Jacob had just wakened from his dream of a ladder. God had earlier confirmed the blessing on him that his father Isaac had given him by mistake, proving that while Isaac might have been blind, God certainly was not—the right son received the blessing. And so Jacob called that place “Beth-el,” the house of God.
Fast forward several centuries and Hosea goes to Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his golden calves by which the people could worship Jehovah, “the god who brought you out of Egypt.” At this point most of them weren’t even pretending to worship Jehovah any longer. This was full-fledged idolatry. Hosea refused any longer to call it “Bethel.”
…Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.” Hos 4:15.
Three times Hosea addresses the place that way. It was no longer “the house of God.” It was instead “the house of vanity,” or deception, or iniquity, or evil, or several other translated words, all of which made Hosea’s point quite plain. Bethel was supposed to be a description of who was worshipped, adored, respected, and revered in that place, and it no longer qualified. Instead of “Beth-el,” it had become “Beth-aven.”
So let’s think about this today. We use a similar description for ourselves: “church of Christ.” That means we belong to Christ, we obey him, we worship him, his is the opinion that counts, not ours. Can you still say that about the group you are a member of? Or has it become a social group with its own rules and its own “politics?” Has it become a place where men get together and vote on things that have nothing to do with the mission Jesus left his disciples to complete? Can you find authority--His authority—for everything you do? Jesus himself said in Matthew 20 that authority can only come from two places—God or man, and his acceptance of that proves that he expected you to have it.
Too many times we ask the wrong question: what is a church of Christ? The question we ought to be asking is this: when is a church of Christ? Is it time to change the sign on your door?
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23