Certainly Not Calvinist But Not Even Baptist

How do you explain selectivity (cafeteria Protestantism) about — wait for it — the Ten Commandments? But the Allies have their ways of satisfying itching ears. Here’s the latest — positive thoughts about Nativity Scenes:

I’ve changed my views because our culture has changed. As society becomes increasingly secular, it seems to me that just about anything that ties Christmas back to the historical account of Jesus’s birth provides an important point of connection. These small displays are an opportunity for engagement and conversation between those in our communities who celebrate nothing more than Santa and those who love the message of the Jesus’s incarnation.

In fact, I’m always intrigued when someone is offended by the presence of a nativity scene. It’s quite fascinating that people can be offended by a collection of miniature ecclesiastical characters. Why do people get upset? Perhaps it’s because they recognize that what’s being said in that small scene is challenging and even personal: “This happened, this is history, there is a Jesus, and you have to deal with him one way or another.” The person who gets annoyed by public nativity scenes is someone I want to have a conversation with.

Actually, it may be that the people who most often miss the message of the nativity scene are Christians. How easy it is to rush through the whole Christmas experience—the music in the mall, the services in your church, the presents in your house—and be left with sweet sentiments but no real worship in your heart. How easy it is to sing along to “Once in Royal David’s City”—

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all.

—and feel neither awe nor offense, but simply nothing much at all.

My point is that it’s not only non-Christians who trivialize Christmas. It’s us. The claims the Bible makes about the first Christmas are either fact or fiction, so they’re either awesome or offensive. They should move us to worship or to resistance. But so often Christians seem to be pursuing a pristine Christmas experience that more reflects the store-bought nativity scene than the costly and messy account of the Bible.

Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas. They avoided also any representation of any member of the Trinity. The same goes for Baptists. Until the twentieth century, non-Episcopalian and non-Lutheran Protestants didn’t do Christmas or display its wares. They only way to get around the second and fourth commandments (for the fourth, one day in seven is holy, not Jesus’ birthday) is if you so elevate feelings or evangelism and argue that rules don’t matter (sometimes). That’s more Whitefield than Edwards. In which case, the Allies can’t even honor properly their “homeboy.”

Just to keep score: justification is supposed to result in sanctification.

Good works constitute indispensable evidence of saving grace. Living as salt in a world that is decaying and light in a world that is dark, believers should neither withdraw into seclusion from the world, nor become indistinguishable from it: rather, we are to do good to the city, for all the glory and honor of the nations is to be offered up to the living God. Recognizing whose created order this is, and because we are citizens of God’s kingdom, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all, especially to those who belong to the household of God. The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation. The kingdom of God is an invasive power that plunders Satan’s dark kingdom and regenerates and renovates through repentance and faith the lives of individuals rescued from that kingdom. It therefore inevitably establishes a new community of human life together under God.

Maybe the Allies problem with the Decalogue is that they think of obedience too much in the context of the city and not being ye separate. Don’t want to take God’s word too far.

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16 thoughts on “Certainly Not Calvinist But Not Even Baptist

  1. Using nativity scenes and other pictures of Jesus (which show up at TGC with alarming and telling frequency) to inspire devotion makes as much sense as using those stock pictures of models that come with picture frames to remind you of your wife and kids. Never does evangelicalism resemble Romanism more than in December. Never does TGCism resemble bog-standard evangelicalism more than in December.

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  2. See?

    The Reformation, however, nearly killed St. Nicholas’s association with Christmas. On Christmas Day in 1550, an irritated John Calvin saw a larger-than-usual crowd at his church in Geneva. He said, “Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas Day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel.” Calvin was saying that his parishioners had been duped by Catholic superstition into thinking that Christmas was more important than any other church gathering.

    Oher reformers agreed. Under Farel, Viret, and Zwingli, Geneva abolished all feast and saints’ days. According to one historian of the Reformation, “All special days sanctioned and revered by Rome were set aside.” The Westminster Confession of Faith similarly stated, “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.” Christmas, a relic of the cult of saints, was just too Catholic in its extra-biblical prescriptions.

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  3. So, you’re saying that the statue of Aryan Jesus I have set up in my house (next to the Festivus pole, of course) isn’t an accurate representation of the Son of God? You’ve shattered my entire belief system, cw.

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  4. SOMERSET, TN—Citing the great reverence and honor due the Lord Jesus on the traditional day celebrating His incarnation, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church confirmed Tuesday that their worship service would be canceled on Christmas morning.

    “We want to show respect and adoration to our Lord on the day commemorating His birth,” pastor Kyle Redding told reporters. “So we’ll be calling off all the services in which we usually sing praises to Him and study His Word, in order that He’ll be more glorified.”

    “Also, I’ll get to play with my new iPad that I just know my wife, Kate, got me. I felt the package. I’m pretty sure it’s the Pro edition.” Redding further stated he was pretty sure this is what Jesus would want on the day marking His taking on flesh and coming into the world to save His people from their sins.

    “I can think of nothing more worshipful on the Lord’s Day than foregoing worship services in order to tear into gift after gift after gift from under our ornate tree.”

    At publishing time, Mt. Moriah Baptist leaders had confirmed that they would be carefully gauging the success of the initiative designed to increase adoration of Jesus by canceling church, and would consider the cancellation of services that land on other traditional holidays like Easter, Independence Day, and Earth Day, should closing on Christmas prove popular.
    http://babylonbee.com/news/church-honors-birth-jesus-canceling-worship-service/

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  5. “They avoided also any representation of any member of the Trinity.”
    ***This is a curious statement. I’m certainly familiar with a tradition that refuses to depict God the Father (“no one has ever seen God”), but isn’t the Logos becoming man, a self-declared icon of the Father, and the Holy Spirit who appeared in the form of a dove demonstrate that the Trinity violated the very premise which you set out for the Trinity? Is it because it’s the Trinity’s prerogative to do whatever He pleases and thus violate whatever ordinances you adhere to? This would seem to be a very Jewish objection to God incarnate–that the ineffable became expressible, the uncircumscribable circumscribed. Doesn’t the Incarnation change things just a bit? I realize this is just hashing out the 7th Ecumenical Council and so probably a well trodden path.

    I mean this not in any way other than an inquiry–no gotchas attached. I’m not here to argue and convince, just to understand your craziness.

    Idolatrously yours,
    J

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  6. Justin, Jesus in the flesh and Holy Spirit feathers and all is different from the human imagination — you know, what Calvin called “that factory of idols.”

    Here‘s a popular abbreviated take on a complicated subject (I know, Calvinists are anal but we do suffer for it):

    Celebrating Jesus’ Birth—Without His Picture

    David M. VanDrunen

    During the final weeks of every year, visual images of our Lord Jesus Christ seem to be everywhere. From Christmas cards to commercial advertisements, it is nearly impossible to avoid seeing a barrage of pictures of Jesus in the manger during the holiday season. Of course, many such images are simply the product of a crass commercialism or unthinking sentimentality. But other images are produced and distributed out of sincere, pious motives. What should Reformed Christians think of this?

    The Reformed tradition has taught that Christians should not make or use any images of Christ, however sincere their motives and however careful they are not to worship such images. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 109) includes the following among the things forbidden in the second commandment: “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.”

    In our own day, there are many people, even in Reformed circles, who ignore this prohibition. Is it a part of our tradition that may be set aside, or is there good biblical and theological support for the view of the Larger Catechism? In this article, I will present several brief arguments as to why Christians should not make or use images of Christ as they celebrate his incarnation.

    Images of Christ and the Second Commandment

    As the above quotation from the Larger Catechism suggests, most Reformed reflection on the question of visual images of Christ has revolved around fidelity to the second commandment. This commandment begins with these words: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5). The logic underlying traditional Reformed teaching is quite straightforward: if no visual images of God are to be produced or worshiped, and if the Lord Jesus Christ is God incarnate, then no images of Jesus should be produced or worshiped. Reformed theologians have added a number of reflections to this basic point, and it may be helpful to consider some of them.

    One point that Reformed theologians have made is that creating images of Christ, however innocent that may seem in itself, tends to lead down a path toward full-fledged idolatry. Images created simply to stir memory or to instruct children or unlearned people can easily become the thing worshiped. Sinful human beings desire to substitute the product of their imaginations for what God has revealed in Scripture, and creating images of Christ can easily become an outlet for this sinful tendency.

    A second point that many Reformed theologians have made is similar to, but perhaps more subtle than, the first one. Sinful people want a God who answers to them. They desire a God who is there when they need him, but who can be kept a safe distance away when they do not want him around. Pagans themselves did not believe that their images of wood or stone were identical to their gods. Instead, they wanted gods that they could control, and communing with them through visible representations of their own making was an ideal means for doing so. Making our own images of God, then, to be used according to our own will, can be a way of making gods of ourselves.

    A third point offered by Reformed theologians is that God, in Scripture, has appointed for us everything that we need to live in fellowship with him. He has ordained the reading and the preaching of the Word, as well as the visible ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We should not try to be wiser than God and feel the need to create new means of expressing our love and devotion to him, such as the creation of religious images.

    Another point often made by Reformed theologians comes in a variety of forms, but it might be summarized in this way: no image of Christ can be authentic. Sometimes theologians make this point by stressing that the visual representations that we produce can never capture the mystery of the Incarnation, the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in one person. At other times, though not as frequently, theologians make this point by arguing that because we cannot know how Jesus looked—that is, what his physical features were and are—we can never produce a picture of him that really represents him. In my judgment, this is a more important argument than has often been appreciated. We must not forget that in the Incarnation the invisible God did in fact become visible! Jesus spoke these profound words to Philip as this disciple sat looking at him: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). This statement ought to give pause to anyone who would presume to create an image of Jesus. God became visible in Jesus—and in no other. God revealed himself visibly in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, with particular facial and physical features. Any other body, any other face, is not the incarnate revelation of God. But since we do not know how Jesus looked, any representations of him that we might make would necessarily be of someone other than God incarnate.

    Images of Christ and the Eschatological Hope

    The points above are a sampling of arguments that Reformed theologians have raised through the years in order to explain why they understand the second commandment to prohibit the making of images of Christ. Not all Reformed people have found all of these arguments of equal persuasiveness, but surely they offer considerable wisdom and provide warning for those who would align themselves unthinkingly with the culture of images that flourishes especially during this time of year. I would like to suggest now an additional argument in support of the traditional Reformed view regarding images of Christ. It is meant to augment, not to replace, the considerations discussed in the previous section. It also presents the issue positively. Our refusal to make and use images of Christ is not simply something negative—it also reminds us of something breathtakingly wonderful that we indeed will do one day.

    That breathtakingly wonderful thing that we will do one day is to see Jesus face-to-face. Already in the Old Testament, which often states that no one can see God and live, believers express hope that one day, somehow, they will in fact see God. Job comments: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). David sings: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). This Old Testament hope became a New Testament reality with the incarnation of Christ, who, as noted above, could tell his disciples that to see him is indeed to see the Father (John 14:9).

    Where does that leave us? Surely we, no less than the Old Testament saints and the disciples of Christ, should long to see our God. Yet God’s ordained means for seeing him, his incarnate Son, has left us and ascended into heaven in his visible, human nature. In many places, the New Testament teaches us what our attitude ought to be in light of this fact. We should indeed long to see Christ, and we should expect to see him on the day when he returns. But until then we must be patient, recognizing that this is not the time for seeing him.

    That Christians may look forward eagerly to seeing Christ on the day he returns is taught, for example, in 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” But for the time being we recognize that now is not the time for seeing Christ. Paul explains that while we are in our present bodies, being “away from the Lord,” we “walk by faith, not by sight.” Yet the hope that Paul holds out is that one day soon we will be “at home with the Lord,” and then we will enjoy Christ by sight as well as by faith (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Likewise, Peter notes that we rejoice in Christ, “though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Peter goes on to speak of our not having seen Christ as part of this present suffering—yet he also speaks of this reality, like our other suffering in the present time, as only temporary: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:6-8).

    It is not wrong for Christians to want to see Christ—not at all. But for now we wait patiently, receiving with gratitude the invisible presence of Christ by his Word and Spirit and his gracious visible presence in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. We resist the temptation to make Christ visible in ways that he has not ordained and look eagerly for that day when we will see him face-to-face.

    The author, an OP minister, teaches at Westminster Seminary California. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2006.

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  7. I follow lots of TGCers and the flowery content of most of the writers is beyond comprehension. Reading confessions is so much more concise. Oh how I wish the allies and Co. internet access and capabilities would cease.

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  8. Darryl,

    If human imagination is the starting and end point for all idolatry, then there’s really no escape. I mean even the word “God” evokes some sort of imagery in the mind, unless one thinks only apophatically. And I assume your congregation reads the NT in translation. Isn’t translation a product of human imagination? The English “the Word” (of God) is quite different from the Greek “Logos;” “Word” can mean something more and less than “Logos” for us, but it certainly isn’t commensurate. None of this is an argument but is simply a brief response to the weight human imagination must bear in your theology.

    Some really interesting stuff in that excerpt. I’m going to highlight the things that don’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
    “the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind,”
    ***So then there is a command to think apophatically. It must drive you nuts when Christ refers to himself as a hen gathering his chicks, as a shepherd, as a gate, etc., etc. Christ employs all sorts of representational language (metaphor, parable) to draw us in to Him. Usually symbols are meant to join things together, so that the employment of a symbol takes us from thing to another (shepherd to Christ). The fear of idolatry (a good healthy fear, I agree) stems from the fact that we’ll stay only on one side of the symbol or, even worse, separate the symbolic relationship (literally diabolic) and focus on only one aspect. But that seems to be the risk with symbol–which means imagination, thought, language.

    “Is it a part of our tradition that may be set aside,”
    ***A very nice nod to tradition.

    “he logic underlying traditional Reformed teaching is quite straightforward: if no visual images of God are to be produced or worshiped, and if the Lord Jesus Christ is God incarnate, then no images of Jesus should be produced or worshiped.”
    ***This is 7th Ecumenical Council stuff. The standard response is that when God became man He violated this very commandment. Because Christ in his Divine Personhood is both man and God naturally, then there it is not possible to separate the human from the Divine. So when one thinks Christ, one must think about all of the human aspects to have access to His Divinity. I’m not sure how to get around this other than to strike a Nestorian pose and attempt to separate Christ’s humanity from His Divinity.
    God becoming man carried with it accusations of idolatry in Judaism; indeed, in some texts Christ is said to have led a good portion of Israel into idolatry.

    “Sinful human beings desire to substitute the product of their imaginations for what God has revealed in Scripture, and creating images of Christ can easily become an outlet for this sinful tendency.”
    ***This just begs the question. If language is representational (never mind translation) and exegesis is representational, then my goodness we’re down the rabbit hole again.

    “But for now we wait patiently, receiving with gratitude the invisible presence of Christ by his Word and Spirit and his gracious visible presence in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.”
    ***So gracious visible presence in bread? He lost me on this one. After everything he’s written about guarding our imagination, he then ends by talking about a “visible presence” in the bread? This must be one of those “It’s just part of our tradition” things, hence his nod to “gracious.” I’m absolutely at ease with the whole “we do things by tradition,” but ti would seem this tradition violates the very terms of the tradition not to depict (or even imagine) Christ.

    “That Christians may look forward eagerly to seeing Christ on the day he returns is taught, for example, in 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” But for the time being we recognize that now is not the time for seeing Christ.”
    ***Last one. The logic here is this: we can look forward to seeing him but know that we can’t see him now. But in looking forward to seeing him, what do we imagine? We were told earlier not to imagine anything about Christ. So in looking forward we can imagine the darkness (i.e., not imagine anything about Christ) which will be filled with light (Christ) but not to imagine the light which will fill the darkness because we would then be imagining Christ, which is a violation of the 2nd commandment.

    I think I’m most at ease with his saying this, “Look, historically we Reformed just don’t depict Christ. It’s just been part of our tradition from the beginning. Don’t do it. We see where it can lead–to excesses which are clearly idolatrous. So just don’t. There are times and places where our tradition allows for limited representation (in biblical translations, in our teachings, in the bread at the Lord’s Supper, for example), so let’s keep it to that.” It’s when he tries to explain things theologically and semiotically that things kind of fall apart.

    No need to respond, Darryl. I haven’t really made any argument here, except that his argument from tradition is his strongest argument.

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  9. Justin,

    I see your point about imagination, but there you have the Calvinist fear and loathing. Sure it can go to extremes but these days (and for the last 100 years) we could probably do with more of it from anyone who claims Augustinian influence.

    I also see the parallels between imagining and translating. But we are supposed to use words and we have a commandment against images (not to mention Rome’s abuse of images and words). So Calvinists use words, avoid images.

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  10. “I’ve changed my views because our culture has changed. As society becomes increasingly secular, it seems to me that just about anything that ties Christmas back to the historical account of Jesus’s birth provides an important point of connection. These small displays are an opportunity for engagement and conversation between those in our communities who celebrate nothing more than Santa and those who love the message of the Jesus’s incarnation.”… Boy that’s pragmatic! Bring out the stained glass why not, after all it might help us reconnect with our communities. Perhaps a crucifix or two, or even a grotto? Let’s take the opportunity to engage and have a conversation. But then if we don’t participate, I suppose we don’t; “love the message of Jesus’ incarnation”…

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