(locutionem latinum ascribe)

Location: Texas, United States

Evangelical Anglo-Catholic Deacon in the Episcopal Church (Dallas). I also received a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in Historical Theology and Pastoral Ministries and am completing a post-graduate certificate in Anglican Studies from Nashotah House Seminary.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images – Theory of signs and symbols

What's in a word? As I am typing these sentences how is meaning being transmitted? When I type the word "dog", how do you know to what I am referring?

Language is technically community created. I am able to type "dog". The reason "dog" to English speakers bring the concept it does is because the three symbols 'd', 'o' and 'g' put together in that order are agreed upon to do so. Someone who speaks another language, even if they use the same alphabet, will only know what "dog" means by being taught the connection.

In this way all language is symbolic, each letter represents a sound, and each group of letters represents a word, which in tern represents a concept or object, or something else. One easy way to prove this is that languages change over time. What one symbol means in one generation may take on a new meaning in another like "cool" going from range of temperature to also meaning "interesting".

All communication falls under this paradigm of symbol--->idea, which leads to three ideas:

1)More then one symbol or symbol set my communicate the same idea

2)More then one different ideas may be communicated by the same symbol (even ones that are unrelated)

3)These symbols are defined by those who use them, I am not free to make up my own language, and call it "communication" unless others learn my language.

How does that tie in with veneration and icons?

"Worship", "venerate", "honor" and "prayer" are all English code words intended to communicate different things. So in some contexts (Protestant) "prayer" communicates a specific worship act, but just because another group (Catholic) uses the word doesn't mean they are communicating the same idea. Which is why it is irrelevant to argue over "prayer to the saints" because both sides are using different definitions for the word itself. A better question would be is "communication to the saints valid" because both sides are then speaking the same language.

Another example, which is the one I want to put emphasis on at the moment is worship/veneration/honor. Communication entails more then verbal and written forms. It also includes actions. For instance "sign language" is a language completely done via physical actions. Such things as bowing down and burning candles are in a sense symbols. They may communicate something different in different cultures and contexts. So when it comes to veneration of the saints, the mere act of burning a candle to them, it not in and of itself an act of worship, nor is prostration. Prostration was the main form of worship in the OT, although it was used towards human kings as well and seemed to take on a less then worship concept. But the symbol of candles and prostrations can communicate two different things via the same symbols.

It is then legitimate to say that burning a candle before God and burning one before a person can mean two different things. In the first worship and the second honor.

Therefore the judgment for rightness or wrongness cannot be based on perception via actions, nor inherently by the vocabulary chosen to describe the concepts being done.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images – Against the Regulative Principle

To begin a defense of using icons or of venerating saints, the first objection that many will have is something along the lines of "its not in the Bible". This of course is a simplistic assertion of a much more nuanced and intellectual theological concept known as the "regulative principle".

The regulative principle can be summed up in the Westminster confession this way:

"The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture." XX1.1

The idea is that anything not commanded by God in scripture is false worship. This became a classic concept in the Reformed (not necessarily Lutheran, and not Anglican) traditions.

Just a few arguments should suffice to show that this is a mistaken concept.

Musical Instruments
Although the OT law is filled with regulations about worship, yet nowhere are the Israelites commanded to worship God with harp, or lyre, or with professional Temple singers. If the regulative principle was true in the OT, then we should expect all these things to be forbidden as un-commanded or at least only allowed after certain divine revelation commanded them. Yet instead we find:

"From the almug wood the king made supports for the house of the LORD, and for the king's house, lyres also and harps for the singers; no such almug wood has come or been seen to this day." 1 Kings 10:12 (NRSV)

Wait…what harps and lyres and singers? Perhaps Solomon is sinning and God should judge him…

"Now these are the singers, the heads of ancestral houses of the Levites, living in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were on duty day and night."
1 Chron 9:33 (NRSV)

Bad Levites! How dare they add to God's word by inventing ways of worship. They have appointed special singers and trumpeters for the Temple! But maybe God will send a prophet to correct them!

"all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred twenty priests who were trumpeters. It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God."
2 Chron 5:12-14 (NRSV)

Yet after all that, does God reprimand them for man made worship? Nope, he fills the Temple with his Glory and so shows his acceptance.

While on this topic two minor points should be noted, the book of Psalms was written over time, therefore, each new Psalm was a man made invention, even if it was inspired, God never commanded them to do it, yet he inspired them anyway.

Although there were very detailed instructions for the Tabernacle, God never commanded anyone to build him a Temple. Yet when David decided to build one anyway, God accepted it! (2 Sam 7:1-17) Yes, God did remind him that he does not "dwell in houses made of human hands", and then proceeded to inform him that he would have his son build one anyway. God never commanded, but he did accept it. Furthermore, God never gave any direction in this, and unlike the Tabernacle gave Solomon the apparent creativity to add embellishments as would have been appropriate.

In the book of Esther, after the Jews are saved by the acts of Queen Esther they decide to make a memorial of the day of victory over their enemies:

"These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants. Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing."
Esth 9:28-32 (NRSV)

Queen Esther invented a Holiday, and it became a feast alongside the others commanded in Scripture and became part of Scripture without direct Divine authorization for doing so.

Even farther, Hanukkah never became recorded in Scripture, yet it is very likely that is what Jesus is celebrating in John 10:22-23, a man made religious holiday.

Speaking of Jesus:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Matt 3:13-17 (NRSV)

Baptism was never commanded in the OT at all, this was definitely a latter development. A man made religious ritual to signify something God had never commanded. In fact God had commanded other ways to repent, via sacrifices. Yet Jesus not only endorses this man made religious ritual, but considers that he "needs" it to "fulfill all righteousness" which latter becomes incorporated into his Church.

Some will object "of Course Jesus can add to God's revelation, he is God." But this misses the point that Jesus was not the one to invent Baptism, it had already been invented without God's authorization, yet apparently with his approval.

Another example could even be the Apostles appointing Deacons, showing they felt no qualms of having to follow any regulative principle in Church government. I would even argue this applies today, and we are until little direction from Scripture on how exactly to run the Church, so long as general principles are not violated. Yet of all the general principles in scripture, the regulative principle is obviously not one of them. God has endorsed: man made places of worship, songs, worship leaders, additions (instruments), holidays and rituals by God's people.

Therefore, whatever may be said about veneration (not worship, which will be covered) of saints and of using icons, they cannot be objected to on grounds that they "are not in the Bible"

Monday, October 01, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images, Introduction

In the Protestant/Catholic debate one issue that always comes up is the veneration of the saints. Sometimes on the lay level this digresses into an unhelpful "you worship Mary!", "no we don’t!" childish match.

In defense of a more Catholic understanding, I want to point out five different issues that tend to get muddled, but are not the same.

1) Veneration of the Saints

2) Veneration of Angels

3) Intersession of Saints

4) Intersession of Angels

5) Veneration through Icons

I will argue that it is appropriate to venerate the saints, but not appropriate to seek their intercession. Not appropriate to venerate angels, and irrelevant about seeking their intercession, and permissible to use Icons in worship. (Hence, "more Catholic" vs. "Catholic")

These issues are not all necessarily connected. It may be that the 7th council was wrong about Icons, but right about veneration. Or it may be it is permissible to ask a saint for intercession, but not ok to venerate them. Both sides need to start making these distinctions, which always get lost in the polemical hash.

In the next blog, I'll go into why I think #1 is permissible. If anyone has any prior objections please post them, so I make sure to interact with them as I continue.

One preliminary point needs to be made. My starting presupposition is against a "regulative principle" of Worship. (basically that where Scripture is silent on type of worship or Christian practice, then it is not allowed) Therefore, I'll be arguing for logical connections that lead to these ideas, and am only concerned about conflict with Scripture, not proof-texting these ideas.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Christianity feminized?

There has been a recent movement within mostly Evangelical Christendom that argues Christianity has become too feminine. Basically, in any given church more women are active then men, and this is blamed on an emasculation of Evangelicalism.

In response, in Tennessee, there is starting a group called the "Godmen" conference. What is their solution you ask? Football, explosions, grunting and bad hygine..whaaa??

Wait a minute, are men supposed to be barbarians now?

Actually they’re right, but like many "don’t give me theology, just give me Jesus, church-growth" evangelicals, they don’t know why they're right and are looking for shallow and hollow answers.

The problem is not that Church culture lacks sports or other "masculine traits", the problem is folk-religion theology that thinks violence is always bad and that Jesus is always mild mannered and gentle as a dove.

Has anyone read Isaiah 63? Where God himself slaughters his enemies? In this case his people…to the point where his train is soaked in their blood?

How about Jesus' return in revelation? Or the overturning of the money changers?

The issue is some seem to think that "God is love" means God is Aphrodite, some kind of nebulas principle of love . Actually "God is love", means that is a trait of his personhood alongside holiness, justice, and other traits. God is a person, not a principle!

Evangelicals also fall into this trap, for how many times have you seen a painting of Christ pantockrator? (Christ all powerful) on the throne surrounded by angels in glory? Instead we have pictures of him playing baseball with kids and petting sheep. Not that these are wrong in and of themselves necessarily, but that only these images presents a skewed and unbiblical view of God, the Lord of Armies, who threw the horse and the chariot into the sea.

But instead of tackling the underlying theology, the silly evangelicals, decide they no longer what to shave on Sundays (see the article link at the end). These kind of things aren't solutions, they’re barbarism. What happened to the ideal gentleman knight? Chivalry? Love and defense for others? Being willing to endure suffering and even fight for those you care about, without devolving into animals?

Men are to be strong and aggressive and meek and kind, and loving, and intense all at the same time!

Christ loves his church so much he gave himself for it and blesses and loves it yet will return in the end to destroy violently those who have opposed him and persecuted his church and throw them into hell. Buddhist may think this is contradictory or wrong, but not Christians who read their Bibles and know the teachings of the Church for 2000 years.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Christian materialism, gnosticism, sacramentology and life

(copied over from my myspace, which I may do with a few others)

In Genesis 1:1, scripture says that "God created the Heavens and the Earth". Here, in the beginning of the Bible Judaism and Christianity are set apart from both an over-platonic philosophy on one hand and a crass materialism on the other. Our God is a God who made and loves the material, physical world and interacts with it throughout scripture.

Materialism, in its crass state of denying anything more spiritual, is in error. But this seems to be less a problem for Christians as that of over reacting and truly denying the goodness of matter. You see, unlike the Gnostics, Christians believe that God made the physical, material universe and called it "good". The Gnostics believed in contradistinction to orthodoxy that the real God, "Bythos" created only spirit and that along the line of Aeons (emanations) a demiurge was made who sinned by creating matter, and salvation is escape from the physical world. The historical Jesus of the Bible instead is found to be the ultimate denial of such a philosophy, for he is God incarnate, God made flesh (John 1:14). His resurrection also was physical, and he now sits in Heaven in a physical body and will return in a physical body.

In this sense then, Christians are materialists, we believe that the physical body is not a hindrance to our Spiritual lives, nor do we seek "escape" from the physical world. Instead we hope for the physical resurrection and fulfillment of the material world. God loves your physicality and interacts through physicality. Things such as physical enjoyment are then not evil, but blessings from God, whether be it in the form of recreation, entertainment, food or sex. Note that 1 Corinthians 19 says the Body is the Temple for the Holy Spirit, not the soul!

This also means that the idea of sacraments find vivid expression in that Christ is the ultimate sacrament. More then any other problem with accepting the sacraments, either Baptism or Eucharist, is getting around the mire of enlightenment rationalism that has stunted the spiritual growth of segments of the modern western church. This wasteland of semi-gnosticism built on a false foundation of only what people perceive with their senses has left a gaping hole for spirituality that can now only be fed by non-material over-subjective "spiritual" encounters, this when God has given a fully workable model to mirror his Son in the power of the sacramental life by bridging this gap between the rational/material existence with the spiritual in a way that keeps the focus on the objective promises of God and the goodness of God as not only redeemer but also material creator, is a plague on evangelicalism in the form of an anti-sacramentalism even farther then Zwingli would have dared tread.

So do not loose focus of Heaven, and surely store your treasure there, but also dont forget you were not made a soul "entrapped" in a body, but you are a body/soul in unison and when we Christians die we will be joyful at seeing our Lord but also long to be reunited to our physical bodies, glorified but still part of the physical, material world God intended things to be, which was demonstrated by his creation, by the incarnation and by the resurrection. Do not look down upon "sensual" worship, as if it is necessary for us to be as ghosts in Church so as not to taint worship with the physical. Nor look down upon your physical desires, given by God for his glory (the key is his glory, which sets the bounds!) As a great professor of mine said "you dont truly learn to love people, until you learn to, like God, love the humanness they are made from"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Quest for certainty

A friend of mine and I where discussing modern psychology and its relation to Christianity. In the process of discussing various views we thought about the view of those for "Biblical counseling" as an antithesis to "secular Psychology" One of the arguments for it is the idea of sufficiency of scripture, being that scripture should be all that is needed to work with someone in the realm of behavioral change. The basic idea is in seeing scripture as regulative as opposed to normative. The specific writer who endorsed this view I know from another book has a good dose on influence from the Puritan Theologians, and lead to the idea of the regulative principle of worship. These two concepts are connected in the way they both view scriptural authority. "Sufficiency" being all that is needed for Christian life and godliness. Where "needed" seems to be "all one is allowed to do" (I would also question this concept of "need").

One issue is all the definitions! How far do we take "sufficient for Christian life"? Some argue that this entails not seeing a medical doctor! Perhaps this writer would not go this far, and make the definition narrower, this is fine but the fact is he is still making qualification on this idea. If scripture is regulative these things are a big issue as we have to find exact instructions for at least very narrow logical deductions.

But is scripture for the Christian regulative? I would argue no, had it been intended that way, we would see something akin to a Leviticus in the NT. Even church government can be unclear to an extent and there is no direct guidebook in the NT on par with the Levetical regulations of the OT. Even in Leveticus there are unanswered questions such as Lev 19:9 to "not reap the corners of your field". How much corner is required? This problem lead to later Jewish regulations prescribing the amount. But the point is that God gives no such regulative specific even in the OT! It is left ambiguous on purpose! The generous man will give more and the stingy one will give less in general, but this is similar to the idea of giving (and not tithing) in the NT now. In the NT we have even less of a guide, and so perhaps " Sufficiency " should not be taken in a levitical way, but as a normative guide.

Ultimately this is a quest for certainty. If other sources are allowed to influence our thinking, then our knowledge can change over time, in psychology we know treat people differently then we used to even with scripture. Suddenly aspect of life become less concrete. Even within a regulative principle everything is not clear cut, some argue musical instruments are allowed and some not, some that we should not have Sunday schools because they are not mentioned and other things. If these were really regulative issues they would have been made more clear, but instead we have actually little direct instruction on specifics. Everyone can come to scripture and all have different interpretations.

Does this not mean there is a real truth there? No, but just that some truths are more ambiguous then others. Even adding Creeds and Councils makes things ambiguous. Which creeds and councils? Or which canon of scripture? We can have good arguments for all, but there is no guarantee of 100% certainty on almost anything. Perhaps the Christian life is not about reaching for perfect certainty, but about faith also, where the will moves the intellect to believe (St. Aquinas). Secular psychology is natural revelation and can be used because Scripture does not give us a direct answer to every problem in life, but creates our epistemology, metaphysic and basic philosophy while giving us Christian truth for interpreting other truth. So that we then have the framework under what has been revealed and the power of the Gospel story to evaluate both science and life and worship without needing a direct 100% certain answer every time and trying to find a Christian leviticus.

Monday, August 14, 2006

printf("Hello World!");


Here begginith a blog, which shall be inscribed later.