Saturday, October 17, 2009

Strong Doctrine Guards Against Idolatry

The cross has become a very common image nowadays. You see it in the home displayed on walls as art, on tee-shirts, the back pocket of tattered jeans. It’s become a sort of fashion statement. It’s been trivialized to the point that the true meaning of the cross has become meaningless. The people who wear it give no thought at all to what happened on the cross, or that the cross was not a thing of beauty but an instrument of death. It was where Jesus Christ the Savior, my Savior, was killed.

It was my very own sin that made the cross necessary. For my sake God made Jesus, who knew no sin, a sacrifice, so that through Jesus I can know forgiveness of sin. What happened on the cross was horrifying. It’s not art and it certainly is not a fashion statement.

Isaiah 53
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

I found the following on Tony Reinke’s blog Miscellanies:

For the first four centuries of the church as “religion was still flourishing, and a purer doctrine thriving, Christian churches were commonly empty of images”. As soon as images were installed in churches they led to idolatry, “For men’s folly cannot restrain itself from falling headlong into superstitious rites”. The doctrine of the Cross is our instruction. Sinners are driven towards images and idols only when the doctrines of the Gospel are not made clear. “But whence, I pray you, this stupidity if not because they are defrauded of that doctrine which alone was fit to instruct them?” Indeed it is a good reminder that when crowds gather around icons and symbols that they arrive only because the true gospel has been withheld. Calvin says it so well,
“What purpose did it serve for so many crosses – of wood, stone, silver, and gold – to be erected here and there in churches, if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse, to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body, to wash them by his blood, in short, to reconcile us to God the Father? From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone”.

Remember Calvin in this part of the Institutes is telling us how we can know God. Time and time again Calvin points us back to Scripture as the only sure guide to know Him. When the message of the Cross is gone, the vacuum it creates fills in with images and superstitions. Resorting to visual images in worship is a sure sign that the message of the Cross is no longer central. This is the big danger.

In all of this, it’s clear that Calvin sees venerated religious images as the fruit of idolatrous minds and the adoration and veneration of the icons, statues, and special crosses as nothing other than “fornications with wood and stone”. Beware of the “image fighters” who think Christian devotion rests upon paintings, crucifixes, statues and special crosses. Seek the display of God’s glory in his Word alone. Life comes by the faith in the Cross not the sight of crosses.

Icons are most necessary when the preaching of the gospel has been made unnecessary. We will not bow and adore images if the preaching of the gospel is strong. When preachers move away from the content of Scripture in sermons they move towards their own mentally carved image of God.


Brent said...

It may seem to be why God says in the last days... that since they go a whoring after images and idols then, they shall have one from Me...
this is the principle:
"So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;They were not estranged from their lust." (Ps. 78:29,30)

Now here is the last day command:
"the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables...the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry."

Here the Lord commands something to be 'made', and it will be visual and what is to be made plain must be an image, because it is called a 'vision', set for an appointed time at "the end"...

God will utterly consume all things from off the land, but for all this most will still not turn unto Him...yet a very small remnant shall return...
"Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD's anger."

with love and faith,

brent o. chrishon

if you would like to stay in touch:

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