Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Triumph of Orthodoxy

Today in the church we celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This is a commemoration of an actual event in the 8th century. While it is a defining event in the life of the Church, and especially in my tradition, it is not something that would be celebrated as a triumph by American Christian orthodoxy.

I grew up in a Christian tradition that considered itself orthodox Christianity. We believed that the Bible (especially, if not exclusively, the KJV) was the very Word of God to man, and all we really needed to know about God was contained within its pages. We believed that God saved us, sinners from birth because of Adam's transgression in the Garden, through His grace and our faith (alone) in Christ's saving work on the cross. This Christ Who had taken our place in death was God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. We needed no other creed, we needed no other argument, we needed no other plea.

We definitely needed no images.

Don't get me wrong - we had symbols. We had an American and a Christian flag in our sanctuary, and we thought nothing of pledging to both during a service, something no iconodule would literally have been caught dead doing. We had a cross in our baptistery, forbidden by most of the Reformers and a hotly debated practice in the modern Reformed circles of today. And we'd have fought tooth and nail with anybody trying to take them away from us.

But images, unlike those enshrined at the Catholic church at the other end of town, those were anathema. Pledges to them were worship of idols.

You see, what separated Christian orthodoxy from heresy at that time was one's belief about icons - images of Christ and the saints that were held in reverence in the church. If you believed images had an integral place in the life of the Church and the believer, you were orthodox. If you believed they should be repudiated, you were a heretic.

Exactly the opposite of the Christian orthodoxy I grew up with, and which has been prevalent in the United States right up to the present time.

It's OK to pledge to a flag, it's OK to require assent to extra-biblical formulae like "Justification is by grace through faith alone". But don't kiss a representation of Christ, God come in actual material form as the icon of God. Don't set any other books on top of your KJV (Scofield, of course) black leather wide-margin Bible. But definitely burn those pictures of the Theotokos and Jesus - they're idolatrous.

But lest either us iconodules or us iconoclasts get into a fist-fight (or worse, a "theological debate") over the orthodoxy of icons, let's look at it from a more Lenten perspective.

We'll begin with the iconoclasts, as that is my past rather than my present, at least in the material sense. You've removed all the images from your churches. You may have only the velvet painting of Elvis left on your wall at home, and not the velvet painting of the Last Supper.

But what idols do you have left in your heart? I don't mean the obvious ones, like TV, sports, career, or the like that you hear about each week from your pulpits. I mean those that are part and parcel of your religion. Are you insistent on your version of the Bible, but rarely read it? Do you require extemporaneous prayer because you're proud of your ability to pray in public? Does nothing come before God - except your personally constructed image of Him? Spend some time evaluating the images you've left in place.

And for those iconodules among us, we're not immune to some of these same idols; plus, like all those who fully practice their religions, we have added temptations to treat our faith in an idolatrous fashion. Do we hold our icons high during our processions, kiss and bow, but outwardly only? Do we love the images of the saints, but have no interest in imaging the saints' faith in our own lives? Will we fight to keep our images in our churches, but go to no effort to keep the faith at home? We may kiss our gold-covered Gospel in the nave, but to we read it at home, and seek to live it out in our lives?

So whether you are an iconoclast or iconodule - or hopefully both, as needed -  may orthodoxy, "right worship", triumph in you this day. Let us become icons of Christ, the icon of God.

Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

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