Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Response to Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation. That's a big word that probably doesn't mean a whole lot to the general populace, or to the casual reader occasionally passing by ol' Diesel.Blog here. However, I've recently taken issue with this topic, so the next few posts will deal with it. I hope you find this series of posts both encouraging and useful (or at least interesting).

A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of leading the congregation of my church into a time of communion. We are a non-denominational, Protestant Bible church and we take communion as a congregation once a month. I was asked to give a devotional/teaching beforehand to lead folks in preparation for taking the Lord's Supper. As one of the sidenotes to a point I'd made, I stated that transubstantiation - the belief that the communion elements literally become the physical, literal, manifest body and blood of Christ - is and always has been an erroneous doctrine.

Transubstantiation is, for the most part, a teaching of the Roman Catholic church. There are quite a few former Catholics that attend my church and apparently a few practicing Catholics as well. As emails and responses trickled in following that message (generally folks wondering why in the world I would state that someone else's well-intentioned beliefs are erroneous or Catholics defending their position), I have had the opportunity to solidify my own theology regarding communion and share that with others. Thus, I would like to use the next several posts to share my response to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Let me preface with this thought - my intent here is not to "bash" Catholicism. Please do not regard my statements as an attack on Catholic people. The point is not Catholicism or Protestantism or anything inbetween or beyond. The point is truth. My intent is simply to point out truth - truth not merely as I perceive it, but Scriptural, Biblical truth spoken by God, taught by His Spirit, and perfectly grounded in Christ Jesus. And truth, friends, is no relative thing.

Continued next post...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Graven Images Revisited

Continuing thoughts from the last post...

Would you say this view is extreme? A little too close to legalism? Is it simply unrealistic and absurd? I thought so at first, I'll admit. (I’m trying to figure out if I still think so or not.) After all, what harm is there is using art to spur people on to worship? What wrong is there in putting forth some visual that helps the Christ-worshiper focus in on the Object of his or her worship? Plenty, it seems, if that visual is meant as a direct representation of the Lord.

Why? Simply because nothing can directly, accurately represent God except Himself. If an image meant to depict Him is used habitually (or even sporadically) to aid in worship, would we not come to think of Him, pray to Him, relate to Him as the image represents Him? And to the extent that any created image used in worship fails to represent His full glory, to that extent we would fail to worship Him as we should.

John Calvin said, "A true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence ... His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. ...Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption His majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is."

Packer points out that God-depicting visuals used in worship are misrepresentative not necessarily because of what they show about God, but because of what they fail to show. He uses the imagery of the crucifix as an example: "... The crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of His deity, His victory on the cross, and His present kingdom. It displays His human weakness, but conceals His divine strength; it depicts the reality of His pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of His joy and His power ... The symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity." (p. 46) The image dishonors God, not because of what it shows, but because it obscures His true and full glory. (I would, however, note that this logic could just as easily be directed towards a worship song or a sermon.)

So will I ever create visuals that include Jesus in them again? More than likely. But by His grace, I'll not do it carelessly.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Graven Images

"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" (Exodus 20:4-5). That's the second of the original ten commandments - do not make or worship idols; keep yourselves from idolatry.

For many of us, at the word "idolatry" our minds can't help but summon images of savage tribes, kow-towing before carved totems or pagan priests offering human sacrifices before skull-adorned statues. Clearly, though, we good twenty-first century Christian folk aren't bending the knee to such pagan notions, especially nowadays in our soy-triple-latte-hold-the-whip postmodern society... Are we?

I recently read a chapter in J.I. Packer's Knowing God that forced me to reexamine the theme of idolatry in my own life. Packer builds a case for "more subtle forms of idolatry" around Charles Hodge's principal: Idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. Packer then defines "images" as any visual or pictorial representation of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship.

That means, as the chapter goes on to explain, that crucifixes, statues, paintings, meant to represent any member of the Trinity are all, in reality, misrepresentitive. None of these things are God Himself, Packer asserts, but mere man-concieved images of Him. Speaking for myself, this is a hard pill to swallow. What about the great art of the Renaissance? Passion plays? Jesus movies? That painting of Christ out in the lobby of your church? I'm a visual artist - a graphic designer by trade, but also dabble in drawing, painting, photography, video and multimedia. I've drawn, painted, photographed and designed countless images meant to depict Christ, the glory of God, the work of His Spirit. Have I thus created images? By Packer's assertion, most assuredly I have.


Read Part II

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Cloud of Witnesses - Part Two

Continuing thoughts from yesterday's post, it is clear to me that without those guys in this running group, there’s no way I’d be dragging myself out of bed to run at 6:15am on a rainy Friday morning. But since I have that “cloud of witnesses,” I find that I am more easily able to “throw off everything that hinders” (warm sheets, for instance) “and run with perseverance the race…” Paul uses the cloud of witnesses as a point of motivation for us to run well and run faithfully.

The men of the running group were laughing one morning about a Starbucks commercial that we thought illustrates this point well. There is this guy Hank, who basically has his own cheering section – a cloud of witnesses, if you will – to cheer him on throughout his day. Obviously, Heb. 12:1 is not saying we live merely before the eyes of man, and Paul makes it clear that our ultimate Witness is Christ, and we are to set our eyes on Him as we run (Heb. 12:2). But Christ, in His love for us, ran a perfect race and laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16) for the glory of the Father.

I was thinking last night about Matt's comments to yesterday's post regarding this section of Hebrews. Although I think what I've said here is sound in the larger sense, I'll admit that my exegisis of this text has not been entirely accurate. I'll be working on that. Until then, let's consider - how much more faithful would we be in running our races if we really understood the importance of that “great cloud of witnesses” – and better understood both the role of the runner and the role of the witnesses as we strive to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us"?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cloud of Witnesses - Part One

I went running the other morning with my friend D.R. and some guys I know from church. D.R. started this little running group a couple months back under the premise of the apostle Paul’s many references to the Christian life as a race. We get together early on Fridays, have a short devotional thought, and then take off for 30 minutes of running, jogging, or walking (or in my case, 30 minutes of gasping, panting, or wheezing). Now I’m the type of guy who, when it comes to exercise, is no longer what you’d call “self-motivated.” And to be honest, although I enjoy the effects and acknowledge the benefits of exercise, it’s often a struggle to maintain consistency on my own.

One of the verses we were looking at before running that particular morning was Hebrews 12:1 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. The part of this verse that grabbed me as I thought about it is the fact that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”

Obviously, those witnesses could be non-Christians; those to whom we are examples for Christ as we live our lives. I think that’s the context in which most of us think of those witnesses, but I don’t think that phrase is limited simply to those who are not Christians. I think that cloud of witnesses also includes our brothers and sisters in Christ – it is a reference to the importance of Christian community in that it enables and motivates us to “run with perseverance.”

You can't make it alone. We were made for community... that's why the Church is called a body.

Filling Up Space

My post God On Trial was recently featured as an article on ... Many thanks to Travis McSherley and the rest of the FuS staff for the honor!

Friday, September 09, 2005

For Your Consideration

Sorry about the brief haitus there. In the midst of work, family visits, and one very vocal, sleepless baby, (etc., etc.) I fell out of the blogosphere. Now that my "blog fast" is over, I've got a couple topics I'm looking forward to covering.

In the meantime, though, there are exerpts two postings from other blogs I think you should take a look at. I thought they were worthy of consideration. Check out the following:

Mistyping the NAME :: by D. Griffiths
I was just typing and accidently wrote "Gof." Sure, the "F" key is right next to the "D" key. And sure, the designation "God" is derived from the germanic tribes reached by the first Roman missionaries and has no inherent holiness as a word. Yet, that simple mistype sent a shudder through my heart. We are so careless with the name of the Lord. God, gosh, Jeeze, and further, more profane designations, pepper the vernacular. But I don't care to bemoan that old complaint. I want to draw your attention to the frivolity with which we write and type words that refer to the God of all the world... READ THE ENTIRE POST >>

Too Much to Say :: by M. Wireman
Matt. 12:34 - For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
I say all this to say to myself, you, and other folks out there speaking and typing out a deluge of words, be careful. I look all around the internet and see frivolous words being spouted off. All the ridiculous posts will be called to account. Even if you don't blog, the words you speak in solitude will be brought before you for you to give an account. Don't waste your breath, invest it into eternity... READ THE ENTIRE POST >>

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Relief for Hurricane Katrina Victims

It's much easier to write about helping folks than to actually do something about it. Check out a way to provide practical aid for Hurricane Katrina victims at Marcus' blog or through Reston Bible Church.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

God On Trial

I believe in the sovereignty of God. That is, God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules over all of creation - and to be sovereign, God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. I believe also in the goodness of God. A.W. Tozer says this about God's goodness:
    The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people. That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end ill the negation of every moral judgment. If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven. The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. (A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
Scripture clearly teaches both aspects of God's character. Yet, in times like these when great disaster occurs, is it not our tendency as men to put God on trial? We tend to attack one or both of these attributes of God. We cry "Look at these hurricanes! Look at these people suffering! How could God have let this happen? Is He really in control?" Or, if we do not doubt His sovereign control over a given situation, we are more than prone to put His goodness on trial. Who among us has never asked, in some form, "How could a good God allow this horrible thing to happen?"

It is only the frailty of man that feels either God's goodness or His sovereignty is somehow diminished by disaster. Did God know - even ordain - that Hurricane Katrina would wreak such havoc upon our neighbors to the south? Absolutely. Did He know all those people would be left houseless, possessionless, fleeing their homes for their lives? Yes indeed. Did He ordain each death, each loss of a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend? He foreknew every single one. But His sovereignty and His goodness remain intact. Our doubt takes nothing away, just as our belief adds nothing to them. His attributes need no defense, including this very writ. Everything occurring regarding this hurricane - from loss to life, from hatred to love - demonstrates the goodness and sovereignty of almighty God. Do we understand it? Hardly. But doubt neither His goodness nor His sovereignty.

We would do well to remember that we are not sovereign. We see only a few pieces of a canvas that stretches on beyond time, and with even the best of us, our sight is tainted by our own depravity. Our vision and knowledge is finite and limited. God's are not. Instead of putting God on trial, let us instead see through eyes of faith, ever trusting in His immeasurable goodness. Even if we do not understand, let us say along with the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah "Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love." (Lamentations 3:32)