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!

Sermon Review: Saints

Oh Brother…

I’ll be honest.  I don’t put a lot of work into actually figuring out what Mark Driscoll has to say about Catholics.  All I do is click on his sermon transcript, do a search for the word “Catholic” or “Pope” and usually there isn’t a lot there.  At least, there hasn’t been since our meeting a couple years back.  So when I search the word “Catholic” and it returns 19 hits, you know something is up.  So, to my fellow Catholic readers, you might want to put some padding on your hands because you’re going to be face palming an awful lot here.  And to any readers from Mars Hill, I hope after reading this you’ll understand why your Pastor gets on our nerves sometimes.

The sermon in question is quite recent.  It was delivered on January 24th 2013 and it is named, “I am a Saint.”  Within this sermon, he has an entire section dedicated to the Catholic understanding of Sainthood.  So lets go through this piece by piece, shall we?

“How many of you were raised Catholic? Okay, welcome to our mass.”

We’ve been over this one before.  I explained what Mass is and what Mass isn’t here.

My name is Father Mark. We’ll have the Eucharist in a short while, okay. I can always tell the Catholic visitors. “Father Mark, that was a good mass.” Oh, you’re welcome, good to see you.

These sound like really well informed Catholics showing up to Mars Hill!  Kidding aside, I do hope these people meet Jesus because we’ve pretty clearly underserved them.  I also pray that they will return to the Church Jesus established soon!

I was raised Irish Catholic, long line of Irish Catholic.

I’ve talked about this before, as well.  You can read up about it here, but if you don’t want to, I’ll give you the quick version: Pastor Mark was not raised Catholic very well.

I’ve been back to Ireland to the old country, and we are Catholic as far back as we can trace. Irish, devout, O’Driscoll, Catholic, including my grandmother who, after my grandfather died, joined a lay order of Catholic nuns, and she spent her final years as a nun.

Now the funny thing here is that all orders of Catholic nuns are lay orders.  In other words, to say that an order of Catholic nuns is a lay order of Catholic nuns is to be completely redundant.  All non ordained Catholics are considered laymen and lay women.  There is no such thing as ordained nuns, since women can’t be ordained.  So, in a move that is quite humorous to me, Mark tries to use his family history to prove that he was a super devout Catholic, and shows his extreme non-devoutness before he’s even done completing the sentence.

Either way, I don’t know what he means here and I’m pretty sure his own people don’t either.

Moving on…

Very devout, Catholic family, so I was baptized as a little boy in the Catholic Church, and I grew up in the Catholic Church. I went to Catholic school for a few years. I was an altar boy assisting the priest with the mass every week, and we talked a lot about saints. Actually in our home, we had pictures of various saints.

Yeah, we’ve been over this, too.  While being an altar boy might sound impressive to non-Catholics, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t   It isn’t at all.  I know because I was an altar boy and I didn’t know most of what being Catholic meant.  I became an altar boy because I wanted something to do at Mass rather than be bored and our training sessions got us out of class.  Perhaps Pastor Mark’s experience was different, but that would beg the question of why he makes so many errors when he explains Catholicism.

And so for me, I thought saints were like superheroes. They’re normal people endowed with amazing, superhuman abilities, like Chastity Man, or Aquaman, or Superman. I mean, that’s what I thought. Like, Superman could fly, and Aquaman could breathe underwater, Chastity Man could keep his hands to himself. These are like superheroes. These are like superheroes. They’re like us, but they have special powers.

Now there certainly are a lot stories concerning saints that give this impression.  I’m not going to dispute that at all, but I think this is the best time to explain exactly why Catholics venerate the Holy Men and women in our past.  First of all, we celebrate the lives of the Saints – as well as their earthly accomplishments – because in the lives of the saints we see Grace at work.  We see evidence that God does amazing things through sinners like you and like me.  Thus, to celebrate the life of a saint is to celebrate the work of God!  How can we not celebrate God’s work in the lives of the people he came to save?  Thus, while I would agree with Pastor Mark that anyone in Christ is a saint, there are certain men and women in Church history whose lives deserve to celebrated more than others.

Secondly, we celebrate the lives of the saints because the saints are our family members.  Through the Holy Spirit, we have been made children of God.  The bonds between Christians are so strong that we are family.  This shouldn’t come as a shock to and Mars Hill member, since Pastor Mark preached a sermon on this not long ago.  In your home, you probably have pictures of family members.  Some of these people might be dead, but others might be living.  No matter the case, these pictures serve as a reminder of the people you love.  In the Catholic Church, we often have statues of saints and pictures of saints for the same.

Thirdly, we celebrate the lives of the saints because their lives teach us about Jesus.  I think anyone can relate to this on a natural level.  When I was in college I made a lot of new friends.  I always enjoyed when their friends would come hang out with us because it gave me a fresh perspective on who my friends were.  Seeing how much these people valued my friends caused me to appreciate my friends more.  The same goes for our relationship with Jesus.  When I am around other Christians and when I look at the lives of the saints I actually grow in my understanding of who he was and I come to love and appreciate him more.

There is a process in Catholicism—and I love Catholics, I don’t hate Catholics.

Why does he always have to say that he doesn’t hate Catholics?  Methinks the pastor doth protest too much…

 And the sainthood in Catholicism, it started off, interestingly, where people who loved Jesus would get martyred, and then they would be honored.

The problem with this statement is… wait.  Wait a second.  That is actually a correct statement!  I’m stunned!  This statement is completely correct!  Sainthood started off in the Catholic Church when Christians would celebrate the martyrdom of other Christians.  And you know what?  On top of that, they would venerate the remains of these Christians!  Sounds weird huh?  It sort of is to us, but it wasn’t to other cultures.

Now, you might be wondering when this crazy practice began.  You might be inclined to think that it started in the “dark ages.”  Well, the truth is this practice started almost immediately within Christianity.  You can read a little bit about it here and a little bit more about it here.

So, interestingly enough, this practice of venerating saints and their relics seems to be something perfectly acceptable and perhaps even encouraged in the apostolic age.  Which leads me to an interesting question… If Mars Hill is preaching a Gospel that has always been believed then why are some of these practices of the apostolic age (like venerating saints and their relics) not done?

Well, that’s not necessarily bad,

Of course it isn’t.  It’s actually good because it celebrates Christ’s victory over death in the lives of ordinary Christians!

but then over time it got very political and very complicated,

Says who?  Oh, says Mark Driscoll.  Doesn’t seem complicated or political to me, but what do I know?  I’m just a practicing Catholic.

and so papal leadership put together sort of rules.

We’ve been over this as well.  Read up on it here.  Catholics have a lot of rules, but the Catholic Church needs a lot of rules because the Catholic Church is so unbelievably huge!  We need the rules to keep order in the Church and to make sure that everyone’s rights as a Christian are respected.  Mars Hill is not nearly as big and since Mark Driscoll has more direct authority over Mars Hill members than the Pope has over Catholics, they don’t need as many rules.

Some guys in hats had a meeting, it was all very official, and somebody wrote it down, okay? And Father James Martin, he lays out a ten-step process to become a Catholic saint…

From here on out, Pastor Mark just relates the process for canonization.  But just to be clear, let it be known that the Catholic Church does not “make” saints.  God makes saints.  The Catholic Church can only declare the truth that one has in fact been made.  To do so is a service to people like me – it provides me with reassurance that this Christian’s life is worthy of my respect because of what God has done in them and through them.

If you are a Mars Hill member – or just a regular non-Catholic coming across this post – I would encourage you very strongly to celebrate the lives of the saints.  There is so much to learn, and your relationship with Jesus will grow much stronger because of it.  Your faith will increase by learning about the real, tangible effects of grace in the lives of these extraordinarily blessed Christians.

Another Quibble Related to the Previous Quibble

The Resurgence just posted an interesting article on facebook about St. Patrick (http://theresurgence.com/2012/07/06/get-to-know-saint-patrick).  There are many interesting things in the article.  One interesting thing is that The Resurgence declares that St. Patrick is not technically a Saint.  Their reason for saying that he wasn’t technically a Saint is that he was never formally canonized.

While it is true that St. Patrick wasn’t formally canonized, it is not true that this fact alone means that he isn’t a saint in the Catholic Church.  The reason is that there was no formal process of canonization in the Church at the time.  Canonization is handed down to us from the early Church who (informally – it was by acclamation of the people) declared the martyrs to be in heaven with Jesus.  To say that formal Canonization is needed to declare one a saint would leave some interesting holes in the Roman Calendar.  We also would have to conclude that Mary, St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. Paul, Mary Magdalene, All of the apostles, and all of the early Martyrs also aren’t technically Saints as they were never formally canonized.  But doing so would be pretty dumb.  So let’s just get it out of the way and say that St. Patrick is, in fact, technically a Saint according to the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, this wasn’t the only interesting thing.  Without providing any evidence whatsoever, The Resurgence claims that “The Roman Catholic Church had given up on converting such “barbarians,” who were deemed beyond hope.”  To deem something must mean that they are referring to some kind of official statement declaring something.  The Resurgence provides no evidence for such a claim.

There is, however, evidence that the Catholic Church had missionary activity in Ireland before Patrick’s arrival.  In fact, Pope Celestine I had already established a diocese there and sent a man named Palladius as its bishop (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palladius).  St. Patrick was sent as his replacement (the fact that he was sent also conflicts with some of the details in the Resurgence article).

So, again, a ministry of Mark Driscoll is guilty of sloppy scholarship, this time completely re-writing history in order to perpetuate their own understanding of what ministry should look like.  If their interpretation of history is correct, they owe it to everyone to provide evidence for their claims.

UPDATE 3/17/13 – It appears as though mark Driscoll has made some updates to his article at the Resurgence.  There are now some notes for further studies, which is very helpful.  It also looks as though he elaborated on the “Roman Opposition” section to include some new material.  Keep this in mind as you read the above.

The Church Discipline Controversy

We have had quite a few hits here over the last few days thanks to controversy at Mars Hill concerning Church discipline.  Recently, a member of Mars Hill was placed under Church Discipline and released the documents outlining his path back into the good graces of the church, as well as a statement posted on Mars Hill’s inner website called, “The City” in which members were taught how to respond to this young man if they ever saw him in public.

You can read up on the controversy here.

As a practicing Roman Catholic this whole thing strikes me as being very strange and, yes, abusive.  As a Catholic what shocked me most was that this young man, Andrew, was being disciplined for what we call “Private sin.”  In the Catholic Church, we do excommunicate, but it is most often for “Public sin.”  There is more to excommunication in the Catholic Church than that, but that is an important distinction that Mars Hill doesn’t seem to have.

But this whole thing is frustrating to me for a different reason.  Pastor Mark repeatedly makes the Catholic Church (as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church) out to be nothing more than a bunch of legalistic rule following and powerful people lording it over people without power.  Remember that video that went viral recently titled, Why I hate religion and love Jesus?  Well, the young man in the video is a Mars Hill member and pretty much sums up most of what I have heard Driscoll say about “religious people.”

If these documents are authentic they are far more controlling and legalistic than anything I have experienced as a Catholic.  I am not saying the Catholic Church’s leadership is beyond criticism.  Spiritual abuse and other types of abuse happen in the Catholic Church too.  We certainly have some unfortunate moments in our history that include prescribing a severe set of penalties for people who didn’t see things our way.  It just drives me nuts that he saw the speck in our eye and couldn’t see the beam in his own.

It has been claimed repeatedly here at Driscollwatch that we love and respect members of Mars Hill Church and their pastor, Mark Driscoll.  As far as we could see, this was just a typical evangelical Church.  Obviously, we didn’t know the whole story.  So, if it needs to be stated, while we respect people who seek to know Jesus Christ, we do not support this system of “discipline” described in these blog posts and we condemn any spiritual abuse inflicted by any religious tradition, including our own.  Extra prayers will be offered for anyone who has been wounded by Mars Hill because of this system.

And we pray for Mark and the elders of Mars Hill to rethink their disciplinary procedures.

Some required reading: This post from The Internet Monk about how having a seal of confession helps Roman Catholics avoid this problem.  Also, this response  to the Religion vs. Jesus video from Fr. Dwight Longenecker at First Things.  The Key line…

The young man in the video was clearly attracted to a Jesus Christ who was a young, table-turning radical. His Jesus was impatient with the religious establishment and on the side of the sinners and revolutionaries. His Jesus was the quintessential outsider—the rebel with a cause—a punk who all those rich hypocrites excluded and persecuted. In other words, he was just like the young man in the video.

We all fall into the trap of making Christ in our own image, so it is understandable, and if understandable, forgivable. This, however, is the main justification not only for religion, but also for a dogmatic religion. A dogmatic religion corrects our tendency to make Jesus in our own image.