IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Final closing words

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

It occurred to be beloved that what I posted for this day and for this verse says very little about the verse itself except for the very last bit, about idols. Before I read what the historic Anabaptist writers (for it was a group and not an individual) wrote, I was going to make a “call and response” (if you do not know what that is . . . well, maybe you better just ask me in a comment) out of this passage. But then I got on to a different line of thought. But I did not want to just walk away from this verse.

The writer of 1 John wants us to know that being born of God means that sin cannot and should not have a part of our lives. It is a wonderful hope . . . and a good exhortation, but not always the way it is. But being children of God we can learn a different way of living, and that God’s own Holy Spirit will guide us in that way. We do not need to fear that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” because we need not be under the evil one’s control. And that we can know what is true and false, fleeing the false and embracing Truth.

And I think that is what avoiding idolatry is all about – knowing what is false and what is true. Worshiping in truth and only the Truth. And leaving completely alone what is false. Easier said than done. But it has been said by God, and God’s will is to be done on earth as God’s will rules heaven. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . The separation of religion and art

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

The historic Anabaptists who were captured and taken to the Italian port of Trieste wrote, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 4:10). He is the true God and eternal life. Children, beware of the adoration of images (1 John 5:21)! Keep watch over your hearts! You saw signs of God on the day when he spoke to you out of the fire (Deut. 4:12) so that you should not become perverted and make an image like man or woman or an animal on the earth or bird in the air. There is your witness that God, who is the only God, desires that he alone is to be honoured, worshipped, and served. The whole Scripture is full of this testimony. These texts clearly reject, destroy, and condemn all idolatry, specifically all wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images by all of which God is robbed of his honour. All such things are excluded in this commandment of God.”

Artistry and historic Anabaptism have had a long and difficult history and relationship. One would have to be so careful not to let your art work be constrained as worship of God. However, Anabaptists/Mennonites found ways to be artist without taking the chance of making images that would take the place of God’s presence in their lives. If you have ever seen a quilt made by some Anabaptist/Mennonite women or seen tools or furniture designed and made (especially wooden items) by Anabaptist/Mennonite men, you would know the yen to create and make beauty is alive and well. But as I said, care had to be taken. Few if any quilts will have images of any bird or animal. They are designs and shapes that cannot be misconstrued as replicas of things in our world. The same with tools and furniture; all basic utilitarian items that are used in every day life without representing any image found in nature. The craftsmanship and skill is evident in each piece.

Using pieces of art work in worship has made a slow come back, and only in ways that direct one’s attention to God instead of the image in the piece of art work itself. On Oct 14th I wrote very briefly about seeing the inside of an ornate Catholic church for the first time. I was entranced by the statutes and pictures on the walls, the silver and gold items scattered around the church, and the lushness of the seating. I could have wandered around there for ever. Was it perversion I wondered to have all these things in one place? It seemed to me like the type of place God would live in, just as well as our plain church with nothing on the walls and wooden benches with thin carpeting. Nothing adorned the church except maybe at Christmas, and even then in only a limited way.

I wondered if these things “robbed” God of the Lord’s honor. Or was it perhaps we who dishonored God by refusing the magnificence that evidently was available. Images have power. And beloved, the inside of the church I grew up in therefore had very little power but great austerity and strictness.

In contrast to this, in seminary we were specifically taught how to bring art back into worship. As I remember back, there was less instruction about HOW to bring it into worship than there was the emphasis that it was okay to have it in worship. It was like, in a sense, being given a new toy but not told how it works.

And I hold these two things in my mind; the plainness of the church I grew up in and the rush to re-place art back into worship. And the conclusion I come to is this; God is more powerful than any piece of art, be they “wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images.” I do not think God fears art in worship, but neither do I think the Lord demands it. I think if we approach worship with proper parts of love, reverence, and fear – God will welcome us and whatever we bring. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . When it hurts!

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” (Reference: 1 Peter 4:1-3 )

I can not get past the first sentence of this verse. It just does not resonate with me. I think it is because I am a person who has suffered in my body – not as Christ suffered because the implication is that Christ suffered unto death. And once I get past that first sentence, the meaning of the passage becomes clear. But that first verse just holds me up.

So I sat with it until I saw my way through it. And really, once I sat with it I could see how it can apply to me, and perhaps to others that suffer bodily. We (meaning those that suffer from bodily ailments) can get so consumed by our suffering that we can see little else. Our suffering so overwhelms up and takes over our lives that we allow that to pus away Christian considerations.

Now before you get all heated up and take to me task, just listen! When we suffer bodily (or even emotional/psychological suffering) we CAN tend to make that our focus. Our world (because of our pain) revolves around us and we just can’t/won’t see anything else. Everything becomes in service to our pain, alleviating our pain, and (this is the big one) compensating us for our pain. We CAN tend to think that because we are in pain, God’s laws can be bent for our benefit. But that is not so! Yes, God has utter and complete compassion for our pain, suffering etc. Never doubt that! But God has the same level of compassion for everyone else. We can’t/shouldn’t slide by because of our pain and suffering. And if we “worship” our pain – that is use it to take advantage of every situation we can – that just about satisfies the criteria for idolatry!

Christ put his pain to work to save us all. Now, we can’t put our pain to work as Christ did; but what we can do is be sensitive and aware of the pain of others because we know what it is like to be in pain. And if we can spread hope and compassion to those who are in pain, because we know what pain is, then we have taken on in part the work of Christ.

We who live with pain are not likely to indulge in “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing” and other such sins. Heck, we don’t have the physical ability too! But we know what our sins are. And God is merciful with us. More merciful than with those who are pain free? Well, . . . I don’t know the mind of the Divine but since we can wallow in God’s love and comfort I don’t think it matters (or should matter) if others wallow in it too.

I hope and pray beloved that you do not live in pain. If you do may God’s blessing be upon you and lift you up. And may you look forward to the day that all creation lives pain free! Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . When it hurts us and others

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” (Reference: 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 )

Dirk Philips wrote, “For the friendship of this world is enmity with God, 1 John 2:15, and whoever would be a friend of the world must become God’s enemy, as the apostle James says, James 4:4. Christ also says the same in the Gospel, that is, that which “is exalted among men is an abomination before God,” Luke 16:15.That is the reason we are not inclined to observe all human institutions of the world, all false worship and ceremonies of the Roman Church which are opposed to Christ, Matt. 15:3; 1 Cor. 10:14. Rather, we desire in our simplicity to remain and abide, for good or ill, in the teaching and example of Jesus Christ and to allow ourselves to be guided by the first apostolic congregation insofar as the Lord gives us grace, Eph. 2:19-20; 1 Pet. 2:21.”

First let me be clear beloved – according to modern Anabaptists/Mennonites, the Roman Catholic church is not the enemy. All religions and denominations have their spectrums of beliefs, based on the foundational tenets of those beliefs. If there is ANY disagreement, it is only at those particular points on that spectrum where our beliefs and other beliefs have conflict. And we do not hold it against the whole religion/denomination for those individual conflict points. And even then, if the conflict points are minor, it does not mean we cannot come together in ecumenical harmony. I have many fond memories in my childhood of the three diverse churches in my hometown coming together for joint worship.

Sadly, historic Anabaptists were “friends” with no one else but their own. And in some cases (mostly in the past) that held true for contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites. It was realized at some point (praise be to God!) that we Anabaptists/Mennonites were missing out on something beautiful and spiritual by averting our eyes from other faiths true to God. We “repented” of that and tendered apologies to those faiths, as had those faiths tendered apologies to us for the persecution that their forebearers might have committed.

What I suspect our Anabaptist forebearers were fleeing was not so much the symbols, icons etc as it was the control of the established state church at the time. And those sins are not ones that should be held against the descendents. God would not tolerate or condone that. This has been something I have longed to tell and share with you beloved, that in our history we unfairly wronged a Christian denomination based purely on the actions of those in power at a certain point in history.

As to the the rest of this passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, I am not convinced that God does not allow us to be tempted past what we can bear – because we fall into and are succumbed by temptation! How can God be omnipotent if the Lord cannot save us from temptation?! The answer is, God does not stop the temptation but warns us in many ways not to succumb. If we do so, it is on our heads. What God does is, once we have ignored the warnings, provide us a way to receive forgiveness and redemption – blots away the sins we committed. Through God’s mercy we are made whole again, and hopefully next time will not succumb to temptation.

I like the fact that the writer of 1 Corinthians was giving them hope. And giving them good advice, to keep away from falseness and its lure. May you beloved chose the good that God intends, joining in thanksgiving with ALL fellow believers that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and redemption will sustain us when we fall away. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Avoid this falseness

Now about food sacrificed to idols: 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. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (Reference: 1 Corinthians 8:1-6 )

It was a very delicate situation, what to do about food offered to idols and then offered again as food to be eaten. Once offered to idols, was it right for a Christian believer to eat the food? If idols were considered as only pieces of wood, stone etc, then there should be no problem eating the food. But if the offering of it to false deities changed it, it should not be eaten. Or if the eating of it meant you are partaking of food that false deities give you, then it is wrong. In the writer of 1 Corinthians’ time these were important questions to consider and ponder. And even if it meant nothing to you to eat food offered to an idol, it might “jostle” another believer and so you should avoid the food.

These, however, are not considerations for our time, or even the time of the historic Anabaptists. Perhaps that is why the quote for today centers not on food but basing one’s faith on the one true God, which comprises the latter half of this passage. If there is one true God (and we know this to be so) then food offered to idols has no special or unique properties or characteristics. And as the writer of 1 Corinthians has said in other places, holds no special taboos for Christians. But having been offered to something that is false, why would a believing Christian want to partake of it after the fact? That idea is not something I have specifically read in the bible, but it makes sense to me. Furthermore, it would seem to me that we should not have anything to do with falseness but look only upon and commune only with Truth. May you make such choices for yourself beloved. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Substituting a copy for the Original!

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Reference: Romans 1:19-23 )

When I first read these verses I briefly thought about doing another post with pictures/images, but then I thought again and decided maybe images might not be a good thing just in case someone “exchanged” it for “the glory of the immortal God.” Don’t want to lead anyone “into temptation.”

I also consulted with Albert Barnes; but while he had good things to say, it did not help or inspire me as to what to post. “God’s invisible qualities . . . have been clearly seen”? Maybe it come out less confusing when written in Greek! I mean, I know what it means on the surface of the things – that the evidenced of God’s nature can be seen in, well, nature! And in creation, and in life, and in just everything around us. And people can see that, because it is there! And there is no excuse for not realizing that there is a Divine Power behind the world we live in! What there isn’t is a nice elegant way to sum up all that without depending on you, beloved, reading this with the same emphasis and vigor that I wrote it with!

Everything, but everything that is been promoted and put in place of God has created by God or has its existence by virtue of God’s creative power. So what sense does it make to substitute for God a thing that comes from God. Why not give worship and bring glory to the Original?!

I getting incensed by this, so no wonder the writer of Romans got off track of linear logical reasoning!

When it comes right down to it, beloved, humanity knows its God. It just that humanity sometimes puts in a whole lot of energy trying to deny God – which by the way (the energy) is from God! My plea to you beloved is to just simply let God be your God, in all the Divine’s glory! Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . A prayer against it

For, behold, the burning wrath of a great multitude is kindled over you, and they shall take away certain of you, and feed you, being idle, with things offered unto idols. And they that consent unto them shall be had in derision and in reproach, and trodden under foot.”  (Reference: 2 Esdras 16:68-69 )

Historic Anabaptist Adrian Corneliss, who died in 1552, was inspired by the these verse to write a pray. But it is, beloved, from the 1500’s. I have attempted a more modern revision of it, based on my understanding of syntax and meaning of the historic Anabaptists.

Even though the wrath of a great multitude is upon me, you preserve me O Lord. You give me, your servant, bread in times of need and water when I am thirsty, and in the day of tribulation you forgive me. And You have said to me that even if a mother would forget her child to which she has given birth, you would never forget us, because you have given your Divine Word. You spoke to the dear apostle Paul saying, “Come out away from this wicked generation and do not touch things that are unclean.” You will deliver us from this evil and will be our Protector, and we shall by Your sons and daughters. We will go out into the world and we will help ours bear up under your scrutiny and judgment. Lord, teach us to pray according to Your Ways, that we may pray in spirit and in truth, that we may truly call You our caring and protective Parent; for a child must honor one’s Parent, and servant must honor the Master.

It is my hope that this prayer bridges across the years and generations, and resonates in your heart and spirit. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Beyond the gilt and awe

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “
(Reference: Exodus 20:3-6 )

One of the many things the historic Anabaptists had against the established state church was the use of symbols, pictures, and idols that were used during worship services and masses. Historic Anabaptists and contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites have continued to keep anything that seemed like idol worship out of church services and the sanctuary. Historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier summed out what this position was when he said, “Yesterday it became thoroughly clear from Scripture that there should be no images. I myself would that no image had ever come into Christendom. For the text of Exodus 20:4-6 is bright and clear. It stands firm as a wall. By means of two distinct prohibitions it expressly forbids not only worshiping the images but also making them. . . .

However, not having icons and religious symbols, statues etc in a Roman Catholic church would be unimaginable. And what may have been the substitution of icons etc in the time of the historic Anabaptists, I think, has been re-visioned as aids and reminders for worship. At least that is a more modern perception. But it was a wide-eyed Mennonite girl who first saw the inside a Roman Catholic church with awe and wonder. I remember walking around being amazed at the shine and color.

It is, however, a worldly wise woman who realizes that it is not just icons, symbols, statues etc in a church that can be worshiped above, and instead, of God. Idols come in many forms – from “heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” I would rather see the icons, symbols, and statues that are used in churches that profess a strong faith in God, than the idols I see in society. Maybe I am more worldly than the historic Anabaptist fore-bearers. Or may I have seen too much worship of things that take us away from God than lead us to God.

In regards to the rest of the passage, one thing the historic Anabaptists and more modern Anabaptists/Mennonites realize it that God does not punish generations of the future. And that God’s “jealousy” is our Lord’s desire for only wanting the best for us, and desiring us not to be lead to things that harm us. God’s love and compassion is for the thousands of generations. Yes, it is best that we keep God’s commandments. But God’s love can clear our eyes, help us see what is true and what is gilded falseness, and can restore us to full relationship. May it be so for you beloved. Selah!