Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reformation Denied in Rochester

On the evening of Sunday October 28th, four Rochester area churches joined for worship on the occasion of the 489th anniversary of the Reformation. That morning, another local Rochester church turned its back on everything the Reformers stood for.

During the morning worship service, North Baptist Church invited an artist to create a chalk drawing and a sculpture of Jesus during the sermon. Below is Senior Pastor David Whiting’s explanation for this action:

It is great to have Richard here who through some visual art- it is an act of worship to him and an aid to our worship as we focus on the greatness and the glory of God and the greatness and glory of Christ…I think because of some abuses in church history art has been relegated to the back of the church; and that’s too bad, because art is a great aid to our focus and to our worship. We don’t worship art, certainly that’s not what we do. But art is a great mind-focusing, God-glorifying, physically-enhancing blessing to our worship; so thank you Richard for helping us and sharing your gifts with us. (Sermon audio for "The Centrality of the Cross and the Glory of Christ" is available at North Baptist's Website under recent messages, from which this quote was taken.)

Compared to other stunts pulled in other Evangelical churches, this is relatively minor; but the decline from a church who once placed primary emphasis on the pure preaching of the Word of God to this action is striking. Two considerations suggest themselves in response to this action.

First, this action is a blatant denial of the foundation principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura. Scripture, and Scripture alone is the only authority to guide the church in matters of faith and practice. The application of this principle to worship is known as the regulative principle- the Bible alone determines what is acceptable in worship to God. Debate rages concerning the scope and the application of the regulative principle, but those who are committed to Biblical worship do not debate the illegitimacy of images in worship, especially of Christ. The first commandment forbids worship of any other than God, the second forbids worship in any matter and by any means not prescribed by God- forming the Scriptural basis for the regulative principle. Obedience to these commandments is the hallmark of worship passed down from the Protestant Reformation. Disobedience or disregard to these commandments lead not towards the purity envisioned and restored by the Reformation, but to the abuses of Rome.

In light of this disregard of the foundational principle of the Reformation, it is not surprising that Pastor Whiting demonstrates a parallel to the doctrine of Rome. The pathetic knowledge which most current pastors and church leaders have not only of the Bible and sound doctrine, but also of church history is a sure explanation of the repetition of the mistakes of the past. The Second Council of Nicea concerned itself with the issue of idolatry and images in church, and reached the wrong conclusion. The decision of this council formed the basis of the abuses in worship the Reformers objected to, and the doctrine of the current Catholic Church. Consider the following two quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1162 “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God." Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart's memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.

Pastor Whiting said the work of the artist served as a act of the artist’s worship, and an aid to the congregation’s worship. Consider the similarity of this with the first (1162) statement from the Catholic Catechism. Images of Christ serve as a means towards worship in conjunction with those means which find approval in Scripture. No serious, doctrinally informed Catholic would affirm that worship is offered to images, but only “respectful adoration.” The use of art according to official Catholic teaching is to aid in focusing the mind on the true object(s) of worship. Isn’t this exactly how Pastor Whiting defended this action, denying that worship was offered to art, but that is served as a “great mind-focusing, God-glorifying, physically-enhancing blessing to our worship?” What is most disturbing is his calling the traditional Protestant and Biblical positions on visual art in worship as an “abuse of history.” The Second Council of Nicea mandated that every church contain images of Christ and of the saints, and aside from images of the saints, and the movement to counteract this error constitutes an abuse. In so doing, it turns its back on the Reformation, and sets its trajectory straight for Rome, away from Wittenburg or Geneva. May God have mercy and return this church to faithfulness and continued reform.

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