ. They are expecting Him to return in gratitude for their efforts. However, they have not obeyed our Lord in making disciples, teaching them to observe all He taught. No, they are simply doing church by the numbers. Let’s return to Mount Horeb.

7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘ This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt! ’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever. ’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. 15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. 16 The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. 17 Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; But the sound of singing I hear.” 19 It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it. (Exodus 32:7-20 NASB)

What is God’s emphasis here? He tells Moses that the people have corrupted themselves and deserve to be wiped out. However, Moses prays for God to relent of this judgement. Then Moses comes down from the mountain and sees the truth. What was the first thing he did? He broke the tablets of the Law that God had given them which showed His standards. Then Moses attacked the idol. He destroyed it and made the people drink the water that contained the powdered gold.

If Jesus came back today do you think He would be pleased with the corruption of the Gospel? They have abandoned the real Gospel because it doesn’t create large numbers of converts all at once, and they want big churches so they corrupt the gospel in order to bring sinners into their congregations. The problem is that these people do not repent and believe and receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Instead, they pray a prayer, sign a card, and join a church. They get baptized and think they have a ticket to heaven. They are not disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are simply unregenerate sinners claiming to be Christian based upon their religiosity. What would Jesus do if He returned today to see this?

21 Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” 22 Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. ’ 24 I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off. ’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” 25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27 He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor. ’” 28 So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “ Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord —for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.” (Exodus 32:21-29 NASB)

Jesus is coming back. He will be pleased with those who have remained “for the Lord” and have not corrupted themselves with the false gospel of easy-believism. Will He consider those who have corrupted themselves with the Golden Calf of the Church Growth Movement as “for the Lord?”

Another parallel here is between the Exodus and salvation. The delivery from bondage is God’s work. The Israelites were in bondage to the Egyptians. The sinner is in bondage to sin. God broke the power of the Egyptians and set the captives free by His mighty hand. The same thing applies to our salvation. God broke the power of sin through the Cross of Christ. He brought the Israelites through the Red Sea to be free from Egypt. Sinners are saved when God regenerates them, they repent and believe by His grace through faith and so are Justified.

The Israelites were wanting “gods” to carry before them that they could see and manipulate and proclaim that their freedom was bought by and through them. The easy-believism crowd is wanting a “gospel” they can manipulate and use at their will to proclaim that salvation is by and through them. The Israelites rejected God for a Golden Calf they could control. The easy-believism crowd has rejected the real Gospel which is all about Jesus Christ and have replaced it with one they can control and is about another Jesus.

Are there any who remain for the Lord?

Soli Deo Gloria!

11 thoughts on “The Golden Calf of the Church Growth Movement

  1. Are there any who remain for the Lord?
    Yes and only by His sovereign election alone.
    Thanks to God He alone sustains those He has chosen.
    Or we would boast.


  2. Excellent analysis! There are so many parallels it’s stunning.

    It has all been turned into a God-pleasing-man rather than a man-pleasing-God model.
    He died to save us from our SIN and the power of it over us! We MUST repent and turn from our sin, that is not negotiable.

    They have turned the ‘church’ into a business that seeks to draw, satisfy, and retain CUSTOMERS. They are selling them a product in many ways. They are greedy seekers of unjust gain, turning a profit by making merchandise of the flock. The amount of commercialism in the modern day church is startling. Everything is a subtle invitation for you to take out your wallet because you are being marketed to. The latest apostate book, the retreats, the conferences, this event, that product, etc. etc.

    They have turned the message into the mush that everyone wants to hear, it wouldn’t make the worst sinner uncomfortable. They seek to please man (the customer) and not God. That is why they aim for church ‘growth.’ It is not discipleship growth of the individual, but ‘mindless sheep’ or low info. evangelical ‘numbers’ growth because there are more wallets in the pews. They are man pleasers because they need to keep the customers happy so they will stay and keep giving. They offer a service in exchange for money as their motive, while pretending the motive is otherwise. It meets the definition of… a harlot. Compromise for money, and idolatry (adultery against God). At the same time they are infiltrating so as to spread the apostasy for their agendas, but that’s another chapter.

    “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Galatians 1; 10

    The gospel, in all it’s flesh crucifying completeness, must be preached if we are to please the Lord and be “for the Lord.” We do a disservice to the flock if we refrain from that and do otherwise, as well as to the Lord who shed His blood so they could hear the message of the cross, repent, and be saved. He will not be pleased with those who have turned aside for avarice and filthy mammon.

    “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
    Luke 16; 13

    God bless you for your ministry!


  3. So are we then to look for non-growth in the Church? So the churches that are doing well are empty? Is that what parable of the lost sheep said that we are to abandon the 99 sheep in order to keep the 1 saved sheep?


  4. David, that is just about the most illogical analysis of what I posted that I could have ever imagined. Oh wait…that is exactly the mindset of those blinded by worship of the Golden Calf. Idolatry always, 100% of the time, results in spiritual blindness and unbelief. Preaching of the Law and Gospel is the means God has given us make disciples not pragmatism. As my post said, the post-modern methods of pragmatism, easy-believism may fill your pews, but not with Christians.


  5. Amen! This is exactly where the church has been heading for some time now, only the wise can see it. We need discernment like never before. No one says anything to not offend but God is rebuking those that remain silent in these churches, I ought to know ! God rebuked me for staying in these kind of churches until the Holy Spirit showed me, Praise God for truth, and now I walk in truth and am BLESSED from it!


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  7. Reblogged on ezekielcountdown. The golden calf church is idolatrous and full of all kinds of empty traditions of men, PDL and so many others. Starbucks, bookstores and other money makers drive souls from the bible and to traditions/teachings of men. Faye, agree spiritual discernment is crucial today! The Holy Spirit led many out and home church is the alternative many families I know have chosen due to being unable to find a doctrinally sound church. Mike, God bless you for feeding the brethren, may God continue to bless your ministry.


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