REFLECTIONS UPON THE USE OF TANGIBLE IMAGES IN THE WORSHIP LIFE OF THE CHURCH - PART TWO

By: Larry D. Harvey

As I indicated in Part One of this series, this series of articles is intended to encourage care and discipline in our thoughts and practices involved in the use of tangible images of God and the Persons of the Trinity within the worship life of the Church and particularly within that physical space commonly referred to as the Chancel. Again, these articles are not addressing verbal imagery, i.e. "word pictures" formed in the mind through the oral or written proclamation of God's Word.

In Part One, we looked at several passages from the Holy Scriptures, specifically Isaiah 55:1-3, Deuteronomy 4:15-18, 23-24, and Exodus 20:4,5, to begin to properly frame the discussion within the authoritative standard of God's Word. After all, the Holy Scriptures are the sole source and norm of the teachings and life of His Church. This is considered the "formal principle" of all of Lutheran theology.

In that any real examination of our use of tangible images in the worship life of the Church may challenge our very hearts by touching upon things we hold dear, let us begin by first renewing our understandings of what we believe about the Holy Scriptures themselves. To do that, I intend to draw upon Christian Dogmatics,Volume I, by Francis Pieper, D.D., (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 1950) and all parenthetical references herein to page numbers will be a reference to that publication.

First of all, we need to understand that the Christian Church is older than the Holy Scriptures, i.e. it is older than the written Word of God. Until Moses, God called His Church into existence and preserved it by His oral Word. Immediately after the fall of man into sin as set forth in Genesis 3:8-14, God gave His oral promise to send the Seed to save man from man's sin, Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring [Hebrew:seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (ESV) Thereafter, God continued to build His Church through the proclamation of His oral Word, which was proclaimed in various ways to grow His Church, such as in Genesis 4:26, "To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD." (ESV)

After God's Word began to be transmitted in writing, the Church was strictly bound to the written Word of God. Though we generally credit Moses with being the first inspired human author of written Holy Scripture, we might well consider God Himself as the first one to write His Word when we consider Exodus 32:15,16. "Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets." (ESV) Similarly, the Church of the New Testament is rigidly bound to the written Word. The Scripture of the New Testament Apostles is coordinated with that of the Prophets of the Old Testament in that the one and same Holy Spirit of Christ was and is speaking through both the Apostles and the Prophets. Consider First Peter 1:10-12. "Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed the them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." (ESV)

As Dr. Pieper entitled one of his chapters, "Holy Scripture Identical with the Word of God." (page 213). The Scriptures teach the identity of Scripture and God's Word in several ways, including Scriptures set forth in the Old Testament being quoted in the New Testament plainly as God's Word, e.g. Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:22,23 and Hosea 11:1 quoted in Matthew 2:15, and the same principle was applied to the writings of the Apostles of the New Testament, as we saw in First Peter 1:10-12 quoted above. Therefore, there is no real difference between "the bible says", "Holy Scripture says", and "God says".

The Scriptures also teach very clearly why they are the Word of God. They were inspired, or breathed into the writers, by God Himself. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (Second Timothy 3:16,17; ESV) "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (Second Peter 1:21; ESV). The Scriptures consist of written words and affirm that the Scripture, which consists of those written words, are inspired. Therefore, we must adhere to the Holy Scripture's exact words. (pp. 217-228).

Since Holy Scripture is God's Word by inspiration, Scripture possesses, as a matter of course, also divine properties or attributes. (p.307) Those divine properties are: (1) divine authority; (2) divine efficacy; (3) perfection; and (4) perspicuity.

First of all, let us look at the divine authority possessed by Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ as well as His Apostles affirmed this truth, see e.g. Luke 24:25-27; John 10:35; Second Timothy 3:16,17; and John 8:31,32 wherein Jesus said "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (ESV). Consider also, John 12:48, wherein Jesus says "The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." (ESV, emphasis added). He that rejects, or even only criticizes the Holy Scripture, affronts the very Majesty on High, God Himself. (page 307) The divine authority of Holy Scripture is absolute. It is of God. Consider Dr. Piepers explanation, "The Word of Scripture, being the Word of God, is an object of perception that creates its own organ of perception, faith, and thus Scripture itself bears witness to its divine authority." (page 308).

Next, let us consider the divine efficacy of Holy Scripture. The Holy Scriptures alone, among all the books ever written out of the mind of man, are God's Word, having the truly divine power outright. (page 315). Rightly dividing God's Word into Law and Gospel, we know that the Word of Law, as revealed in Holy Scripture, has the inherent power to work such a knowledge of sin that man realizes his deserving of a full measure of God's wrath and punishment for eternity and that he is without any power to help himself. "For by works of law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20; ESV). The Word of the Gospel, as revealed in the Holy Scripture, has the inherent power to work life-giving and life sustaining faith. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17; ESV). "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1; ESV). Only the Gospel of God's Word can save. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16; ESV).

The third property of the Holy Scripture is perfection, or sufficiency, of Holy Scripture. This perfection, or sufficiency, is that the Holy Scripture, consists in the Scripture teaching everything that men must know to obtain salvation. We are not saying that the Holy Scriptures treat everything a man could know or might want to know. We are saying that the Scripture teaches perfectly whatever we need to know to obtain eternal life. Consider Paul's words to Timothy preceding those quoted above, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (Second Timothy 3:14,15; ESV) The words of Scripture are sufficient as the source of knowledge for Christians, in general, but also for the teachers of the Church, neither requiring nor tolerating any supplementation from any outside material. Consider John 8:31,32 quoted above and Paul's admonitions to the Galatians, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8,9; ESV)

The last property of the Holy Scripture to be examined herein is the perspicuity of Holy Scripture. Perspicuity of Scripture consists in this, the Holy Scripture presents, in language that can be understood by all, including ordinary, common men, whatever men must know to be saved. This property is presupposed in certain passages of the Scriptures, since all believers are admonished to read the Scriptures, are to believe on the basis of Scripture, and to judge truth and error on that same basis. For example, in Luke's reference to the Bereans, he says "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11; ESV). However, it is not only presupposed as self evident, but the perspicuity of Holy Scripture is taught expressly in the Scripture. "And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts..." (Second Peter 1:19; ESV) See also the above quotes from Second Timothy 3:14-17.

As we go forward in the examination of the use of tangible images, it is imperative that we test our thoughts, feelings and practices against God's clear Word.

You can find a fourteen lesson Bible Study Outline on Pieper's treatment of the Holy Scripture, pages 193-367, as one of the Bible Studies offered on the website of Crossties Lutheran Ministry Resources, Inc., at www.crosstieslutheranministry.org.

In the next article in this series, we shall carefully begin our journey with Martin Chemnitz in his Examination of the Council of Trent, Part IV, "Concerning Images."

LDH

 

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