The Hero With A Thousand Faces-Jesus

Jesus the perfect Hero

The Old Testimony is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. The Apostle Paul, Hebrews 10:1

Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” discovered that there were a number of central themes and motifs in many of the myths of heroes throughout the world.  This raises the question does this phenomenon point to something or someone beyond itself or is it just an accident?  Campbell infers that the very purpose of myths is to point beyond themselves to something deeply profound and yet hidden.  If this is true what about the phenomenon of myth and the fact that all share the same motif?

In ancient times, there were gods, heroes, demigods and humans.  The demigods were divided up into demons and angels.  The gods and heroes beckoned men to a higher standard and to living a virtuous and courageous life.  The negative demigods or demons tried to hold humanity down to the earth and to live on a mere animal level.  The good demigods were the angels or messengers that were mediators for the gods.  The heroes mission was to overcome and save his people from the dragon or the serpent which symbolically represented the chief evil in the world.  Often we see the hero save his people by leading them to a promise land where they would be prosperous and safe from the forces of evil.  To accomplish this the hero would have to suffer many things and sometimes even sacrifice himself.  However, there was never an end to the story of the hero for there was always rebirth and resurrection.

We live in a world without real heroes.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman make great heroes for children but they lack the authenticity to inspire adults unto living a virtuous life.  However, human beings need actual heroes that can save us from the dragons in our  lives and inspire us to move up to higher ground and to live courageously in the face of the dragon (death) which is devouring us.  For an adult, an actual hero must be grounded in reality, i.e. there must be a factual element in their story.  The hero must be truly virtuous, courageous himself and experience the sufferings and victories of a life well lived. They must have the power to do what they promised, and their powers must come from the gods.  If they have no super powers they cannot be heroes.  They would simply be mere men.  At the very least, they must have a special relationship with the gods that set them apart from other men.  They are the chosen ones.

How do we explain the similarities of all of the myths, and the central themes of their story.  I believe that in the myths, we see how God communicates to men through stories.  Myths are one of the languages of God.  The myths basically are shadows of good things to come or in some cases the bad that is to come.  In other words, they are living metaphors of the truth.  They are like the truth, but in themselves are not the truth, but rather they are vessels that bring to those who have eyes that see, the truth[1].  The New Testament writers looked upon the Old Testament as a shadow of good things that were to come but not the reality (Heb 10:1).  The Old Testament stories were shadows pointing to the mighty hero who was to come.  The whole theme of the Old Testament is that someone is coming and as we move into the gospels it changes to someone has come, and when we get to last book of the New Testament, it changes once more to someone is coming again.  The theme of the entire Bible is, someone is coming and that someone is going to be the mighty hero who will embody all heroes of history.

What am I saying?  In Jesus the myth becomes real as the apostle John says, “The Word[2] became flesh and dwelled (literally, tented) among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1).  The apostle Paul also said, God was in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.”  In Christ, the veil of the myth is lifted and we see face to face the divine glory.  In Jesus, all the hero myths of history are fulfilled and clarified.  On the cross, he said “it is finished”.  God was unveiled in his final and complete form.  The revelation of God was complete.  God’s self-communication became a living being.

Moreover, in Jesus we see the perfect hero, which must be expected if the above is true.  Jesus covers all the bases and fulfills the needs of all men.  He is The Prophet, the Righteous King and The Faithful Priest.  Even more important, he is the Eternal one that never dies.  Did you ever notice that in most hero myths the hero never dies, or he dies and comes back to life.  In his resurrection, Jesus’ hero-ship is made perfect, and he becomes the standard of all truth and the judge of all the earth  “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “the Father has committed all things to the Son” and “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

In the resurrection of the Jesus-hero we see his mission fulfilled; in going home leaving his people with the promise that he was coming back for them, to lead them out of the hostile country of darkness and into a place of glorious light.  His resurrection guarantees that he has the power to do what he promised.  No matter what you are experiencing on your journey Jesus has the power to save you and to help you complete your journey in hope and joy.

In summary, it might be said that there may be a 1000 heroes but they all have the same face and that is the face of Jesus.  The face of the mighty hero who would stand at the end of time.  This may not be a popular message in a pluralistic world where everything is supposed to be equal.  However, personally I believe that that pluralistic world dogma where everything is equal is the biggest lie of all time.  Not all heroes are equal.  There is a hierarchy of heroes and Jesus is on the top.  This does not take away from the other heroes, it simply means that they are to be viewed through the final revelation that comes through Jesus Christ.

[1] Myths are like parables they can reveal the truth for those seeking it or veil the truth to those that are not seeking it (Luke 8:9-10).

[2] The Greek word for the word “Word” in John 1:1 is a logos which the Greeks believed was the cosmic order or the wisdom and power that ordered the universe. That power had been revealed in myths for thousands of years before the coming of Christ and John says that Christ was the embodiment of it.

Science and Religion

Science and Religion

Natural science is the study of nature and religion is the study of how to live.  Religion is the collective knowledge of humanity on what works in living one’s life in the world.  Natural science does not tell us how to live or what the world is or its purpose but rather how it works.  What the world is and it’s purposes are metaphysical questions and cannot be answered by the Scientific method.  They are questions for philosophy and religion.

The minute science begins to try to tell us what the world and its purpose is, it ceases to be science and becomes philosophy or even religion.  Science cannot tell us what the world is any better than it can tell us what gravity is and for that matter, what science is.  If you say science is the study of nature you have not told me what it is but rather what it does.  For example, for measurement, gravity could be labeled a force but that does not tell you what gravity is but rather what it is like.  But what is a force?  Science mainly tells us how things behave and attempt to measure their behavior, and it often does this by the use of metaphors.  A good example of this is light.  Sometimes light behaves like a wave and other times like a particle.  On the other hand, religion also uses metaphors to explain life and right living.  These metaphors come in the form of stories, myths and similes.

Humans attempt to label and define everything with words.  It is our way of bringing order out of the chaos of existence.  Science, Philosophy and religion are the tools we use to do this labeling.  These disciplines are often so intermingled that it’s impossible for the majority of people to even get close to separating them.  Science is based on facts that can be demonstrated and tested and Philosophy is based on things inferred from the facts.  The problem is that inferences that are inferred from the facts can be infinite.  These inferences could be called hypothesis, or a stronger word could be theory.  A hypothesis has little or no factual evidence of its truthfulness; a theory on the other hand has evidence, but many lack the means of testing it or falsifying it.  If these two things are absent, a theory will always remain a theory. e.g. String theory.

There are two predominant philosophies  that attempt to explain what the world is.  They are materialism and dualism.  Materialism is the belief that everything is made up of matter.  Dualism is the belief that a second ingredient exists which they may call, spirit, consciousness, life force or something, which is unseen. It is important to remember that the ancients did not concern themselves with the nature of the seen or unseen.  They simply accepted the fact; there were things that we see and there were things we could not see.

The philosophies of materialism and dualism are not the dominant philosophy because they have  been proven by science.  Both have been around a long time and  were embraced before modern science was created.  You could call them the philosophies of existence, but neither should be called science in a true sense of the word.  Both have an element of faith.  The materialist believes that only matter exists but makes a leap of faith when he adds the word ‘only’. The dualist has the problem of testing what they would call spirit.

However, when everything is said, the debate between materialism and dualism will not settle the question, does God exist?  The debate if ever won would rather, simply help determine the definition and nature of the deity, which is quite impossible to know to begin with, if we are talking about the God of the Bible, who some  theologians within the church referred to “as the nothingness” to ensure they did not insult him with a belittling description.

 

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 10 The Goal of Religion

Chapter 10

The Goal of Religion

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Religion is man’s attempt, through his own efforts, to close the gap between himself and the transcended. In a sense, religion itself is evidence of a vague remembrance of a lost relationship. Therefore, we might conclude that the goal of all religion is to unite God and man, or what we might call the “at-oneness” of God and man. In religion man tries to bridge the chasm between himself and his God. The idea to bind back or to bind together is inherent in the root word from which we derive the word religion. Although the goal of religion is a worthwhile one, we will see that it is not achievable.

Mankind’s efforts to bind himself back to God have taken many forms throughout the history of the world. Usually these forms are nothing more than the projection of man’s wishes or a reflection of his own culture that he projects into heaven. In other words, man creates God in his own image.

Therefore, it is not surprising that most tribal gods resemble and validate the society they ruled over. They are nothing more than a reflection of the culture that created them. In fact, this is not like Western Christianity that has subverted the teachings of Jesus to justify its capitalistic system and the brutal wars it has fought to support it. Though man is and was self-deceived and often self-justified in creating these gods in his own image, he was not self-satisfied. There still remained a nagging awareness that there was something more than the dumb idols that he had created in his own image. There also remained this terrible sense of alienation that his tribal gods could not deal with. So there were a few men who began to seek the true God apart from religion.

Salvation Without Religion

The greatest example of this in Biblical history was the man named Abraham. Abraham did not seem to be an overly religious man, at least according to our standards. Yet he left his father’s home and his tribal gods to seek a new land and the true God. We are told he found God, or should we say, God found him outside of any organized religion. Not only did God find him outside of religion, but God also saved him outside and without any religion. We might say God saved him in the place where God put him, but that place was not organized religion. Though God has often used religious men to proclaim His will, when it comes to a paradigm, or model of faith and salvation, God used a non-religious Abraham. This is not to say that Abraham never practiced religion. For after God chose Abraham, we find him proclaiming his faith by making an altar to God. However, this simple proclamation of faith is a far cry from the cultic worship of organized religion.

From the story of Abraham, we come to understand that it was God’s intent from the beginning to save all men apart from religion, through a personal relationship with Him through faith. His goal was to have such an intimate relationship with His people that they would be called the friends of God. This was to be even as their father Abraham was called the friend of God (James 2:23). His method of achieving this was to create a new being or a new humanity that would relate to Him not through the mediation of religion, but directly, friend to friend. This was fulfilled when we see Jesus (God among us) calling His disciples friends (John 15:15).

God’s intent to create a new humanity or new being did not start with the coming of Christ. No, it actually began in eternity and took its first form with Adam. It was revealed in a fuller degree in the man Abraham and later revealed completely in His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12 ff).
Thus in the story of the exodus we see God bringing the family of Abraham, which by that time had become a nation, out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. Here they were to enter into a faith relationship with Him, the kind of relationship He had with their father Abraham. However, the people chose not to have a faith relationship with Him. Instead, they chose to have a mediated relationship with Him through the mediation of religion. Therefore, God gave them a religion, with the idea that the religion might mature them, or at least give them enough time to mature to the point where they could have a true faith relationship with Him in Christ (Gal. 3:25-27). He did this not because of anything He saw in them as a people, but because of the promises He had made with their father Abraham (Deut. 7:7-9). He also promised them that He would send someone in the future who would lead them into this faith relationship He had with their father Abraham (Deut. 18:17). We see this promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Christ.

There is Biblical evidence to show that God, at the time He was developing a relationship with Abraham, was also in a relationship with other men of faith. For example, there was at the time, Melchizedek, king of Salem, who is referred to as a priest of the Most High God. Later on there was Balaam, the prophet of Pethor, who was outside of the covenant, yet had a relationship with the true God. In this, we might gather that God never had an exclusive people. In fact, the nation of Israel was called to be a servant and a blessing as it mediated God’s presence to all of mankind. So how can anyone interpret his or her calling as condemnation for the rest of the world? From the very beginning, the nation of Israel was a symbol that God not only loved them, but also the world. Today the body of Christ has inherited this role of being the symbol of God’s love for man. Wherever Christians go in the world, they are to proclaim God’s love in word and deed. Thus they become living symbols of God’s love for all of mankind (John. 3:16).

The Making of Religion

Though God had developed a faith relationship with a few men in recorded history, the majority of men continued to manufacture their gods and their religions. We moderns should not be too hard on ancient man. For the only difference between them and us is the number of gods we have created. They had their tribal gods, and we have our personal gods. They created their gods in the likeness of their culture, and we create ours in the likeness of the individual self. It could be a toss-up as to which is more primitive. They used their religions and gods to validate their culture, and we do the same. They used their religions to restrain and to justify their brutality, and we do the same. It seems from all of this, religion is both a blessing and a curse. The apostle Paul came to this conclusion and saw this paradox of religion when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25). God rescues us from the body-religious by judging it in Jesus as weak and unprofitable, nailing it to the cross with His Son, thus putting it to death (Heb. 7:18-19, Col 2:14).

The Paradox of Religion

The paradox of religion is by all human standards, it should work. Religion’s chief tool in binding man back to God is law, and we all know that law is good therefore religion should work. The truth is that law is good when it is used lawfully. It is here that religion fails, for it neglects to see that law is not the way for man to be at one with God, nor can man bind himself back to God through obedience to a law or through the practice of religious ritual (Gal. 3:21-22). Therefore, it is not lawful to use law (religion) as a mediator or a bridge between God and man. The lawful use and purpose of the law would be to view it as a schoolmaster or a tutor who was put over mankind until men had enough self-knowledge and God-knowledge to seek God through faith. When men become of age, they no longer need religion. The Scripture tells us that a man becomes of age when he realizes that he cannot approach God through religion, but must come through simple faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words, religion and its laws are not for the spiritually mature, but rather for those who are still spiritually immature and in need of external rules and regulations to control them. In the book of Colossians, Paul addresses the subject of religion and its rules. “Since you die with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch? These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).

Paul’s list of don’ts sounds a lot like many modern preachers of religion as they wail against the social sins of their congregations. To the spiritually immature, this appears to be God’s will, when in reality it reduces God to a tribal god. This tribal god is used to support one brand of morality and culture. This god is usually the kind that is chosen by and benefits the ruling class and the clergy. Preaching against social sins also show a profound misunderstanding of the nature and degree of the problem of sin.

The True Bridge to God

God intended the law (religion) to be used as a sign to point the way to the true bridge to God (Gal 2:19). It points to Christ who is the true bridge to God. In this, the law pointed to its own end or goal (Rom. 10:4). With this in mind, we might look at John the Baptist as the final embodiment of the law and prophets. He was the forerunner who was to point the way to the perfect revelation of God, which is Christ. In speaking about his mission he said, “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3). In this act of preparing the way for Jesus, John symbolized the law (religion) and its divine purpose of pointing man to Jesus. Unlike many modern Christians, John understood the temporal nature of his ministry and the law (religion). This can be seen in his statement, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, religion must decrease in order for Christ to increase.

In contrast to the law (religion), we might say that the true bridge to God is the way of grace (promise) and that the promise has been embodied in the man we call Jesus. The pinnacle of this promise is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For it is there that we see a preview of what God is going to do for and to all men on the final day. Therefore, in the Christ event we see judgment and promise. We see judgment on death and sin. Sin being death in the form of life is completely negated along with death. Moreover, in the resurrection we see God foreshadowing the fulfillment of all of His promises. In the resurrection of Christ, God is promising a life with Him that is beyond anything we can imagine (Eph. 3:11).

It is here that we see Jesus as the true end and fulfillment of all religion. If you remember, I said the goal of all religion was the oneness of God and man. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that God foreshadows the oneness He will have with His people in the final resurrection of the dead: a relationship that we now have by faith in our new place, which is in Christ, a faith that believes that whatever God did in His Son He will also do in all of His people. What did God do in His Son? He formed a new creature, a new kind of being—a being that never existed before Christ took on flesh. In the mighty acts of the incarnation and resurrection, God became man, and man became God. Thus in Jesus we have a God-man being (for a lack of a better term) who is the prototype of the new creation of God. In this new creation we see God and man coming together in the person of Jesus Christ and forming the new being. In the Christ event, God shares with man a preview of where He is taking humanity. So in Jesus Christ, we see the goal and destiny of the new humanity. Thus we see God’s eternal purpose of becoming one with humanity in and through the new being, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10, 3:11-2). He became like us, that we might become like Him (1 John 3:2, 1 Cor.15:49).

Death, Resurrection, and Atonement

In much of traditional Christian theology, the atonement of Christ is said to have taken place on the cross through His death. However, I believe that this view of the atonement is too narrow. It does not give to the resurrection of Christ the importance it rightly deserves. I believe it is the entire Christ event that makes up the atonement. This would include the incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and in a sense, even His second coming. In a very real sense, Jesus Himself is the atonement. Each of the events in His life makes up a part of the whole story of how God has made man at-one with Himself through His Son. To use only the metaphors of death, sacrifice, and law to understand the atonement is too limited and tends to fragment the gospel. This limitation destroys its unity and causes the neglect of some aspects and undue emphasis on others.

I also propose that the idea of atonement is a prophetic metaphor that prefigures what will happen to all believers in the resurrection. In fact, it already has begun to happen in the new humanity. For Jesus, as the head of this new humanity, now stands in the presence of God as the one new and complete man who represents the entire race of men. The new humanity is being created in Him and in His likeness. In this one perfect and complete God-man, figuratively stands all of the new humanity in an at-one relationship with God. So we see that it was the resurrection that sealed the atonement and becomes a promise and a foreshadowing of the future resurrection and at-oneness with God. In this, Jesus is the first one of the new humanity to enter into the heavens to experience an at-one relationship with the Father. In solidary with Him, we now experience that relationship through faith (Eph. 2:4-6).

Moreover, in Jesus the final resurrection has already begun and because of our faith-union with Him, our resurrection is therefore guaranteed (Rom. 6:1-11). It is on this promise, the apostle Paul bases his argument in his letter to the Corinthians that it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we see the beginning of the general resurrection: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12-13). Paul can argue like this because he saw the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the end-time resurrection. For Paul to deny the general resurrection is to deny the resurrection of Christ Himself. If this is the case, how can a Christian believe in the doctrine of reincarnation? Christians believe in resurrection.

Paul adds further strength to this idea when, in the same chapter, he refers to Christ as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor.15:20). The word firstfruits in this expression is our particular concern. There, with few exceptions, firstfruits have a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the firstfruits offerings of grain, wine, cattle and the like, appointed by Moses. The point of these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but as representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth. They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Firstfruits express the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. It is particularly this aspect that gives these sacrifices their significance.

“These ideas of representation and organic unity, apart from the specifically cultic connotations of the Septuagint usage, find expression in the use of firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20. The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority; rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse, it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events, but as two episodes of the same event. At the same time, however, he clearly maintains a temporal distinction between them. Then (v.23) makes this apparent.” (Resurrection and Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

Resurrection, the Goal of all Religion

In light of the above, we might say that the goal of religion and all of life is resurrection. Not just the resurrection of any man, but of God’s one and only Son. Here, it is important for us to understand that the expression “one and only Son” and “only begotten Son” are used in the Scripture mainly to denote uniqueness and authority and not order of origin. Jesus is the unique Son of God because he is one of a kind. He is the prototype of the new creation or new humanity that has been in the plan of God since the beginning of time. In Scripture we see the ongoing history of God’s creative acts as He is creating this new humanity. All of God’s mighty acts were parts of a single and progressive creative act that finds its completion in Christ.

Much of man’s emptiness and his corresponding need for religion comes from his vague consciousness of being incomplete, and much of his sense of alienation is a longing to be made whole or complete. This alienation is heightened when men try to bring themselves to completion without God. No man will find completion in anything outside of God’s plan. God’s plan for completing man is man’s bodily resurrection in the likeness of Jesus. You might say that much of human anxiety comes from the fact that mankind is only partially created as he progressively moves to his completion in the resurrection (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore, believers should look suspiciously on any teaching or movement that promises completeness or liberation before the Parousia (second coming). We miss the mark when we try to find fulfillment or completeness in anything in this life; this includes religion, even the Christian religion. In fact, religion is one of the easiest ways to miss the mark, for it gives its practitioners a false sense of completeness. No one will find completeness and wholeness until God is finished with him. He is not finished with believers until their bodies are resurrected in the likeness of God’s Son (Rom. 8:22-30).

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see in capsulated form the entire history of God’s creative acts and eternal purpose. All of God’s dealing with mankind is summed up in Jesus. We might say that Jesus was God’s epitome of His creative history. Therefore, we find Jesus being referred to as the new Adam, the new Israel, the new creation, the new exodus, new Torah, etc. All of these things point to the final and complete creative act of God, which is Jesus Christ raised from the dead. This helps us to understand why such emphasis is placed on the death and resurrection of Christ. These two events are viewed in Scripture as two parts of one event and mark the coming together and completion of God’s plan for a new humanity that has been truly created in His image.The death and resurrection marked the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in creating the new being (Eph. 3:11).

The mystery of the new being is that His body is made of many members (Eph. 3:6). Hence, we see in the death of Christ, the death of the old humanity, and in His resurrection, the creation of the new humanity. In fact, the whole thrust of Romans chapter six is that if you are really a part of this new humanity, your life will reflect it. In this chapter, Paul points to Christian baptism as a sign, promise, and a seal on God’s part that one has been united with Christ and will share in His resurrection. On man’s part it is a sign, promise, and seal that
one has entered into solidarity with Jesus and His people. Our baptism into Christ is a proclamation that we have entered the history of the one representative man, sharing not only in His history and suffering (cross), but also His future (Gal. 3:26-27). In the Christ event, the history of God and the story of man merge into one story and one history, forming one new creation, a new creation where there is no need for religion (mediator) for God is present in the person of His Son (Rev. 21:1-4, 22-27).

We have seen that the goal of all religion is the oneness of God and man. We have also seen that only Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that goal, for it is in Him that man is bound back to God in an eternal oneness. If this is the case, the Christ event marked the death or end of all religion (Rom. 10:4). As it did two thousand years ago, the death and resurrection of Christ still demands a radical way of looking at all things anew. In fact, it brings into question many aspects of the very religion that now wears the name of the crucified one. At the very least, it demands that we reflect anew on the meaning of the Christ event. For a generation, which is so close to the coming of its Lord, does not the resurrection of Christ demand that we see Him at the door at all times? Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 9 Distancing through Philosophy

Chapter 9

Distancing Through Philosophy

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8).

In our study, we have been noting concepts that have distanced God from the ordinary man and his everyday experiences. I have done this by showing these concepts as symbols of mediation that hinder a personal relationship, or what we have called an Abba (personal) relationship, with God. It is my contention that much of what is called the Christian religion in the West, falls into this category of distancing symbols. In other words, they are symbols that tend to remove God from the everyday experiences of the common man. In our study we have noted some of the chief or master symbols of religion that have distanced God. So far in this study, we have looked at the symbols of law, holy men, institutions, ritual, and icons. In this chapter, we are going to look at a symbol that is closely linked with the symbol of law and institution, that is, the symbol of philosophy or human wisdom.

I will begin by giving a definition of how I will be using the term philosophy. In our study we will use the term to apply to a discipline that seems to have as its goal, a systematic explanation of the world and in some cases, even God, which is based on human observation and human logic. In ancient times, this discipline was more theistic than in modern times and was one of the important factors that influenced the worldviews of both Christians and pagans. In fact, it is commonly accepted today that much of Western Christianity can trace at least one of its many roots to the philosophy of Aristotle.

The early church engaged in Greek and Roman philosophy when it began to take the gospel of Christ into the world of the Gentiles. The early church engaged these disciplines with great caution, a caution that was later thrown to the wind as the church became more worldly and institutionalized. However, the question is, how did the church get sidetracked into a quest for human wisdom, a quest that would move it away from its center, Jesus Christ and the everyday experiences of the common people? There is no simple answer I can give as to why the church got entangled in the wisdom of this world, other than to point out it lost connection with its Head, Jesus Christ. Of course, if you lose your head it can be a very serious problem. But we still come back to the question as to what caused it to move away from Christ.

There is no doubt that one of the greatest factors in this movement away from a simple faith toward worldly philosophy came out of the polemics that early Christians had with pagan intellectuals. The first century church proclaimed Christ in a style that we might call affirmation, affirming that Jesus was the Christ and then proving it from the Scripture and the personal testimony of those who had witnessed the resurrection. However, as time went on the church found itself in polemics with some of the great thinkers of the world and felt that it must engage these men on their own ground. In order to do this, the church would have to synthesize the world of the philosopher with the world of Christ. This all began with a noble effort to wrap the gospel in a language that could be understood by everyone, even the educated. In fact, we see this very thing in many of the New Testament writings. Most writers of the New Testament tried to use language that their readers were familiar with and could easily be understood by everyone. However, there is one great difference between New Testament writers and those of later generations and that is the former knowingly subverted the words and concepts of the world making them point to Christ, while the latter subverted the teachings of Christ with worldly wisdom in order to remake the gospel. Their motives for this were many, but one of the foremost was their desire to attract the intellectuals of the age and make it easier for the carnalminded masses to accept the gospel. Of course, this remade gospel often reflected the spirit of the age more than Christ.

Religion of the Educated

When it was seen that philosophy could be integrated with this new faith (though it completely subverted it) the faith became attractive to many of the highly educated. We need then only to note that the highly educated have, by their very nature, a will to power and would rise to leadership in the church. We then gradually see Christianity become the religion of the educated and the scholar. In a matter of a few centuries, a movement that was started by a carpenter and a group of fishermen filled with the Spirit, had become an institution controlled by the highly educated and the elite of society. When this happens, it becomes very hard for the poor and uneducated to maintain their place. So we can see that Christianity became a religion of the head instead of a religion of the heart. In this, the common people were once again distanced from God, as the knowers and their body of knowledge were placed between God and the common people. As the body of knowledge grew, it continued to distance the uneducated, poor, and the common man from God while at the same time it continued to give more and more authority and status to the highly educated clergy and their institutions. This gave them the leisure to study and write. Without their awareness, the church, in fighting the philosophies of the world was itself becoming the very thing it was fighting.

The Lust of the Knowers

There is little denying that another factor in this subversion was the lust that intellectuals have for recognition by their peers. It seems that Christian intellectuals have always had the propensity to feel they must justify their beliefs to the worldly knowers. In order to do this, they seem to believe they must take the latest secular theories and synthesize them with the faith, not realizing or maybe not caring, that most of these theories have paganism as their root. This lust for intellectual respectability, coupled with man’s tendency to build systems of beliefs, all add up to radical subversion of the gospel and the distancing of the common man from the true Christian gospel.
141How Forms of Mediation Have Subverted the Christian Faith

Roy A. Clouser has written an excellent book pointing out how irreconcilable most human theories are to a Christian worldview. His book is entitled The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, (University of Notre Dame Press). In his book, Clouser shows how all theories have as their foundation, a religious belief making many of them totally irreconcilable to a Christian worldview. This book is long overdue, and I highly recommend it.

Love Affair with Human Reason

In the exaltation of the knowers in the Christian community, I also see the beginning of the church’s love affair with human wisdom and reason. The immediate effect of this love affair was that the church began to interpret knowing God as a cognitive function instead of a relationship that was based on man hearing and obeying the Word of God. Instead of hearing and obeying, the church began to think that its major purpose was to analyze God and Scripture under the microscope of human reason. Of course, this in essence sets human reason up as the judge of God’s Word instead of God’s Word judging human reason. The devastating effects of this love affair with human reason would not be totally realized for over a thousand years, until the time of the Enlightenment, when human reason would be deified and revelation totally rejected. This was because it could not be squeezed into a naturalistic paradigm of the Age of the Enlightenment.

This love affair with human reason also contributed to the greatest hindrance of true faith. That is the belief that correct knowledge or theology is true faith and everyone who does not have the right theology or knowledge is lost. It is evident from the Gospels that this was not the view of faith held by Jesus. To Jesus, true faith trusted Him and His relationship to the Father. This is seen in Jesus ascribing true faith, sometimes great faith, to a Samaritan, a syrophoenician woman, and a Gentile centurion. None of these people had the right knowledge of God or what we might call today an orthodox theology, but who would argue that they were not saved by faith? When faith is reduced to knowing the right ideas or doctrines then it is subverted. Through this subversion, faith is reduced to a work of man, which can be produced by one man teaching another. However, Jesus pointed out to one religious leader that the true faith is a work of God and comes from above (John 3:1-5). Human effort can produce church members and members of a sect, but it will never produce true Christians, a lesson that our church growth friends have yet to learn.

Devastating Effects of Success

Needless to say, all this could not have happened in isolation from other factors that were happening at the same time in the church and in the cultures it was entering. Its very success was one, if not the chief factor, that opened its doors to worldly philosophy. As Christianity grew in popularity, its social status grew as well. It soon found more and more educated and upper class people entering its ranks. These educated and social elite who had entered the church found it very difficult to reconcile their interests, ambitions, and life styles with the simple faith proclaimed by Jesus. Most of these people were accustomed to the showiness of pagan religion and culture that found Christianity somewhat plain and drab for their taste. How could the pretentiousness of pagan religion and society be synthesized with the Jesus of the Gospels? Of course, the answer was to turn to the philosophers, who by this time had become the theologians of their time. It became the job of the theologians to put together two things that were the direct opposite of one another and totally inimical to one another, which is the radical teaching of Jesus Christ and the life style and beliefs of the pagan masses. This endeavor would take a highly educated type eager to please the status quo and the institutions that provided them the leisure to study and write—institutions that were controlled by the rich and highly educated.

It is only recently that theologians have been willing to point out the inconsistency between human cultures, the church, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. The reason for this newfound bravery is not a renewed desire for the truth, but rather most of these men now work for a university that is no longer controlled by the churches. Thus, there is no longer fear of the loss of one’s position. However, the lower clergy still vehemently maintain the status quo of their sects, culture, and their institutions against the plain and radical teachings of Jesus.

In order to maintain this synthesis between the world and the teachings of Christ, the church would have to also create institutions that could socialize the lower clergy whose main function is and was the socialization of the unconverted masses who had entered the church. In this, the church be
came a major player in the general socialization of Western culture, a role the Lord never intended it to take on, but one that it has laboriously tried to maintain. In this role the church was reduced to the handmaiden of Western culture. As long as it maintains this role it will continue to compromise the radical teachings of Jesus in order to stay in the favor of Western culture. It must do this out of necessity, for the masses that comprise this group are not willing, nor do they have the power, to conform to the teachings of Jesus. In this hybrid form, the church will continue to compromise until it recognizes that it cannot institutionalize Jesus, nor can it teach the ethics of Christ to those who do not have the Spirit of Christ. Unfortunately, the church is in such a deplorable spiritual state that it can no longer discern who has the Spirit and who does not.

A New Reformation

In order for the church to experience a new reformation, it must be willing to forsake the model of the philosopher (the knower) and again assume the model of the hearer and receiver as it relearn how to listen to the voice of God. It must humble itself and recognize that the Spirit and knowledge of Christ is not imparted like worldly knowledge. The true knowledge of Christ can only come through the work of the Spirit and is a supernatural working of God that cannot be reproduced by man, nor analyzed by man, much less reproduced by some formula, even a Biblical one. You see, God refuses to be systemized and one will never invoke God’s favor by submitting to a system or a formula of salvation. God is not in a formula. He is in Jesus Christ and can only be found by those who earnestly seek Him through a true faith that is expressed through love and obedience to Christ. This faith is a simple faith and is available to all who call on God out of a pure heart.

All of this is not to say that God does not use educated men to proclaim and do His will. Through the centuries God has always used both educated and uneducated to proclaim and fulfill His eternal purpose. However, the danger of human wisdom or knowledge is expressed numerous times in the Scripture. The apostle Paul gives us this warning, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). We need to take note of the fact that in this text the apostle does not condemn all philosophy, but rather is warning his readers of a philosophy or religion that does not have Christ as its center and foundation. Philosophy in itself is not wrong, but when people start with an ideology that is founded on something other than Christ, it can only lead to the moving of Christians away from their first love. Christians must be cautious whenever they touch the world, but especially careful when they touch the secular, religious ideologies and philosophies of the world, because these things have demonic powers to move the unstable and immature away from Christ. However, this gives rise to a real problem, which is, that the knowers among us never view themselves as unstable and immature, for to know, in their thinking, is equal to maturity and spirituality.

Faith and Knowledge

The basic difference between the Christian system and that of worldly philosophies is the former is based on faith while the latter on logic and knowledge that has been gathered through observation and human learning. Thus, philosophy has at its foundation, observation and human deductions about the observations. This is equally true in much of Western theology where deductions are drawn from the observations of others, which are often generations removed from the first witnesses. In contrast, faith is based on revelation or illumination. No one will ever find the true God purely by human observation or learning, for God is a God who hides Himself from the eyes of men who do not have the Spirit to seek Him through simple faith. If you recall, it was the knowers who did not know Jesus. I could go so far as to ask the question, does a belief that is founded on observation and human logic really constitute a Biblical faith? Can human knowledge of any kind ever add anything to true faith or is theology simply faith trying to understand itself? Did a faith founded on observing the miracles of Jesus survive the test of true faith? We can gather faith that is based on evidence or human deductions alone is not faith, but rather knowledge, and knowledge that is based on empirical evidence is not faith, but is rather a certain kind of knowledge. It is a soulless knowledge that has very little to do with what we would call true faith. This may help us to understand why Christians are called believers instead of knowers. Of course, the knowers among us hate to hear this kind of talk because this puts them on the same level as us common folks who must depend on simple faith and the working of God.

Two Kinds of Faith

We need to look at the word “faith” anew. For many, the word seems to carry a vagueness and uncertainty about the thing that is in view. However, when the word is used in the Bible for the faith of a Christian, there seems to be a certainty involved (Heb. 11:1). I propose that faith for the Christian is an imputed faith which carries with it all the certainty of any other form of knowledge. In other words, faith is just another way of knowing. But it is surely a different way of knowing.

In the Scriptures we can find the word faith used in a number of ways. It is used to describe the weak and often uncertain human emotion which is very similar to a wish that contains a certain amount of doubt and lack of trust. It is also used to denote a purely intellectual recognition. Both of these kinds of faith seem to be based on human observation and empirical evidence and are spoken of as something less than saving faith (John 12:42, James 2:19). This kind of faith might be compared with a theory in the natural sciences. It is based on evidence, but is not yet proven beyond a doubt. Therefore, it cannot be viewed as absolute knowledge. However, when the evidence gets strong enough, the theory then is spoken about as fact even if it has not been absolutely proven. Why should we expect anything different in the area of faith? If faith is just another way of knowing, should we not expect it to reach a point of absolute knowledge? However, this is not a Biblical faith. For this faith is still the work of man and lives with the fear that new evidence might overthrow it. Therefore, it is constantly trying to prove itself and defend itself from new knowledge or theories.

We could go so far as to say, a faith that is based on facts, evidence, and human deductions about the facts, can never be certain. Therefore, it cannot be called knowing. Yet the Bible says Christians can know through the Holy Spirit (1Tim. 2:20-27). It cannot be denied that God uses facts, evidence, and human reason to communicate to humans. However, the certainty of this knowledge only can come through the Holy Spirit. We hasten to point out that this knowledge that comes from the Spirit is limited to confirming and knowing that Jesus is the Christ (John. 14:21). It does not guarantee infallibility on every religious subject under the heavens. What it does guarantee us is that Christ will be formed in the hearts of the true believers and they will be transformed into His likeness by the power of the Spirit. It also confirms our inheritance as God’s children (Rom. 8:16).

It is obvious from just a casual reading of the New Testament that there are two kinds of faith exemplified in the disciples’ experience of faith. We see them placing their faith in Christ early in His ministry. This faith was based on the mighty acts that they saw Him perform (John 2:11). However, it was not a faith that was void of doubt and uncertainty. This kind of faith we might call a worldly faith, for it is the kind of faith of the carnal Christian or earthly man. But who would contend this was the same kind of faith that these men had after they received the divine life of Christ to live in them? After the giving of the Spirit to these men, they never seemed to have any doubt or uncertainty in their faith. Some may respond by saying it was the resurrection that gave them this assurance. Yes, but only in the sense it was the event that enabled the Lord Jesus to give the Spirit. Absolute faith does not come from empirical evidence. If it did, the disciples would have had it before the resurrection. No group of people in the history of the earth had as much empirical evidence as the disciples. Yet they doubted. What changed their faith? Was it more empirical evidence in the form of resurrection? No, it was the divine life, which carried with it the faith of Christ that changed them and gave them an absolute faith that was not really theirs, but the faith of their Lord (Gal. 2:20 KJV). This kind of faith we could call the faith of the heavenly man, for it is the faith of Christ and is supernatural because it comes from above (John 3:1-5).

All true Christians who have the Spirit of God in them, have at some time, experienced this absolute faith to some degree. However, for many it is a fleeting experience, for their flesh soon drives it out. This happens when they decide to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. When a man is living in the Spirit, he is living in and by the divine life God has put in him, and by the faith of Christ, which is a part of that divine life of the Father. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV). When a man is living by the faith of Christ in him, then he will have a certainty of faith and the assurance of salvation (1 John. 5:13).

One great thinker of the Christian faith found the secret of true faith one night when he was alone with God. He wrote of his experience with God on a small piece of paper and carried it in his coat pocket. A friend found it after his death. The note read: “In The year of Grace, 1654, on Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr, and of others in the Martyrology, Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus, martyr and others, from about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve in the evening FIRE, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and scholars. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” This was written and experienced by the father of modern physics, Blaise Pascal. You can see he found the secret of true faith.

Faith and Love, the Handmaidens of Knowledge

When the church reduced faith and love to the handmaidens of knowledge, it began to believe that faith could be captured and put into systems that are at the command of the knowers. Then it is assumed that if you can find the right system, you can make sons of God or restore the church by simply imparting the right knowledge or system. When this happens, the faith becomes subject to man, his reasoning, and his methods instead of man being in subjection to faith. Time and time again, I have watched preachers run carnal men (sometime small children) through what I call the Christian machine (their systems) thinking that they were producing Christians, only to find a different kind of carnal man coming out on the other end of their machine. Thus we have only a carnal man who then has all the self-righteous and moral biases of a religious man added to his other carnal ones. They go in as carnal men who believe that they are lost sinners and come out carnal men who believe they are righteous and saved and, of course, proud members of a sect. In this experience they receive their first vaccination against Christ and true faith. When this happens the masses are Christianized, and Christianity is paganized. In essence, we have just drawn a picture of the church growth movement with all of its methods, programs, and systems. When knowledge is exalted, we also begin to see a subtle shift from sin being the problem of mankind to ignorance being the problem. This amounts to a tremendous shift in emphasis, for the sickness will determine the cure. If the problem is ignorance, then men have some control over the problem. However, if the problem is personal sin and spiritual powers outside of man, then mankind has no control over the problem and must face his finitude, which is the very thing that the knower refuses to do. On the other hand, if sin is the problem, it would seem that the cure would be an emphasis on prayer and confession of one’s finitude, which are symbols of man’s dependence on God.

Philosophy and Division

Another problem that the church has experienced from a philosophical mindset is that it wants to analyze and divide things which should not be analyzed or divided. In short, it seeks to understand things by breaking a thing down to its basic elements and then attempting to analyze the pieces, believing that when it understands the pieces, it will have a better explanation of the whole. Though this method may be fine for science and philosophy as human disciplines, when it is applied to the things of God; it opens the door for a legion of demons to enter the faith. One of these demons is that men seem to easily lose sight of the whole and in turn become preoccupied with the pieces.
When this happens, people begin to lose sight that the whole is Jesus Christ and they drift in all directions, often focusing more on spiritual subjects than on Christ. Then the intellectual war begins as each person and group tries to bind their fragmented human deductions on each other as though they were God’s Word.

I use the word fragmented because all human knowledge is fragmented. It is very unlikely that any human being, or even a group of humans, could ever hope to gather all the information on any given topic, and even if they could, what would guarantee that their logic would be inerrant in interpreting the information? Here, some fall back on the promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would teach His disciples all truth. However, when these promises are viewed in their contexts, it becomes obvious Jesus is not promising His disciples that they would know the truth on every possible subject under the religious sun. This would reduce the Holy Spirit to a crystal ball. I believe these passages teach that the Spirit would teach them and show them that Jesus is the Christ and the implication of that knowledge for the believer’s life. If this be the case, the work of the Spirit would be to get our attention off all the subjects of religion and back on the center of our faith, which is Jesus the Christ. This includes getting our attention off the Spirit onto Christ. The work of the Spirit is like the work of John the Baptist, to point men to Christ. Making the Spirit larger or emphasizing any other subject, does not bring glory to Christ or the Spirit, but can only lead into the radical errors of dogmatism, mysticism, and Gnosticism.

Faith as Philosophy

Still another problem that arises from turning the faith over to a philosophical mindset is that men begin to look at it and treat it as a philosophy—in other words, something to think about and talk about rather than something to be obeyed. It is here that the clergy and orthodoxy are the guiltiest. They seem to spend much of their time engaged in eternal twaddle. They study, study, study and nothing ever seems to change. They are mere talkers, philosophers always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth by obedience to it (2 Tim. 3:7, Titus 1:10). The philosophical mentality always leads to a people who sit around and analyze the Scripture, not for the purpose of obeying it, but rather to satisfy the craving of the mind for the knowledge of good and evil, an endeavor that might be highly questionable for Christians. My friends, we need to understand that knowing the Bible does not mean that one has God’s approval. All it means is that one will be judged more harshly. The man who is approved and known of God is the man who obeys and loves God and his fellowman (1 Cor. 8:1-3). We have seen that philosophy has subverted the faith by making a synthesis between paganism and Christianity. However, we must go beyond subversion to our further theme of the distancing of God from the common people and their everyday experience through forms of mediation. How can philosophy distance God from the common people? I believe it is obvious that the common man and woman do not think of themselves as philosophers or as having the ability or even the desire to engage in the discipline of philosophy. It is the common belief among average people that philosophy is a discipline for intellectuals and not the common folk. Therefore, when Christianity is imaged as a philosophy, the average person is immediately distanced from it.

Increasingly, at the encouragement of the knowers among them, the church of the common folk has given over its divine right and responsibility of teaching Christ to the knowers and the institutions of higher learning created by them. This has left the impression that if one really want to know Christ and be a leader in the church, one must go to a Christian college, Bible school, or seminar, which by the way, are all symbols of the knower. This in turn leaves the impression that those who attend an institution are somehow more qualified than those who do not. Does this not leave the impression it is the knowledge given by the institution that prepares one for the ministry or Christian service? What about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit? Where do they come into all this so-called educating? I grant you that all this strengthens the grip of the main institutions (churches) and also the sub-institutions (schools), but how does it make Christ larger? In fact, some churches have found that the tail is now wagging the dog instead of the dog wagging the tail. By this I mean, some churches are finding that they no longer control their schools, but rather the schools now control them. In this, we again see the tremendous control that the knowers have over the Christian movement.

In light of this, it may be time to ask some hard questions about the wisdom of building all these institutions in the name of Christ. Where do these institutions get the right to preach and proclaim Christ? Where is the proof that these institutions have really promoted the cause of Christ? In view of the horrible state of the churches and Western culture, I personally find it somewhat hard to see any overwhelming evidence where the Christian schools, that are so profuse in our land, have done much to save the churches or our culture. Could it be that all of these institutions are just another broken reed that man has put his trust in? Could it be that the institutions we are building, in themselves, are becoming symbols that distance the common people from God? Is not the building of institutions just another form of secularism that reflects the spirit of this and past ages? When did Christ give an institution the divine right to teach the word of God? When the church turns teaching the gospel over to a profane organization, does it not profane the Word of God by putting it in the same category as science and math? Is it not often the very students, who have not the Spirit, in turn use their carnal knowledge of the Bible to attack and belittle the Scriptures and the whole Christian movement? How can you force someone to study the Bible for a degree and not profane the living Word of God in the process?

Let me close this chapter by pointing out that our goal as Christians is not to know, but rather love God and to be known by God. “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:13). Amen.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 8 Distancing Through Icons

Chapter 8
Distancing Through Icons
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation”   (Col 1:15)

In the incarnation of the Word (Jesus), we see the divine entering into the level of the ordinary. He entered the world and took His place among the poor (ordinary) people and entered into their experience completely. In this, we see the scandal of His cross-prefigured in the incarnation. However, the incarnation is unthinkable for the religionist, for His God would never lower Himself to the level of the ordinary or even the physical. Therefore, God must be removed and put in His rightful place, which is the sacred. He must be shrouded in the pretentiousness of the world in all of its glory. He must be taken out of the ordinary and everyday, away from the ordinary people and placed in the hands of the great orators, philosophers, and the artists who can give Him the honor He is due. He must be turned over to those who can express Him adequately in image, word, and thought. In this, He is imaged through sacred art, theology, or philosophy. Moreover, a new language must be created to explain and converse about this noble god of the sacred. The ordinary language of the common people is no longer adequate. God must be spoken about with the language of the philosopher or theologian. So we have the creation of what I call “God talk.” In all of this, the simplicity of the gospel is lost and the common people are distanced from God. Through icons, philosophy, and God talk, the ordinary person is thrice distanced from God. For God is taken out of their world and put in the world of the sacred, a world that can only be explained and imaged by the highly educated or skilled professionals who have a knowledge of the holy language.

Distancing and Subversion Through Icons

To begin with, we need to raise the question as to what an icon or image is. Is it an idol? But what is an idol? Is it simply a false god of wood and stone who was worshiped by ancient people? In a purely physical sense, an idol is a physical image intended to reflect or symbolize God or some characteristic of the divine. However, we must go beyond the physical to have a clear understanding of icons and idols. We must go to the root of the problem, which is the human heart. The apostle Paul hints at this when he says that all greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Idolatry is a problem of the heart that manifests itself in the making of icons and idols. But this still does not tell us what an icon or idol is. I suggest an idol or icon is a symbol of an ideology, a way of thinking that is contrary to the mind of God. In this, we are saying a physical icon or idol is only a reflection of the true false god that a group or individual has built-in their minds and hearts.

Let me give a few examples of the icons or symbols of an idolatrous mind. In the ideology of communistic materialism, the physical idol or icon is the state or government, which is raised up and given the status of God. One Marxist refers to the state as “God walking on the earth.” In many religious ideologies, the holy man or institution is the physical icon of the body religious. In paganism, which has as its highest value pleasure, the human sex organs become the symbol of their idolatry. All these ideologies and their symbols are a reflection of a mind that hates the true God, a mind which is contrary and hostile to God, a mind that cannot please God. It is only in Jesus Christ that we can see the true and pure mind of God. Therefore, any icon other than Jesus Christ is a symbol of man’s hostility and ignorance of the true God.

Why Idols?

Iconicism is the way certain men reduce the true God to a manageable size. They do this because they cannot tolerate standing before the immensity of the true God, which leaves them with a sense of helplessness. Therefore, they reduce God to an idol. The God of heaven must be brought down to earth by imaging Him with something in the creation, or by putting Him into a system of thought that reduces Him to the opinion of a man or a group of men. In essence, the building of systems is very much like the making of idols; both make God small and mankind larger in their own eyes. When God gave the commandment that His people were not to make images or to worship them, He also revealed Himself as a jealous God. We gather from this, God is jealous in protecting His true image; very similar to how a man is jealous to protect his own name, which is a symbol of the man. When men make icons or systems, they can only tarnish God’s real image, for no icon or system can adequately image the true God. When men deface God’s image by making icons and systems, God’s wrath is upon them and their idols. His turning them over to their idols and ideologies; this turning over to their false god is a manifestation of the wrath of God upon them. In essence, they become the plaything of their own imagination or the image they have created. They seek life in their image or system, but find only death because there is no life in idols or systems, but only death (Gal. 3:21). Life is only to be found in the true image of God, who is Jesus the Christ. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (John. 5:11-12).

Today’s moderns like to think idols were a problem of the ancient and that modern man has outgrown the problems of idols and idolatry. However, this belief comes more from modern man’s pride than from any evidence. In fact, the evidence seems to be growing that ancient man was not as primitive in his thinking as today’s moderns would like to think. In many areas, ancient man’s thinking was superior to ours. For the most part, ancient man did not believe that the icon or image was actually a god, but rather he believed it to be a likeness or symbol of his god, which is not unlike many modern men who claim icons help them focus on the spiritual things behind the icon.

When the Israelites made a golden calf and worshiped it, they understood the image itself was not the God who brought them out of Egypt. They realized it was just an image or an icon of the God of heaven. In making the icon, they were simply attributing to the God of heaven the characteristics of the icon, which was in this case a young bull that symbolized power and strength. From a human point of view, one might think God would be pleased with this honor. However, from the response of Moses, it was obvious God was not pleased with this honoring of His power or strength through a visual image. The reason is that God and His characteristics cannot be symbolized with anything in His creation other than His Son Jesus the Christ. Even here we must hasten to point out that we are not talking about the physical form of Jesus the man, but rather His spiritual and moral character as reflected in His life and resurrection.

The Early Christians’ View of Icons

It is known today; like its Jewish roots, primitive Christianity was inimical to all icons, and for that matter, all religion. Bernard J. Cooke, a Catholic theologian, in his book The Distancing of God gives two reasons for this hostility. He explains, “Earliest Christianity had been wary of religious images, influenced no doubt by the Mosaic proscription of graven images. In addition, the overall tendency to accept the basic experience of daily life as the sign of God’s presence in their midst meant that there was no need to seek iconic symbols for the divine presence. Paul stressed that Christians themselves were the sign of the Spirit’s activity in history-and undoubtedly early centuries listened to him” (page 97).

In other words, it was their Jewish roots, as planted in the Ten Commandments, which created their hostility toward icons of all kinds. They simply took the Scripture at face value when they said; “You shall not make for yourself an idol [image] in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). The reason for this restriction is that man can never image God with anything physical, and there is nothing tangible that can adequately image any aspect of God’s character. When imaging God, the sensible can only be misleading and will always make God small. In view of this, humans should not even attempt to image the true God in their minds for God cannot be imaged by the human mind. Any image of God we have in our mind, at best, can only be an idol or image of a false god we have created with fragments of reality we have pieced together with our human imagination.

Effects of Icons

The subconscious power of symbols and images are just beginning to be understood by psychologists, and the findings are alarming. Modern man is just beginning to realize the power of symbols to shape his beliefs and behavior at a subconscious level without him even being aware of it. This alone should reawaken our concern about the uses of icons in Christian worship and teaching. We should be very much aware of the danger of the visual for it was the visual that deceived Eve.

I believe we can see the link between the visual and the ethical behavior of many Christians by observing the contrast in their behavior when they are with other Christians or in a sacred place in the secular world. It becomes obvious that many are different people depending on the location and the people they are with. Could there be a link here between their ethical behavior and the visual? What image of God do these people have in their minds? Does their God resemble the God of heaven who is a living, seeing, and omnipresent God, or is their god like a dumb idol locked away in a sacred place that neither sees nor hears? Where did this image of God come from? Does this image operate on the conscious or subconscious level? I suggest it works at the subconscious level and it comes from the visual stimulus that religion uses to deceive men into believing God is present in their sacred places, which on the subconscious level leaves the impression He is not present in the everyday world of the common man. This belief then leads to the idea that what is done in the secular is not seen or heard by the God who is locked up in the sacred. All of this reduces the living God to nothing more than a lifeless idol. So, here we charge religion with reducing the true God to the status of a dumb idol. We include in this indictment the Christian religion.

The Lord Himself pointed out the connection between the visual and the ethical life when He said; “The eye is the lamp of the body, if your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). In another place He said; “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41). From the words of Jesus, I suggest that everything we see has a subconscious impact on our very being, and that the visual forms shape our moral and ethical lives. Thus, it is the visual that warps and distorts one’s inner life. Here we can see the danger of pornography of all kinds including icons, which are nothing more than religious pornography and propaganda. I base this radical statement on the fact that the visible can only give a distorted image of the true God.

The Incarnation and Icons

Even a greater deterrent to icons than the ones listed above was the early Christians belief in the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus and His Spirit-filled people. Only God can image God and He did this when He created man in His image as a living soul (Gen. 1:26). Though we see this image being tarnished in the fall, we also see Him completing and perfecting it in Jesus the Christ, who is said in a number of places, to be the image of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3, 2 Cor. 4:4). In this current age, God is now transforming every Christian into the image of His resurrected Son. Though that image at the present time is hidden in Christians, those who have the Spirit can still see it with an eye of faith. The work of transforming Christians into the image of Christ, who is the image of God, will be completed in the final resurrection when we all share totally in the image of Christ. We must concur with early Christians in the belief that if God is present in the person of His Son and His Spirit-filled people, there is absolutely no need for icons or images of any kind in the Christian faith. The living symbols of Christ and His people are the only symbols that can image the living God, for they are the only images created by God and they are the only living symbols God has given to man. They, and they alone, have the life of God in them. Any other icons must be viewed as a departure from the faith and a form of distancing of God from the common people and their everyday experiences. Idols and icons are in a sacred place: the living Christ. His body (Christians) is in the entire world and those who are a part of it are alive with the living God inside of them. Therefore, Christ is being reflected by them through the power of the Spirit that lives in them (2 Cor. 3:18).

God’s True Icons

When we use the words idol or icon, we usually use them in a negative way, as when we refer to a pagan or false God. However, the words idol and icon basically mean an image that represents something we reverence or worship. With this in mind, we can refer to the Christ of God as God’s icon or idol. The writer of the book of Hebrews borders on this when he says of Christ; “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). Of course, the writer is not talking about seeing the Christ with a fleshly eye, but rather he is talking about seeing the Christ with the spiritual eyes of one’s heart. When one sees Christ this way, he also sees the Father’s mind and heart, for the Father’s mind and heart is filled with Christ and Christ’s heart and mind is filled with the Father. Therefore, to see the Son is to see the Father and to know the Son is to know the heart and mind- of the Father.

The apostle Paul tells us that Christians are now reflecting the image of Christ to the world and angels (2 Cor. 3:18). In fact, he says we are being transformed into the likeness of His Son. In a sense, we could say that Christians, like their Lord, are God’s living icons and are filling the world with the image of God. In fact, they are filling the whole universe with the image and presence of their Lord. When people look at Christians, they are to see a reflection of the Christ, who is the image of the living God. I propose that if God has living icons in the person of His Son and His Spirit-filled people, why in the world does He need dead lifeless icons and images that neither see nor speak?

How then did icons get into the Christian movement and why were they introduced? The answer is, they could not get in until the movement had been subverted and its main or master symbols had been changed. As we have seen in previous chapters, this subversion did not happen overnight, but gradually took place over a number of centuries as the symbols of law, holy men, institution, and rituals were added. However, I believe the addition of these symbols alone could not explain the radical departure and subversion that took place when icons were added to the Christian faith. I believe one can trace the beginning of this subversion to a church that had already been distanced from its radical root and had developed a lust for respectability. In order to win this respectability, it would have to compromise with the pagan masses, their religions, and with their culture. It found that with some compromising, it could attract the masses and with the multitudes came success and power. This was too much of a temptation for a group that up to that point had experienced nothing but rejection and persecution. So, failing the temptation to a will to power, a temptation that its Lord had rejected, it opened its doors to hordes of unconverted pagans who brought with them numerous superstitions, fetishes, and a lust for images into the church. (Note Cooke, page 98)

When the church, in its institutional form, found itself filled with multitudes of unregenerate pagans who were addicted and accustomed to the visual stimulus of pagan images and pretentiousness, it found itself with the problem of how to keep and teach this group of people who did not have the Spirit of Christ, nor a love for the Word spoken or written. The answer was simple; change the menu, but not the diet. In other words, continue to use the visual, but simply change the icons to reflect the story of Christ and the Christian movement. Though their intention may have been good, the outcome was disastrous. The icons soon degenerated into magic and superstitions, further subverting the faith and distancing the common person from the living God. We might say that the institution, along with its mass numbers of unconverted members, opened its doors to symbols, which before this time, would have been an abomination to the Christian faith. Their act not only opened the doors of the church for icons, but also to all forms of visual stimuli that were so common in pagan religions. In this, the lust of the eye was made respectable in the church and remains that way to some degree in much of what is called the Christian church (1 John. 2:16).

A quick inventory of pagan religion, and for that matter, all organized religion, will show that religionists have the propensity for taking God out of the ordinary and placing Him back in the sacred. In order to do this, a sacred place must be created. Then the sense must be created that the deity is somehow present in the sacred place in a way that it is not in the unholy or ordinary. Using the visual to create a sense of other-worldliness does this. This sense of other-worldliness is created through a host of other world symbols: the burning of incense, mystical ritual, mystical language, emotional music [sacred], lighting (usually the lack of it), the ostentatiousness of the structure itself, and, of course, the images or icons of the deity or other heavenly beings. Western Christians easily see all this in pagan religions, but we are not talking about pagan religions. We are talking about that which calls itself Christian. It is quite obvious from just a casual reading of the New Testament that all of this religion has no place in a movement that was started by a carpenter with the help of a few fishermen, amidst a group of ordinary folks with little money or power, a group that gathered mainly in the homes of its members for over two hundred years.

Iconoclastic Movements

We should not be under the impression that the addition of icons to the faith went unchallenged in the earlier centuries of the church. To the contrary, there were numerous men in the church who spoke out boldly against icons. However, they were too few and not powerful enough to keep the will of the masses of unconverted pagans from ruling the day.

In spite of this, God continued to raise up men throughout the history of the church who have spoken out against the use of images in the Christian movement. There also have been a number of iconoclastic movements that rose up in protest against the use of icons. These restoration or reformation movements, by and large, had little or no influence on the institutionalized church. Their call for the church to forsake the visual was generally completely ignored. This is not surprising seeing that the institutionalized church depends on the visual for its very existence, for without the visual it would soon crumble and turn to dust like all idols. Unfortunately, history bears out that iconoclastic movements can and often do degenerate into idolatry themselves. This happens when an iconoclastic movement loses sight of its purpose and subsequently is overcome by the visual and its own lust for success. Then their preaching against icons, images, and the visual takes on a form of legalism, which itself is a form of idolatry. In legalism, an ideology, or a system, becomes the idol replacing the original icons that were being attacked by the movement.

Most of these movements begin in protest to the institutionalization that has grown up in the mainstream church: in other words, to the form, structure, and institutions of religion. But given enough time and success, they seem to mutate into what they were originally trying to destroy. Those involved in iconoclastic movements should remember what Nietzsche said in Beyond Good and Evil: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

Once a movement has turned into what it was trying to reform, it becomes an impossible situation to correct. For the only course to correct it is institutional suicide. Though this may be possible, it is not likely. Institutions do not die easily. It is very unlikely that the infrastructure of any organization would allow the institution benefiting it to die, much less participate in destroying it. This is why a clerical system is the first warning sign of a subversion of an iconoclastic movement. Clergymen are symbols of institutionalism and are more protectors of the institution than proclaimers of the faith. The infrastructure of religious institutions is usually made up of seminaries, Bible schools, and colleges that train the professional religionists for the institution. These in turn become guardians of the institution; of course to the astute, this represents nothing more than a highly structured form of censorship that would hit right at the pocketbooks of all dissenters.

Here may lay the obsession with the religious professionals being so highly educated or the most educated in a given group. Their education represents or is a symbol of their power over the group. This power is desperately needed by the institution in order to survive. Seeing that our culture will no longer accept an ex cathedra power, the institution must impose a new form of authority and power. Like most institutions of the last few centuries, the church has turned to the power of the knower. Even though the knower has the power in this situation, the institution reserves the right to determine who the knower will be. Of course, all institutions have determined that the true knower is the one who will accept and teach everything that the institution wants him to teach. All this is done in the name of protecting the truth. The truth is, it is done to protect the authority and infrastructure of the institution with the bottom line being financial as much as a love for the truth. Unfortunately, many good men are caught up in this system of the world without even being aware of it.

Icons: A Wall of Hostility

There is also another problem with icons that has never really been given the consideration it should have, and that being the mediating effects icons have among believers and even between the believers and unbelievers. Since the introduction of icons into the Christian movement, they have represented a dividing wall or a mediator between believers in Christ. They have also hindered any dialogue between Christians and the rest of the seed of Abraham, namely Jews and Moslems, who simply refuse to accept any religious icons. In fact, both Jews and Moslems view the uses of icons as nothing more than a form of pagan idolatry. It would seem in view of this, that Christians who love Jesus Christ and share the mind of Christ, who wants all men to be saved, would be willing to refrain from the use of icons for the sake of Christian fellowship, so that others who are of the seed of Abraham might be saved.

Icons as a form of mediation are also distancing Christ and the Christian movement from the general populace, who because of modern science, have in themselves become iconoclastic in their thinking. Most educated people, even though they are not Christian, now view all icons as superstition. I find it somewhat ironic that it is now pagans who are breaking down the idols of Christians instead of Christians breaking down the idols of pagans. This is not to say that non-Christians do not have their own idols. They are just more clever at hiding them. However, I do feel that the humanists stand justified in their criticism of Christians for their religious icons and their ostentatiousness, which is more of a model taken from paganism than from the Man from Galilee.

Idols Today

The majority of people today, both Christian and non-Christian, believe idols were a problem in Biblical times but are no longer a problem for modern man. However, this is only true when one uses the term idol or icon in their most restrictive sense as an image made with human hands. In its broader sense, an idol could be anything that is exalted to a place of being one’s absolute or anything that would form or shape one’s values (Col. 3:5). In his book, Radical Monotheism and Western Civilization, H. Richard Niebuhr points out that our true God is the thing that forms our center of value and holds our loyalty. Our faith-in these gods then takes two basic and dominant forms according to Niebuhr, “a pluralism that has many objects of devotion and a social faith that has one object, which is, however, only one among many” (page 18). By the expression “social faith,” he means that one has put his faith in a group or society of people making them the center of one’s values and making them the absolute of his loyalty. Social faith can be directed toward a family, tribe, nation, or a religious group. This social faith turns these groups into his absolute or his god. When this happens, men have created their idol. Probably the most obvious examples of a social faith is the faith of a member of a cult, or political party whose faith, though not recognized by the individual, is centered in the group and not God.

It is here that we find the icons or idols of the contemporary church. The modern church has made itself into an idol in that it has exalted itself in the eyes of many to the point it has become their absolute. In exalting itself and making itself larger in the eyes of its members, it has made Christ small and has distanced people from God. In this, the church itself has become a symbol of mediation, an idol that distances people from the true God. This happens whenever the church takes an institutional form and sets itself apart as the absolute authority (God) in the eyes of the people. In doing this, it confuses the body with the head and exalts the body to the place of the head. In an institutional form, the only way the church, if it can still be called the church, can keep its members is by making itself the absolute and setting itself up as the mediator between God and man. Once this is done the institution has tremendous power over its members, for to leave or disobey the institution is to leave or disobey God, for the institution is God.

Of course, Christians are not the only ones who are guilty of making a group or movement their absolute. There are all kinds of systems, causes, and movements that men have made their absolutes and in turn given their loyalty to in various degrees. Probably the most common one outside the religious realm is nationalism. Nationalism is making an absolute out of one’s nation or society; in other words, making one’s nation and culture the highest authority and the measurement of all things. It is here we find the idolatry of the Western church, and especially those who claim to be evangelical and fundamentalist. The betrayal of this idolatry is seen in the presence of the American flag in many of their places of worship along with the Christian flag. How can two nations that are completely antithetical to one another, as symbolized by their symbols (flags), one being an eagle and the other a slain lamb, be reconciled? The truth is they cannot be except by reducing the God which is above the many to a God who is just one among the many.

A Land Filled with Idols

There are so many systems, causes, and movements today, that hardly a day can go by without someone soliciting one’s loyalty and support for some cause or ideology. These range from Americanism to Communism and have so cluttered the landscape of people’s minds that it has become difficult for many to sort it all out. However, the landscape today is not unlike the landscape that the early church encountered when it entered the world for the first time with the gospel of Christ for the very purpose of breaking down the idols of the world and turning people to the living God. The reason the early church was so successful was that it carried with it no idols of its own. Here lies the terrible failure of the modern church. We cannot call the world to turn from its idols when we have our own to deal with first. Let us take the log out of our own eye before we try to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Let us destroy the idols in the Christian movement before we try to destroy the idols of the world.

It is my opinion that the Christian Church, for the most part, has failed so miserably in breaking down the idols of the modern world that God has actually had to raise up some secular disciplines to break them down. There is little doubt in my mind that God is using many worldly disciplines to destroy that part of His church that has slipped into idolatry. This should not be surprising for God has frequently used pagans to do His will even though they were not aware of it at the time. Like many of our secular disciplines, they often went too far, and God in turn ends up destroying them (Isa. 10:511). Before the church sends its white knights out of the city to slay the dragons of secularism, maybe it should have them stay at home inside the city of God and kill its own dragons. I really believe God is fully able to take care of our secular friends and all their twaddle (1 Cor. 5:12). It is enough for us to simply become a light on a hill. If we can accomplish that, God will be well pleased and the church will again become the light of the world. However, this cannot be accomplished until Christ is made the center of the church’s faith. In order to make Him the center, all this religion along with its idols and systems must be removed from the center so that Christ might be all and all.

In all of this, God is calling us to be a people who are to live without idols until our Lord returns from on high. This is not an easy task when you consider that our culture and even the religions of that culture are persistently making idols of all kinds. We must remember that faith by its very nature is iconoclastic. When it ceases to be iconoclastic, it is no longer the faith of Christ. Therefore, let us prepare our minds for the battle against the idols of this world and the icons of the church. Let us cast down the religious, political, and cultural ideology that stands opposed to God. Let us throw them down and grind them into dust as Moses did with the golden calf. Let the world begin to fear and hate those who have the power to destroy idols (Rev. 11:1-6). “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1John.5:21). Amen.