Imagine That

The rules that guide the church don’t extend beyond the church parking lot:

In reply to Joe Vusich’s article, in which he states that “all images of the divine Persons of the Trinity are sinful”, and that, “Historically, Reformed and Calvinist churches have taught that all images/statues/paintings of Jesus Christ (and of the Father and the Holy Spirit) are violations of the 2nd Commandment,” I would simply offer the following observations.

The Reformers’ attitude to the representational arts is well known in the worlds of both church and art history. All the Reformers were concerned with returning the Bible to a central place in the life of the Church in contrast with the centuries-long pattern of idolatry and superstition within the Roman Catholic Church. Given that art had sustained a pivotal role in facilitating the iconographical model of worship of Roman Catholicism, and had maintained a close relationship with false doctrine, the Reformers developed restrictive procedures on art, especially with regard to the use of images in worship.

Although they objected to the iconographical use of art in worship, Calvin and Zwingli were not against the use of art in other venues.

Calvin said, “I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible, but because sculpture and paintings are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each” (Institutes, 1.11.12. Although Calvin clearly forbade the depiction of the “majesty of God”, that is, of Divinity, lest we tarnish his glory, he finds use for “historical” . . . “representation of events” for “The former are of some use for instruction or admonition” Institutes, 1.11.12).

And Zwingli, known for his extreme iconoclastic views, went as far as to permit the use of art in churches just as long as it was not used for the purposes of worship. He said “where anyone has a portrait of His humanity, that is just as fitting to have as to have other portraits.” Quoted in Charles Garside, Zwingli and the Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 182.

Not sure about all the details of this post. But it does show how readily 2k comes to most any reasonable Christian not caught in the grip of make-everything-Christian (especially the American, Scottish, or Dutch nation).

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140 thoughts on “Imagine That

  1. I don’t think what Calvin is referring to here on “historical depictions” has reference to Jesus though. In the whole section he is undermining iconoclasm and even goes so far as to condemn the use of crosses in churches. It is likely that the “historical depictions” are referring to the saints and apostles, whom the church was inclined through icons to worship/idolize.

    Calvin goes on (1.11.13) to say that all images/icons whatsoever ought to be omitted altogether from the church. I would be surprised with his strict view of images and representations being omitted from churches that he would then be permissive of the use, whether historical or not, of depictions of Jesus.

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  2. I’m honestly not sure how this applies to 2k. The linked post seems to argue that it is permissible for Reformed Christians to make images of Jesus so long as they are not used in worship. To support this questionable position, the author references Zwingli (hardly convincing for most Reformed folk) and a citation from Calvin that does not lend clear support to the author’s thesis. I find this argument not at all convincing.

    If the author is trying to say that Reformed Christians should not go around smashing second commandment violations in Catholic churches or in museums of art, then I think he is arguing against a straw man — no one does such things these days.

    If the 2k angle is that what we disallow in the church/worship we can allow in culture, then we are left with the issue of the Reformed artist who paints pictures of Jesus or the Father or the Holy Spirit, but not for church. Is this an activity for which the Reformed artist could be put under discipline for? I don’t see why not. A second commandment violation is a second commandment violation whether in the church or outside of it.

    Finally, the issue of make-everything-Christian is kind of a moot point when dealing with depictions of the persons of the Trinity — it doesn’t need to be made Christian, it is a Christian reference.

    I’m a fan of 2k, but I don’t see the point here — maybe I’m missing something…

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  3. Thing the First: Rembrandt made art within a Dutch Reformed community, and to my understanding was never reprimanded or disapproved for it (and it was not a discipline-free environment, because he had a mistress that was disciplined for sleeping with him (don’t know why he was not disciplined as well…)).

    Thing the Second: It is unclear to me whether Calvin’s “I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible” is to be understood as “absolutely no images of any created thing like the Muslims are permissible” or “absolutely no images of any person of the Trinity are permissible”. I am entirely on board, however, with the historical vs representational distinction.

    Nate, “Calvin goes on (1.11.13) to say that all images/icons whatsoever ought to be omitted altogether from the church“. That is exactly the point; is he saying here (or does he say ever?) anything about outside of the church? In my extensive research I have never found any reformer or confessional artifact make an unambiguous statement about images outside of churches; rather every time it seems like they might be, they seem to circle back to talking about in churches. (Which is a 2K point in itself — you try to force the Reformation to speak about an out-of-church issue, and they just don’t seem interested).

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  4. Jesse, no doubt. The author of the linked piece is taking some giant leaps and making some image-friendly assumptions. There’s also a lot of “Well, at that time they needed to be hardass on that but now we are more enlightened and we would never be tempted, etc. And, we have to be considerate of Aunt Martha who paid for the stained glass window, etc.” Local factors figure in to these arguments. Here come a rock, I say.

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  5. Jesse; from that quote Calvin Sez: “And therefore, whensoever a crucifix stands moping and mowing in the church…”

    Do you have a quote where he talks about outside of church?

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  6. MH, how about this? I wouldn’t go to a church that had images of Christ. I do go to museums that do. All about me.

    The point was simply that some rules that work reasonably well in the church, we don’t apply outside the church. Dr. K. likes to kill 2k for not allowing Christianity past the church parking lot. So does he apply the second commandment to the museums he patronizes?

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  7. Jesse, Calvin says (and it is repeated by some Calvinists): “Should we have portraitures and images, whereby only the flesh may be represented? Is it not a wiping away of that which is chiefest in our Lord Jesus Christ – that is, to wit, of His Divine Majesty? Yes!”

    But if we’re going the Christological route, then an image which depicts only his humanity and neglects his divinity cannot be said to be that of Christ. This reasoning would seem to allow images, since all we have in front us is a creature. Seems better to go with the plain reading of the second and simply avoid depictions that clearly intend portrayals of God.

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  8. C-Dubs, if we can have sabbatarians-of-the-non-legalist-variety, can we not have iconoclasts of the non-violent-variety?

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  9. Contrariwise, I would answer No! to Calvin’s rhetorical question. Christ’s divinity is not a visible property (if it was, then he would have form and majesty that we would look at him, as well as beauty that we should desire him). Thus a ‘historical’ picture provides a false account of his human nature and a perfect account of his invisible divine nature (unless of course it has a halo or something), and a potentially faithful account of his actions which are recorded in infallible scripture.

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  10. Rube, there is some ambiguity in Calvin on this point but he on the former (images of Jesus) appears quite clear that we must not give “visible shape to God”. I understand the historical nature of Jesus as a human, yet (as Jesse linked to) in Calvin’s thinking the two are now linked and cannot be separated:

    “We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God himself has forbidden it, and because it cannot be done without, in some degree, tarnishing his glory. And lest any should think that we are singular in this opinion, those acquainted with the productions of sound divines will find that they have always disapproved of it. If it be unlawful to make any corporeal representation of God, still more unlawful must it be to worship such a representation instead of God, or to worship God in it. The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations. Visible representations are of two classes, viz., historical, which give a representation of events, and pictorial, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition. The latter, so far as I can see, are only fitted for amusement. And yet it is certain, that the latter are almost the only kind which have hitherto been exhibited in churches. Hence we may infer, that the exhibition was not the result of judicious selection, but of a foolish and inconsiderate longing. I say nothing as to the improper and unbecoming form in which they are presented, or the wanton license in which sculptors and painters have here indulged (a point to which I alluded a little ago, supra, s. 7). I only say, that though they were otherwise faultless, they could not be of any utility in teaching.”

    This doesn’t go on to prove that the Reformed tradition was wholly against historical depictions of Christ, but that Calvin doesn’t seem to leave room for depictions of Christ, whether in the church or out of the church. This may be a misreading of Calvin but based on his linking of the united natures of Christ, he doesn’t leave that open.

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  11. (Wheelhouse alert)

    Z, I know of actual iconoclasm among the officers of my church, from replacing crosses on communion tray lids with knobs, excising certain pages from children’s books, “losing” an ornate cross and pulpit hangings, etc. No violence, but surreptitious — yes. (“Here come a rock” is my loving tribute to Sean’s “Here come a shoe.”)

    This images of “Christ as a man” stuff is bogus. He is the God-Man. Any picture of him is a picture of deity. And, of course, no one knows what he looks like so all images of him would be false.

    I get the 2k dimension of this post. Maybe American papists use this logic — no birth control in the church or parking lot, but outside of that….

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  12. Nate, I have read that before, and I find Calvin ambiguous. Pictorial is pointless (I agree), Historical is “of some use”. I agree. Pictorial is “almost the only kind which have hitherto been exhibited in churches.” I agree. Bias toward Pictorial in churches is “not the result of judicious selection, but of a foolish and inconsiderate longing”. I agree. I also agree that Pictorial outside of churches is unjudicious and foolish. But Calvin seems to be allowing that Historical images in churches could be the result of judicious selection and not the result of foolish or inconsiderate longing. If that is the case, he goes further than me; I would keep Historical pictures out of worship as well, whether they be of Christ or of any other scriptural events, or of any creatures. But if Calvin is possibly allowing Historical pictures in church, it is even more possible that he is allowing Historical pictures outside of church.

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  13. Well Moses has his own ambiguities. He doesn’t actually say anything about images of God, he quite exhaustively mentions images of all types of created things. And there are either two redundant commands (don’t make any images of any created things; and don’t worship any of those images you’re not supposed to make in the first place), or one sensible commandment (don’t worship images of created things; you can make images of created things, just don’t worship them). And Jesus’ body was a created thing.

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  14. Rube, At least insofar as churches are concerned, Calvin clears that up in 1.11.13. He wraps it up with

    “But, without reference to the above distinction, let us here consider, whether it is expedient that churches should contain representations of any kind, whether of events or human forms….

    We know too well from experience that the moment images appear in churches, idolatry has as it were raised its banner; because the folly of manhood cannot moderate itself, but forthwith falls away to superstitious worship. Even were the danger less imminent, still, when I consider the proper end for which churches are erected, it appears to me more unbecoming their sacredness than I well can tell, to admit any other images than those living symbols which the Lord has consecrated by his own word: I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the other ceremonies. By these our eyes ought to be more steadily fixed, and more vividly impressed, than to require the aid of any images which the wit of man may devise”

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  15. A 2ker is obviously much more worried about what happens in the church than outside. Don’t recall hearing about anyone being brought up on charges for seeing any of the Jesus movies. You’d hope someone would cry foul though if we start illustrating Sunday sermons with clips of Hollywood Jesus.

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  16. I see that when Calvin is speaking in the linked quote he is specifically about images in churches. However, I find it very hard to believe Calvin could say: “Should we have portraitures and images, whereby only the flesh may be represented? Is it not a wiping away of that which is chiefest in our Lord Jesus Christ – that is, to wit, of His Divine Majesty? Yes!” and believe that doing this in other contexts is allowable. If making images of Christ is “as if the Devil had defaced the Son of God”, do you think Calvin would think that were only so in a church?

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  17. C-Dubs, if any picture of Christ is a picture of deity then are you disagreeing with Calvin when he says that a depiction is a wiping away of his divinity? If so, then what’s bogus exactly, Calvin’s assertion that a depiction is a wiping away of his divinity or the conclusion that if true then a depiction isn’t a portrayal of God but only a creature? And nobody knows what Peter looked like either, so strictly speaking any depiction of him is false, but does that make it wrong?

    Maybe the way to maintain piety about images is to cast it in the category of wisdom and sola scriptura, i.e. the whereas images align with sight the Word of God is sufficient for faith.

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  18. Certainly no alleged picture of X is actually a picture of deity, but in the eye of the beholder it may well seem to be. That’s the problem — what’s going on in the mind/heart of the viewer. I mean it’s just a bogus excuse for those who want an out and want to justify the use of images. I have little concern with what someone has in their home, only with what their officers allow in the church.

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  19. And getting Peter wrong is not as big a deal as getting his boss wrong. Isn’t it interesting that we have no scriptural details about Jesus’ appearance. Some biblical figures are described, Jesus — not at all. You have to think the inspired writers were protected from the temptation to visually describe him.

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  20. Chuckles: It is asserted that Jesus looked “regl’r” (again Is 53:2), that he would have attracted no notice for looking special. For Peter we don’t even have that. For all we know, Peter might have been extremely handsome, in a rustic blue-collar fisherman way. (and how does “Chortles Weakly” turn into “C-dubs”?)

    Jesse: “I find it very hard to believe Calvin could say…” and yet immediately after saying “We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God”, he goes on to make the Historical/Pictorial distinction, with a weak endorsement of Historical, and only a weak reproof of Pictorial — and that for images “in churches”. So any consideration by Calvin about images outside of churches, the weak Historical endorsement would not get any weaker, and the weak Pictorial reproof would not get any stronger…

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  21. I do not know where Nate got that quote, so I cannot see it in full context, but it seems to me that Calvin is transitioning to discuss images of other things, not God or Christ, at that point:

    “The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations.”

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  22. It’s from Institutes 1:11:12 (link). And I would say that “dishonored by unbecoming representations” is called-back-to with the later “I say nothing as to the improper and unbecoming form in which they are presented, or the wanton license…”. So as you say it kind of seems like maybe is turning to non-Christ images, but then that later phrase pulls us back in.

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  23. The sections 1.11.11-13 in the Institutes are where I’m getting it from. He refers back to section 1.11.7 where he states:

    Let Papists, then, if they have any sense of shame, henceforth desist from the futile plea, that images are the books of the unlearned—a plea so plainly refuted by innumerable passages of Scripture. And yet were I to admit the plea, it would not be a valid defence of their peculiar idols. It is well known what kind of monsters they obtrude upon us as divine. For what are the pictures or statues to which they append the names of saints, but exhibitions of the most shameless luxury or obscenity? Were any one to dress himself after their model, he would deserve the pillory. Indeed, brothels exhibit their inmates more chastely and modestly dressed than churches do images intended to represent virgins. The dress of the martyrs is in no respect more becoming. Let Papists then have some little regard to decency in decking their idols, if they would give the least plausibility to the false allegation, that they are books of some kind of sanctity. But even then we shall answer, that this is not the method in which the Christian people should be taught in sacred places. Very different from these follies is the doctrine in which God would have them to be there instructed. His injunction is, that the doctrine common to all should there be set forth by the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments,—a doctrine to which little heed can be given by those whose eyes are carried too and fro gazing at idols.

    The distinction might be between something like da Vinci’s Last Supper and the more crude Iconography of Calvin’s time of a mere bust of a biblical figure or saint. One might be more inclined to venerate the latter than the former. My guess in his reference to “shameless… obscenity” might be towards something like Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ or the nudity present in much of ‘churchly’ paintings. DG is the historian here so he might know better on this one.

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  24. Again though, Calvin is talking about in churches: “…in sacred places…preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments…” Although he does here seem to maintain focus on images of ‘saints’ other than Christ.

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  25. MH, how about this? I wouldn’t go to a church that had images of Christ. I do go to museums that do. All about me.

    So DGH, did you declare an exception to LC109 “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are…the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever…”? Or do you consider LC109 to be addressing corporate worship only?

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  26. C-Dubs, but if getting Jesus’ image right is the key then his contemporaries could’ve depicted him accurately. But if images are verboten then getting him right or wrong is irrelevant. There is no accuracy exemption clause to the second. And if the heart of the beholder is key then why no fuss over what someone has in his home? Hearts inhabit homes just as much as churches.

    Jesse, do you come in “tastes great” version? I’ve wanted to ask that for a little while now.

    Rube, don’t you speak hippity-hoppity?

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  27. But accuracy/precision – – truth – – does seem to be important. We aren’t to picture the unpicturable. Or even try.

    As for “home use” I don’t support it. Just not going to bust a fellow church member. But maybe their elder should.

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  28. We aren’t to picture the unpicturable. Or even try.

    Agreed; that’s why halos are stupid — because divinity is unpicturable. OTOH, a dude knocking over a table full of money just as picturable as a dude slingshotting a stone at a giant dude.

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  29. Zrim,

    I believe that I am both great tasting and less filling, but if you would like to try something else, I suggest Jesse Original Lager.

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  30. C-Dubs, sure, accuracy is great and all (which is why depictions of heaven and hell are also lame-o, Rube), but there had to a decent artist somewhere in all those thronging multitudes who could capture Jesus pretty well. But so? Does precision make hay of the second?

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  31. The Reformed crusade against visual symbols is really intriguing. (Assuming it’s worth embarking on) the easy part is throwing out the church furnishings – much harder to endlessly purge the contents of your head as you read and think about highly visual texts.
    Is it possible to read, say, the narrative of Pentecost in Acts without visualizing the tongues of fire over the heads of the apostles? Is it wrong for a children’s Bible to depict them? Should Luke in his narrative have just included the sound of the wind (because audio is OK) but not the sight of flames (because visual is fraught with idolatrous peril)?
    And yet people seem to need something to look at. I’ve been in a fair number of Presbyterian church buildings and they often have the ‘burning bush’ symbol somewhere prominent. What makes this visual symbol of the divine presence acceptable?
    They quite often have a large and prominent Bible up the front too, which is fine, but after all a codex is a fairly arbitrary and culture-specific vehicle for the storage of text (it could be an iPad, a scroll or a clay tablet..)
    Funny how Presbyterianism, as a movement, doesn’t seem to produce many noteworthy artists. Are there dots to be joined here? (Whoops, that sounds visual…)

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  32. Tokenwoman, then there is all those Christians who love Thomas Kinkade.

    If you want images, you have options. If you want to mock the Reformed, take a number. And if you want to crack wise about Jewish piety, be careful.

    But if you want someone who is going to think hard about the second commandment and what duty God requires, you could do worse than Reformed Protestants.

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  33. reminds me of a story I heard about a PCA church that has a stained glass window with Jesus praying in Gethsemane in the sanctuary, it was expensive, from the PCUSA days and controversial to remove, so the elders voted that it was a picture of John praying on the Isle of Patmos and was labeled as such from then on…

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  34. Hey Token (love your chosen pseudonym — I wish enough women were active in reformed theology that your name wouldn’t make sense!)

    I agree, it is not possible to read Acts without visualizing the flames; nor is it possible to read of Jesus spitting into dirt without visualizing his face and mouth and hands; etc etc. I haven’t heard a convincing way to reconcile that with LC109 “inwardly in our mind”.

    And as for Presbyterianism producing noteworthy artists, I have friends who have noticed that as well. Not just in visual art, but is there any great Reformed writer? No Reformed writer I’ve ever come across has anything like the genius of Lewis or Chesterton. My friends labeled Calvin as “The Theologian of Ugliness”. Anyways, here’s a link you might find interesting.

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  35. Yes vermonster, Sean is correct. I have heard from many who are puzzled and disappointed at the later edition of Vos’ classic children’s book. FWIW, here’s a little about my favorite children’s story bible — that post was the beginning of my long-time involvement with this question.

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  36. I have the older Banner editions of Catherine Vos’ Child’s Story Bible and they do not have images of Christ. I doubt Vos had much say in how her book has been illustrated in the 70 years since she wrote it.

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  37. DougH, I’ve heard the same story — I don’t remember what church it was, but I think it was one around here (SoCal). Speaking of which, anybody else ever visited Sproul’s cathedral in Orlando?

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  38. I’ve heard that Sproulminster has an image in the narthex. I’ve heard they justify it in that it’s not in the worship hall and that it supposedly helps put people in a worshipful mood. Doesn’t RC like incense too?

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  39. I’ve heard that Sproulminster has an image in the narthex.

    Hah, AN image? I need to blog my experience at St Andrews, been meaning to since November when I was there. I’ll post at CO in the next few days, and link back from here.

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  40. Rube, was unable to make it to St. Andrew’s last year. But also took a polite pass on Baptist in-law’s enthused suggestion to visit Orlando’s “Holy Land Experience.” Not only images embodied but communion served (not to mention decorum jettisoned). Where does one even begin?

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  41. I don’t see what the issue is? Depictions of the persons of the Trinity, and visualisations of them in the mind, are forbidden; pictures of the ocean are not.

    Is this even controversial?

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  42. Rube: why are you so obsessed with what Calvin said? Is he the final arbiter? This is why we have creeds and confessions- so we’re not looking to one man to dictate our practice. The Larger Catechism- which I thought most of your churches subscribed to- is categorical: no depictions whatsoever of God or persons of the Trinity- either in human form, or creature form (e.g. a goat and calling it God, or a sun and calling it God’s Light). It doesn’t forbid the depictions of creatures but creatures used to represent God.

    As to “extending beyond the parking lot”- as has been said, a violation of one of the commandants is a violation wherever it occurs. Ergo, Christians should not produce such images in their private sphere, or have them hanging in their homes, and should avoid looking at such images wherever they come across them. I don’t think that means not going to galleries where such images may be, but the Christian should maybe just walk past such images.

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  43. Why am I so obsessed with what Calvin says? I hope I’m not actually obsessed, but I am annoyed at how often I see people quoting ‘magisterial’ reformers against images and asserting that they are unequivocally against images in all circumstances, when the quotes themselves are clearly talking about images in churches. Yes, we have confessions, and yes Westminster is radically and explicitly against them in all circumstances, and no I don’t think Westminster is correct; I think Westminster overreacted against idolatrous abuses and strayed into legalism in the other direction.

    I can talk about this stuff all day. If you want more, try this.

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  44. Depends on your model of subscription.

    Yes, my OPC church does subscribe to the standards, and I expect my elders to subscribe to those standards, or declare exceptions to their presbytery, which has the authority to judge whether those exceptions are allowable or not. I am not part of that process, so it is not my responsibility nor privilege to know what my pastor’s exceptions might be (if any) or to judge them. Also, not being an office-bearer myself, there is no official body to receive and adjudicate my exceptions, but my eldership is aware of my position here. As you can see by how I eagerly link back to my public debate, I am quite open.

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  45. Rube: “No Reformed writer I’ve ever come across has anything like the genius of Lewis or Chesterton.”

    What about Marilynne Robinson? Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. Although lady-preaching and the possible wishy-washiness on innerrancy might call the practical Reformedness into question.

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  46. That’s a good point. I have heard great things about Robinson, but when I tried to read some essays from The Death of Adam I got bogged down. I should give some novels a try. But perhaps she is the ‘exception that proves the rule’? The Reformed are decidedly against mysticism, which may make them predisposed to be bad fiction writers — generally speaking.

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  47. Dr. Godfrey better be careful, he publically challenged Drs. Sproul and Mohler in the same panel discussion. The higher-ups might view that as unbecoming a Gospel co-ally.

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  48. Well I question this whole practice of exceptions to the confession, but if one’s minister does have exceptions then it is his duty to inform his congregation, no? But of course such a practice essentially destroys confessionalism. If you can just pick and choose what you wish to adhere to- however strict or lax the leeway really doesn’t matter- then why have ecclesiastical confessions at all?

    How are you defining mysticism? Do you mean experiential?

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  49. so it is not my responsibility nor privilege to know what my pastor’s exceptions might be (if any) or to judge them

    Not so sure about this. If my pastor took exception, I most certainly would want to know. Not only as ordained an officer by my presbytery, but as a member.

    I’m not really in favor of the whole exception taking thing. The history I’ve studied seemed to show that we Americans are wayyyy off the mark in what we actually think we are doing when we are declaring scruples. I think the confusion on this matter is widespread. I would certainly enjoy hearing others views here, mine were largely formed by attending and asking questions of the conference speakers at animus imponentis in 2009.

    Take care, Rube.

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  50. Alexander, bear in mind that American Presbyterianism has a different model of subscription than the Continental Reformed: laity doesn’t necessarily have to subscribe the way officers do. It’s why they make members of Baptists.

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  51. I’m also not too happy with the practice of exceptions. It seems to me the confessional standards should be sufficiently living documents that as a denomination we can keep them in such a state that we can enforce 100% subscription. As it is, since some exceptions are allowed, and some would not be allowed, that means there is an implicit subset of the artifacts to which 100% subscription is enforced. That is de facto what our real confession is, and what we should change our existing confession to. But I am afraid that if we opened the door to change, we would end up making things worse rather than better.

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  52. Even the Continentals are not really 100% subscriptionists. It’s just further down the spectrum. For instance, Belgic 4 says Paul wrote Hebrews. A truly 100% subscriptionist model would forbid ordination for URC candidates that don’t believe Paul wrote Hebrews.

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  53. from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—-Ames writes to his son about his friend Boughton:

    I have been candid with you about my suffering a good deal at the spectacle of all the marriages, all the households overflowing with children, especially Boughton’s – not because I wanted them, but because I wanted my own. I believe the sin of coveting is the pang of resentment you may feel when even the people you love best have what you want and don’t have. From the point of view of loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), there is nothing that makes a person’s fallenness more undeniable than coveting – you feel it right in your heart, in your bones. In that way it is instructive. I have never really succeeded in obeying that Commandment, Thou shalt not covet. I avoided the experience of disobeying by keeping to myself a good deal, as I have said. I am sure I would have labored in my vocation more effectively if I had simply accepted coveting in myself as something inevitable, as Paul seems to do, as the thorn in my side, so to speak. ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice.’ I have found that difficult too often. I was much better at weeping with those who weep. I don’t mean that as a joke, but it is kind of funny, when I think about it ( p 134).

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  54. Well said, Rube, Here’s Fesko on Warfield, from the link I included, I like:

    If I were to summarize all of this, I think the words of BB Warfield do us well. He says this: “Over-strictness demands and begets laxity in performance while a truly liberal but conservative formula binds all essentially sound men together against laxity. In pleading for a liberal formula, therefore, we wish it distinctly understood that we do not plead either for a lax formula or much less for a lax administration of any formula within which an essential dishonesty lurks.” So, I think he basically says if you’re over-strict we will get lazy, because all you have to say is do you agree with everything? Yeah. Okay, we’re done. No more questions. But, on the other hand, he says we don’t want to be lax either in our view of how we subscribe to it or lax in our administration of it, but rather again, it’s here in the middle where we have to exercise wisdom and judgment as we examine each candidate for ministry.

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  55. Why am I so obsessed with what Calvin says? I hope I’m not actually obsessed, but I am annoyed at how often I see people quoting ‘magisterial’ reformers against images and asserting that they are unequivocally against images in all circumstances, when the quotes themselves are clearly talking about images in churches

    Certainly we don’t want to fall into the trap of Calvin against the Reformers, but the point being that logical consequence of Calvin strongly suggests a negative view of images of Christ, for whatever purposes, in church or out of it. First, the point I was making is that given the context of Institutes 1.11, Calvin’s point on “images for historical purposes” is concerning saints and biblical characters, not Christ. There is some ambiguity there (as we both concede) but it appears that for Calvin historical images is restricted to the former category.

    This is important because you have someone like R.C. Sproul arguing for the legitimacy of images of Christ, whose influence is very significant not only on lay-persons like myself, but pastors as well who could be introducing idolatrous images in churches.

    Secondly, though there is a distinction (as DG is pointing out) between the Church practice and public practice, you still run into challenges on images if an image is a violation of a biblical command, not because of what someone attributes to it (i.e., historical event of biblical character) but because of the very nature of that image. Calvin’s point of “no images of Jesus” doesn’t seem to fall in the “historical” category, but under a direct violation of the 2nd commandment. If that is the case, then a position supporting images of Jesus, albeit outside of the church walls, loses a significant contribution.

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  56. Thx AB, I like the way Fesko put it. I like the way Fesko puts most things, in fact.

    MMcC, meh. I mean that Robinson snippet is a useful consideration of coveting, and clearly expressed, but it doesn’t impress me in terms of artfulness.

    As for “mysticism”, I don’t know exactly what I mean, but I think it’s akin to seeing and expressing magic and wonder in the world. It doesn’t do good things for sacramentology (see Lutherans and Catholics), but it does good things for art (see Catholics, maybe Lutherans too I don’t know). But consider the ‘colorfulness’ of Luther vs the relatively boring precision of Calvin. I can’t imagine Calvin ever writing a novel (or me wanting to read it), but Luther…

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  57. And again Nate, I come back to the ambiguity. Although you condede there is some, you continue to insist that Calvin is against all images of Christ always. And even if “We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God himself has forbidden it, and because it cannot be done without, in some degree, tarnishing his glory” does mean Calvin forbade images of the Son, I maintain that the principle is correct, and Historical images of the Son do not tarnish his divine glory, which was invisible, and has nothing to do with an Image (or his direct physical appearance).

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  58. Rube, fair enough. But when it comes to the second mark of the church, the Continentals say that both laity and officers must confess and practice the Reformed faith.

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  59. One more from Marilynne Robinson. At least I like it.

    “Can we say that most of us are defined by the belief that Jesus Christ made the most gracious gift of his life and death for our redemption? Then what does he deserve from us? He said we are to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek. Granted, these are difficult teachings. But does our most gracious Lord deserve to have his name associated with concealed weapons and stand-your-ground laws, things that fly in the face of his teaching and example?

    Does he say anywhere that we exist primarily to drive an economy and flourish in it? He says precisely the opposite. The association of Christianity with positions that would not survive a glance at the Gospels or the Epistles is opportunistic, and that— if real Christians raised these questions— those whose real commitments are to money and hostility and potential violence would drop the pretense and walk away.”

    To get the males to come, you don’t need pictures, you need “fight-church”.

    http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/hls49q/extreme-measures-for-boosting-church-attendance

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  60. Rube,

    I do think based on the context of what Calvin is saying in the Institutes and elsewhere (as Jesse Light pointed to the Heidleblog) that Calvin isn’t as ambiguous as you seem to say he is. Granted, there is some ambiguity in the passage alone (1.11.12) but when considered in light of the context of 1.11, in addition to his other writings and the historical context, there is not a lot of ambiguity left. We can’t be absolutely certain because Calvin never said “No images of Jesus, at no time, for whatever reason. End of story”, but I think that’s the point of the Reformed tradition and where they have been clear. The point is that Calvin attributes images of Jesus to a violation of a depiction of the divine, even though he is speaking in terms of it’s use in the churches. If it’s a direct violation of the second commandment, it doesn’t matter if it’s used in church or not. I think the burden is to show that he is actually not saying that.

    It’s important because you, John Barber’s post, and Sproul in the linked video of the comments, all try to use this passage in support of your position that Calvin was open to images of Jesus in a historical-protrayal sense. I’m saying that’s not a valid interpretation of Calvin, despite the apparent ambiguity. So it’s not necessarily a misuse of Calvin (at least) to say he is unequivocally against all images of Jesus.

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  61. Re: strict subscription. I accept that it often does become the practice that strict subscription paradoxically leads to lax practice, but that is because courts fail in their duty of enforcing the confession. If the courts of a church are vigilant in this area then there is no problem. To me what Warfield is arguing for is a negotiated surrender which, inevitably, will be the undoing of a conmunion’s orthodoxy. After all was he not writing in the context of communion which would become today’s PC(USA)?

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  62. Rube, going soft? I though you could talk about this stuff all day? Understood though, don’t want to beat a dead horse. Thanks for the interaction, certainly has made me think more about this issue.

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  63. The 2nd Commandment is one that to me separates the pretenders from the regulative principle followers. The main argument I hear for images of Christ is that removing them violates the 2nd Almost Great Commandment “Be nice to your neighbor”. After all they might be offended or bewildered if we make an issue of that.

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  64. dough (I’m going all lowercase because it’s funnier), but regulative principle governs _worship_, by definition it does not govern _not_worship_, so it does not apply to the question of images of Christ outside of worship.

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  65. Does Woiwode count? He’s got that opc sacramental fidelity going for him.

    “As God drowned sin in the flood, so God drowns our sinful nature in Holy Baptism.”

    http://www.opc.org/OS/html/V2/4e.html

    Chesterton is a different story—“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. “

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  66. RubeRad, OK with me.
    I agree but don’t the Ten Commandments apply to believers outside the church? I would not want to make a living (dough) in an icon business… If someone says” this picture represents Jesus”, isn’t that necessarily worship? I think that was Calvin’s argument in the Institutes, that as soon as we regard an image as being of Christ we necessarily are ascribing higher worth and tend to superstition and worship. Case in point our former brothers now reverencing all kinds of stuff they never thought they would over at the Callers.

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  67. dough, nevermind my last comment; rereading, I see what you mean and I completely agree. Images in worship violates the 2nd commandment and “be nice/don’t offend” is a (necessarily) bad argument

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  68. Yes the 10 commandments apply outside of worship. It depends on whether the commandment means “don’t worship images” or “don’t make images”. And for an “icon”, I would put an icon in Calvin’s “Pictorial” aka useless category. The only possible use is for depicting what somebody looked like (fail), or for aiding devotion aka worship (fail).

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  69. Perhaps my tone was too flippant. I have no intention of mocking anybody’s piety.
    Just thinking about some of the ways in which Presbyterianism (which is my background) treats this issue.
    Rube, thank you for the link.

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  70. I think I believe in covenantal discontinuity as much as anyone who posts on this blog. But that being said, the incarnation is no invitation to imagine the Image.

    Acts 17: 29 “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but NOW he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he WILL judge the WORLD in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    Ellul—“When Nicodemus has seen Jesus’ works, he thinks he knows who Jesus is. . .

    http://www.jesusradicals.com/wp-content/uploads/notes-on-the-humiliation-of-the-word.pdf

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  71. From one of my very favorite books, Jesus the Word according to John the Sectarian, by Robert Gundry:

    “John 1:9 says that the Word enlightens every human being. But the context deals with the incarnate ministry of Christ as providing light, and John later shows awareness that the disciples need to be sent in order for the saving effects of that light to be felt (John 20:21–23). Furthermore, the gaining of Christ’s light links with believing in Christ (John 1:9–13; 3:16–21; 8:12–30). We do better to say that John jumps from the old creation at the beginning (1:1–3) to the new creation, dating from the incarnation (1:4–18), than to think that he writes concerning a preincarnate and continuing general ministry of the Word through the light of reason and conscience. Therefore, John 1:9 means that Jesus the Word as preached in the gospel brings the light of salvation to everyone who hears and believes.”

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  72. Calvin—To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Cor. xiv. 13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.

    But when believers frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews….but we should always take care that no corruption creep in which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition.

    Calvin, Comm. on Psalms, vol. 3, p. 98. See also, vol. 1, p. 539.

    “…musical instruments were among the legal ceremonies which Christ at His coming abolished; and therefore we, under the Gospel, must maintain a greater simplicity.”
    Calvin, Comm. on the Four Last Books of Moses, vol. 1, p. 263.

    http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/calvin-and-the-worship-of-god

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  73. John, in what light should we read it? Theonomic? Benevolent Empire? Westminster Assembly? All those people would have banned images and not even allowed the reading of novels.

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  74. DG: thanks. I would read it simply as it reads, without any larger movement battles clouding the picture..Very appreciative for your fine and sustained ministry.

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  75. DG. “R”, I suspect, because of the 1 and 2 k discussion in r circles. Perhaps we can call it r2d2. Blessed day. Heading for East Africa so need to prepare.

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  76. mcMark: still, the psalms commentaries are focusing on “public thanksgiving”. And why the divergence into the musical instruments question?

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  77. mcMark: also thx for the link to the Ellul notes. Humiliation of the Word I have actually read and I loved it. Maybe it would go against Ellul’s intention, but I align Calvin’s Pictorial/Historial categories with Ellul’s Image/Word; i.e. there are images that (outside of worship) can usefully serve a more Word-ish role (especially when accompanied by actual Words); but fully Pictorial Images are pretty useless.

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  78. rube, thanks for sharing. but what is an “sanctuary”? space only becomes holy when God becomes specially present (as in the invocation). And if your theological standards have explicit instruction about images of Christ, don’t you think you possibly choose other subjects — say, Mary, the mother of God.

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  79. The images are not in the room in which the call to worship and benediction draw the line between not-worship, and worship. The 2nd commandment is about the regulative principle, which governs worship; it by definition does not govern not-worship.

    Although there are always arguments from wisdom (i.e. not as cut-and-dried as ‘law’) about whether it is wise to prime the minds of congregants with those images on their way into worship.

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  80. “Although there are always arguments from wisdom (i.e. not as cut-and-dried as ‘law’) about whether it is wise to prime the minds of congregants with those images on their way into worship.” Ding ding ding

    Would you allow Roman Catholic tracts to be placed in the church as long as they weren’t in the room where people worship?

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  81. No I wouldn’t, and your analogy begs the question of whether Images depicting historical acts of Christ are idolatrous and/or Roman propaganda.

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  82. And yes actually, how about if RC tracts are stapled to Reformed rebuttals for joint dissemination? Or a Reformed tract against RC is stapled to an RC tract that demonstrates that the Reformed arguments therein are not strawman arguments?

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  83. Rube, but that’s not how images of Christ are being used in the narthex, i.e. to showcase the context of missionary work in some last vestige of Christendom. They are being used there to stir religious affect. So why can religious affect be stirred in the narthex with images of Christ but not images of Zeus? Seems like your distinction between sanctuary and narthex is pretty mechanical and tortured.

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  84. Well I don’t know how you can so precisely pinpoint motive for use here, but yes I agree that some congregants will use those images to ‘prime the pump’ of worship, which is not good, which is why it may be considered unwise to display the images there; perhaps it would be better if they were displayed in some room on the church grounds not so, um, worship-adjacent?. But you can’t set things up so that nobody will be facilitated toward any of their personal sinful tendencies — otherwise we would only serve grape juice for communion.

    This puts me in mind of a lovely architectural habit apparently common among Cat-lickers, of installing the baptismal font at the entrance to the church; this is a much more fitting ‘image’ that puts people in mind of how they enter the church, when the enter the church.

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  85. “… This puts me in mind of a lovely architectural habit apparently common among Cat-lickers, of installing the baptismal font at the entrance to the church; this is a much more fitting ‘image’ that puts people in mind of how they enter the church, when the enter the church …”

    Some confessional Lutherans do this, too. And I’ve seen them in the habit of touching the font as they enter and leave the worship service “to remind them” of their baptism, I’m told.

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  86. Rube, not pinpointing motive, more like wondering what other possible reason beyond enjoining adoration there could be to having permanent images in a house of ordinary worship (not temporary ones to showcase extraordinary events). And distinguishing between adjacent and non-adjacent seems like more torture–can you imagine adding to worship wars measuring stick battles? Oy vey.

    But our female neo-Cal pastor once had the congregants dip their fingers in bowls of water the elders held as we exited the sanctuary to remind them of their baptism. Creative, yes, with an Anabaptist undertone. I thought the visible Word (sacraments) were supposed to flank the preached Word?

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  87. Holy water and baptismal reminder? Meh, more like superstitious talisman. Think native american dreamcatchers.

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  88. In my (highly suspect) opinion only three things should stand out when you look at a reformed worship hall: a central pulpit (preferably raised), a modest table on the floor, and a font. No choirs, banners, hangings, golden crosses or candlesticks. The word heard, sung by the congregation, and seen in the two sacraments is sufficient.

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  89. C-dubs, agreed, but what’s inscribed on the table: “This is my body, this is my blood” or “Do this in remembrance of me”?

    ps “worship hall”? Sounds JW-VFW-y.

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  90. I don’t think the table should have anything inscribed upon it. And “worship hall” is from my pastor, who prefers it to “sanctuary.” Meeting house maybe? No, Grace Place — that’s what we’ll call it. Awesome.

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  91. Z, here’s one excellent thing about the PCA book of order – – it says the table should be “decently covered” which means the Zwinglian motto is not visible if present.

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  92. C, meeting houses are for Anabaptists. Somehow I knew you’d say that about the inscribing. But if words beat images and visible words go with spoken words…

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  93. Bro-Z, the main problem I have with an inscribed verse (or verse painted on the wall for that matter) is that it becomes the focal point and may be assumed to be more important than any other. The preached and read word provides the context for the sacraments, not a verse fragment carved on a table. And I have to have something to complain about.

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