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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Sermon Review: Church Art and Icons, Part 2

Gabriel continues his review of a recent Mark Driscoll Sermon.  For Part 1, click here.DW IconsThere seems to be an assumption that the Jews and ancient Christians were iconoclasts.  Were the Jews really iconoclasts? If so, did they reserve prostrations and other bodily forms of respect for God only?  New evidence from evacuations suggests otherwise. The synagogue at Dura-Europos (pictured above), one of the most ancient of Jewish synagogues found to date, is filled with icons depicting Old Testament stories.  The Palestinian Talmud records (in Abodah Zarah 48d) “In the days of Rabbi Jochanan men began to  paint pictures on the walls,   and he did not hinder them” and “In the days of Rabbi Abbun men began to make designs on mosaics, and he did not hinder them.” The oldest of Jewish books contain illustrations of the stories they describe.

We know that there is nothing wrong with using body language to convey honor, respect, and veneration. Everything from the mezuzah to the Torah was venerated (kissed) by pious Jews, and Christ would have done the same.  This is an ancient custom Christianity inherited from Jewish custom and worship.  There are many examples in the Bible where a person bows to someone else in order to show honor towards that individual. In Genesis 33:7 we find Leah, her children, Rachael, and Joseph  bowing to Esau.  In 2 Samuel and 2 Kings we find Absalom bowing before the king.  A woman bows before a man in 1 Sam/1 Kings 25:23). People were to bow before the Ark of the Covenant, which had sculptures of Cherubim.  We are commanded not to bow down to someone or something in order to give it worship.

There is however, nothing wrong with the cultural incentive to bow or prostrate yourself in front of something to show it due respect, honor, and veneration.  Instead of bowing, Americans salute the flag and their elders.  This is the American equivalent to showing honor to many culture’s enticement for prostrations and bows.  If we take the second commandment to its logical outcome, we must translate the gestures to our culture’s norm and never salute the flag, kiss the hand of a maiden, or curtsey or bow after a performance.  Likewise, if we take the instruction from the second commandment not to make a carved image, or a likeness of anything that is in heaven or earth, we must inevitably conclude that we must trash our family pictures, household decorations, televisions, movies, advertisements, and that a plethora of other depictions are evil.

This is just silly.  Even Pastor Mark notes the art is perfectly acceptable.  He still leaves a gap in his theology by allowing images to be represented, but not formally recognized as tools of worship or having any theological implications.  This is of course contradictory given Mars Hill’s use of visual media of evangelization and mission work.  There is a theology behind icons that Pastor Mark utilizes whether he acknowledges it or not.

The oldest Christian icon is attributed to Luke the Physician, depicting the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.  Christian icons have been found that date as early as the second century.  They are found all over the Catacombs in Rome, Alexandria, and other places in the ancient Christian world.  In order to formally describe how icons have been used throughout the centuries in Christian worship would take volume upon volumes of books to begin to evaluate the position. All this say, icons used by Christians have a very long history that was inherited from an even longer history from their Jewish predecessors. Some of the oldest churches have been found with icons covering their walls.

The Church Fathers saw the icon as a Gospel for the illiterate. St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome says, “Images are used in churches so that the illiterate could at least look at the walls to read what they are unable to read in books.”  St. John of Damascus says “The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to the literate, an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to sight as words to hearing; through the mind we enter into union with it”.   Act 6 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) comments that, “What a word communicates through hearing is what art shows silently through an image”.  Icons can play a catechetical role, a theological role, and a anthropological role.  St. John of Damascus says, “If one of the heathens comes to you saying: show me your faith… you will take him to church and put him before all kinds of holy images.”  Simultaneously, an icon does not just represent something; rather it reveals something.

In my next post, I hope to bring together the concept of the Incarnation and the redemption of Creation as represented by icons.

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.

Simple Conversion, Great Expectations

The Following is a conversion testimony from Gabriel.  Although Gabriel has never been officially connected to Mars Hill he has worshiped there and considered becoming a member.  Gabriel was received into the Catholic Church as an adult and is currently preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage.  As you will learn from reading his message below, his thoughts about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill are very similar to ours.  We expect to see more from him in the coming days, weeks, and months.  Enjoy! 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God.  God became flesh and dwelt among men.  This is the Incarnation and the beginning of my salvation story.

Eight hundred years later, two brothers named Methodius and Cyril were born into a large, prominent Christian family in the ninth century in the city of Thessalonika.  Their Father was a military man for the Byzantine emperor (Eastern Roman Emperor, but Byzantine sounds cooler) and died when Cyril was only 14.  Given their Christian upbringing and being afforded a great education, the two brothers went on to accomplish many wonder things for the Kingdom of God.  They must have wondered how God could have used their works for His glory given that they met many setbacks due to political arguments and agendas.  I suppose some things never change.

In short, these two men became missionaries and brought God and the Church to the Slavs, a people consisting of several central European nations.  They did saintly things such as translating the Church services, the Bible, and the writings of the Church Fathers into the vernacular language.  Actually, Cyril created a script for the language of the Slavs so that Church material could be written down and translated.  The Church in the Slavic nations eventually flourished and God’s work was recognized through them long after their death.  To be sure, this is a depressing yet simultaneously encouraging thought.  The Church here resembled that of the Church in Byzantium and Eastern Christianity.

Like Methodius and Cyril, I too grew up in a Christian household who was predominant in the community.  Thankfully and unlike the two Saints, my father is still alive.  More specifically, I grew up in an Evangelical household.  I am thankful for my upbringing and for my godly parents. Without them, I wouldn’t know God, nor would I have been equipped with the tools to set out on my journey with the Trinity and with the Church.  I do not have a theatrical conversion story where I became “saved.”  I was never rebellious and remained the good pastor’s kid (for the most part).  This resulted in an identity crisis, unsolved questions, unfair expectations, and a spiritual deadness within me.    I was baptized at a young age, but able to understand the Evangelical view of baptism.

Discrediting one of the Protestant pillars of faith of Sola Scripture initiated my journey to find a Church claiming continuity with the Apostles’ doctrine and worship   Having been brought up to understand that Creation occurred in a literal week thousands of years ago, my studies in biochemistry and genetics questioned this approach to the Creation, and for good reason.  The two are incompatible.  While coming to terms with evolution and my faith, I slowly began to understand that the Bible could be interpreted in any way you wanted it to be.  You could make it say what you wanted it to say.  Naturally, the next question that came to mind was, “which way is the correct way to interpret the Bible?” Additionally, my then girlfriend, now a wonderful fiancé, was a devout Roman Catholic grounded firmly in her faith.  Figuring I had a tough process of converting my stubborn girlfriend, I began to arrogantly look into Roman Catholicism.  While coming across many blockades within the Roman Catholic faith and finding many foreign doctrines and practices of historic Christianity in Protestantism, my confusion grew.  I came across the Eastern Orthodox Church and discovered an ancient and foreign way of life, theology, and spirituality.  Looking at history from another point of view began to fill many gaps.  As I contemplated becoming a member at Mars Hill, the fact that no one there could accurately and satisfactorily answer the questions of where the Bible came from and how it should be interpreted still resonated powerfully within me.  After talking with one of the local Mars Hill pastors, I was encouraged to seek the Eastern Christian faith and set out on a spiritual journey.

You may be wondering as to why there is an unnecessary amount of information here.  When giving my conversion story, it is impossible just to talk about my individual conversion without mentioned my spiritual family.  No one is saved alone.  You are saved in community but damned alone.  My salvation story begins with the Incarnation, has been worked through all the saints throughout the ages, and continues to work though my relationship with Jesus and the Church.  Sts. Methodius and Cyril are particularly important to me because their mission work to the Slavs is a particular Church tradition that I hold dear and have become a part of.  The Slavic people immigrated to the U.S., brining their unique religion that maintains the Eastern Christian way of faith while paradoxically being in union with the Bishop of Rome, thus allowing them to be part of the Catholic Church.   I was initiated in the Catholic Church through the sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation).  While I am Catholic, I am specifically Eastern Catholic and hold a different view to the same faith.

Having lived it out for many years, I am well versed in the Evangelical way of life, doctrine, and worship.  There is a lot I can still learn from Evangelicals.  There is a lot I respect about them.   I honestly do not seek to convert or take anyone away from Mars Hill.  My father is one of the godliest people I know, and he is an Evangelical.  My sister is an active member at Mars Hill and has used her gifts to help many people and bring Christ to them.  They have both done more than I have on behalf of God’s Kingdom.   My writings serve to clear up any misconceptions that Mark Driscoll brings to his congregation about Catholicism.  Mars Hill members should be well versed about Catholics.  We both can learn many beneficial aspects of our faiths from one another.  Part of being a well-rounded Christian is to know what other traditions teach, their history, and the point of views they hold about salvation.  Church history itself can be viewed differently. Sometimes these differences have drastic impacts on our faith and what it means to be a Christian.

Either way, I hope to dialogue respectfully.

Christ is among us! He is and always shall be!