Blessed Idolatry

This is kind of belated for Christmas time, but this quote blows me away. I simply can’t grok it. It comes from outside Calvinism, so I don’t expect any of this crowd to be able to guess the name, but can you guess the denomination?

Now is a suggestion for decorating your church during this Christmastide — and this is just about as perfect a church as you can get — ******* are comfortable in bowing or genuflecting before the cross. Perhaps the next step is placing a creche right in the front of the church, surrounded by the usual figures of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, animals; and then on Christmas eve, placing an image of the Christchild in the manger, then kneeling before that figure. That would carry the message that God for us, meant for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary. And what a blessed idolatry that would be — God in the flesh.

How could any Christian call such a practice “blessed idolatry,” rather than trying to excuse it as not really idolatry?

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125 Responses to Blessed Idolatry

  1. lee n. field says:


    This was, I think, David Scaer at a conference in December that Mike Horton also spoke at.

  2. John Harutunian says:

    My guess is that the writer is a Roman Catholic. My reasoning is a bit loose: Roman Catholics are fond of paradox (e.g., G.K. Chesterton); “blessed idolatry” is surely intended as such. (Another example would be the 6th-century hymn to the cross, “Sing, My Tongue the Glorious Battle”, which contains the line “sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight is hung on thee.”)

  3. Rob H says:

    I could think a few “emergent” types with their labyrinths and meditation things. Right up their alley and definitely irreverent enough.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Good guesses John & Rob, but Lee listened to the conference audio — or were you there? We could have met! (BTW, that means the answer is our closest theological relatives, the Lutherans)

    So I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Lutherans number commandments like Catholics, and leave out the whole ‘graven images’ part?

  5. RubeRad says:

    Oh, so that quote was from the very end of Scaer’s lecture, and the image is a reference also to the first part, where he made a joke about wearing a Santa hat to fit in in California.

  6. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad, I’m aware of the different ways of numbering the commandments. But if Lutherans and Roman Catholics simply omit the reference to graven images, that’s pretty serious. Could you go into this a bit?
    In any case, I do have a problem with the Reformed understanding of Christian imagery, icons -call them what you will. Every Christmas I stop at a creche in a local park, to kneel and worship. If I didn’t kneel, would it be OK? Or: should creches simply be eliminated from all sites and contexts, ecclesiastical and civil alike? Is it sinful to worship God while looking at Christian art in a museum?
    I’m not sure that Calvin was willing to explore these questions.

  7. RubeRad says:

    First off, take a look at Luther’s Small Catechism, the part about the commandments.

    The First Commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods.

    Q. What does this mean?

    A. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

    The Second Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain. …

    Where’s all the graven images?

    Second, there’s worship, and worship. Worship is what happens in the assembled covenant people of God, between the Call to worship and the Benediction, when ordinary means have extraordinary use. Hanging out in a park, or jammin to prayze toons in your car, or conducting personal or family devotions, is not worship in that same sense. The cliche “all of life is worship” seems pious, but it ends up devaluing true worship.

    So regarding use of images, I maintain that it is permissible to use images of Christ, but the proper line to be drawn is between worship and not worship. Art and education, OK (but even then it’s possible, and probably easy, to misuse imagery), worship, not OK.

    And this view is quite liberal compared to the historic position. If you read LC 107-110 and HC 96-98, you will find that they are strictly and unequivocally against any images of Christ in any context. And Calvin wrote quite explicitly against imagery in the Institutes, I can maybe look up the book&section later.

  8. lee n. field says:

    Nope, I was not there. I was off residing in what would be, to you, a frozen wasteland far from the supposed heart of civilization.

    So I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Lutherans number commandments like Catholics, and leave out the whole ‘graven images’ part?

    I suspect so.

  9. lee n. field says:

    I’m aware of the different ways of numbering the commandments. But if Lutherans and Roman Catholics simply omit the reference to graven images, that’s pretty serious

    Everybody has the same text, but they divide it differently. What we consider the first and second, are considered one. What we consider the tenth, is split into two separate “thou shalt not covets”.

  10. Rob H says:

    Not in attendance. I think I worked every day of December. Gonna listen to the audio now. Sounds like good stuff to hear. Maybe I’ll get the context of your quote.

  11. RubeRad says:

    The Scaer is interesting, especially as coming from outside the Reformed perspective. The Horton talk is really good. The Bombaro talk on Kant was really good too. If you want I can email you iphone pictures of the whiteboard from the Kant lecture, which somebody sent to me.

  12. RubeRad says:

    FYI, Calvin addresses images in Institutes I.11. See in particular section 5:

    I am not ignorant, indeed, of the assertion, which is now more than threadbare, “that images are the books of the unlearned.” So said Gregory, but the Holy Spirit goes a very different decision; and had Gregory got his lesson in this matter in the Spirit’s school, he never would have spoken as he did.

    Calvin is very stern in this chapter, and gives no quarter to any image makers. The closest he gets is in section 12:

    I am not, however, so superstitious as to think that all visible representations of every kind are unlawful. But as sculpture and painting are gifts of God, what I insist for is, that both shall be used purely and lawfully,—that gifts which the Lord has bestowed upon us, for his glory and our good, shall not be preposterously abused, nay, shall not be perverted to our destruction. We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God himself has forbidden it, and because it cannot be done without, in some degree, tarnishing his glory. And lest any should think that we are singular in this opinion, those acquainted with the productions of sound divines will find that they have always disapproved of it. If it be unlawful to make any corporeal representation of God, still more unlawful must it be to worship such a representation instead of God, or to worship God in it. The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations.

    So there may be some wiggle room in here for images of the incarnate Christ, but certainly not for the purpose of worship.

  13. John Harutunian says:

    OK, here are a couple of things for all you iconoclasts to think about 🙂

    1. It looks to me like Calvin puts great weight on the word “representation”. Which raises the questions: a)Is “representing God” what icons are intended to do, and b)intentions aside, is that what they in fact do? I don’t believe so. Think of a human face. A photograph is a “representation” of the face. A portrait is not. A portrait is intended to bring out certain qualities of the person by depicting his features and expression in a certain way. Which brings us to the point: Can God’s attributes such as holiness, majesty, and love, be expressed through the medium of art, or only through the medium of words?
    2. (This is perhaps more to the point.) My problem with a strict rendering of Exodus 20:4 is that if taken literally it would even forbid artists from painting sunsets or mountains. Surely the necessary context is provided by verse 5: “thou shalt not bow down to them or worship them.” Which brings us to the second point: Do Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox. and High-Church Anglicans bow “to” icons, or bow “before” icons?
    It seems to me that charity is called for on both sides here. High-Churchmen shouldn’t regard the Reformed as uptight sectarians, and the Reformed shouldn’t regard High-Churchmen as superstitious idolaters.

  14. John Harutunian says:

    P.S. I’d be interested to hear peoples’ views on this.

  15. Rob H says:

    Would love it. Going to download for my weekly podcast load-out.

  16. Pooka says:

    Listened to the whole Scaer lecture. It was like watching a seagull or crow circling in for the treat. Hard to follow. There were, however, a lot of really good bits. Really made me feel as though I need to be much more careful and intentional when considering the incarnation and Lord’s Table. Clearly I have not gone much beyond the surface of the matter.

    Is Scaer representative of the Lutheran (at least LCMS et all) views? There is a very intense focus on the incarnation in here and it’s powerful. I can’t put my finger on it but some of the imagery or wording is unsettling. Like Christ is too much “among us” in Scaer’s view. I can’t quite figure it out. Will have to listen again. Wish it was transcribed (might have to do that myself).

    Far as the creche thing goes, I think there is value in keeping the whole thing going on Christmas. It’s a visible presentation of the Founder of our faith. Kneeling to it? Absolutely not. Not even in jest. Or ESPECIALLY NOT in jest. Though it symbolizes Christ, it’s not Him. Not analogous. But it should serve as a graphic of the incarnation which is yet another clarion call to all those who don’t get it and all of those who do. Visually pronouncing and reminding everyone. Better than a billboard WWJD or some such, isn’t it?

  17. RubeRad says:

    Is Scaer representative of the Lutheran (at least LCMS et all) views?

    That’s what I don’t know, and kind of hoped to find out by posting this and waiting for knowledgeable commenters to happen along.

    some of the imagery or wording is unsettling. Like Christ is too much “among us” in Scaer’s view.

    I need to listen again, myself, but this sounds consistent with the Lutheran emphasis of ‘too much “among us”‘ in communion as well.

    For the creche, I think we’re in synch. I am pro-creche as redemptive-historical narrative. Anti-creche as medium or object of worship. (So practically speaking, let’s not give it a central position in the front of the church)

  18. Pooka says:

    Right on. So I’m not entirely out of left field.

    Keep the Gospel (Proclaimed Word) central and the visual aids out of the way but accessible.

    Just finished Dr. Horton’s session. Wow. Inverted Pyramid. That SO goes against recent Christian counseling under which I’ve sat. It’s always a striving upward which brings us closer to us and Him. How amazing that He’s come downward drawing us together. Picture of the Table, then? And the Church? Not of ourselves, lest any man should boast?

  19. Bruce Settergren says:

    For the record, I’m anti creche across the board. Just as I hold to be of no value setting up miniature Flood scenes, miniature Red Sea scenes, miniature baptism of Jesus in the Jordan scenes. You get the idea.

  20. Pooka says:

    So you’re opposed, say, to the Noah’s Ark Park in Kentucky? 😉

    This is the first time I’ve come across the icon question in real life. My current take: No problem with images or recreations if done right. Additionally, no problem with those who are anti across the board.

    What bothers me is any idea of reverencing or kneeling before imagery of Christ. Smacks of idolatry no matter what the reasoning in the mind of the actor.

  21. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad, thanks for your thoughtful distinction. A creche as a [potentially idolatrous] “medium” for worship -I’ll have to think about that. It does raise other issues: Is music a medium for worship? A church edifice? (Here goes) A sermon? All of these things are man-made; only the Bible and the Eucharist are not.
    Bruce, do you see any value in _painting_ Flood scenes, Red Sea scenes, etc.? This is of course Christian art, and museums are full of it. Which doesn’t _necessarily_ mean that it all belongs in worship. But churches which use the creche in worship teach, first, that the Nativity is central to our redemption to a greater degree than are most of the other events in salvation history. And second, that the creche visually communicates the concept of the Eternal Word made flesh -that is, made visible and tangible.
    Regarding the idolatry issue: Imagine a man standing at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. (I personally haven’t seen it but I understand it’s pretty awe-inspiring.) The man may well be standing with his head bowed -as a way of honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln. BUT: on the grounds of both charity and common sense, we should at least be _inclined_ to believe that he’s not bowing his head to the statue.
    It’s the same with bowing (or kneeling) before icons (or creches).

  22. RubeRad says:

    Especially if they call it “blessed idolatry”

  23. RubeRad says:

    RubeRad, thanks for your thoughtful distinction

    Well I hope you do think some about it, but I’m not your shepherd and I don’t want to draw up your excommunication proceedings or anything. I think you should take the question up with your pastor or elder, or whoever God has put you under care of.

    Is music a medium for worship? A church edifice? (Here goes) A sermon?

    Music and sermon are bible-mandated elements of worship. We don’t worship the music or the sermon itself (they are not the object of worship), but I think it is fair to say they are media; and they are media because God ordained them to be. A church edifice is a circumstance, adiaphora. We can worship equally validly inside a building, or at an easter-morning lakeside sunrise outdoors service. The point is, we do not worship the building or any part of it; nor would we even say that we are worshipping through the building.

    And when it comes to icons, the question is whether or not God has anything to say about using images as media for worship; whether it is valid to worship God through images. The Reformed position has always been a solid No, and this goes to my original question of whether this is precisely because we break out commandments 1 & 2 and interpret them as being 1. who to worship vs. 2. how (not) to worship. Whereas cat-lickers and Lutherans don’t seem to have the how question in their vocabulary.

    So here’s a question for you, in the incident with the golden calf, were the Israelites worshipping a false God (and an idol), thus breaking commandment 1 (and two), or were they (attempting to) worship the one and only true God who redeemed them from Egypt, through an image (thus breaking commandment two)?

    As for Lincoln vs. baby Jesus in the manger, it may well be that a tourist is merely “honoring” Lincoln, not worshipping him, but you originally said “kneel and worship”. This reminds me of the dulia vs. latria distinction Rome uses to justify veneration of statues of Christ, Mary, and all the saints.

  24. Pooka says:

    I’ll hazard he’s indicative (or formative, recently) of the LCMS folks.

  25. John Harutunian says:

    I agree with the opening of your second paragraph. But I can’t see church edifices as just being a “circumstance” of worship, because they constitute sacred space; indeed, I believe that consecrating church buildings is part of the Reformed tradition (correct me if I’m wrong on this). So, while the building is not an element of worship, it’s an aid to worship.

    >We can worship equally validly inside a building, or at an easter-morning lakeside sunrise outdoors service.

    Agreed. I think we might differ in _this_ respect: I’d say that the fact the Easter sunrise services are the only services which the Church regularly holds outdoors has theological significance; the service ties in with Matthew 28:1 (“as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week”). You’d be more likely to see it as a human convention.
    To look at the picture from a different perspective: OK, a worship which takes place inside, say, a civic auditorium can be just as “valid” as that which occurs inside a cathedral. On the other hand, what’s the whole point in having church architecture? Does _meaning_ tie into it somehow?
    Regarding the golden calf incident, in Exodus 32:1 the Israelites said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us.” Doesn’t that say it all? Aaron’s “proclamation” in verse 5 (“Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord”) is an attempt to give a false spiritual veneer to their idolatry.
    Finally, re: the Lincoln Memorial vs. the creche, yes, I did say “kneel and worship”. But I make a distinction between kneeling “before” a creche and kneeling “to” a creche.

  26. Pooka says:

    I heard Horton recently say something to the effect that there are so many religions out there with their sacred spaces and holy grounds. He said ours goes against the grain. The whole building could be razed flat and we’d still be the same church. That’s either from the latest WHI podcast or maybe a lecture.

    I’m pretty sure that we put stock in the building beyond normal “attachedness” as with our house or property, we’re making the facility an idol or at least coming dangerously close to it. The temple is not, will not be our building. Better to rent a school auditorium for worship than to build, thinking we create holy ground, a place which will not last.

  27. John Harutunian says:

    Pooka, you’re raising all kinds of heavy issues; I just want to make sure that you’re aware of them:

    >Better to rent a school auditorium for worship than to build, thinking we create holy ground, a place which will not last.

    I’m no history of civilization expert, but as far as I know ever since human beings have been on earth they’ve had this awareness that it’s appropriate that there be a relationship between a) what happens inside a building, and b)what the building looks like on the outside. Can you imagine a civilization in which all buildings looked exactly alike? A civilization where you didn’t know what kind of a place you were entering -except by reading a sign in front that had written on it: “department store” or “hospital” or “museum” or “supermarket” or “town hall”, or “worship building”, etc.? I doubt that there’s ever been such a totally left-brained society.
    Which is why I can’t quote Scripture to prove my point. Because this isn’t something which God needed to communicate to us via special revelation.
    And of course, just as you say, the building will not last. What will? Ultimately, only God, and ourselves in relationship to Him -either (through His grace) a right relationship of love and worship, or a sinful one of rebellion and alienation. (In other words, heaven and hell.) And yet: we do things like get married, send our kids to college, read Shakespeare, listen to Beethoven, visit art museums, follow sports, watch movies. All “secular”, temporal activities which won’t last. But aren’t they the things which make us human?
    And you’re right: we don’t create holy ground. We don’t “create” _any_ kind of ground, holy or unholy. What we do is to say: This building is set apart (hence the term “Sanctuary”) from everything which happens on Monday through Saturday (labor, recreation, buying necessities, entertainment, etc.). It’s set apart for the worship of God, on the Lord’s Day. It’s set apart as a place where God meets His people, and inhabits their praises. Insofar as it is such, it can give us a glimpse of eternity. Because if the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is true, then heaven is a place, too. The ultimate Holy Place. The ultimate Sanctuary.
    Does this make sense?

  28. RubeRad says:


    We don’t “create” holy ground, because we can’t. God can, and did, but doesn’t any more (until he recreates all heave and earth). We may “set apart” a building for worship, but the same space is used for secular purposes outside the Lord’s Day, because there’s nothing holy about the space; what’s actually been set apart and made holy by God is the time. Since the destruction of the temple and the obsolescence of the Old Covenant, God no longer endorses any meeting place with his people; this is huge, the distinction between a localized Old Covenant, and a non-localized New Covenant.

    And yes, of course there’s a relationship between the appearance (and function) of a building, and our theology. There’s a reason the Reformed church architecture gives the pulpit the highest prominence, and Rome the altar. But that doesn’t make the building holy. The only things that are holy are what God declared to be holy.

    As for the golden calf, I’ve heard Horton point to Ex 32:4,8 as evidence that Israel intended to worship the right God, and the WHI crowd all agreed vociferously (although maybe Dad Rod was holding his tongue?). What is unquestionable is that the Reformed understanding of commandments 1 and 2 is that 1 is “who” and 2 is “how”; whence the Regulative Principle. And if 2 is not “how”, but just “who” again, then I guess it is redundant, and it only makes sense to combine them into one commandment. But then you have to split coveting into two completely redundant commandments. Which system makes more sense?

    As for a Reformed history/tradition of consecrating church buildings, I know nothing of this, and would be interested to hear if you can find more information.

    And I think Pooka’s right on the money about our view of our buildings. (Although around here, it’s hard to be wrong if you’re quoting Horton. There’s a reason we made him an OHS (OutHouse Saint)…)

  29. RubeRad says:

    BTW, here’s Institutes 2.8.12, where Calvin discusses dividing the ten commandments this way or that…

  30. Pooka says:

    Something about worshiping God who rode in on a golden cow, if I recall.

    I was gonna say all that, Rube. You got it better than I would’ve, though.

    Second time through the Scaer and Horton lectures was wowcool. Didn’t change my opinion on the first, which still rambled and didn’t make clear why he got to the conclusion that a creche right up front for us to kneel at was worthwhile nor blessed idolatry. Must be an inside Lutheran joke or something.

    Horton’s connection of the holy of holies is something like real beef jerky (not the soft garbage you buy at Vons). Cowboys used to keep the stuff under their saddle to tenderize it before consuming. The implications are such that you really have to chew for a long time before you get it all the way down.

  31. John Harutunian says:

    >God no longer endorses any meeting place with his people

    I think this is tricky. Insofar as it’s a corollary of the catholic, i.e., universal, nature of the New Covenant (as opposed to the ethnic, national nature of the old one), I’d agree with it. OK, the New Covenant isn’t “localized”. But does that mean that there’s now no such thing as sacred space? I believe there is.
    What were the events in redemptive history which ushered in the New Covenant? The Incarnation (as in “carne”, and “carnal” [to put it bluntly]), the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. All profoundly physical. My point is that even under the New Covenant “matter matters”. Which leads me to believe that those who hold that physical entities (including buildings) can no longer be sacred bear the burden of Biblical proof.
    To narrow things down: I’m assuming that Calvin’s silence on the practice of consecrating buildings (please correct me if I’m wrong here and he wasn’t silent) implies that he accepted the practice. To narrow them down still further: if it’s only the time, and not the place, of worship which is set apart, then the place is best referred to as an _auditorium_: a large physical space where God’s Word is authoritatively preached and _heard_. But auditorium is a Baptist/Pentecostal word, isn’t it? As far as I know, most Reformed churches use the word _Sanctuary_ -a holy “place” where God inhabits His peoples’ praises, and indeed is present in a special way.
    It does seem to me that there’s a tension in the Reformed tradition. Here are two cases, which happen to be drawn from my own geographical neck of the woods (I live in a Boston suburb). The first is recounted in an essay,
    “Elegance and Sensitivity in the Calvinist Tradition” by Gretchen Townsend Buggeln (found in the compendium “Seeing Beyond the World: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition” by Paul Finney). Buggeln notes that in
    a sermon given at the dedication of the New Brick Church in Hartford CT in 1807, Rev. Nathan Strong stated that it was completely inappropriate that churches should be used for other than worshipful ends. “The house of God is not a place for us to mingle earthly and holy joys, for they are not in their nature capable of being united.” He did qualify his position: when used for inanimate things the word “holy” didn’t refer to a sacred quality inherent in the object but the condition that the object be “restricted for use in the worship and service of God.” Buggeln concludes, “Connecticut’s Calvinist worship spaces thus became ‘elegant’, not quite sacred but reserved, nonetheless, for special, spiritual purposes.”
    A stronger case involves my own home church, Park Street Church (Congregational) in Boston. The church is now loosely Reformed. But when it was founded 200 years ago it was distinctively so. In his dedication sermon in 1810, the church’s Calvinistic minister, Edward Dorr Griffin, posed three questions: 1)Does the omnipresent God dwell in any one place? 2)Will God dwell with men on the earth? 3)Can it be presumed that He will dwell in this house which we have built. He answered all three questions affirmatively. As if that weren’t enough, the conclusion of his discourse included the sentence, “For the preaching of the word, for the public service of prayer and praise, for the administration of the sacraments of the new testament _and for the residence of the eternal God_ [my emphasis] we consecrate the house…”
    Regarding the second commandment, there are two reasons why I can’t concur with the Reformed interpretation. First, if the commandment were taken literally, it would forbid any artistic rendering of anything whatsoever “in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.” But God Himself commanded the fashioning of images in the Temple (II Chroncles 3:10). Second is the whole basis for the commandment: “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” Taken together, these two factors would surely indicate that what is forbidden is the actual worship of idols, not the use of images in worship.
    Finally, regarding the golden calf incident in Exodus 32, I can’t see how Horton can read “make us _gods_” and “These are your _gods_, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” -where in both cases the plural is used- and conclude that the peoples’ intention was to worship the _one_ true God. And I can’t imagine (pardon the pun!) an Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or even Roman Catholic theologian speaking of an icon as the Hebrews spoke of the calf.

  32. Pooka says:

    Talking with the Wife last night about this… She thought it would be no more likely to make a holy place than to make holy water. Just doesn’t work.

    We’re implying that there can be something similar to a “holy of holies” in our churches. That also sorta makes me think there should be a problem with unbelievers coming to our holy place. And this ends up, considering human craving for power over space and time, to be an opportunity for mysticism and all sorts of complications.

    When I was a witch, I was serious about holy places and sacred stuff in the material world. The memory of all that makes me very concerned about any of this potentially mystical stuff. Makes it hard enough to tackle the Reformed ideas as is. I’m not willing to go further into what seems to me to be Roman Catholic stuff.

    There’s no special instruction in the NT that I’ve heard about how we’re supposed to set up our places of worship. This in contrast with the OT’s specific guidance on everything worship related, even the priest’s t-shirt.

    Seems like the “holy” in our church is now US. In the NT, we’re given all the instructions, in detail, but it’s directed toward our actions and beliefs, not our ritual practices. Might be why we have such a short list of sacraments in Christianity. Contrast with other religions, of course…

  33. Pooka says:

    The context of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, sensibly read in context has to include the bit about bowing down. Your first reason about taking the commandment literally seems to be sort of inappropriate. Maybe I don’t understand the Reformed position well enough, but I can’t see anyone with sense actually reading “no carved image of any sort” out of the text.

    Your second reason is legitimate insofar as worship of idols but setting aside “use of images in worship” as acceptable just doesn’t jive. The OT had rich and meaningful symbolism in the temple and religious practices of the people. There was a requirement for them to maintain their position through practice because it was humans doing the atonement action and worship was dependent on properly following the protocols.

    New Testament practice is specifically prescribed as proclaiming the Word, bread and wine, prayer and songs etc. There’s no more physical temple or priestly order which are governed by special activities using materials, symbols etc which are sanctified “set aside.”

    I think this is a case of cancellation. I hope I’m not out of context in reading Hebrews 7-8; seeing that the priestly conduct was practiced under the law and Christ replaced that, being the perfect high priest. Those types and shadows are uncovered, revealed. This renders, in my understanding, all the paraphernalia to be not only useless, but as grasping as the Judaizers. Same thing, really. We need to let go of that stuff.

    We have water, bread and wine. These are our symbols now and they are not insufficient for our worship. The building, paintings, wall-hangings, icons and whatnot are not only inappropriate, they hearken back to the old covenant.

  34. RubeRad says:

    Amen! Go pooka!

  35. RubeRad says:

    What were the events in redemptive history which ushered in the New Covenant? The Incarnation (as in “carne”, and “carnal” [to put it bluntly]), the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. All profoundly physical. My point is that even under the New Covenant “matter matters”. Which leads me to believe that those who hold that physical entities (including buildings) can no longer be sacred bear the burden of Biblical proof.

    Yes absolutely matter matters. That’s one of the big points around here with our W2K leanings, is that matter matters. You’ll find no gnostics hanging around the Outhouse (or I don’t know, maybe gnostics enjoy ridding themselves of matter) But the flipside of that point is that “matters” does not equal “is holy”. Stuff doesn’t have to be holy to matter.

    As for bearing the burden of Biblical proof, I disagree entirely. I’m the one that’s trying not to do something (consecrate a building). If you want to do it, where’s your biblical precedent? God declared the tabernacle and the temple holy, the ark of the covenant, the furnishings, the vessels, the altar, and maybe even the city. You could even say that God used men as the means to sanctify these things, because God gave them instructions about how to throw blood on everything in sight (Heb 9:21). And he promised that his presence would dwell in the temple, that the ark in the holy of holies would be his footstool.

    So where does God give us any mandate to (or instructions how to) consecrate things? Where do we see the mandate to set apart the ordinary so that it has a holy use? Water, bread, and wine.

    (In a similar vein — but as a complete and utter threadjack — where does the Bible give ministers of the gospel mandate or instructions on executing “Christian marriage”?)

    You cite two sources, but I find them unconvincing. The old guy seems just plain wrong. Would your church deny a request to hold a town council meeting in the sanctuary on Tuesday night, with appropriate rental compensation for use of the space, utilities, cleanup, etc.? Alcoholics Anonymous? Would you object to a new church starting up in a seventh-day adventist facility? (As my church in fact did)

    As for your own church, describing it as “loosely Reformed” does not help your case. Maybe this concept of holy space is more “loosely” and less “Reformed”.

    For “strongly Reformed”, I offer WCF 21.6

    Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto.

    By your logic though, if you “set apart” a walk-in closet in your guest bedroom for devotions and prayer, wouldn’t that make it holy?

    Two more thoughts: Firstly, look at our view of the bible. Many have the words “Holy Bible” on the cover, and yet we don’t believe the holy contents actually make the paper and goatskin holy. We can drop (or set) it on the floor, keep it in our pocket and sit on it, keep it in a regular bookcase, etc. Contrast this to the Koran, which is considered to be physically holy, such that flushing one down a toilet is a viable form of torture of devout Muslims.

    Lastly, you make a good point with Sanctuary vs. Auditorium. I have no theologians to quote on this one, but only anecdotal evidence. I have heard it mentioned that “sanctuary” is a theologically unfortunate term, which we use only because everybody’s used to it, and nobody has raised enough of a stink to make any change. (Contrast this with “altar”. Catholics have altars, Finneyites have altar calls, but we Reformed are quite explicit in avoiding the word.) Note also that our own Zrim is fond of noting around these parts that “fellowship hall” is a pietistically optimistic term for the multipurpose room where Christians have coffee and snacks after enjoying true Fellowship in the divine service of Word and Sacrament.

  36. RubeRad says:

    Seems like the “holy” in our church is now US

    YES — why didn’t I think of this sooner? 1 Pet 2:5

    As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

    And see G. K. Beale’s marvelous book (or listen to his author’s forum lecture) The Temple and the Church’s Mission

  37. Pooka says:

    THAT’s what I was looking for. Right on.

  38. Pooka says:

    SPECIALLY optimistic if you throw in AWANA clubs, Bingo and other oddities some churches will include in their fellowship hall.

  39. RubeRad says:

    But the “Calvinist Cadet Corps”, we all know that’s holy. It’s Calvinist — it’s right there in the name!

  40. Pooka says:

    ROFL! Holy Sawdust!

  41. RubeRad says:

    This is helpful too; the OPC Directory of Public Worship offers Suggested Forms for Particular Services, including “Thanksgiving for a Church Building.” Right off the bat, under “Guiding principles,” they distance themselves from holiness of the place:

    Under the gospel, the worship of God is no longer localized in a holy site on this earth. The living God is rather worshiped in spirit and in truth in the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ the Mediator is. It may nevertheless be expedient to set aside a place for worship assemblies and the service of God’s people. When God provides such a place, it is fitting for a congregation corporately to thank him, to ask his special blessing on its use, and to commit itself to using the place for his glory, especially for the advancement of the gospel.

    If you read through the rest of it, note how they are pretty careful in praying that God would bless what happens in the building, not the building itself, or make it “holy” or “sacred”.

  42. RubeRad says:

    Here also the PCA DPW, which is unfortunately less reserved in its words. It is obviously a modification of the older OPC version, but they replace the repeated congregational response of “We beseech your blessing” with “We dedicate this house.” And the OPC’s very neutral phrase “So bless the use of this facility, we pray…” with “Bless this Your house…” Yikes!

    I don’t know if it will do much good, but I’m going to point these differences out to my (PCA) pastor, and suggest that he bring up changing this language at the next GA…

  43. Pooka says:

    This discussion leads me to believe I should pay more attention to the language we use. I haven’t read the DPW stuff, but it’s apparent the big folks in charge of such things take great care in how things are worded so as not to allow for the wrong impressions. Me n my little self should too. Good stuff, guys. Thanks!

  44. John Harutunian says:

    First of all, RubeRad and Pooka, a couple of basic issues on which we’d agree: However this discussion proceeds, two good things have come out of it so far. You’ve made me think. Thank you. And I’ve drawn to your attention something about most Presbyterian confessions which (I assume) you’ll now attempt to remedy.
    Second, John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Right on. (All Christians need to be reminded of this.) I’d just add: perhaps he spoke better than he knew. For ultimately it’s the _heart_ that makes the idols, not the hands. Most of the idols which all of us face today are not physical entities. Agreed?
    Now back to the discussion.

    >We’re implying that there can be something similar to a “holy of holies” in our churches.

    Fair objection, Pooka. Agreed -the Holy of Holies is obsolete, and irrelevant to believers under the New Covenant. But what makes it so? It’s the fact that only the high priest could enter it, and only once a year, and only if he took a sacrifice in with him. Since Jesus Christ made a once-for-all atoning sacrifice, all of this no longer applies. But: to say that the Holy of Holies is obsolete just because it was something physical which was “set apart” (that is, designated as holy) -that’s a different proposition.

    > I’m not willing to go further into what seems to me to be Roman Catholic stuff.

    But it’s not: it’s also Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran. And if most Presbyterian churches have “sanctuaries”, it might even be Reformed!

    >There’s no special instruction in the NT that I’ve heard about how we’re supposed to set up our places of worship.

    Agreed. We can go even further: there’s no commandment that “places of worship” be set up at all! But that doesn’t mean that we violate Scripture when we set them up -or when we dedicate them to the purpose of worshiping God.

    >Seems like the “holy” in our church is now US.

    But is this really something new? Weren’t believers holy under the Old Covenant? (I haven’t met too many Jobs lately!) Check out I Peter 1:21.
    Let me try to be clearer in stating my position on the Second Commandment. I look at Exodus 20:3-5 (all “in context” as you say). Verses 3, 4 and the beginning of 5 -the commandments against having other gods, making images, and bowing down- are given a rationale (a basis, an explanation) in verse 5. What’s the explanation? “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” In the Reformed view, the implied corollary is: “Therefore, when you worship me, don’t make use of images in your worship.” A non sequitur. Doesn’t make any sense. The normal inference is: “Therefore, I will not tolerate any rivals (i.e., idols) -because I am a jealous God.” This seems to be the natural sense of the text.
    RubeRad, let me state your position as I understand it: “Matter can’t be holy. Under the Old Covenant it could; under the New Covenant it no longer can.” _That’s_ what I think needs some explicit Biblical support, rather than just inferences.

    >We can drop (or set) [a Bible] on the floor, keep it in our pocket and sit on it, keep it in a regular bookcase, etc.

    I do realize that my position can degenerate into legalism. However, if you were sitting in your office with a lot of books around, and wanted to prop the door open and had no doorstop -wouldn’t you prefer to use a book other than a Bible?
    Regarding Park Street Church: Its first minister, who consecrated it “for the residence of the eternal God” back in 1810 was a Presbyterian who held to the Westminster Confession of Faith. (Edwin Dorr Griffin, whose sermons you can find published by The Banner of Truth Trust.) And no, the church doesn’t rent out its Sanctuary for secular purposes. I haven’t inquired as to why not, but presumably the consecration has something to do with it. And as a matter of fact, the church building does regularly serve as host to a large Alcoholics Anonymous gathering. But they meet in the multipurpose room, not the Sanctuary.

    > For “strongly Reformed”, I offer WCF 21.6
    >Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, >either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed

    Here I agree. It’s not a matter of acceptability to God -the condition of the heart determines that. I just see it as fitting for the more “solemnly” (to quote the WCF) directed worship of the public assembly on the Lord’s Day to be held in a place reserved, set apart, for that purpose.
    Regarding the OPC Worship Directory quote. First, the writers don’t say that a church edifice can’t be holy, only that God’s worship is no longer “localized in a holy site”. Not quite the same thing. My guess is they deliberately left some wiggle room (which explains the diversity of the nomenclature in Presbyterian churches). Also-
    >it is fitting for a congregation corporately to thank him, to ask his special blessing on its use,
    So the “use” of this particular building warrants a petition for a “special” blessing -as distinct from a blessing which might be invoked on the use of a person’s house or garage. So far, we agree. Is there any connection between the “use” of the building and the building itself? Most of all: Is there New Testament precedent for this petition? A blessing on the “use” of a building, or for that matter, the use of a physical object of any kind?
    RubeRad, your knowledge of Scripture is extremely impressive. As I say, you’ve made me think. But as you look at questions like this last one, don’t you think it’s appropriate to ask yourself, “Where is my hermeneutic taking me?”

  45. Pooka says:

    John, I appreciate your part here too. It’s a challenge to what I’m having to consider and clarify amongst me and I since I’ve not really come across this discussion in the past. IOW, it’s new territory that hasn’t been articulated for me.

    I mentioned this really good discussion to the pastor at our church and he reminded me that such things are good but need to keep balance with an applied value for our Christian lives. Gotta keep it from becoming purely intellectual and scholarly. Which is something I usually have to work on, my pride being something of a thorn at the best of times. All that to say, I’m not out to call foul or consider a brother like you in error for your points.

    Ok, interlude done…

    We’ve hit on idols, then sort of moved over to what is “right” in use of things (physical and temporal) during worship. I mean during, since the problem is what we use for worship. Pictures and articles, even music become mystical and eventually necessary for proper worship when we use them in context as a medium to guide or establish worship.

    This is where the Israelites got it wrong. This is where the icon-ites get it wrong today, too (RC, Episco, Aglic, Lutheran etc.). I am convinced the folks who put extra sacraments, heavy weight on ceremony and pomp, “stations” and other symbology in worship are adding to what should (IMOHO) be straightforward and sacred because of the people and their confession all wrapped up in God’s grace and promises.

    Sacred or special objects and items are simply not in the New Testament. This is still my main point. The silence is not a continuation thing or holdover from OT. It’s what I would call obliterating silence. Christ removed the need for ceremonial temple practice, to the point that we don’t need worship aids. We’re told the basics in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. If there was prescription for worship, we’d have seen it in the pastoral epistles to say the least if not some mention of how we should set up shop from Jesus himself.

    Yes, there’s tradition that speaks of iconography, but is that right? Apparently some Reformers took exception to use of such things. I think they were right enough.

    To assign special place to objects, forms or other paraphernalia is to elevate them in our worship. The tendency I see is sacramentalism. IOW, we may introduce competition with the real sacraments.

    Regarding sanctuaries, I think we assign that word inappropriately. Webster defines it first as a holy, set apart place. Which would be nice except isn’t it more appropriate as a place of refuge, of safety? I think our pastor referred to it in relation to the place where the sheep are gathered for protection. Not so much holy as a simply a place that is specially put up for our protection and nourishment. The place itself doesn’t do much other than keep the boundaries and put something between us and the weather. It’s more a buffer that shuts out the wild world for the duration of our worship.

    John, I think you’re right, if the Reformers were saying, literally, “Therefore, when you worship me, don’t make use of images in your worship.” But I’m not sure they were. At least I hope that isn’t true. I think what it should mean is that the Word and sacrament are sufficient and there isn’t more.

    Not derailing into a music thread, but consider how music is similar. It’s sacred music because of the content, not because it’s old or popular. If it drives home the point of the Gospel, we’re in business. Granted, if the arrangement or instrumentation sucks, the whole thing tends to fall flat, but in contrast, great rendition does not a sacred music make. Yet another mincing of words, I guess.

    You’re right that the “holy” in our church is the same as the potentially “holy” of the “church” Israel. But they got it wrong as a nation.

    Finally, I’m not able to “blast” your position because, handled rightly, media of all sorts in worship can lend to worship and respect for such things is inherent or unavoidable. It’s gonna happen and, if the threat is beaten down routinely, it’s safe enough.

    I don’t think it’s the safest thing, to allow for sacred objects, because there will be some who over-do it and make sacraments, requirements for proper worship. THAT leads to legalism. Leads to a “gospel” of works. At best, it distracts from what really matters, the Word, our communion, our baptism.

  46. RubeRad says:

    Regarding sanctuaries…

    Well the word has come to mean something like “asylum” nowadays, but it must have had a more religious origin, because of “Sanct-” as in “Sanctify”, “Sanctus”. I have no idea how the historical evolution of the word interplays with Christian or Reformed usage. I.e. what time periods were the Reformed using the term “sanctuary” — before or after it came to mean “place of protection”?

  47. RubeRad says:

    But it’s not: it’s also Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran. And if most Presbyterian churches have “sanctuaries”, it might even be Reformed!

    That’s a fair point. And I think it is thus fair to say that iconoclasm is an important distinctive of the post-Lutheran Reformation. Just take a look at LC 107-110 and HC 96-98, and you’ll see that, quite emphatically, the Reformed just don’t truck with no images.

    RubeRad, let me state your position as I understand it: “Matter can’t be holy. Under the Old Covenant it could; under the New Covenant it no longer can.”

    That’s close, but I would restate it like this: The default state of all matter is non-holy (not set apart). Matter can be holy, but only if God declares it to be holy. Under the Old Covenant he declared lots of matter to be holy; in the New Covenant, he only authorized the setting apart for holy use of Water, Bread and Wine. (Perhaps also Word, but that’s not really ‘matter’.)

    So the “use” of this particular building warrants a petition for a “special” blessing -as distinct from a blessing which might be invoked on the use of a person’s house or garage. So far, we agree. Is there any connection between the “use” of the building and the building itself?

    This I think is the point. The OPC prayer I think is good because it prays for blessing on the use of the building, rather than the building itself. And this blessing would not necessarily be distinct from the special blessing a mission pastor might ask for the use of a house or garage, if indeed his fledgling church is meeting in a house or a garage. And I guess I would say that there is not a connection between the building and the use, insofar as proper use does not depend on this building or that building, or no building at all.

    And I’ve drawn to your attention something about most Presbyterian confessions which (I assume) you’ll now attempt to remedy.

    Yes, I think the PCA DPW is problematic in this regard, but it’s not my place to change it. I threw it over the fence to my pastor, and it’s now up to him to decide whether to pursue the appropriate process to try to get it changed at General Assembly. Or maybe I’ll create a new, separate post to see if there are any other PCA teaching/ruling elders who might be interested in jumping on the bandwagon (certainly not everybody reads this far down a comment trail)

    What’s the explanation? “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” In the Reformed view, the implied corollary is: “Therefore, when you worship me, don’t make use of images in your worship.” A non sequitur.

    This is a good point, and a helpful one for me to consider, as I am beginning preparation for a debate on a related topic. As you can see I am strongly iconoclastic when it comes to worship; but I buck the confessions when it comes to images of Christ for non-worship purposes (i.e. education and art). And because I cannot turn to the confessions for help arguing for liberty here, I will have to major on the 2nd commandment; making clear how I see that it forbids images in worship (even of Christ), but permits images outside of worship (even of Christ).

    I agree with you though, that focusing only on the text of the 2nd commandment, it’s tough to get to “don’t worship the true God with images”. I would point instead at Deut 4:15–, where God highlights that he never gave Israel an image to worship with (does this passage allow wiggle room for Israel to worship with a painting of smoke & fire? I don’t think so). Or at other foundational passages for the Regulative Principle, like Nadab&Abihu dying for their strange fire.

    If you’re not on board with the Regulative Principle — you must worship God only in ways that he has commanded — then probably you can’t read the 2nd commandment as instituting/enforcing the Regulative Principle. (And you probably won’t jive with my “matter is not holy unless God declares it holy” argument.) So you will be stuck with a 2nd commandment that is no different than the 1st commandment: “don’t worship other Gods with idols, in which case, since the bible does say in a few places “ten”, you’re stuck dividing some other commandment in two, and the only option is probably coveting, but that creates its own redundancy on the back end.

    Maybe this is the bottom line; since the Bible says “ten”, we are forced to find ten different commandments in Ex 20, thus the 2nd commandment must mean something more than just the 1st commandment, thus (in association with other scriptures) the Regulative Principle.

  48. Pooka says:

    Etymology: Sanctuary
    mid-14c., “building set apart for holy worship,” from Anglo-Fr. sentuarie, from O.Fr. sainctuarie, from L.L. sanctuarium “a sacred place, shrine” (especially the Hebrew Holy of Holies; see sanctum), also “a private room,” from L. sanctus “holy” (see saint). By medieval Church law, fugitives or debtors enjoyed immunity from arrest in churches, hence transferred sense of “immunity from punishment” (late 14c.). General (non-ecclesiastical) sense of “place of refuge or protection” is attested from 1560s; as “land set aside for wild plants or animals to breed and live” it is recorded from 1879. Under English law, one claiming the right of sanctuary had 40 days to confess and accept permanent banishment. This was abolished in Britain 1625 in criminal cases, 1696, 1722 in civil cases.

    So, primary value of the term is apparently from Holy of Holies/Hebrew.

    Which leads to our use being a carryover from that, I would assume.

    Comparing our sanctuary to the history of churches (physical structures), is it probably tradition that formed at some point post the N.T. house churches and borrowed synagogues? A tendency, just as we’ve been talking about here so far, to create sacred spaces? Rome sure does it.

    My Christian history is not thorough, certainly, but it might be worthwhile to see where the first real development of particularly-for-worship-places were. And see how they were treated.

    In listening to a series from CURC in Santee on the history, it’s apparent that relics and such were valued as tangible connections to the apostolic era and so-on. Catholics perpetuate that today, don’t they? -though I doubt the connection or use is the same. Did the ancients do the same with places? If so, were their reasonings similar to our own?

    Far as the commandments I think I’m square with you, Ruben on the RPW. That makes sense. I do need to read more on that subject, though.

  49. Todd says:

    “Maybe this is the bottom line; since the Bible says “ten”, we are forced to find ten different commandments in Ex 20, thus the 2nd commandment must mean something more than just the 1st commandment, thus (in association with other scriptures) the Regulative Principle.”


    That is assuming it is translated “commandments” instead of “words” or “sayings”, which is more likely. If words or sayings, the debate continues over how the sayings are separated.

  50. Pooka says:

    But I’m not seeing any difference in how it breaks up. Seems pretty obvious to me that 1-10 are 1-10. I would think?

  51. Todd says:


    Well, sayins make it more difficult because commandments are imperatives and easier to distinguish from indicatives. Sayings is much more general and can include indicatives like the opening statement, which would make the separations a bit more fuzzy.

  52. RubeRad says:

    Yes, there is arguably an option to make the preface (I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt) “Word” #1. This is an option Calvin rejects basically because “10 commandments” seems more plausible than “1 Word and 9 commandments”.

    But in the Reformed tradition, the confessed division is clear; 1 preface + 10 commandments, only one of which is about coveting.

  53. Pooka says:

    Oh, well I guess it’s gonna have to be the easy way for me. I’m not seeing where the passage is a suggestion or narrative statement. Them’s commandments, o yes they are. Word from God, in this context = command/imperative. No quibbles allowed. Law.

    Or would you consider these portions of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 Gospel passages?

    Now, I may still be misunderstanding you, so if it appears I don’t get it, I probably don’t. Lemme know.

  54. Pooka says:

    Ruben, you apparently got what Todd was saying. I guess I need to go read more. Over my head.

  55. RubeRad says:

    First off, the literal Hebrew is “ten words”, not “ten commandments”. So what Todd is referring to is the possibility that they are:
    1. I am the Lord your God, which delivered you from Egypt
    2. No other gods
    3. Lord’s name
    4. Sabbath
    5. Honor
    6. Murder
    7. Theft
    8. Adultery
    9. Lie
    10. Covet

    In that division, the first “Word” is an indicative, the other 9 commandments are imperative.

    There’s actually a very interesting wikipedia article I’ve run across before…

  56. John Harutunian says:

    (I’m addressing the third paragraph after your interlude.)
    Actually, Pooka, there is one New Testament instance in which an object seems to have been sacred. Acts 19:12 relates how God healed people through “handkerchiefs” or “aprons” worn by Paul. I doubt that the healing was automatic; I think faith must have been required. So the “aprons” weren’t magical. But they do seem to have been holy in some way. Somehow distinguished from ordinary aprons.

    >Christ removed the need for ceremonial temple practice

    Ceremonial *temple* practice, yes. But did He abolish ceremony? I don’t think so. Here’s why:
    Picture to yourself these four events: a)birth, b)graduation, c)marriage, d)death. What happens at each? a) pink or blue(depending on whether it’s a girl or boy), cigars being handed out, congratulations extended. b)a band playing “Pomp and Circumstance”, gowns, a handshake with the principal, the receiving of a diploma, caps being tossed into the air. c)black for the groom, white for the bride, a slow, measured processional down an aisle, people standing and sitting at certain times, rote questions being asked and answered (“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” “Her mother and I.” “Do you promise to love, honor, and cherish…? etc.) d)a black hearse, formal clothes, a casket (draped with a flag if it’s a military funeral), a eulogy stressing the deceased’s virtues and minimizing his vices.
    What do we see in all these things? Ritual. Ceremony. Why? Because: something important is happening. There are of course cultural variations in each of these cases, but the underlying principle is universal. It really does look like human beings were made for ceremony; it’s part of our nature (animals don’t do any of these things). On these important occasions, words alone aren’t sufficient to give full expression to what is happening.
    Now: When God’s people meet in public assembly on the Lord’s [Resurrection] Day, is something important happening? To ask the question is to answer it.
    Do you see the overall picture? When you look at things from *this* perspective, the critical question becomes: What Biblical warrant do we have -in either the Old Testament or the New- for *eliminating* ceremony and ritual from worship? None that I can see.
    Finally, regarding specific Biblical prescriptions as to exactly how things should be done: I think the reason they’re not there is that God gives us freedom in this area (especially under the New Covenant). Christianity is for the whole world, and different cultures will express things differently. And of course there are personal differences even within a given culture: some people find ornate ceremonies very meaningful, others prefer to keep things comparatively simple. But the underlying “ceremony principle” is always there.
    Make sense? Thanks for being open-minded about this.

  57. John Harutunian says:

    Hope this doesn’t totally complicate things, but here’s why I don’t hold to the Regulative Principle. Do you remember the discussion which a number of us had re: Exclusive Psalmody? It went on for quite a while. And it ultimately came down to an exchange between myself and one other person whose name I’ve forgotten (a sincere and earnest believer; I hope he’s not reading these lines right now). I pointed out that Psalm 22:1 (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) anticipated Christ’s cry of dereliction. That He spoke those words on behalf of, and in the stead of, His covenant people. Why? In order that we might never have to do so. That the words were originally a sincere heart cry on David’s part is undeniable. That God has *commanded” His people to say (or sing) them to Him -especially in view of His promise not to forsake us- is outlandish.
    The response was that “the Psalms aren’t about us. We sing them Christocentrically.” In that case, what does one do with Psalm 51? Was Christ shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin?
    In short, I found the whole Exclusive Psalmody business to be so far out in left field (or right field, depending on how you look at it) that I decided: Anything which could CONCEIVABLY lead to an EP position is something to steer clear of.
    I’ve laid my cards on the table. Hope you’re still talking to me.

    >blessing on the use of the building, rather than the building itself. And this blessing would not necessarily be distinct from the special blessing a mission pastor might ask for the use of a house or garage, if indeed his fledgling church is meeting in a house or a garage.

    Ah, but the fact that *the fledgling church is meeting* in the house or the garage -that’s what warrants the “specialness” of the blessing. Otherwise, wouldn’t the petition be for a _general_ blessing for its use? (That no accidents occur in it, fires, attacks of termites, etc.) And it’s that “specialness” which, as you would say, “has no New Testament warrant.” That’s why I asked you the provocative question about where your hermeneutic is taking you.
    Re: Deuteronomy 4:15, I’d subsume it and the following verses under verse 19 -lest you should be driven to worship them.
    Re: the Ten Commandments, it looks like I’ve started something going! You guys know your stuff. For what it’s worth, here’s my solution:
    Exodus 20:3 -You shall have no gods before me. Meaning “You are to acknowledge no other deities.” The basic emphasis here is spiritual, i.e., non-material.
    Exodus 20:4-5 -You shall not bow down to any graven images. Meaning “Don’t fashion and bow down to idols.” The basic emphasis here is more specific, and physical. So the numbering remains intact.

    >The default state of all matter is non-holy (not set apart).

    Agreed. Of course, I’d point out that if you substitute “spirit” for “matter” the statement is still true. But you make a critical point when you say that matter is only holy if God says it is. This puts me in a bind. I believe, as do the Reformed, that the Church has no legislative authority. Yet, bishops consecrate church buildings; that is, set them apart for holy use. Here’s my out (which I think is valid): there’s a critical difference between the holiness of a consecrated edifice and the holiness of the Sacramental elements.
    Don’t ask me to articulate it, though:)

  58. John Harutunian says:

    just thought of the difference between the holiness of a consecrated building and the holiness of the Communion elements. The latter has specific sacramental efficacy (though not ex opere operato); the former serves as a general aid to worship.
    I checked Calvin’s Institutes. Indeed, there’s nothing in it about consecrating buildings. However, there’s nothing in it *against* the practice either. Given what I know about Calvin (i.e., his eagerness to point out _any_ unbiblical practices), I’d guess that if he considered this widespread practice as leading to idolatry -or indeed spiritually harmful in any way- he would have had something to say against it.

  59. RubeRad says:

    Do you remember the discussion which a number of us had re: Exclusive Psalmody? It went on for quite a while.

    Yeah, I tapped out of that one pretty early. Nowadays I try to avoid getting entangled in long comment threads, but I started this one, so here I am.

    I’m with you on (or rather against) exclusive Psalmody. My typical case in point is the inadvisability of us singing ps 18:20-24 “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness…” what a horrifying thought! I was going to say “don’t confuse the principle of RP with a debateable consequence of RP” (namely EP), but (“Anything which could CONCEIVABLY lead to an EP position is something to steer clear of.”) apparently you see the distinction already.

    I’ve laid my cards on the table. Hope you’re still talking to me.

    Well here I am, but I’m not sure how much is left to talk about; a fundamental disagreement on RP pretty much guarantees we will disagree on these consequent issues, and I’m not up for chasing you around that same tree again. The rut is already too deep, and I doubt there is new stuff to say.

    there’s a critical difference between the holiness of a consecrated edifice and the holiness of the Sacramental elements.

    Yeah, the sacraments are really holy, because God said so, and a church building is psuedo-holy, because we associate it in our brains with the holy events that occur inside.

    The latter has specific sacramental efficacy (though not ex opere operato); the former serves as a general aid to worship.

    Isn’t that what I just said? (doesn’t “general” mean “not set apart”?) It seems like you want to have some middle-ground half-holy that is under man’s control. I prefer the cleanness of a boolean system.

  60. Pooka says:

    Ah, lots to read there. I shall start studying all that.

  61. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad, I’m not sure what George Boole would have to say about this, but here goes:According to Acts 19:12, God did healing miracles through Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons. The Bible doesn’t say that He would continue doing so indefinitely; on the other hand it doesn’t record a point at which He stopped. I think there’s a clue here.
    If, by some quirk of history, one of these handkerchiefs were found intact today, would it still be holy? I honestly don’t know. But this much I do know: if I felt a sneeze coming, I’d reach for some other handkerchief.
    Here’s a possible analogy. Think unconditional election vs. Arminian free will. We’d both agree that there is a position (be it right or wrong) which lies halfway between those two: synergism. So maybe half-holy has some truth to it (especially if “holiness” can involve points on a continuum).

  62. RubeRad says:

    Boolean = true/false = binary = 0/1, by which I mean to say holiness does not involve a continuum. You’re right, the bible doesn’t record a date at which miraculous signs of healing/tongues/prophecy/etc stopped. but nevertheless, the hanky thing is unfortunately entangled with the question of cessationism. Many (most?) reformed associate the closing of the caonon (the writing of the last book of scripture) with the end of need for accompanying/verifying miracles. I don’t have too much to say on the subject, however.

  63. John Harutunian says:

    Yes, I recognize cessationism just from reading Scott Clark’s blogs. Insofar as it involves the cessation of glossolalia, the Reformed who assume the position are one with Scofield and Co. dispensationalists. Some strange bedfellows here!
    But re: Paul’s handkerchiefs, there’s a bit more to be said. I Peter 2:5 indeed speaks of all believers as a holy priesthood. But surely few would dispute that some believers are holier than others? And if one believes in setting apart physical objects, the same would apply here.

  64. RubeRad says:

    I think most reformed would dispute that any believers are more or less holy than others. There are certainly degrees of sanctification between believers (my favorite catechism Q&A is LC77, which says, among other things, that sanctification is “neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection”)

    There’s two senses at play here; set-apartness (“holy”) and righteousness (“holiness”, sanctification). Children of believers are labeled “holy”; but there are no degrees here, they’re all holy, we baptize them all. But when you start talking about “holier-than” (thou), it’s a different sense.

    And the set-apart sense of holy is the only one that makes any sense for non-person objects, for instance the Sabbath day, the temple, a handkerchief, or (disputedly) a church building. And still I maintain that this sense of holy (actually, both senses) can only be by God’s decree. Therefore church buildings don’t make the cut.

    (And I’m not sure I can grant you the handkerchief either, except possibly for the sake of argument. I’d have to be convinced that “used as a means for a miracle” implies “is holy”. Are the jars in which water turned to wine holy? (Was the resulting wine holy?) What about the spit-mud Jesus “used” to heal blindness — was that holy mud? That matter is presumably still mixed into the rest of the soil of Israel — are those scattered particles of dust still holy?)

  65. John Harutunian says:

    A good point about the two senses of “holy.” I think a few things remain to be said though. We’re not told the function of the spit/mud which Jesus used in the healing; Jesus being God, He had absolute control of the processes of nature (as you know, sometimes He healed without using instruments of any kind). But Paul had no such control over nature. And since he wasn’t present when the healings and exorcisms occurred, it seems more likely that God used the handkerchiefs as instruments. Which I would see as lifting them up out of the natural, ordinary realm into the supernatural realm. Or at least they served as a bridge into the supernatural realm.
    The question about the holy mud, now mixed in with the soil of Israel is analogous to that of the sacred horse-bells in Zechariah 16:20. If one were to be unearthed to day, would it still be holy?
    I’m not sure. But, perhaps as a way of bringing our discussion to a close, you could tell me how you view the Eucharist. I think this has a bearing on the issue, because in general, churches which consecrate edifices also have sacramental worship; those whose congregations meet in an “auditorium” generally have a Zwinglian (or less) view of the Eucharist.
    (Keith A. Mathison, in “Given for You” has an interesting account of the 19th century Eucharistic debate between Charles Hodge and High-Church Calvinist John Williamson Nevin.)

  66. John Harutunian says:

    P.S. More specifically, would you allow for a sense in which the Communion elements are “truly” Christ’s body and blood? I believe Calvin did.

  67. RubeRad says:

    I don’t know that you could cite Calvin as saying that the elements are truly Christ’s body and blood, but that in communion we truly receive Christ’s body and blood. In Institutes 4.17 he spends considerable energy combating both transubstantiation (Catholic) and consubstantiation (Lutheran). You could go to that link and check out the section headings fairly quickly, and this quote from section 19 I think is very useful and representative.

    Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions. First, Let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ. This happens whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or is affixed to any earthly creatures. Secondly, Let no property be assigned to his body inconsistent with his human nature. This is done when it is either said to be infinite, or made to occupy a variety of places at the same time. But when these absurdities are discarded, I willingly admit anything which helps to express the true and substantial communication of the body and blood of the Lord, as exhibited to believers under the sacred symbols of the Supper, understanding that they are received not by the imagination or intellect merely, but are enjoyed in reality as the food of eternal life.

    (That word “exhibit” Calvin seems to like; it appears 24 times on that page).

    There’s also Belgic art. 35:

    just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls. … we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood– but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith. In that way Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven– but he never refrains on that account to communicate himself to us through faith.

    It seems that what they’re saying is that, in parallel with — in conjunction with — our true physical eating with the hand and mouth of our body, we are using the “hand and mouth of our souls” (faith) for a true spiritual eating.

    So I dunno, that was a pretty long answer, which it always seems to be with Calvinists talking about the Lord’s Supper. We claim to stand in the gap between trans-/con-substantiation and memorialism; the only party that can strike the proper balance between sign and signified.

    Another note; at our church (and probably most Reformed churches) understand that the ordinary means are only set apart for holy use during the sacrament. The leftovers are merely ordinary, non-holy, bread and wine. (One can often see a group of teenagers snacking on the extra bread; because we use delicious Kings Hawiian Bread, not tasteless wafers)

  68. RubeRad says:

    Reading your question more carefully, I can answer more briefly: yes, I affirm there is a sense that the Communion elements are “truly” Christ’s body and blood, and I like the Calvin & Belgic quotes above to explain and qualify that sense.

  69. Pooka says:

    I’ll just pipe in with my 2 bits.

    I’m clear on not agreeing with Trans and Cons since neither is making sense at all. Physical, in time and space, flesh and blood do not work. Just can’t. I mean, why in the world would we come up with such a thing and what benefit could it impart?

    I’m certain that memorialism is seriously undercutting the value of the sacrament. As with baptism, I can’t see how the baptists I grew up with make the two into pure ordinances (commanded practices) when the related OT practices, types/shadows were not simply routine practices.

    I’m not solid on the Lord’s Table so far as how the “middle road” works out. That’s our church and I’m more than willing to bite this one, since the other two fall flat. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around spiritually consuming Christ’s body and blood. Nothing there I can find to actually disagree with, just not understood.

  70. RubeRad says:

    I mean, why in the world would we come up with such a thing and what benefit could it impart?

    Section 16 from Inst 4.17 linked above is also great; this is the section in which he wheels the cannon ’round from Catholics to Lutherans:

    Some [Lutherans], who see that the analogy between the sign and the thing signified cannot be destroyed without destroying the truth of the sacrament, admit that the bread of the Supper is truly the substance of an earthly and corruptible element, and cannot suffer any change in itself, but must have the body of Christ included under it. If they would explain this to mean, that when the bread is held forth in the sacrament, an exhibition of the body is annexed, because the truth is inseparable from its sign, I would not greatly object. But because fixing the body itself in the bread, they attach to it an ubiquity contrary to its nature, and by adding under the bread, will have it that it lies hid under it. I must employ a short time in exposing their craft, and dragging them forth from their concealments. Here, however, it is not my intention professedly to discuss the whole case; I mean only to lay the foundations of a discussion which will afterwards follow in its own place. They insist, then, that the body of Christ is invisible and immense, so that it may be hid under bread, because they think that there is no other way by which they can communicate with him than by his descending into the bread, though they do not comprehend the mode of descent by which he raises us up to himself. They employ all the colours they possibly can, but after they have said all, it is sufficiently apparent that they insist on the local presence of Christ. How so? Because they cannot conceive any other participation of flesh and blood than that which consists either in local conjunction and contact, or in some gross method of enclosing.

    So you can see in there Calvin giving some reasons that he sees for the Lutherans holding to their position. Also, in bold there, you can see the concept that our pastor quite often refers to, usually with the words “the spirit lifts us up, as it were”.

    I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around spiritually consuming Christ’s body and blood.

    Get used to disappointment. BCF 35: “it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.” Also Calvin:

    if, indeed, it be lawful to put this great mystery into words, a mystery which I feel, and therefore freely confess that I am unable to comprehend with my mind, so far am I from wishing any one to measure its sublimity by my feeble capacity. Nay, I rather exhort my readers not to confine their apprehension within those too narrow limits, but to attempt to rise much higher than I can guide them. For whenever this subject is considered, after I have done my utmost, I feel that I have spoken far beneath its dignity. And though the mind is more powerful in thought than the tongue in expression, it too is overcome and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the subject. All then that remains is to break forth in admiration of the mystery, which it is plain that the mind is inadequate to comprehend, or the tongue to express.

    So if you don’t understand, don’t feel bad — you’re in good company! There is paradox here, and the different parties just push it around differently to try to put it where it makes most sense to them.

  71. Pooka says:

    I’ve suspected for the last year of pondering this matter that it’s probably best dealt with in military terms:

    Roger. WILCO.

    Just take, eat, drink, savor the promise.
    Maybe, since baptism is so (apparently) clear in my mind that I was expecting the Supper to process similarly. Darn.

  72. John Harutunian says:

    Well, all I have to say is, “Will the real John Calvin please stand up?”

    >Let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ. This happens whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world,

    So when Christ put on a human body (involving elements of this world) 2000 years ago, His heavenly glory was “stained”, “degraded” “besmirched”…whatever? I can’t see that it was. “Given up”, certainly.

    >or is affixed to any earthly creatures.

    Such as Mary? But it was [presumably] from her that He received (or, if you prefer, took) His human nature.

    >(That word “exhibit” Calvin seems to like; it appears 24 times on that page).

    He certainly does. But if something is being exhibited, it’s really there, isn’t it? And since more than one “exhibition” is held at one time -i.e., Christians all over the world regularly celebrate the Eucharist- we don’t have to worry about “local” presence.
    Now to the more High-Church Calvin:

    >Even though it seems unbelievable that Christ’s flesh, separated from us by such great distance, penetrates to us, so that it becomes our food,let us remember how far the secret power of the Holy Spirit towers above all our senses, and how foolish it is to wish his measurableness by our measure. What, then, our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space.

    That’s my kind of “Calvinistic” theology!

  73. Pooka says:


    Eh? I don’t get it. I mean your whole drift. I get the “High Church Calvin” quote. Just not the human body mary exhibit world corruptible derogatory mixup.

  74. RubeRad says:

    Wow — I didn’t jump to the incarnation from Calvin’s quote. Pretty obviously he’s just talking about bread there. And also he’s referring to the resurrected, ascended, exalted, glorified Christ, not the humiliated Christ. I was a little taken-aback at “affixed to any earthly creatures” though, because it seems odd to use the word creatures for inanimate objects created by God (like rocks), much less inanimate objects assembled by man (like buildings or bread or wine).

    we don’t have to worry about “local” presence

    Well we wouldn’t except for the insistence of the Lutherans.

    And that’s a great Calvin quote as well, although I wouldn’t call your quote higher- (or my quotesl lower-)church. It is only when the Lutherans come in with their “in, with, under, physical, local presence” that we have to delve into the details of “the Spirit truly unites things separated in space.” Is Jesus’ human nature getting stretched into omnipresence (Lutheran ubiquity), or are believers raised to commune with Christ spiritually (note spiritually does not mean “not really”) by the Holy Spirit (Calvinism)?

  75. John Harutunian says:

    RubeRad (and Pooka, to whom I hope this will clarify things), I don’t think my jump to the Incarnation was inappropriate. Calvin claims that Christ’s heavenly glory (which He has had throughout eternity, right?) would be compromised, stained, be the object of something “derogatory”
    >whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world,

    “Whenever” is an awfully big word, and the matter which comprises human bodies is of course “corruptible”. So at this point at any rate, it does seem like Calvin is taking his lead from Plato. Or at the very least, he’s disassociating the Eucharist from the Incarnation. But surely one can’t do that. “The Body of Christ” can mean 3 things: Jesus’ earthly body, the Eucharistic bread, and the Church. They’re all related, aren’t they?
    I liked your last sentence, though. Some real food for thought there (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  76. RubeRad says:

    Okay, well perhaps Calvin meant that Christ would never be humiliated so low as to incarnate himself into bread, which is certainly lesser than man, who bears God’s image. I mean, would it be conceivable that Christ would incarnate himself as a dog or a horse? (or even an actual lion?)

    BUT, beyond that last poke, I’m not going to argue about this, because it’s just silly. Calvin’s legacy speaks for itself, that he would never intentionally question or impugn the incarnation.

  77. John Harutunian says:

    True enough. It looks like this is the issue:
    In your Jan.26 9:40pm blog, 2nd paragraph, Calvin says that Christ’s glory is degraded “whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or is affixed to any earthly creatures. ”
    And in your Jan. 27 block you wrote that he’s referring only to the resurrected, ascended, exalted, glorified Christ, not the humiliated Christ. If so, Calvin seems to implying: There are things (like unions with the material world, iconic representations, etc.) which would not belittle Christ’s eternal glory, but which would belittle His risen and ascended glory. And I [John H. speaking now] just can’t see why this would be so.
    Finally I can’t speak for Roman Catholics, but I certainly don’t believe that Christ incarnates Himself in icons. Or even in Communion: He doesn’t reassume his earthly body every time Christians share in the Eucharist.

  78. RubeRad says:

    I don’t know that RC would say that Christ is incarnated in their icons.

    But it is a good general point that now that Christ has ascended, he is not in the business of descending anymore, until the Last Day.

  79. John Harutunian says:

    OK. Is there a sense in which He nevertheless continues to be present on earth? (“Lo, I am with you always,even unto the end of the world.”) Precisely how? There are two possibilities here. Our dispensationalist brethren would say, “Through each individual believer, and only insofar as he is indwelt by the Holy spirit.” But Anglicans (and I _think_ Reformed), would say “Through the Church, the Body of Christ (a body being the vehicle though which given person is present at a given place at a given time.)”
    And this is what brings me to my conundrum. Does a church have the right to set aside her edifice for sacred use? I believe it does. But if this could be shown to constitute unwarranted legislative authority, I’d have to rethink things.

  80. RubeRad says:

    Well, look at what authority has been granted to the church in the bible; to forgive and condemn, to excommunicate, to baptize, to commune, to preach the word, to take offerings and minister to the earthly needs of at least her own. I can’t think of any others.

  81. John Harutunian says:

    Good point, RubeRad.

    >[the church has been granted authority to] minister to the earthly needs of at least her own

    Setting apart buildings for worship would doubtless come under the category of ministering to the *felt* needs of *some* of her own. That much seems a pretty safe inference. My guess is that you’d then say that the church would be responsible to show why this is only a *felt* need and not a real one.
    Be that as it may, I think that there’s a weightier issue which has developed in the thread, and which would bear a bit more exchange. Calvin seems to have implicitly held that Christ’s heavenly glory, His glory which He has eternally shared with the Father, cannot be degraded by any human act (any more than His Sovereignty can be violated). But Christ’s glory as risen and ascended Lord, *that* glory *can* be degraded -it’s somehow more fragile. And naturally, I don’t see why this should be so.
    You’re far more familiar with Calvin than I am. Am I onto something here?

  82. RubeRad says:

    I really don’t think so. In Institutes 4.17.19, Calvin is clearly setting forth these two principles for the explicit purpose of bounding the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, not Christology in general. The whole pre-/post-ascension thing is just my speculation about one way that Calvin might be read more charitably. Here’s the few sentences previous to the above quote, if you find that context helpful at all:

    19. The presence of Christ in the Supper we must hold to be such as neither affixes him to the element of bread, nor encloses him in bread, nor circumscribes him in any way (this would obviously detract from his celestial glory); and it must, moreover, be such as neither divests him of his just dimensions, nor dissevers him by differences of place, nor assigns to him a body of boundless dimensions, diffused through heaven and earth. All these things are clearly repugnant to his true human nature. Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions. First, Let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ…

  83. RubeRad says:

    My guess is that you’d then say that the church would be responsible to show why this is only a *felt* need and not a real one.

    No, the burden is on your side. It is incumbent upon would-be building-consecrators to show why this is a *real* need, not just a *felt* one.

  84. John Harutunian says:

    Agreed with your last point.
    But re: Calvin’s conception of Christ’s heavenly glory and the need to keep it from earthly [material] stain, I still think I’m onto something. I can’t say I’m 100% clear on exactly what it is, but here goes:
    In Book 11, ch.13, under point 3, Calvin says that Christ was united with Mary’s blood. That’s a pretty graphic way of putting it, but note how Calvin has no problem doing so since the context is the Incarnation. What I find even more revealing is point 4, last two sentences:

    “For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the Virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hand upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!”

    If the Incarnation didn’t violate the glory of Christ’s omnipresence, why would the presence of His body in, with, and under the Eucharistic bread do so? To put it in your terms, why did Calvin choose to “bind the discussion” on Communion, but set it loose regarding the Incarnation?

  85. John Harutunian says:

    Correction: in my last sentence above read “bound” (not “bind”) the discussion.. but let it roam freely regarding the Incarnation?

  86. RubeRad says:

    Because bread is less than man?

  87. John Harutunian says:

    A point well taken.
    There’s a bit more to be said, even so. When the disciples _saw_ the risen Christ they worshiped Him (Matthew 28:17). Lutherans don’t worship, or adore, the Eucharistic bread, because (unlike Roman Catholics) they don’t hold that the whole Christ, including His divinity, is contained therein. Isn’t this a sufficient “boundary” (qualification, restriction)?

  88. Pingback: It’s Official! « The Confessional Outhouse

  89. John Harutunian says:

    I don’t know if we’re still talking about sacred buildings. It seems like RubeRad and I pretty much wrapped the discussion up a couple of weeks ago. And on a positive note. I certainly learned from him; hope that you, RubeRad felt similarly.
    A last question. So what _do_ orthodox, strict Reformed call the big room in which the weekly worship assembly takes place? “Auditorium” (as in “civic auditorium”) doesn’t seem quite appropriate, does it? If, indeed, early Christians did not view the space as sacred, then, as soon as they started building worship edifices (3rd or 4th century?), what did they call the room in which they met to worship? Most Christians would surely respond, “sanctuary”. But if this is wrong, does anybody out there know the right word? (Historically and/or theologically.)

  90. RubeRad says:

    Yeah, I’m pretty much done with this conversation.

    As for the official, calvinist-approved name for the Big Room o’ Worship, I don’t really know. I’ll try to remember to ask around.

    But make sure you take a listen to at least the very beginning of the latest TTR, because in the lead-in quote, they specifically address the Lutheran concept of images of Jesus.

  91. Chris Sherman says:

    We don’t use the word much but is it a “nave”?

  92. John Harutunian says:

    Well now, that’s a really High Church word! In cathedrals, the nave is the main body of the building’s interior, which leads up to the [gulp!] altar. This definitely has theological implications which most Reformed would prefer to avoid.
    At this point in the dialogue, my own concern is a broader one. It seems that if the primary function of a room is to serve as a space where a)the Word is authoritatively proclaimed, and b)the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood is regularly celebrated, that room should be given _some_ kind of special name. If “sanctuary” is out, then, all you Reformed folk out there, what would you call it?

  93. Chris Sherman says:

    Does it have to have a name?

    How about the Hebrew word, “qâhâl”

  94. John Harutunian says:

    I looked up qâhâl -it seems to refer to the congregation itself, rather than the place where it meets.
    What originally got me started on this was my awareness that in general, “auditorium” is a free-church, Baptist, Pentecostal, California megachurch, etc. word. None of which I associate with the Confessional Outhouse. So: If “sanctuary” is out, what’s in?
    Does it have to have a name? Maybe not in an absolute sense. But in practice, I can’t imagine any church -no matter how Reformed- saying “We meet for worship in the [not the fellowship hall, or the basement, or the Sunday School room, or the kitchen]” -and not being able to fill in the blank.

  95. Chris Sherman says:

    I just started reading MH’s book on covenant ecclesiology, “People and Place”. I am kinda thinking along the lines that the people are the place. Could be wrong though.
    Maybe the point of reference is not the room name but the meeting name, if that makes sense.

    We meet in the place formerly known as a sanctuary. Maybe we could just use a symbol for it instead of a name.

  96. John Harutunian says:

    I think that you could indeed make a case that ultimately, it’s people that make a place meaning-full. So in the light of that, let’s look at what’s happening in the whole church building. The room where people hang up their coats has a name -coat room. The room where people eat or snack -kitchen. The room where equipment is kept -storage room (or basement or attic). The room where “necessities” (to use the old-fashioned euphemism) are seen to -bathroom.
    But the room in which the worship takes place -which is what the church is all about- has no name? Why should this be?

  97. RubeRad says:

    Well it’s pretty clear that in practice we do call it a Sanctuary. But as I have mentioned (anecdotally), people that have thought about it have admitted that that’s a theologically unfortunate term. Maybe it could be justified that “Sanctuary” doesn’t mean “holy place”, but “place where holy people gather to do holy things”?

    I believe Zrim has advocated demoting “Fellowship hall” to “multipurpose room”, and using “Fellowship Hall” for the room where the church enjoys true fellowship with Christ and each other.

    How about “Worshiporeum”?

  98. John Harutunian says:

    OK. And “Worship Room” would certainly be a possibility.

    >“Sanctuary” doesn’t mean “holy place”, but “place where holy people gather to do holy things”

    Re: holy people, I can’t resist pointing out that that it’s the _whole_ Christian that is holy. Which includes our bodies -which are constituted from matter.

  99. Chris Sherman says:

    ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
    Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
    What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
    Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
    Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
    What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;
    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
    And for that name which is no part of thee
    Take all myself.

  100. Chris Sherman says:

    How about the, “Delivery Room” ?

    Where Christ is delivered to us by the preaching of the Gospel and we are delivered from our sins. Some might even experience new birth in Christ there.

  101. RubeRad says:

    Delivery Room — nice!

    And for the Shakespeare, I’m not sure that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a very biblical concept, given how closely God attaches himself and all of his attributes to his name.

  102. Chris Sherman says:

    Yes, I agree.

    I quoted Shakespeare in reference to the name of the room, not the name of God.

  103. John Harutunian says:

    Looks like I started something here! Here’s a possible solution on which we might all agree. One caveat: Insofar as it involves the tenuous boundary between the natural and the supernatural realms, it will also involve mystery. So, hard and fast logical categories may not apply (or may apply only to a limited degree).
    Look at the Reformed doctrine of the Eucharist. Calvin taught that when a believer partook of the elements, he truly received Christ’s body and blood. Does this mean that the sacrament is operative apart from faith? Or that Christ is locally present in the elements? No.
    Now look at what happens in a Reformed worship service. The Word is read aloud, and preached with authority. This involves physical phenomena: eyes focusing on a page of print, and sound waves falling on human eardrums. And of course, the consecrated bread and wine are eaten and drunk. These holy things (as RubeRad called them) happen in a particular _place_. Hence, as God’s people leave the church building, they may rightly say, “We were in God’s presence when we were in that place.”
    Not that God was confined to, or locally present in, that place. But in virtue of the “physicality” of what occurred (as I’ve indicated above), may the physical place (i.e., the room) be regarded as “holy” in a qualified, or secondary, sense? Hence the word “sanctuary.”

  104. Chris Sherman says:

    If we saw and heard, ate and drank on a hillside, would we say that was a sanctuary as well?

  105. John Harutunian says:

    No. First, if used in an ecclesiastical sense (as opposed to just any “place of safety”) the concept of sanctuary (be it valid or invalid) denotes the primary room of building.
    Second, in the Old Testament worship occurred in a building, at least in the sense of an enclosed area: either the temple, the tabernacle or a synagogue. Outdoor worship (such as occurred at the Asherah poles [or “groves] mentioned in numerous Old Testament books) signified paganism.
    Which isn’t saying that God has eternally bound Himself to indoor worship, just that Scripture reveals it as the norm for God’s people.

  106. RubeRad says:

    “We were in God’s presence when we were in that place.”

    Yes, but not because of that place. It’s a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy to assume there is a relationship betwen the place and the holiness. (Did you like that? I had to look it up). It’s not like “you are on holy ground”. You gotta be careful, or people will start going barefoot!

    So I don’t know if this helps; as long as we understand that it is the activities in the place that actually have inherent holiness, i.e. “holy place” is defined as “place of holy things/events”, then I can be on board with the term Sanctuary. What we need to avoid is the reverse direction, where the place has an actual holiness, and things that go on inside the place are holy because of the holiness of the place.

  107. Chris Sherman says:

    I suppose there is something to worshiping under a roof/covering. Yet, was not the Garden (pre-fall) the first Temple? I wonder if the Sermon on the Mount would have any bearing on such a discussion. I haven’t studied this much.

    Can we use the RPW to teach us here? How has God shown us about how/where to worship Him? Even so, the emphasis must be on who we worship, not how.

    What of our persecuted brothers that have been forced outdoors, such as happens in China even now?

    Just some random thoughts….

  108. Chris Sherman says:

    “hoc, ergo propter hoc” now that is cool.

    Looking at that chart, I think I pretty much have them all covered by now. I think I am partial to the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. Maybe we could make one of the stupid Facebook polls, “Which Fallacy are you?”

  109. RubeRad says:

    was not the Garden (pre-fall) the first Temple?


  110. John Harutunian says:

    > was not the Garden (pre-fall) the first Temple?

    I recognize this as the kind of conceptual, type-oriented thinking which has engaged many brilliant Reformed minds. Having said that, I see some real problems. In the Garden, God walked with Adam; apart from a few scattered OT theophanies (Abraham’s visitors, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fiery furnace) this was unique. Was He present in the Temple in some kind of local sense? I’m not sure. More seriously, I think this takes a basic theological truth and articulates it backwards. It was the Fall which necessitated the building of the Temple and the implicit sacred/secular division. In the Garden everything was holy, wasn’t it?

    “We were in God’s presence when we were in that place.”

    >Yes, but not because of that place.

    But suppose we find ourselves in God’s presence every time we enter that place?
    Surely this says _something_ about the place. Can it be holy in a secondary kind of way? Something analogous not to the holiness of Scripture but to the holiness of a sermon?

    >You gotta be careful, or people will start going barefoot!

    Point taken. Since Christ made the perfect sacrifice and bridged the gap between God’s holiness and our sinful selves, we don’t need to do that. BUT: Why do we dress up when we go to church? (Again, I’m presuming that most Reformed differ from the laid-back free church, megachurch folk in this respect.) It’s a reminder to us that God is still holy (not a celestial pal). And of course, it involves the physical dimension.

  111. John Harutunian says:

    Can’t resist adding something which I just read. In _Amazing Grace: God’s Pursuit, Our Response_ author Timothy George recounts an incident from his first pastorate in a Baptist church in Georgia. The congregation was having a big fight over whether they should have a ping-pong table in the Fellowship Hall -or whether this would “desecrate the house of God.” A _Baptist_ church, yet! And, not the Sanctuary, but the _Fellowship Hall_, yet!
    So now you see why I’m so surprised that some [relatively sacramental and liturgical] Presbyterians don’t like the word “sanctuary.” It’s really pretty confusing.

  112. Chris Sherman says:

    “It was the Fall which necessitated the building of the Temple and the implicit sacred/secular division. In the Garden everything was holy, wasn’t it?”

    I’m thinking the temple built (post fall) was shadow/type, the reality was in the Garden, and is fulfilled in Christ once again.

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  113. RubeRad says:

    Was He present in the Temple in some kind of local sense?

    Yes, that was the significance of filling the temple with his presence at the dedication (1 Ki 8:10-11). See also 1 Chr 28:2, where David calls the ark of the covenant and the coming temple “God’s footstool”, i.e. an extension of his heavenly throne room.

    And you are right, things were different pre-fall, but there is plenty of biblical evidence that Eden was the first temple. It was holy (full of holiness), but it was not to remain holy (set apart), but rather Adam’s task was to extend it to fill the earth; just like the New Heavens & Earth will be nothing but holiness, the end state of the temple. You should check out Greg Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission either in outline, audio, or book form.

    But suppose we find ourselves in God’s presence every time we enter that place?

    But we don’t. If you were to pop into the “sanctuary” on a Tuesday afternoon to clean the floors, or take a peek at a hymnal, or practice the organ, etc., you would not “find yourself in God’s presence”. The place is entirely circumstantial to the presence. What’s really more important is the people, or arguably the time.

  114. John Harutunian says:

    It looks like I stand corrected about God’s local presence in the Temple.

    >Eden was the first temple. It was holy (full of holiness), but it was not to remain holy (set apart), but rather Adam’s task was to extend it to fill the earth

    But it was a physical place -a garden. So the “physical dimension” of holiness (to put it rather awkwardly) apparently isn’t confined to the time between the Fall and the Incarnation (the age of types and shadows, of weak and beggarly elements, etc.). Isn’t there a parallel between what Adam was commanded to do and what Christians are commanded to do -a parallel that involves the physical dimension? If so, consecrating buildings would be a part of this, wouldn’t it?

  115. RubeRad says:

    Isn’t there a parallel between what Adam was commanded to do and what Christians are commanded to do -a parallel that involves the physical dimension?

    That is an interesting and difficult question, which gets to the root of what this blog is about. Many evangelicals, and even the more socially-minded Kuyperian/neo-Calvinist Reformed, are wont to extend Adam’s charge through the Fall, and to us, in the “Cultural Mandate”, which then gets conflated with varying degrees of redemptiveness, depending on who you talk to.

    But that’s in the Main Wing of the transformationalist House Party. Here in the Confessional Outhouse (it’s lonely out here), we’re more likely to take a 2K line (following especially Meredith Kline), in which Adam’s pre-fall task was a cultic mandate, and post-fall, all that’s left of it for us is cultural and secular, and completely shared with our unbelieving neighbors. So yes, let’s make good things in this good world.

    But the first Adam completely dropped the ball on the cultic dimension of his mandate, and the second Adam completely fulfilled it. It is finished. It is not for us to redeem this world. We are neither means nor instrument of redeeming all of creation. Our only role is to proclaim redemption through the gospel for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and work alongside our unbeliving neighbors (for the advancement of God’s second Kingdom). I guess if you look at it that way, it’s all “Kingdom work”…

  116. Chris Sherman says:

    Well put RubeRad. To think some people write entire books on it….

  117. John Harutunian says:

    It’s starting to look like I’m out of my depth here!
    A couple things nevertheless. First, could you define “2K” and (this seems to be a critical concept) “cultic”? Second, how do you interpret the NT metaphor of the Church as Christ’s Body? I see a body as an agency (vehicle, means) through which a person is present in a given place at a given time. SO (here I go like a good High Churchman) the Church has got to be in some sense an extension-in-time of the Incarnation. In what sense would you go along with this?

  118. Chris Sherman says:

    Out of your depth, John ? Not at all. Here’s 2k as per Calvin:

  119. RubeRad says:

    First, could you define “2K”?

    That’s a pretty tall order (for such a long thread). Haven’t you been reading along at the outhouse for a while already, to get a feel for what we’re about? If not, the Calvin quote above is a good place to start, and something else that comes to mind is a wonderful paper by Ken Myers, “Christianity, Culture, and Common Grace“. If you don’t have time for 50 pages, maybe you would enjoy the series of posts I did here with all the best quotes.

    and (this seems to be a critical concept) “cultic”?

    “Cult[ic] and Culture[al]” are merely synonyms for religious and secular.

    the Church has got to be in some sense an extension-in-time of the Incarnation

    We the bride and body of Christ do not have the same role as the head and groom. See here for a fantastic article by Mike Horton.

  120. John Harutunian says:

    Did my homework -and found myself agreeing with most of what I read. My points of contention follow (in no particular order).

    1)Re: Mike Horton’s article on the Ascension-

    >The ascension highlights Christ’s bodily absence, while Pentecost highlights his presence in saving action by his Spirit, working through the Word.

    Agreed. But of course He also works through the Sacrament concerning which He has told us, “This is my body.”

    >.[According to Calvin] . The presence of the Spirit, through the Supper itself, was as much the source of expectant longing for his return as of fulfillment here and now.

    Calvin may have been right about the expectant longing part -but I know no Scripture which connects Christ’s presence in the Supper (however defined) with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    2)Re: the Ken Myers piece – Architecture is a “cultural” phenomenon. However, things like Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, Russian Orthodox edifices with their onion-shaped domes, and New England Colonial church buildings are more than the productions of talented individuals. They’re creative expressions of the Church. (And, with the arguable exception of the last one, they’re all considered to be holy places.) Does this mean that the Church is thereby exercising a “cultural mandate” in the ordinary sense of the term? I don’t think so. If the Church were to lay down [divinely authorized?] guidelines for the constructions of civic auditoriums, office buildings, shopping emporiums, concert halls, etc., that would be an entirely different matter. I don’t think that anyone is advocating that.

    3) How about this take on the consecrated buildings issue: _May_ believers set apart a building -in the sense of designating its primary use as one of worship? To put it in Regulative Principle terms, I’d say that there is no Biblical warrant either for mandating or forbidding the practice. So, would you accept the concept of “sanctuary” in this sense?

    4)The Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. This is indeed a fact. But: it’s a fact we know from history, not via special revelation. According to special revelation, when Jesus Christ made the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice, precisely _what_ happened in the Temple? Did the Temple cease to exist? Was the Holy of Holies destroyed? Neither. Rather, the _curtain_ was ripped in half. The most natural inference would surely be not that there are no longer any holy places but that, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are now free to enter them.

  121. John Harutunian says:

    A couple more points.

    1)Christ is still -in some sense- present in the world. On this we all agree. What is the primary way (mode, manner) in which He continues to be present? 1)Through the individual Christian, insofar as he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Or 2)Through the Church, His Body? The tenor of the New Testament would surely point to #2.

    2)If the default state of matter is non-holy, then the default state of time is likewise non-holy. But every Sunday, Christians “set apart” a block of time. In doing so, they acknowledge a distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders. Why would this distinction involve time, but not space?

  122. RubeRad says:

    1. Yes, 2) rather than 1), but that says nothing of the church building. But even more than that, however Christ is present, it is not physically, but spiritually. (See the Ascension)

    2. The 4th commandment sanctifies time (and I did say “arguably”; not everybody is in full agreement about how sanctified how much of Sundays really are)

  123. RubeRad says:

    1) I don’t really have anything to dispute here

    2) There are no _divinely_authorized_ guidelines for any kinds of buildings, not even churches.

    3) Yes, believers may set apart a building for the primary use of worship. I think I can assert, however, that believers cannot set apart a building for the _exclusive_ use of worship. It would be unbiblically legalistic to declare “As a matter of principle, building is dedicated for worship and worship alone, and cannot be used for any other purpose”

    4) Sure, let me know know next time God sets up a holy place, and I’m sure that the entire priesthood of believers will be free to enter it.

  124. John Harutunian says:

    I see your point regarding #3. But #2 and #4 are more complex than one might think.

    >There are no _divinely_authorized_ guidelines for… churches.

    If you start with the Bible and proceed from there, I’d agree. Suppose you start with the church buildings themselves:
    a. New England Colonial. Theological tradition: Reformed. Theological emphases: God as wholly other, transcendent, glorious in a way incapable of being expressed by human symbols, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts…” Style of edifice: Plain. No lavish attempts to express God’s glory, no icons, no symbols other than a simple cross. Most prominent architectural feature: a steeple pointing up to the heavens where the transcendent God dwells eternally.

    b. Romanesque. Thick, massive walls. Not a great deal of stained glass. Vaguely suggestive of a fortress, a place of security, safety, rootedness, stability, that which lasts. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress”, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”

    c. Gothic. Enormous stained glass windows (so that the roof needs to be held up by external flying buttresses). Light, space. Music, incense, kneelers. Revelation ch. 5 and 8: harps, incense ascending up to the throne, saints falling down in worship.

    So, to turn your point around: it certainly looks like when the Church designed this buildings, it gave expression to Biblical truths.

    Re: #4, you’ve got a point. On the other hand, if God was saying “No more holy places now that the perfect sacrifice has been made” -then why did he leave the Holy of Holy standing for another generation so that any believer could enter it. Did it suddenly become “unholy”?

  125. RubeRad says:

    Or in general, why did he wait until A.D. 70 to destroy Jerusalem — was Israel still God’s special covenant people? I think the answer is merely Grace. They didn’t have CNN or the Internet back then, so God gave Israel one last generation to respond to the resurrection.

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