People Are Good

I hi-jacked this article from Mike Bull’s Blog. It was too good to leave in only one place.


Why People are Good: or Why Idolatry is Adultery

“So [Abraham] lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground…” Genesis 18:2

“Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.” Genesis 23:7

I’ve finally gotten around to doing the post that was to follow Stuff Is Good.

In his little torpedo of a book, The Liturgy Trap, James Jordan gives a definition of idolatry that is worth the price of the book. Firstly, it is natural that the de-eschatologised churches, (the ones that think they need no death-and-resurrections) contain icons. A church that has already arrived [1] must be able to present the unseen as already-seen:

…seeing God is a good thing, but it is not for now. God tells us not to try and do it until He is ready to let us. We find exactly the same thing in Genesis 1-3, where God said that every tree would be for Adam and Eve to eat, and every tree in the garden is said to be good for food. Thus, the prohibition on the Tree of Knowledge was temporary. [2] Adam and Eve were to develop patience by responding to God’s “NO.” By eating the fruit, they rejected God’s plan for growth and development, and became corrupt. Similarly, sex is good, but we are not to engage in it until we are married.

Now, seeing God face to face is a good thing, and if we are faithful, we shall enjoy the “beatific vision” in the resurrection. But God has clearly and unmistakably said that we are not to attempt to see Him in this world…

God strictly forbids any attempt to make a “form” that connects to Him visually. [3] God will let us see Him when He is ready, and when we are. To set up an icon and say that this gives us a visual revelation of God or of some dimension of God’s heavenly existence is to jump the gun…

We are to be satisfied with the Word because the Word is ultimate. God is Word, but He is not visible. What we shall see is God’s voluntary self-presentation, not God Himself. But God’s Word is not just His voluntary self-representation: it is God Himself. Thus, the visual is always secondary. To insist on the visual is to despise God’s Word, and thus to despise God. Accordingly, those who set up images are said to “hate” God, which means to treat Him practically as second behind something else…

…those who break the Second Word by indulging in visual worship have proven impatient. They have rejected personal maturity, and have destroyed their posterity. But the third and fourth generation, their seed will have become so corrupt that some kind of new Flood will be necessary. Thus, there can be little or no personal or cultural maturity apart from the strict keeping of the Second Word.

This is related to Peter Leithart’s observation that the Spirit brings the saints an awareness of new plunder—people are precious possessions instead of things. [4] The process of death and resurrection brings an awareness of what is truly valuable. Even godless Hollywood movies tell us that on a personal level: ie. some tragedy brings wisdom and a new appreciation of family. So, we should not be bowing to idols, but we should be bowing—to each other:

Jesus said: “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). Jesus then explained that the Spirit would come, and verses 8-15 speak of the Spirit’s work in exclusively non-visual terms… At the ascension, we are expressly told that “a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). This removal from sight was followed by the coming of the Spirit. [5]

All of this makes it clear that there is nothing to look at and nothing to bow down to in worship. We are living in an eschatological tension. The real absence of Christ makes us yearn for Him, and gives us something to look forward to. It is a serious mistake to jump the gun by filling the Church with icons that supposedly give a philosophically-realistic look into heaven. It is a serious mistake to pervert the meal into something to look at. It is a serious mistake to say Jesus is as this or that point in the room and bow down to His invisible presence. It is very important that we refuse to bow toward anything in worship…

The content of our worship is only visual at one point: when we are visually aware of one another, aware of the gathered community. Worship in the particular sense only takes place when two or three at least are gathered together… Human beings might be called the visible words of God, though perhaps “fleshly words” might be better. We are words in the sentences of the Divine Book of the Kingdom… The Lord’s Supper is not a visible word but an edible one. Baptism is not a visible word but a tangible one. The only “visible words” are human beings, the images of God made after the likeness of the Word of God Himself. In other words, the only thing to look at in worship is other people.

It certainly is appropriate in worship for the pastor to greet the congregation by bowing to them and saying “The Lord be with you.” In this way, the pastor honours the image of God, the visible words of God, thos he is to serve. Then the congregation should bow to the pastor, saying “And also with you.” Nothing else should be bowed to, however, since nothing else is the visible word of God, the special image of God.

Icon worship replaces the true Bride for a false one:

…iconic worship tends against the development of the community. When we hear the Word of God, someone else must read it aloud to us. This creates a community of at least two people. Icon worship, however, is shrine worship. Thus, both the cathedrals and the lands of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are full of shrines (what the Bible calls “high places”) where people go and talk to saints, who of course never talk back. Such people can never move beyond their own preconceived notions, because their worship involves no confrontation with the challenges of the Word mediated through other living, speaking people.

“When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29)

“But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” (Romans 11:4)

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

[1] See Revived, Not Arrived.
[2] See Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not.
[3] See Graven Words.
[4] Plunder is always Step 5 in the Bible Matrix. See Vile Bodies or Bright Young Things. See also The Glory Are We.
[5] On the parallel between Moses’ and Christ’s ascension from sight, and the idolatry that followed see We Don’t Know What’s Become of Him.

Christians in the World

This is an excerpt from the so-called Letter to Diognetus, c. 124 AD

“For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs.  2They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.  3This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do.  4Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth.  5They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.

6They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring.  7They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed.  8It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” 9They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.   10They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require.  11They love all men, and by all men are persecuted.  12They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life.  13They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.  14They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated.  15They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect.  16When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.  17They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity.

6 To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.  2The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world.  3The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.  4The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen.  5The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures.  6The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them.  7The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together.  8The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven.  9The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more.  10It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.