Sermon Review: Church Art and Icons, Part 3

Here is the final installment of Gabriel’s Sermon Review of a recent Mark Drsicoll Sermon, in which Driscoll critiqued the Catholic and Orthodox practice of venerating images and using icons in worship.  Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

I still haven’t given what may be perceived as a viable reason for the necessity of icons.  So far, we’ve seen icons used throughout the Bible, Christian history, and how rebuking iconoclasm is nothing new for the Catholic Church.  An important point to note is that icons are inescapable.  Pastor Mark describes Protestant churches by saying, “they were all really plain, not a lot of color, no stained glass, no icons, no images. It was like God was a dentist. It was just pretty, pretty clean, pretty white, pretty straight down the middle.” Ironically, the absence of any images, color, and sculpture is itself an icon of simplicity, of plainness. Pastor Mark fails to consider that there are many types of icons, not just an intellectual/spiritual reflection that can only be conceived in our minds.  In Russia, religious statues were smashed to rid the culture of religion.  Knowing the absence of religious images would be an icon of martyrdom; statues of government officials like Stalin were erected in the same place.  Icons come in many forms. To say religious “portraits” are unacceptable is contradictory when you cannot escape using various types of icons in worship.

Icons are inescapable.  The Catholic and Orthodox Church proudly acknowledge this fact.   Protestant icons are present and meant to reveal the invisible God and make the worshiper aware that there is something beyond themselves by perhaps pointing to a single decorative cross as the center of attention.  Baptism serves as an icon.  We cannot baptize our intellect. Rather, we have to baptize our entire body.  Pastor Mark says, “And faith comes by hearing what? The word of God. Faith does not come by seeing the painting. Faith does not come by pondering the icon. Faith does not come by hearing the song. Faith comes by hearing the word of God.”   He is quoting Romans 10:17.  We must note that faith does not come by hearing alone; otherwise the deaf would be hindered from salvation.  Hearing is just one of our senses.  Faith comes through a variety of channels.  It is by God’s grace we have faith (Ephesians 2).  Jesus says in Mark 9:29 that faith comes through fasting and prayer.

In Old Testament worship, all of the human senses were used. Should not faith by instilled by all of our human senses as well? In John 20, Jesus offers his body and visual and physical proof so that Thomas may believe. In 1 John 1 extols the visual and touching senses in order to bring us into fellowship with God. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us…”  In Exodus 25, says, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”  He is example of God’s voice coming through our participation in utilizing Creation so that we may hear his voice.  If faith comes by hearing only, God wouldn’t have made us use Creation as an instrument to convey His words.

At the heart of icons is the concept of the Incarnation.  No man has seen God (John 1:18).  However, whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 12).  God took on material flesh.  He became visual.  He allowed himself to be represented.  If he took on visual representation, images can be made to depict God.  In taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed and deified matter, making it spirit-bearing and allowing flesh to be a medium for the Spirit. Thus, we had Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection.   If matter is holy enough for the God of the universe to become one with, then matter is holy because God touched it, became it, and still dwells with it.  The Spirit dwells in us, and we consume the Creation, transforming it into energy, and as priests we redeem all the Creation so that she no longer groans (Romans 8). Icons represent God and are made from the redeemed and holy Creation.  Icons are then worthy to be portrayed to constantly make us aware of this reality.  Icons bridge this gap by eliminating any objecting difference between the physical and material realities.  This is why we must use them in worship

Because icons are holy, convey theological significance, and are a window into the heavens, it shouldn’t be surprising that miracles have been accomplished through them.  Having created matter be a channel through which God performs miracles is the norm; mud and spit restoring sight to the blind man; the Jordan river healing leprosy; Elisha’s bones bringing a man back to life; and garments healing and old woman.  In my own parish, a miracle was witnessed through an icon.  A woman and her husband had been trying to conceive a child.  After becoming pregnant, the couple was thrilled.  Weeks later at the doctor’s office, an ultrasound proved that the child had died.  Distraught, the woman fled to the church, grabbed an icon off the wall, placing it on her womb, and prayed to God. God had favor upon his faithful servant and through material matter, restored life back into the unborn child.  The mother felt the baby kick and immediately went back to the doctor.  He doctor could not believe his eyes given the results of the new ultrasound.

Icons remind us about the heavenly witness that surrounds us (Hebrews 12). God commands us to use icons in worship.  Icons are made from Creation, being holy and redeemed.  We are to show honor, respect, and veneration towards these images and strive to become transformed into Christ’s identity.  The Church has been doing this for millennium.  The Muslims and the Protestants are the ones to break the norm and God’s commandments.  Pastor Mark either has not done his research to properly understand holy images or chooses to ignore them since they are incompatible with his theology.  In doing so he creates a type of “scrapbook theology” where he highlights certain aspects of the Incarnation that seem convenient.  God became visible and we are meant to represent this visible God whenever we worship to give Him honor, praise, and glory.

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