Sermon Review: Church Art and Icons, Part 1

Our latest Sermon Review here at DriscollWatch comes to us from our new contributor, Gabriel.  It will consist of three parts and will tackle the subject of the beautiful, necessary, and scriptural need for icons in Christian worship, specifically in response to a recent Sermon by Mark Driscoll.  Check back soon for parts two and three.

September 22, 2013: Have No Idols

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; – Exodus 20:4

“Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them. – Exodus 26:31

Well, I guess God contradicts Himself within the span of 6 chapters in the Bible. Similar artistic details can be found in Solomon’s temple. The Most Holy Place had two sculptured cherubim built (I Kings 6:23-28, II Chronicles 3:10-13), with Cherubim images being worked into the curtain that covered the entrance to the Most Holy Place (II Chronicles 3:14). Cherubim were also carved onto the two wooden doors for the entrance to the Most Holy Place and on the walls all around the temple (I Kings 6:31-35, 29-30). Additionally, carvings of palm trees and open flowers on the walls and inner entrance are found in the same passages. The Temple was of  course patterned after the very specific instructions God gave to Moses.

Why are there images in these places of worship? Why did God demand that heavenly things and earthly things be depicted in order to worship Him? If all images are taken away, can we still escapes the concept of icons in worship? What is an icon and why is it important and necessary in worship? The purpose of this first post serves to clarify a few important concepts that Pastor Mark wrongfully remakes about the Catholic Church regarding imagery in worship. Apart from an introduction and stimulating thoughts, I hope to show the Catholic Church’s encounter with opposition to icons in worship.

At the heart of icons in worship is the doctrine of the Incarnation. Without it, one undermines the concept of Christ’s human nature, the Christian attitude towards the Creation, and the meaning of redemption and salvation of humanity with the restoration of the universe. Denying the use of icons is denying the Incarnation, the resurrection of the dead, and the redemptive work of Christ in Creation. Icons do away with distance between this world and the next, between material and spiritual, between body and soul, time and eternity, creation and divinity. I promise there is order to this post, although it may seem sporadic.

I’ll briefly restate Pastor Mark’s comments about the use of Catholic and Orthodox use of images in worship and demonstrate how this is nothing new.

Pastor Mark is iconoclastic, briefly condemning the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic) Churches for their use of imagery in worship. He makes this pretty clear in his sermon on the Second Commandment with quotes such as:

“We’re not to have those kinds of icons (of saints and Jesus) because Jesus is our icon”

and

“… there were some in the Catholic faith including—and I would say eastern Orthodox faith as well, who they were taking the images and breaking the second commandment. They were taking the paintings, the statues, the icons, and they were using them as objects of worship, not just to help tell the story.”

I agree with the statement of Jesus being our icon. I also agree that there have been individuals in the Church who have worshiped these icons. The Church condemns such acts at the highest level, as worship is reserved for the Trinity alone. That’s about it as far as agreements go. The reason this particular statement irks me so is because icons are an integral part of my worship that the Apostles handed down and has been protected by Holy Tradition. You cannot escape icons. They are everywhere. God created us as icons and wants us to use icons to bring Him glory.

People who are iconoclastic, or iconoclasts (also called “icon-smashers”), are suspicious of any art depicting God or humans and demand the destruction of icons as they see them as idolatrous.  “…Protestants started breaking stuff, breaking stained glass, breaking statues, breaking icons saying, ‘“We worship only Jesus, and we don’t worship manmade created idolatrous things.”’

If the word, “Protestants” in the quote above was replaced by “Muslims” or “heretics” or “suck- ups to the Byzantine Emperor,” it would have depicted a historical scenario 1200 years ago. In 787, the Church gathered together in Nicea to rebuke the heresy that icons should not be used in worship and restored the traditional and Scriptural use of icons in Christian worship that had been prevalent in the earliest times of Christianity. The Islamic faith is fairly iconoclastic. They are not to depict the Creation, as if something is wrong or unholy about it. This can be seen in their artwork. Although beautiful, it lacks recognizable images found in Creation and refers to the abstract. This notion crept its way into the Church in the Byzantine Empire in the early part of the eighth century. Byzantine Emperors got it in their heads that it would be a great idea to mandate iconoclasm. Certain bishops who wanted to snuggle up to the Emperor for personal gain likewise rebuked icons. Inevitably, they clashed with bishops and laymen who upheld the Apostolic teachings. At the end of the Holy Council, icons were restored and the doctrine of the Incarnation affirmed once again.

In my next post, I will give brief examples of icons and their veneration as inherited by the ancient Christians from the Jews.

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3 comments on “Sermon Review: Church Art and Icons, Part 1

  1. Chris F. says:

    Thanks for this, I am an Orthodox believer and I appreciated your analysis. I can’t wait to read your next post!

  2. […] continues his review of a recent Mark Driscoll Sermon.  For Part 1, click here.There seems to be an assumption that the Jews and ancient Christians were iconoclasts.  Were the […]

  3. […] Catholic and Orthodox practice of venerating images and using icons in worship.  Here are links to Part 1 and Part […]

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