Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Iconoclast Controversy

The early church was very cautious with images. For example, the regional council of Elvira in Spain in 305 said, “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.” But over time, images came to be used more and more, and various practices developed. 

Beginning in 725, Byzantine emperors, who felt convicted that the worship of God by images was wrong, began to outlaw religious images of Christ and the saints. They and others who opposed the veneration of images became known as “iconoclasts.” They did not forbid all art (e.g. the emperor’s image), but argued against the use of images in religious worship on the basis of the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) and also argued that “the only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ … is the bread and wine in the Holy Supper.” They said the other side was dividing the natures of Christ like Nestorians by portraying only one of his natures. The Council of Hieria (754) affirmed the iconoclast position and claimed to be an ecumenical council, though it failed to gain widespread recognition as such.

Those who defended the veneration of images claimed that the iconoclasts were secret Monophysites who denied the reality of Christ’s humanity. Those who venerated images also argued that the emperor was overreaching into the affairs of the church. They had their chance when emperor Leo IV died and his widow Irene became regent for her infant son. Irene favored the use of icons and a general council was called to resolve the matter. It met in Nicaea in 787, and so is known as Nicaea II. The council approved the veneration of icons, distinguished this worship (προσκύνησις) from the worship due God alone (λατρεία), forbade the appointment of bishops by the civil rulers, and ordered that in each province of the church a regular synod be held at least once a year. While its provisions for church government were good, its position on icons was unbiblical and out of accord with the earlier teachings and practice of the church (in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the second commandment uses these very words, προσκύνησις and λατρεία, and forbids them both with respect to images: “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”).

Despite the the fact that the bishop of Rome assented to the council, the Frankish clergy in Charlemagne’s kingdom wrote against the image worship affirmed by the council. A council at Frankfort (794) allowed that images may be set up in churches as books of the illiterate but forbade their veneration and denounced Nicaea II. A synod in Paris (825) also denounced Nicaea II and reproved the Pope for assenting to the council. Northern Europe would not recognize Nicaea II as an ecumenical council until the 12th century, and opposition would return during the Reformation of the 16th century. Even in the east, Emperor Leo V revived iconoclasm in 813 and it was another mother regent who favored icons, Theodora, who would restore them in 843. After this, the veneration of icons would become a distinctive emphasis of Eastern Orthodox churches, one of several positions that distinguishes them from Reformed churches.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Orthodox? Presbyterian?

The name of my church is Covenant Family Church and our denomination is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But what does it mean to be orthodox and Presbyterian?

What does it mean to be orthodox? 

While we do not claim to be the only orthodox church, we do use the word to describe ourselves. The word “orthodox” refers to “right doctrine” or “correct beliefs.” That is rather unfashionable language today. Who is to say what is orthodox? We would be rather arrogant to make it up ourselves. Orthodoxy is defined by the word of God. We believe the Bible is the word of God, given by him to be the rule of faith and life. We profess and love the truth of God’s word, which has been embraced and defended through the centuries. It is our aim to keep the faith, to contend for it, to walk according to it, and to hold it forth to the world.
“God's Word is our great heritage,
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way;
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure,
Throughout all generations.”
N.F.S. Grundtvig
What does it mean to be Presbyterian? 

Presbyterianism holds many doctrines in common with other churches. Presbyterians hold to the early creeds and the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s incarnation articulated by the early church. It also holds to the doctrines of justification by faith alone and the supremacy of biblical authority championed by the Protestant Reformation.

Some of the more distinctive doctrines of Presbyterianism are God’s sovereignty in history and salvation, the covenantal unity of Old and New Testaments, the present growth of Christ’s Kingdom, church government by councils of “presbyters” (elders), and the practice of worship that is regulated by Scripture.

Our Presbyterianism is best defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, which have summarized the Presbyterian understanding of Scripture for centuries. Our ministers, elders, and deacons receive and adopt these statements as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. You can find them at this link

To learn more, send us a message, see our website, or join us this Sunday. We meet at 968 Meyer Road, Wentzville 63385 at 10:00 am for Sunday school and 11:00 am for worship.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Augustine on Eating and Drinking Christ's Flesh and Blood

The comments of Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (354-430), on the eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood in John 6, sound quite Reformed. Consider these quotes:
“For to believe in him is to eat the living bread. He who believes eats; he is nourished invisibly because he is reborn invisibly. He is an infant within; he is new within. Where he is renewed, there he is sated.”
(Augustine, Tractate 26, on John 6:41-59)

“Therefore, to eat that food and to drink that drink is to abide in Christ and to have him abiding in oneself. And, as a result, he who does not abide in Christ and in whom Christ does not abide, beyond doubt neither eats his flesh nor drinks his blood, but rather eats and drinks the sacrament of so great a thing to judgment for himself, because he presumed to approach unclean to the sacraments of Christ which one takes worthily only if he is clean.”
(Augustine, Tractate 26, on John 6:41-59)

“For they thought that he was going to disburse his body; but he said that he was going to ascend to heaven, whole, of course. ‘When you see the Son of man ascending where he was before,’ surely then, at least, you will see that he does not disburse his body in the way in which you think; surely then, at least, you will understand that his grace is not consumed in bite-sized pieces.”
(Augustine, Tractate 27, John 6:60-72)

“Scripture says, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you’ (John 6:54). This appears to enjoin wickedness or wrongdoing, and so it is figurative, a command to participate in the Lord’s passion and to store in our memory the pleasurable and useful knowledge that his flesh was crucified and wounded for our sake.”
(Augustine, On Christian Teaching)

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"As a father..."

All those whom God justifies, he also adopts as his children in and for his only begotten Son. God is our Father in heaven through this grace of adoption. Accordingly, as our confession of faith says, we “are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father…” (WCF 12). 

God designed and fitted men for the calling of fatherhood, and this nature is evident and proverbial even among fallen man. From earthly fatherhood we get a basic concept of the fatherhood of God, which is free of all the errors and sins of fallen man. In turn, the fatherhood of God gives us an image of true fatherhood, to which all earthy fathers ought to conform themselves as they reject sinful distortions and pursue godliness in Christ. Consider these Bible verses that describe fatherly traits and our heavenly Father:

"The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place." 
(Deuteronomy 1:30–31)

“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” 
(Deuteronomy 8:5)

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”
(Psalm 103:13) 

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
(Proverbs 3:11–12)

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
(Malachi 3:17) 

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9-11) 

“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:11–12) 

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
(Hebrews 12:7–10)