Archive for July, 2009

The Institutes (18)

Book 1 Chapter 11 Sections 8-16

Calvin continues his assault on the use of images in worship. In so doing, he lays out a methodology for tenaciously pursuing and expelling error within the Church. This can be best summed up by an appeal to Scripture until it is plainly seen that whatever error is propounded cannot be claimed to be part of the Christian faith. His contention throughout this whole chapter is that using imagery in worship to depict God is a dangerous error that faces clear commands in Scripture to the contrary.

But lest it be claimed that Calvin was in opposition to the arts, he clarifies his position:

… because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction… only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.

Calvin almost pleads for readers not to allow such a thing into their worship. He cites a particular argument that is presented in favor for images in worship: the distinction between latria and dulia. The argument goes like this: we don’t worship (latria) the images, we just serve them (dulia). Calvin demolishes this argument:

For just as an adulterer or a homicide cannot escape guilt by dubbing his crime by some other name, so it is absurd for them to be absolved by the subtle device of a name if they differ in no respect from idolaters whom they themselves are compelled to condemn. Yet so far are they from separating their own cause from the cause of these idolaters that the source of the whole evil is rather a preposterous emulation in which they vie with the latter while they both contrive by their own wit, and fashion with their own hands, the symbols to represent God for themselves.

Is this not precisely a description of liberal Christianity? The condemn what they themselves do, trying to maintain a distinctiveness in “following Jesus” while they hollow out everything that phrase means. Similarly, proponents of the “New Perspective on Paul” try to sympathize and identify with historical Christianity, all while they subtly undercut the meaning of justification by faith alone.

Summarily, he confronts Catholic appeals to church history and to Scripture to prove their support for images. In the case of church history, Calvin notes that there were no images in the churches for close to five hundred years after Christ. The Council of Nicaea in 787 was apparently used to bolster support for image-worship, but Calvin shows that there was plenty of dissenting opinion at the time. As such, the introduction of image-worship has a strong connection to much later Catholic tradition, not the Scriptures or early Christian practice.

Calvin quickly deals with the few Scriptures that Catholics cite who favor image-worship. Among them are Genesis 28:18, 47:10; and Psalm 44:13, 98:5, 9. These Scriptures are so out of context and spiritualized that the use of them shows how little was known about the Scriptures and how little they were held in esteem by the Catholic Church.

The Word is central to worship, and God has ordained two images to be used in order to display Himself to His people.

… even if so much danger were not threatening [i.e. images in worship], when I ponder the intended use of churches, somehow or other it seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them to take on images other than those living and symbolical [sic] ones which the Lord has consecrated by his Word. I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, together with other rites by which our eyes must be too intensely gripped and too sharply affected to seek other images forged by human ingenuity.

Amen and amen. The images of baptism and the Lord’s Supper flow out of the Scriptures and point back to the Scriptures. Anything in worship that leads away from the Scriptures cannot be allowed in worship; it is deadening to Christians, and cannot be a part of legitimate worship.


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The Institutes (17)

Book 1 Chapter 11 Sections 5-7

Calvin becomes even more pointed in his arguments against images, delving into church history to prove his point. On one side Calvin places Pope Gregory I (600ish AD) as a representative for the pro-image position. After showing Gregory’s position (which is also reflected in current Catholic dogma), Calvin proceeds to confront the pro-image position with Scripture, church history, and common sense.

Pope Gregory’s statement that “images are books for the unlearned” is trounced by Calvin. I’ve heard similar statements from Catholics as recently as last year, which makes Calvin’s argument very pertinent. After probing through Scripture, Calvin concludes that “the prophets set images over against the true God as contraries that can never agree.” Attempts to do so show the latent Roman paganism seeping its way into Catholic dogma.

In upholding the Scriptures as authoritative, he makes it plain that Catholic tradition and Scripture are mutually exclusive on this matter. Thus, “when we teach that it is vanity and falsehood for men to try to fashion God in images, we are doing nothing else but repeating word for word what the prophets have taught.”

Next, Calvin appeals to church history, specifically to the church fathers. Calvin cites Augustine, who in turn quoted Varro: “”the first men to introduce statues of the gods ‘removed fear and added error.'”

Calvin continues:

… the first errors concerning God in which men were entangled did not begin from images, but once this new element was added, errors multiplied. Next, [Augustine] explains that the fear of God was diminished or even destroyed, because in the folly of images and in stupid and absurd invention his divinity could easily be despised… Whoever, therefore, desires to be rightly taught must learn what he should know of God from some other source than images.

Finally, Calvin confronts the (then) current state of the church, where the Catholic laity were “addicted” to images, preventing them from learning from the Word. This has parallels today, even at the VBS that I was a part of this week. Unless the analogies and illustrations we use are robustly Scriptural, we’ll lead those we teach astray. We use drama, pictures, stories, thinking that this will have sustaining value for the Christian. But the only thing that sustains is God, Who is found without error in Scripture alone.

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The Bridge Between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism?

Could it be Calvinism? An interesting article by Collin Hansen. Excerpt:

… the growing Calvinist influence on evangelicals could help heal their decades-long dispute with fundamentalists.

HT: paleoevangelical

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The Institutes (16)

Book 1 Chapter 11 Sections 1-4

Calvin now continues with an argument against the use of images in worship that is obviously directed at the Catholic Church. This supremacy of the Word that Calvin has spoken about until now precludes (in his mind) the use of images in worship. He notes that no where in the Old Testament did Israel actually create a pictorial representation of God; it was always angels, or other things. Never was an object of worship created with hands.

“God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him.” As such, an attempt to display God is some manner of idolatry, because we don’t know what He properly looks like.

The best evidence that Calvin gives here is his exposition of Deuteronomy 4:12-16: he points out that verses 12 and 15 are intricately connected. Moses states that Israel saw no form of God at the giving of the commandments, but only heard a voice. The “therefore” in verse 15 tells what God desires of them: because they haven’t seen what He looks like (indeed, no man can see Him and live), they should not attach any form to Him. “[A]ll those who seek visible forms of God depart from him.” Calvin writes concerning the cherubim that covered the Ark:

… images are not suited to represent God’s mysteries. For they had been formed to this end, that veiling the mercy seat with their wings they might bar not only human eyes but all the senses from beholding God, and thus correct men’s rashness. In addition to this, the prophets depict the seraphim as appearing in their vision with face veiled toward us. By this they signify that the splendor of divine glory is so great that the very angels also are restrained from direct gaze, and the tiny sparks of it that glow in the angels are withdrawn from our eyes.

God’s majesty is too amazing to try to attach an image to it. “For surely there is nothing less fitting than to wish to reduce God, who is immeasurable and incomprehensible, to a five-foot measure!” Thus Catholics and the Orthodox Churches practice a subtle form of idolatry when they make up an image for God, not to mention saints as objects of prayer.

The proper images for worship are in the form of two Scripture-mandated ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s supper. When these ordinances are declared as they ought, there really is no reason to resort to images to enhance worship; indeed, when we try to stick God in such a framed box, we bypass the centrality of Scripture is seeing God as He is. The Word is central to worship… so much so that images are at every turn warned against in worship.

In the next section, Calvin addresses specifically the Catholic errors that sprouted up from Pope Gregory.

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I’m an OSU fan, and have followed their football pretty regularly for about the last 5 years. In 2007, at the BCS title game, they faced off against the Florida Gators. As such, I was cheering for my team… but they got annihilated. By almost thirty points. So, I’m not one to really freak out about it. Turned away from the game, it didn’t matter much (plus Natalie and I started dating five days prior, so I wasn’t putting a lot of stock into what was going on in the world of sports).

But little did I know that God, in His sovereignty, was raising up a man to glorify His Name before the nation. So, I hope the Gators keep winning if it means Tim Tebow gets more publicity, which in turn gives him the opportunity to give our Lord publicity.

Sports Illustrated recently had an insider take on his off-the-field life. You can read it here.

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The Institutes (15)

Book 1 Chapter 10 Sections 1-3

Having digressed to defend Scriptural authority, Calvin returns to the content and purpose of Scripture. In almost an Platonic fashion, he goes about showing how God’s attributes are shown in His creation, showing that the Form is found in particulars. The difference between Calvin and Plato? “This recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and high-flown speculation.” Calvin experienced the realities that Plato theorized about, as do all true believers.

Calvin highlights three particular aspects of God’s character as essential to understanding Him:

… these three things are especially necessary for us to know: mercy, on which alone the salvation of us all rests; judgment, which is daily exercised against wrongdoers, and in even greater severity awaits them to their everlasting ruin; justice, whereby believers are preserved. amd are most tenderly nourished. When these are understood, the prophecy witnesses that you have abundant reason to glory in God.

Calvin says this referring to Jeremiah 9:24, which we actually read in our devotions this morning. Small world. And, to add an Edwarsesque flavor to this, God delights in these attributes being displayed on the earth (mercy, judgment, righteousness/justice) because they display Himself. He does not delight merely in attributes of Himself being displayed, but in Himself. Why? Because God is most concerned about His own glory… He delights not merely in mercy, judgment, and righteousness, but in Himself, Who is each of those things in perfection.

There, got out my Christian Hedonism statement for the week. Continuing, Calvin points out the purpose of special revelation, particularly expressed by these three attributes:

… the knowledge of God set forth for us in the Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him. By this we can learn to worship him both with perfect innocence of life and with unfeigned obedience, then to depend wholly upon his goodness.

Fear and trust… throughout evangelical Christianity today, the “trust” trumpet is sounded. But can you really trust God unless you fear Him? Unless you know that He has bought you with a ghastly, horrible price… that is at the same time universally glorious… and that He holds each heartbeat in His hand… unless you know this, can you really trust Him?

Finally, Calvin summarizes the monotheistic nature of special revelation. Even though we speak of a Trinity, there is still only One God, one Essence in three Persons. Rather than mankind having evolved from monotheism towards more complex forms of religion, man has regressed from the pinnacle of knowing the one and only God. “The truth of God has been corrupted by them all.” And, as previously mentioned, all are held to account for this.

Mercy, judgment, righteousness… the three parts of God that we must understand in order to basically grasp salvation. If we fail to declare all three of these in our preaching and our teaching, can we really be said to be Christians? We must preach the salvation of God for His own glory; and these three attributes must be lifted up to lift Him up and glorify Him as He ought to be.

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The Institutes (14)

Book 1 Chapter 9

In this last chapter in his defense of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, Calvin turns to what can best be described as the early relativists of his day; those that “seize upon whatever they may have conceived of while snoring” as Calvin puts it. His intent is to show that true knowledge of God cannot be sourced in man’s own mind, but from outside man. Calvin wants to show that the source of authoritative knowledge about God is not another religion, or the whims of man, but Scripture.

… those who, having forsaken Scripture, imagine some way or other of reaching God, ought to be thought of as not so much gripped by error as carried away with frenzy.

These people are not caught in the thrall of error that has permeated their thinking… the issue is that they aren’t thinking. I’m reminded of the severe foolishness found in those who “toke the Ghost”, or in the Word of Faith movement. Just watching TBN (or watching Justin Peter’s excellent apologetic series), I’m struck by how often it simply seems like they pulled their ideas about God out of thin air.

First, Calvin sets out the goal and hope of every true Christian:

Where [God] says, “My Spirit which is in you, and the words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed . . . forever”, he does not bind the ancient folk to outward doctrine as if they were learning their ABC’s; rather, he teaches that under the reign of Christ the new church will have this true and complete happiness: to be ruled no less by the voice of God than by the Spirit.

This is where the Christian’s heart is drawn to… not to conjure up new and strange forms of belief and practice, but to the Scriptures, for “he would have us recognize him in his own image, which he has stamped upon the Scriptures.”

Second, He points out that the Holy Spirit and the Scripture are two inseparable parts of His revelation to man. So for someone to claim that “the Holy Spirit told me” without a corresponding appeal to Scripture carries absolutely no authority.

For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived wjem we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word.

The Christian life is a blood-bought, Spirit-filled and interpreted, God-centered journey with Scripture as the perfect guide. This is why Christians have always looked to the Bible, and those who today wish to call themselves followers of Christ without regard to Scripture are only deceiving themselves.

Certainly a far different sobriety befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word.

Thank God for giving us Himself in Scripture!

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