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 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.