19 December 2010

Nativities, Nestorianism, and Redemptive-History

or Biblical Christology in the New Covenant and the traps and pitfalls of Idolatry

The Christmas Wars of the Evangelicals are fought on several fronts, one being the conflict over whether or not to shop at stores that say, "Happy Holidays," vs. "Merry Christmas."

Another of course surrounds the public schools and whether or not Christmas programmes can include hymns or be reduced to secular carols.

And just as important to them, there is the battle for the nativity scene.

Evangelicals not only would have all their numbers display these scenes of Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus, and often the shepherds and Magi as well, but they also insist these should be put in display in front of courthouses, school lawns etc...

Their opponents, groups such as the ACLU argue that if the schools or other public buildings are going to promote Christianity, then they need to also promote Judaism, Hinduism and whatever else as well. Therefore, it's better for all if nothing is specifically promoted by these government venues. That way all taxpayers are being properly represented....or not represented equally. Otherwise, the state is more or less promoting one over the other.

For the Christian Right, that's not good enough. This is a Christian country they insist, and therefore the state should promote Christianity and everyone else needs to take a contented backseat. Of course those who are thus exempted feel somewhat disenfranchised and would like the same social courtesy extended to them.

But Evangelicals will not tolerate it. We saw a very poignant example of this when a Hindu tried to open a congressional session in prayer. Evangelicals in the galleries shouted him down. They wouldn't have it. All religions are not equal. They will tolerate them, but the government can only promote Christianity. There are degrees of course. Theonomists would call upon the government to actively suppress other religions and rather than evangelize homosexuals, they call for them to be put to the sword. The Theonomists over at CovenantNews call for this on a regular basis.

Of course as an anti-Constantinian/anti-Sacralist, I would certainly oppose the Hindu, but with equal vehemence oppose any Christian who tried to open the Congress in prayer....all the more because they do so as Constantinians. This is where I break....harshly, with several very well known Reformed leaders.

We are to pray for Caesar, kings, and all that are in authority. I see no argument that we are to collude with them sanctioning their wicked deeds by asking God to bless them. Our job is not to bless Caesar's wars and endeavours, but to pray for the peace of the city....so that we can fulfill the gospel mission. By standing there in Congress and asking God to bless their session, you're endorsing it. To a Dominionist all the spheres of government must be brought under Christ, but the Bible proclaims no such thing. All the universe will bow the knee when our Lord returns, but until then the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel. God has not given us the tools nor to command to shape geo-politics, macro-economics, or the arts. This is the Common Grace realm, which will always end in failure, but is sufficient enough for us to live and function. We are exiles, and pilgrims...we don't take part in the Babel project of the lost. The Babylonian exiles never sought to make Babylon, to transform it into Israel. It couldn't be done.

We're not here to transform societies, sanction governments (which are all facets of Babylon), develop economic theories (which all fail in a fallen world)...we're here to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Of course this raises another point.....has this Gospel been lost? The Cultural Mandate, a result of very poor exegesis has become the new gospel of the Christian Right. And among those who posses more theological credentials and certainly retain a bit more savvy, they've made it even worse by proclaiming that Christ's redemption of creation will occur BEFORE the 2nd Coming. So, by waging Culture War, they will undo the effects of the fall and create political, economic, scientific, and artistic systems which pre-figure the Age to Come.

These are the same people who have now turned with a longing eye to the Middle Ages...a time of social cohesiveness and on many levels social unity. Sure there were wars and abuses, but the whole of 'Christendom' was ideologically on the same sheet of paper, unified in a vision of how the world ought to operate.

There are many today in Evangelical Protestant circles who would have us return to that time. They would have us return to a time of the state and 'church' working together in harmony...on a joint mission to redeem souls and the structures of a fallen world.

If they're right, then I'm the heretic, certainly a lost soul that has not grasped the gospel in any way. They would call me a gnostic, one who has overemphasized the division between matter and spirit. The Waldensians and others were accused of the very same thing. Their tormentors could not grasp their argument for a theologically necessitated social pluralism. They rejected the Monistic societal structure, commonly called Christendom. Thus they condemned the efforts of the Constantinian Roman Catholic Church to forge a unified Christian empire, the same goals of the Protestant Sacralists of our day.

So if they're right, I'm the heretic.

If they're wrong, then they are working to construct Babylon, Neo-Babel...they are the agents of Antichrist. They are the horned lamb that speaks like a dragon, urging the peoples to worship the Beast (the deified state.) Don't fall for right-wing arguments that proclaim they are anti-state. The Reagan and Bush regimes are just as pro-state and expansionist as any leftist regime. They just want it to expand in different areas. And it's not just about military, a fusion between the corporate world and the state, or social programmes....it's about the state becoming a religion. Whether it's a Big Brother type of vision, or God chosen and blessed Exceptionalism....it's the same. Just two sides of the same coin.

I think that not only does the Bible support my rejection of their theology. I am right to denounce their creeds and warn others of what they would bring to the world once again. To me, the Shadow is rising....dark times are on the horizon for the Church of Jesus Christ. To them, they are preparing for the victory, whether it be a last second rescue of Western Christendom, or a re-birth from the ashes of collapse...time will tell.

Remember Satan's armies are sometimes Mongols or Huns mounted on horseback laying waste to towns and villages...but his primary tool, his primary means of warfare is by infiltration and counterfeiting. His strongest forces appear as angels of light, or think of the one I just cited. It's a lamb, but a false one....one that confuses people, because they might think it is the true lamb. We don't live in a world where the bad guys where black cowboy hats or look like Tolkien-esque orcs. They look like us, talk like us, but something is not right.

Believers can spot them right off. I know so many seemingly solid professing Christians who astonish me by proclaiming that Joyce Meyer or John Hagee are their favourite teachers. Anyone in their Bible can tell they're agents of the enemy in just a few seconds. Just visit your local Wal-mart and walk over to the book section. There's the one are that has all the Christian books. Wal-mart only sells the hot items, the bestsellers. What's in the Christian section? Hagee, Osteen, and Meyer. And the people purchasing these books are the same people listening to the faux moralism of Glenn Beck, Hannity, Ingraham, O'reilly, and Savage.

The most dangerous ones preach the Biblical gospel, but then overlay it with Americanism....once again confusing the people of God regarding the Church and the Kingdom. Suddenly America becomes a New Israel, our experiences are compared with the Crossing of the Red Sea, our soldiers become holy warriors offerring a blood sacrifice. The threat isn't the false kingdom they promote, the gospel they've perverted...not it's liberals who would tinker with their Holy America. Some of these people, and I'm stepping on some toes here, can be just as dangerous as a Hagee or Joel Osteen.
History I think, also supports what I'm trying to say, and what I'm trying to fight against. The last time these folks had power, their spiritual forebears brought us:

The persecution of Christians in lands outside of the Constantinian-ized Roman Empire,

The mass conversion of people by the sword, as Charlemagne did with the Saxons,

The corruption of the church via cultural syncretism...in a quest to incorporate and integrate all the peoples of the new Sacral Imperium. Paganism was joined with Christianity, transforming the Church rather than the other way around,

The horrors and multi-century fallout from the Crusades

The holocaust of The Inquisition, centuries of the Church being driven underground and persecuted,

And when their system gained another Sacral competitor (The Reformation,)....almost two centuries of destructive warfare.

I could go on, but I presume I've made my point.

Returning to nativities, we are confronted with yet another of the frustrating non-battles of the present day. This is another example of massive amounts of energy being outpoured by the church for the things that either don't matter,

or are flat wrong.

In addition to embracing the Roman liturgical calendar, we now witness the bizarre phenomena of Protestants arguing for the right to display images....images their forebears rejected and at times destroyed with violence.

The Second Commandment is pretty clear in terms of depicting the Divine or things Celestial.

Rome, mistress of sophistries and Scripture twisting has for years come up with various arguments to turn the Truth of Scripture, and call white black, and black white.

One of these arguments is now commonly embraced by Evangelicals, that is to accuse those who would oppose pictures or depictions of Christ of being guilty of the heresy of Nestorianism.

Now it can be argued that the 5th century Constantinopolitan Patriarch Nestorius never really taught this, nevertheless the Nestorian position can be summed as this:

Christ has two Natures, human and divine, and the Incarnation is also comprised of two Persons, human and divine.

The Orthodox position has always been:

Christ has two Natures, human and divine, and they both reside in one Person.

The argument has long been that there is but One Christ, who is miraculously both human and divine.

Nestorians have said that by combining the two Persons into one, he is neither properly speaking human or divine.

Nestorians also argued the Persons must be separate or else what will you say? That God died on the Cross? Can God die?

So they would in some way separate his humanity and his divinity. They are not quite unified in the person of Christ.

There were other errors in the early church, some that were more serious in that they denied His humanity, or His divinity...or made him into a tertium quid, a third something that was neither fully man or fully God.
You can see the Nestorian point. It becomes very confusing and of course all of this depends on how you define Nature and Person. Not everyone agrees. Gordon Clark who was primarily concerned with logical coherence and was a rationalist by my definition, considered the idea that there would be Two Natures and yet One Person as logically absurd and nonsense. He argued for Nestorianism, but wanted to re-define the terms nature and person.

Bear with me a moment....I just want to clarify where I'm coming from. If you're not interested in this little aside or explanation, skip ahead.....

Personally I embrace the Orthodox position....somehow there's One Christ, not two, and yet He is fully God and fully man. I am not a rationalist and I do not believe Systematics can probe these mysteries and explain them in some kind of logical formula. Most of the readers here are not interested in these complex topics but I've written about them in some of the earlier posts.

I don't believe logic as we understand via Aristotle is the preferred method, the preferred criteria for constructing theology. I believe the Scriptures themselves provide us with a doctrine of logic. Aristotle is fine for the horizontal, the time and space realm. To probe the divine and the eternal is a task beyond us and without the Special Revelation of Scripture as a guide, we are lost and enter a dangerous realm of syllogistic speculation. When the Scriptures reveal Eternal Truth to us, we don't (because we can't) have to reconcile it with Aristotelian categories.

Doing this I argue, is simply another attempt at Scholasticism, even if it is with more of a Protestant bent. I advocate a Scripture based Theology that often presents Truth to us in a Dialectical tension. Our task in theology is not to reconcile and synthesize, but to leave it be.

So, I'm not going to try and work out the details of the Incarnation. I'm going to stick with the text and understand the Christ is human and Divine, and leave it there. This deliberate underdeveloped theology is actually more similar to what the Nestorian Churches are actually advocating. It's not that they are diehard in their insistence on Christ possessing Two Persons...instead they are rejecting the technicalities and methodology exhibited in the Council of Chalcedon which condemned them in 451.

Let me make it clear...I'm not a Nestorian, but I also reject the Scholasticism most Protestants have embraced. If you're interested in these questions, you can read the earlier posts or contact me and I would be happy to discuss them. Or even better, leave a comment, so everyone can benefit from the exchange.


A Protestant pro-image argument often is framed thus:

While we would reject the depiction of God the Father, by rejecting the depiction of Christ you are separating his humanity from his Divinity and are thus guilty of Nestorianism. You can't separate the natures, and therefore since Christ is Fully Man, we can depict him.

Did you catch that?

Since Christ was human, He is exempt from the prohibitions of the 2nd Commandment. By insisting that He shouldn't be depicted, you must be breaking apart the Incarnate fusing of the Divine and Human.

Often Dominionists will also accuse iconoclasts like me of a Gnostic separation of matter and spirit or something to that effect. I'm not sure then what exactly they do with the second commandment???? This has nothing to do with Gnostic hierarchies and emanations, this has to do with the fact that the Divine is Holy, Holy, Holy (3 indicating perfect superlative completeness) and any depiction of the Godhead outside the symbols He commands....is a lie. I'll return to this in a moment.

Ignoring their blasphemies, I wish to flip this on its head.

By depicting Jesus, they are separating His Divinity. You can't picture just Christ's humanity. If you think so, then you are in fact a Nestorian (as we defined it above.)

They go together. He is the Theanthropos, the God-Man. God Incarnate, the Icon (Image) of the Father.

So, when you see a painting of Christ....is it Him?

If it's not depicting His Divinity...then it's not Christ.

If if is depicting His Divinity (for the sake of argument)...then it's at the very least a violation of the Second Commandment, if not taking His name in vain and outright blasphemy.

His Divinity of course, cannot be depicted...and so the picture is not Christ....and thus it is a lie.

This is why during the Reformation in Holland and Scotland, newly Reformed Christians were ripping down and smashing statues and destroying images of Christ. I'm not saying they were right to reverence the buildings and want to purge the 'solemn' places....but that's what motivated them. They viewed these things as idols...false gods, or false representations of the True God....and thus false gods.

Not so with their descendants eh? How times have changed. More or more every day, Protestantism and Evangelicalism are headed down the Roman road. It looks different, because our cultural context is different, but the undergirding theology is increasingly the same.

So, the very thing they accuse us of, they are themselves doing...dividing the indivisible composite nature of the Incarnation. Images of Christ expose a Nestorian understanding of the Incarnation.

As I've argued Christmas itself is wrong, but the issues surrounding the nativity operate in this wider circle of argument.

Is that lit up piece of plastic an accurate reflection of the Divinity and Holy Glory of the Risen Christ, the Incarnate Son of God?

Personally when I see a nativity....I want to stop the car and smash the thing to bits. It's a blasphemous attack on the glory of God.

That is not Jesus Christ. It is a lie.

If it really depicts His Divinity....then you had better get down on your knees.

Oh, that's silly I can hear someone say. People aren't making these things into idols. I would argue that on several points, but I'll share one quick story.

Several years ago I was working in the basement (cellar) of a retired Baptist pastor. I was down there for several days and I noticed over in one corner several tall plastic figurines. Clearly Mary, Joseph, and the Magi, they were covered in cobwebs, dust, and a little mildew.

At one point, I was working over in that area and they were in my way. I respectfully moved them as they were someone else's property, and in their midst was something or other inside a pillow case. It was in the way, so I picked it up and it felt kind of strange. For its size it was very lightweight. The pillow case end fell back a little and sure enough it was the plastic baby Jesus.

How interesting. No doubt after that first year, seeing the plastic Jesus covered with dust and cobwebs disturbed the good Reverend. Why? Because like it or not when you depict the Deity, you can't help but reverence the image. Somehow in his mind, that gawdy piece of plastic was the Lord of Glory and it just sat wrong with him that it should be covered in cobwebs.

And at that point, you are guilty of idolatry.

Wasn't that the point of the 2nd Commandment?

All depictions of Christ are lies, idolatrous lies.

Not only does it falsely depict Him, it robs him of His rightful glory.

I think of another house I was working at. I had some great conversations with the woman of the house. She seemed to have a credible Christian testimony, and I cannot judge what is in her heart.

But I was astonished when one day she said, "If I'm not home, check the Jesus by the television to see if I left you a note."


So she took me into the Living Room and sure enough here was a plastic bobble-head Jesus with outstretched arms. She explained how they would write notes and then stick the note on the arm of the 'jesus.' They would just push it over the hand, making a small hole in the note and it would just hang there off his arm until someone got it.

I wasn't laughing. I wasn't angry. I was in stunned silence.

Isn't it interesting how these depictions in making light of Holy Things...in the end makes them trivial....common?

At least medieval Romanism reverenced their idolatries. American consumeristic culture makes light of everything, turns everything into a cheap commodity. Visit your local Christian book store. What do you find? Sacrilegious cartoons of vegetables depicting Bible characters and stories. Testa-mints? Testament is the Greek word Diatheke, meaning Covenant. The Holy Covenant of God.....that dividing of the animals that Abraham saw hearkening to the sacrifice of Christ. When it says to make a Covenant, it means to Cut a Covenant...this all points to Christ's atonement on the cross.


Christian bookstore?

When we pass one in a nearby town, I often refer to it as Anti-christ bookstore. Too harsh?

These people are tools of the Enemy. They think they serve Christ, but they are contributing to the destructive apostasy all around us. This is no different than the medieval worship of relics, pilgrimages, rosaries, and the rest. It's the same spirit manifesting itself in a different cultural context.
Reading the Bible we find many occasions of people encountering God. People fall on their faces, they're sick, they put their hands over their mouths....lots of things. But the one thing you never encounter is.....

casualness, or casual familiarity.

Even the Apostles when leaning on Christ, or the women sitting at his feet, never failed to call him Master.

These pictures are a mockery, an attack on the Christ of the Gospel. That is reason enough to oppose them.

So once again we find the modern Conservative Evangelical Protestant Church fighting the wrong battles for the wrong causes and serving the wrong kingdom.

Satan must be laughing. Rather than do what the Church is supposed to do, the 'Bride' is chasing after holy days that don't exist, a kingdom that is a fiction, and fighting battles using the world's weapons and ways, often blaspheming God instead of worshipping him....and all the while they think they are doing God service.

They're ready to shed blood in order to defend their lite-up plastic idols.

It's Matthew 7...Lord, Lord, right before our eyes.

How do we depict Christ? We're told how to do so. We're given symbols that are more than sufficient. We don't need fantasy pictures, silly Jesus birthday parties, or even crosses....yes, the symbol of the cross has long been opposed by both proto-Protestants and many Protestants. Why? Doesn't it show his death and resurrection?

We are told the Lord's Supper shows His death till He comes. The bread is His body, and the wine His blood. The Supper depicts the breaking His body, and our fellowship in the Blessed Hope of His Return. God has already given us the means of showing the death and resurrection.

Baptism shows how we participate in his anointing as King (we are co-heirs)

and also shows how are united In Him through the waters (death-hell-chaos) and are In Him in newness of life....the Age to Come-Glorification-Redemption.

In the Old Covenant, the people of God were in the age of immaturity, under tutors, under instruction, a time of shadows. Not fully understanding the wonder and scope of God's plan, he placed them under a regime that would again teach them the lessons of Eden. As a people they played the role of Adam in the land of milk and honey (the symbolic Garden) and faced the same sanctions (exile-death) if they failed to keep the commandments God had given them.

Since the fall had sundered the direct relationship with God, He worked through mediators...prophets, priests, and kings.....real historical figures who played their part in a Divinely orchestrated historical drama that pointed them as a people to the Coming One, the Seed who would destroy the Serpent.

The prophets spoke the oracles of God and were a sign of His presence...not just His abiding presence as exhibited in the tabernacle-temple Shekinah....but His active intervening Providential presence in new revelation, Prophecy, exhortation and warning. They were proto-types of the final Word, The Prophet, Christ Himself.

The kings ruled symbolically as vassals of the Great King. They were entrusted with guiding and shepherding the people in the way Adam was to lead Eve and tend the garden. When the kings failed, the people did. When the kings were obedient, the people of God grew strong. They were proto-types of the 2nd Adam, Christ Himself.

And finally the priests were the mediators of the hope of Eternity, the grace of reconciliation, but the temple system also pointed to the fires of judgment. The Mosaic system condemned but also exhibited a way, a means of re-approaching God. Of course it was flawed and insufficient, the symbols could not save in and of themselves. The faithful knew this in their hearts and did not rest in the types, symbols, and forms as the Pharisees did...instead they looked ahead to the day when the Seed would come and crush the Serpent's head. Only through his bruising and victory could things be made right.

These symbols that God gave to them, the land of Canaan, the temple, the altar, the sacrifices, the priests, the robes, the candles, the incense, the holy days, the dietary laws, the building laws, the sanitation laws, the social codes, the tribal system, the kingship, the prophets...all of it, pointed to Christ. He is the end, the telos, the end result of the law, the yes and amen to ALL the promises of the Old Testament. (2 Cor. 1.20)

There weren't any promises in the Old Testament that point to something apart from Christ. That's what the New Testament teaches and when people look to those proto-types and want to incorporate them into the Church....you're saying Christ didn't fulfill that particular type and we still need it. When people point to Israel and call it the holy land, they're rejecting that Christ is Israel...he fulfilled that type and shadow. He is the land of milk and honey, He is Eden restored, He is the door, the bread of life.

We don't need to return to any of those pictures or types. They've been fulfilled. Nor did the Israelites need to come up with new ones. What God had given them was sufficient. Those who tried to change the system God had given were harshly condemned. There are several reasons why, but in relation to what we've been talking about, I will say by adding or subtracting from what God had given....what True Picture was being harmed?

It all pointed to Christ, so when you tinkered with the system, you deformed or destroyed the picture of what it was all about....the Coming Christ.

Today, we are free from the burden of the law, the commandments and ordinances that were against us, that separated Jew from Gentile....because no one could keep the law. So rather than a picture of life....it always ended up being death and condemnation. It always generated a response-result as His Word does not return void. You might turn away in self-righteousness, dismissing the Divine claims,  or even worse....rest in the symbols and not understand the message. Trusting in shadows and forms is the ultimate legalism as we saw with the Pharisees.

Or if you were a believer, you looked to the heavens and cry out to God, realizing you couldn't keep the law, and the law itself did not satisfy. The priests of Levi were not good enough. The shadow system was weak. You needed a priest of the order of Melchizedec. The priests of Levi were just proto-types of the High Priest to come, Christ Jesus...and by our Union with Him, we too are a Kingdom of Priests. Christ as the Way, is life to those who are In Him, and death to those who are not. He is the Judge, the Prophet, Priest, and King.....not a piece of plastic with a light bulb inside.

From Moses to Christ the people of God were under a system of tutelage, it was teaching them the lessons of Eden...fall and redemption, life and death. And it was all for us that we might understand the plan of God with a greater fullness and richness that they could only dream of in the days before Christ.

Individuals were saved by Grace through Faith just as Abraham was and just as we are. Paul labours to prove this in Romans 4, but overlaying that system of individual salvation was a corporate system of tutelage. As a people, they were re-Adamized as it were. They were Adam in the garden, placed under probation and given a promise of life from obedience, or death from disobedience. Like Adam, they failed. The True Israel, the 2nd Adam, did not.

We're no longer under a time of tutors. We don't need to return to the system that treated God's people as children instructing them in the ABC's of Redemptive-History. I'm not speaking of individuals in the Church. More than ever we're in an age of spiritual illiteracy. I'm speaking of The Church as a corporate people, The Church as it stands in Redemptive-History. We are not in the pre-days...we're in the Last Days, the last age, the final epoch. The New Testament tells us there are no more ages for this fallen earth.....on the New Heavens and the New Earth of the Age to Come. There won't be another epoch, another period for the people of God. What follows is Judgment and Renewal...the Eschaton.

I'll repeat an illustration I've used before.

When your daughter is young and you want her to clean her room, you need to take her in there and explain, maybe even give her a checklist.

Dust the shelves,
Change the sheets,
Make the bed,
Sweep the floor,
Straighten the shelves,
Fold the clothes,
Empty the rubbish bin,

She is a child and needs to be told how to do it. But when she's 16, what do you do?

You say, "Go clean your room,"

And she knows what to do. She doesn't need the lists and the details in order to know how to do it. She knows what needs to be done....what cleaning your room is all about....and she employs wisdom to get it done.

She no longer needs props, lists, and symbols.

In this age of maturity, this age of the New Covenant with the law written on our hearts, the Age that In Christ allows us to pre-maturely participate in the Age to Come needs very little in the way of symbolism.

We don't need temples, priests, robes, candles, holydays.....

And we certainly don't need to take the Old Testament shadows and re-cast them in the Christian symbolism. That's what Rome does. Walk into a Roman church sometime. It's a re-casting of the Old Testament Temple. That's what they're trying to do. They've got an altar, a priesthood, a sacrifice, a temple, a Holy of Holies, etc.....

And we certainly don't need to innovate and make new symbols because God didn't give us what we need.

Let us glory in the freedom of the New Covenant....it's wondrous simplicity. We are free from the burdens of a law that was type and shadow....and in of itself without Christ....an administration of death, a failure. We can understand it in light of Christ and learn much of the character of God as He reveals Himself to us in Christ...but since we have Christ we don't need to return to the symbols and the commandments pertaining to the maintenance of the types.

We love God and our neighbour and look forward to the return of our Lord.

We are free from the commandments of men. We obey their laws, their attempts at making right a fallen world. We smile as they try to construct the Tower of Babel and we watch it fall over and over again. We are free from their threats, the temptations of their idolatries...we don't need to copy them. We don't need to 'help' God by coming up with new ways.

He has given His Word. The Holy Word both written in Scripture and made visible in ordinance-sacrament is all we need.

Let us not fall into the category of those who have a zeal....but not according to knowledge.

Anyone who wants to print this and use it for a Christmas sermon at your local church....please by all means. I'm sure it will go over very well.


thereformedtraveler said...

Was waiting for your 'Christmas sermon', knew it would be a dilly.It is.

rationalityofaith said...

I wonder what you would think of the argument that words themselves are a form of "representation" of divine realities, and that words and pictures are occupy the same continuum in their representation of the divine.

There are cultures which words are pictorial, e.g. Egyptian hieroglyphics or ancient Chinese characters which do look like pictures. Are we therefore to forbid all printing of the Bible passages in their language simply because they look like pictures? To say this veers dangerously towards the Islamic view of the necessity of a “pure language” (Arabic) to convey Muslim truth and no other language is fit or adequate to that purpose.

Thus, if you grant that some form of representation would be necessary for the communication of divine truth, then it follows that even if we are not to make pictures for devotions or worship, etc, it is acceptable to make them for pedagogical reasons as "books for the unlearned" as Melanchthon puts it here in the Wittenberg Articles,

'Images of Christ and of the saints, that is, representations of their story by means of paintings and the like in churches and elsewhere, have, as Gregory says, been the books of the illiterate, that is, they explain the story like a written book. In itself this is a matter of indifference concerning which Christians should not quarrel.

Since, then, such representation provides for the illiterate the advantage of seeing and learning the stories as if from books, we do not reject pictures in themselves, nor do we abolish them; we do, however, reprove their misuse.

For we teach that images are not to be worshipped; nor is it to be thought that they have power; nor should people think that setting up images of God or of the saints is serving God, or that God is more gracious or does more than otherwise if He is invoked before such an image.

For God wants men to grasp Him only in faith through His Word and His sacraments; therefore it is a godless error to bind God to certain images without God’s Word. It is also a wicked error to think that a deed performed in front of such an image pleases God more than if done elsewhere; for we should believe that God in all places hears those who earnestly call upon Him. Hence Isaiah [66:1] reproves those who do not believe that God everywhere hears those who call upon Him in true spiritual worship, for he says that, even though the heaven is the Lord’s throne, yet God dwells “in him that is poor and of a contrite spirit”. Christ says [John 4:21, 23]: “Ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father…but…in spirit and in truth,” and Paul says [1 Tim. 2:8]: “I will that men pray everywhere”.'

Anonymous said...

the Bible itself doesn't seem to make that distinction does it? if an image of Jesus is indeed faithfully representing Jesus how can you not venerate it? If it's not Jesus, then what is it but a misrepresentation of who He is?

Where does the NT teach us to use images to supplement worship or to employ images for didactic purposes? Where does the NT define Words as the equivalent of images? Sure the sacraments are the visible Word but they are specifically ordained by God. If we can add 'Words' then we can certainly add Sacraments can't we? I think Rome would agree.

rationalityofaith said...

"Where does the NT teach us to use images to supplement worship or to employ images for didactic purposes Where does the NT define Words as the equivalent of images?"

Tell me, does the NT define whether or not Egyptian hieroglyphics or ancient Chinese words are the equivalent of images?

Does the NT give us information about Greek linguistics or semiotics or teach us about such things?

Does the NT define whether or not sign language are the equivalent of words?

Part of the Two Kingdom theology as the author of this blog points out is that

"God has not given us the tools nor to command to shape geo-politics, macro-economics, or the arts."

and that includes tools or concepts for distinguishing pictures from words or linguistics or semiotics, etc. These belong to the "common grace" realm and are to be decided by prudence and reason, etc.

Anonymous said...

Right but is the Bible sufficient or not?

What you seem to suggest is that the OT rejection of images can more or less be invalidated by the word-symbol-picture argument

and that the NT doesn't give us what we need to know?

We're not talking of the Common but the Holy.

No one is disputing that Egyptian writings are pictographic... but is that relevant to the NT and to ecclesiastical instruction?

Perhaps I belong to some rainforest tribe and we communicate through dance movements? Should our Sunday School be conducted by dancing? I'm being a little facetious but only a little.

rationalityofaith said...

"Right but is the Bible sufficient or not?

What you seem to suggest is that the OT rejection of images can more or less be invalidated by the word-symbol-picture argument

and that the NT doesn't give us what we need to know?"

Sufficient for what? Sufficient for Greek linguistics? How to organise an economy? For the arts, politics, etc? Need to know for what? Salvation? Sure it does, but is doing good works necessary for salvation? How about running the economy efficiently? Or understanding Greek philology and semiotics?

I never said that the OT rejection of worship of images can be more or less invalidated by the word-symbol-picture argument, only that it raises questions as to the scope and meaning of that rejection? (Does it reject the creation of all images per se? Or the worship of them?)

"We're not talking of the Common but the Holy.

No one is disputing that Egyptian writings are pictographic... but is that relevant to the NT and to ecclesiastical instruction?

Perhaps I belong to some rainforest tribe and we communicate through dance movements? Should our Sunday School be conducted by dancing? I'm being a little facetious but only a little."

Where does the line between the common and the Holy lie? Does the Bible say, for example, if physics or mathematics is common or Holy? How about Greek and Hebrew linguistics? Marriage? Politics? Economics?

And yes, it is relevant to NT and ecclesiastical instruction, in the case of the rainforest tribe, if their only means of communication is dance movement, then you shall have to communicate the Gospel through that means, at least, until you find a more efficient way to communicate to them, but that would take several generations. These are simply questions of pragmatics and prudence, in other words, the 'common grace' realm.

Protoprotestant said...

I’m sorry but the word/picture argument for pictures being included in the life of the Church is pretty dodgy.
If we needed pictures, then the NT would have told us so.
The Scriptures are indeed sufficient for the life of the Church. They’re not sufficient for the other things you’ve mentioned. But that’s a different realm from the life of the Church. We don’t need the secular world to aid/assist/supplement our worship and the Scriptures while informing Christians how to live in the world do not break down for us models and theories of the non-redemptive realm.
No we don’t dance. God ordained the foolishness of preaching. That’s not accomplished through pictures or dance. It’s through words. Every civilization even the primitive ones that engage in war dance etc… still have words.
I agree there are questions and discussions to be had in the realm of common grace…but in terms of the Church itself…that’s most certainly not the Common Grace realm!

rationalityofaith said...

"The Scriptures are indeed sufficient for the life of the Church. They’re not sufficient for the other things you’ve mentioned. But that’s a different realm from the life of the Church. We don’t need the secular world to aid/assist/supplement our worship and the Scriptures while informing Christians how to live in the world do not break down for us models and theories of the non-redemptive realm...

I agree there are questions and discussions to be had in the realm of common grace…but in terms of the Church itself…that’s most certainly not the Common Grace realm!"

But you are still dodging the question of what exactly is involved in "the life of the Church".

Does the "life of the Church" involve reading the Bible?

In the Greek?

Understanding Greek grammar and 1st century historical conditions?

Understanding linguistics, grammar, and semiotics?

Are those part of the "common grace realm" or the Church realm?

If the former, then the "life of the Church" does involve aspects of the common grace realm, if the latter, then you are saying that it is the business of the Church to be involve in questions which are not part of the Bible, (the Bible does not teach us Greek semantics or linguistic theory or 1st century socio-economic-historical conditions after all) effectively a sort of Christendom.

Where does the line between "the life of the Church" and the common grace realm lie? This is the number one question which seems to be persistently evaded.

"No we don’t dance. God ordained the foolishness of preaching. That’s not accomplished through pictures or dance. It’s through words. Every civilization even the primitive ones that engage in war dance etc… still have words."

The point seems to be drifting. I am talking about cultures with printed words that look like pictures. No one denies the role of the verbal preaching but that's not what I am talking about. Unless you mean to say that we are to forbid the printing and reading of Bibles in their language, and that they are to be content with live preaching until we force them to learn a non-pictorial language, then it is entirely right and legitimate to have Bibles scripted in their own language, no matter how pictorial it may appear.

To forbid them a Bible in their own language and to be entirely dependent upon live preachers for the Word alone does seem to veer towards the side of a form of clericalism...

Protoprotestant said...

Where does the line between the life of the church and the common grace realm lie?

That’s a big question. To understand the Bible correctly we have to interact with the context in which it was written. To apply it today we have to understand our context or the context in which it is being introduced. I will grant that. Sure, we have to grasp cultural nuance and symbolism etc…
There are times where cultural norms come into conflict with Biblical mandates and if that’s the case then extensive thought will have to be undertaken in order to correct the mindset of the audience that has received the gospel. The American Church surely needs this today!
Pictographic scripts are one thing…violating Biblical commands is something else. It can be complicated of course. An illiterate community is a problem and throughout history those committed to the Bible have always endeavoured to insure their people are literate. Our religion is a religion of the word…written and spoken. In the case of medieval peasants…the so-called Church and its clerics had done them a grave disservice.
Our disagreement is not over interaction with the realm of common grace. Our variance is theological….particularly in the realm of categories. We’re on different pages it would seem.
The Sufficiency of Scripture gives us categories….forms the questions we ask as we approach ecclesiology. I want to start there. It would seem (at least to me) you want to start more in anthropological or sociological terms and then interact with the Bible…effecting a sort of compromise. I realize you likely will disagree with that assessment but that’s what I’m seeing.

rationalityofaith said...

“Our disagreement is not over interaction with the realm of common grace. Our variance is theological….particularly in the realm of categories. We’re on different pages it would seem.
The Sufficiency of Scripture gives us categories….forms the questions we ask as we approach ecclesiology. I want to start there. It would seem (at least to me) you want to start more in anthropological or sociological terms and then interact with the Bible…effecting a sort of compromise. I realize you likely will disagree with that assessment but that’s what I’m seeing.”

I guess I would deny the first premise, that is, the “Sufficiency of Scripture gives us categories”.

Where in the Bible does it say that? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that the Scriptures are given for a certain purpose and end, and is sufficient for those ends, e.g. equipping us for every good work. But nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that this sufficiency consists in the giving of “categories”.

In fact, as someone who appreciates the redemptive-narrative understanding of Scripture, you should know that the Scriptures rarely gives us “categories”, in the sense of a general term with definitions, it describes or witnesses to us events, not general “categories”. The Scriptures are not a systematic theology textbook giving us general categories with definitions. The Scriptures rarely ever does define its terms (one of the rare instances is in James which “sort of” defines sin as the breaking of the law).

Thus, the Bible does not even give us a lexicon, even less “categories” with general terms and definitions. Rather, the Bible simply uses those terms in particular applications embedded within particular contexts without defining the more general meaning of those terms.

rationalityofaith said...

It seems, horrors of horrors, that before we can approach the Scriptures, we already need many different tools and concepts from the common grace realm, even if you want to shrink the tool to be simply that of a Greek lexicon. But of course, Greek lexicons do not drop out of heaven nor are they matter of divine revelation. They are products of human reason, empirical research, deductions and investigations into meanings and implications of terms, etc, the stuff of historical studies and anthropology. This is hardly a “wooden” process of simply matching a thing to its object, but involves substantive argumentation. As linguists have already noted, all translations are essentially interpretations, one needs to use one’s reason to discern the “meaning” behind the text and “translate” them into our own lifeworld or context; such translations involves a partial mix of reasoning from the realm of common grace and of course, the “materials” from the Scriptures, etc.

Thus, to Scriptures may not tell us to translate the Greek manuscript into English, but based on instruction to communicate and Word of God, we infer that this communication will involve translating the Scriptures into a language which can be understood by the people even if nowhere in the Bible tells us to translate the Bible. Likewise there is a similar inference or reasoning in the translation of the Scriptures into pictorial scripts or even pictures to aid in edification or communication or understanding even though nowhere in the Scriptures explicitly teaches this.

After all, in your own arguments against the use of pictures, you carefully asked where does the New Testament tell us to use pictures, knowing full well that the Old Testament does contain instances of such uses. But if indeed you restrict considerations of the use of pictures to the New Testament, and can we not also restrict the Second Commandment forbidding the making of images to the Old Testament? Where after all does the New Testament reiterate the second commandment? (Not that I am conceding that the Second Commandment does forbid the making of representations tout court, but rather they forbid the use of them in worship)Here of course we have an essential interpretative question which it is not evident how to resolve and which the enunciation of "categories" isn't going to be of much help.

rationalityofaith said...

As The Calvinist International puts it,

“We must begin, as Old Princeton did, with the proper role of reason. Far from being a latent threat to vibrant faith, reason is the common light of all mankind, given to us in our creation as imago dei. Though not autonomous, reason is still authoritative, leading us away from confusion and incoherence. As such, it is itself a necessary precondition to all dialectic, even the logical and consistent reading of the Holy Scriptures. It is reason illumined by faith, ultimately, that convinces our consciences to accept a belief as certain. No external mechanism, no Pope, no presbytery, no liturgico-narrative faith community prancing in chasubles, can ever take its God-ordained place. Abandoning one’s personal reason in a move to allow someone else’s reason to work vicariously on your behalf is a moral failure and a grave sin. The answer to such a vice is the virtue of courage. Evangelical reason only speaks to brave men.

While reason is the necessary tool for reading the Holy Scriptures, it is still, nevertheless, the Scriptures which are the only infallible spiritual authority. This is true because of their nature: they are breathed out by God. And as God’s Word, there can be no standard above them to which they must answer. Rather, our job is to listen to the Word. As such, the human element is wholly responsive, seeking to clearly identify the content of that Word and then accurately apply it where appropriate. This is why the historico-grammatical method of hermeneutics must remain as the pillar of our exegesis. Only it can reasonably demonstrate the intended meaning of the Scriptures, and it can do so objectively and perspicuously. It may take varying amounts of work, even technical training in places, but it does not demand that any violence to be done to the human will, nor does it require that nature be supplanted by purportedly supernatural and thus unfalsifiable ecclesio-political apparatuses.”


It seems to me therefore that the only way that you can evade reason and the tools of the common grace realm as a necessary support to the ministry of the Word is to believe in some kind of "apostolic succession" of "live preaching" or a "living voice Church" whereby a chain of preaching throughout the ages directly communicates the meaning of the Scriptures to its hearers and they unto their successors, etc, without the need to go into questions of lexicons, meanings, translations and interpretation, etc.

But I believe that this is a solution "too high" for a Proto-Protestant like you...

Protoprotestant said...

I believe the Scripture itself teaches us a proper epistemology.

You're right in believing that I reject the epistemology of Old Princeton. I think Hodge et al. were way off base in their approach to theology.

I include the Grundler quote which I also have posted at the bottom of the web-page:

"In the theology of Zanchi, at the very point of transition from Reformation to Orthodoxy, the spirit of medieval Scholasticism has thus begun to replace that of the Reformers at a point where it counted most. To the extent to which—under the influence of Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition—the christocentric orientation of Calvin's thinking shifted toward a metaphysics of causality in the thought of his successors, Reformed theology ceased to be a theology of revelation."

Otto Grundler in 'Thomism and Calvinism'

The Princeton tradition...an outworking of Reformed Scholasticism is Rationalism trumping Word-Revelation. It wasn't just Princeton though. You see the same tendency in the S. Presbyterian tradition as well...Thornwell, Dabney etc...

I'm not promoting a Charismata or a Magisterium. The latter is what I would actually accuse the Reformed of. What I'm arguing for is a sober, historically conscious, theological Biblicism.

rationalityofaith said...

"In the theology of Zanchi, at the very point of transition from Reformation to Orthodoxy, the spirit of medieval Scholasticism has thus begun to replace that of the Reformers at a point where it counted most. To the extent to which—under the influence of Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition—the christocentric orientation of Calvin's thinking shifted toward a metaphysics of causality in the thought of his successors, Reformed theology ceased to be a theology of revelation."

One can reject the Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition and the metaphysics of causality without rejecting the necessary role of empirical research and reason for giving us our Greek lexicons and making our translations for us. Who else is "sober, historically conscious, theological Biblicism" without the "historico-grammatical method of hermeneutics" which involves contents and concepts not given in the Bible?

There are important questions to address with regards to the reason, philosophy and metaphysics in the common grace which determines our Greek lexicons and informs our translations (we are not bound to the particular conclusions of Hodge, Aquinas or N.T. Wright), but what we cannot do is to pretend that these questions play not part at all in the life of the Church. The only people who can consistently assert this are the only-KJVist who believe that their translation somehow are imbued with direct divine inspiration as well and thereby escaping the need to engage the complicated philosophical and rational questions of interpretations and meanings, etc.

Protoprotestant said...

While I would certainly reject the Critical Text so popular even among conservative Christians in our day I also strongly reject the notions of KJV-onlyists who believe treat the 17th century Authorised Version as an autograph.

What I am rejecting is rationalistic tendencies and pre-commitments which bias our understanding of the text. I want to follow the text wherever it leads even if transcends human ability to reconcile tensions or develop coherent systematics. If that makes me a mystic in my theological orientation then so be it. I don't mean this in the sense of some kind of experiential theology but I am more than happy to leave mysterious and dialectical tensions. It's a process of course. We all bring our baggage. For me abandoning Dispensationalism shortly after my conversion was an excellent exercise in learning to read the Bible anew and let it speak for itself. I was pulled into Reformed Theology and yet after years of study and in particular noticing the many distortions of Protestant historiography...I began to question that theological framework and historical narrative as well.

While I'm not Eastern Orthodox I would agree, at least in part, with some of their criticisms of Western intellectual thought...of which Protestantism is most definitely an heir. Good critiques, but their solutions are often just as unbiblical.

Obviously you find my position quite odious. Are you genuinely trying to understand my position or are you here just to argue every point? Obviously we're not going to agree because as I said we're dealing in different categories and have different presuppositions. We have very different understandings of the very nature of revelation and perhaps even the noetic effects of sin. Due to this divide we're not likely to come to any sort of agreement. We might agree on some theological issues, as indeed I do agree with the Reformed (or Lutherans) on many things...but the road in getting there is quite different. I guess what I'm trying to say is....where is this discussion going?

To me it looks like you want to use anthropological, sociological and philosophical arguments to justify certain practices. However a strict reading of the text leads most people to a prima facie rejection of what you're suggesting. The problem is we have 2000 years of traditions and arguments on these points and many others where people find ways to (from my vantage point) 'get around' and circumvent what the text is saying. The Kingdom teachings of Christ provide an even more poignant example of this type of circumvention.

As I said we can't ignore sociology nor even philosophy. Those that do so embrace it nonetheless. Even the good old Fundamentalist preachers have a philosophical system...usually a common sense form of rationalism...but they won't acknowledge it.

There are many problems and these issues are complicated but I believe there's a way through....submission to Divine revelation.

Protoprotestant said...

And to address an earlier point...

The NT itself teaches us 'how' to read the OT. The OT is certainly Divine and canonical but we're rather lost in our reading of it without the NT. The truth is there but in type and shadow.

While you're right to point out that in some cases images were allowed...they were only permitted in the case of Divine mandate.

The Nehushtan episode is particularly illustrative. God had ordained it but (idolaters tat we are) they sure enough perverted it...venerating it in a way not prescribed beyond its purpose in the original episode.

Cal said...

Hey Proto & friends,

I've been following this backand forth and think that you guys are talking past eachother a bit. The question seems to be: How do we receive the Word of God?

Rationality's point is that the whole process is a common-grace affair. The Scriptures either require a spotless, perfect version (KJV Only-ists, old-school RCC Vulgate only etc.) or a certain working grace in the word coming to people.

It is slightly absurd to connect a character based language, like Chinese, with actual pictorial representation, but the question, rationality asks, is how do we know where that line is?

How does one preach the gospel? This is where faithfulness to tradition comes in, but not Tradition as some may understand but the "tradition of the Apostles", those teachings handed down as Scripture and canonical.

I suppose an impasse is what to do in regards to what is said/not said. Paul or Peter never specifically said to translate the Scriptures, but it is implied in the Lord's command to make disciples of all men, and that Paul spoke many languages in his presentation.

And other means? Sign language for the deaf? What about paraphrasing or translation philosophies? Do we stand closer to a word by word translation, or does the translator translate by idea.

Of course there's a major difference between the "book of the unlearned" type pictures and Italian renaissance painting. The aesthetics in using pictures in a great danger, and I can't count how many pictures about Scripture miss the point on what is being conveyed.

How is Scripture canon, a measuring stick, for the means of conveying the Gospel? How is our wisdom faithful in taking the good news to the ends of the world? When does preaching not become preaching? The means can falsify the end, even if the Lord still uses it. And whatever answers are concluded, missteps can lead down horrible paths (i.e. icon worship, aesthetic mindedness on one hand, and belief in "holy languages" or in an extra-conical "perfect/preserved" manuscript on the other).