Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word—1 Kings 18:1.

Long before Baal was a character on the TV series “Stargate SG-1,” he was a very popular Canaanite deity, both among his original constituency and his new one upon their conquest of Canaan, the Israelites. The reasons he should be so revered are easy to understand. The worship of Baal involved sex, and lots of it. (All those high places mentioned in the Old Testament were places of “sacred prostitution,” a central element in the Baal cult.) Baal promised lands, good crops, fertile livestock and wives. And he was a tremendous role model for would-be masters of the universe or at least of their homes, men who wanted to be strong and virile and dominating. Baal was usually depicted in idols as a bull.

In short, Baal was the ultimate god of materialism and getting what you want. But his worship died long ago.

Or did it? Check out the following story.

A megachurch in Texas, in order to draw in worshippers on Easter Sunday, decided to hold a drawing. The grand prize was a new BMW; other goodies included big screen TVs. The atmosphere was like a game show, with a big rotating drum full of cards to be drawn for the prizes, and the BMW winner rushing excitedly down the aisle like one of those audience members on some classic and silly TV competition. To her, as I recall from the report on “The Early Show,” “the Lord” had given her the car. See a video here:

But which lord? Certainly not Jesus. The gospel of prosperity being hawked by that Texas megachurch runs exactly counter to that proclaimed by the true Lord of all. “Those who seek to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” says 2 Timothy 3:12. Yes, Jesus did promise rewards, but only after his followers had gone through persecutions and hardship. And Paul urged us to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ, who emptied himself and served and died after being tortured on a cross. Only then came his exaltation.

The problem with that, of course, is that it doesn’t sell. It’s not popular, and the church desperately wants to be popular. The promise of suffering doesn’t get people in pews or bucks in plates. But turning worship into a game show, with a chance to win a luxury car and other prizes—now that will pack ‘em in!

How fitting, in an ironic and tragic sort of way, that Baal should be revered anew by the people of God on Easter. That day, you may know, was named for Baal’s consort, Astarte. Except under her Celtic name, Oestre.

Elijah’s challenge is just as fresh and urgent as ever. But this time the people have spoken, at least in a church in Texas. Baal is the lord.

God help us.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham