A Response by “Nicodemus” to Pastor Doug Wilson
PART I: Pastor Doug Wilson’s 23 September 2011 blog posting “With Whoops and Happy Yells: Theology – Roman or Catholic?”
A few folks brought my attention to this, and I thought it would be good if I offered a brief response. I had answered a question about Eastern Orthodoxy for a CanonWIRED clip, and this was posted by a gent named Nicodemus as a response to that short video.
First, I appreciate that the response did not consist of screeching. My “blunder” was charitably categorized as an example of Homer nodding, and not an example of a doofus doofusing. So let me start off by saying that I at least appreciate that.
Much of the rest of our differences I would attribute to disagreements, and not to blunders. A disagreement would be if I claimed that EO uses icons in worship, which I believe to be in violation of the Second Commandment. A blunder would be if I maintained that EO patriarachs wear propeller hats, when they in fact do not.
For example, when I said that the idea that EO goes back before Roman Catholicism is “just laughable,” the response was that I had blundered. It is then acknowledged that I “partly salvaged” the blooper by saying that the church was “all together” before the split. But I had said this in the very next breath, and did so in a way that showed that I was unfolding my meaning, not walking most of it back. But the response of Nicodemus was this: “What he fails to portray is a lucid understanding of Church history.”
But wait a sec. All history is interpreted history. This is true of institutional history as much as any other kind of history. Talking about whether EO left Roman Catholicism or Roman Catholicism left EO is like debating which Siamese twin left the other one during the surgery. If we are talking aboutage (which is the question I was answering in the video), they are both of them the same age, whether before or after the surgery.
I also told a story of how Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, tore down an image in a church and wrote to Jerome about it, full of indignation. “It is a horrid abomination to see in Christian temples a painted image either of Christ or of any saint.” My story was not intended to be a respresentation of the entire early church. After all, at least one part of the early church had put that image up in the first place. My point was that opposition to image-worship had an honored place in the early church, and did not come into existence at the time of the Reformation. I had friends back then. The response to my point was that a one-off letter doesn’t tell you much, which is true enough. But wide reading in theology and the early fathers does tells you a whole lot, as it has taught me. It was the Council of Elibert that said, “Let naught that is worshipped be depicted on walls.” I can live with that.
“It is a historic fact that Roman Catholicism separated itself from the established Church.” This is just assuming what you need to prove. Rome says that it was the other Siamese twin that left. Now I agree with my respondent here that the Pope of Rome was having his issues, and that his assertion of supremacy was just the kind of thing that Jesus said not to do. My sole point is that if you are going to argue on the basis of antiquity, more than one entity can argue that. If you are going to argue, as both RC and EO do, that they are indefectible, then I can point to at least one of them as making a false claim. As a classical Protestant, I would point to two of them — but both EO and RC have to admit that I have found at least one.
My disagreement on the icon issue is taken as an example of another embarrassing “misunderstanding.” What that misunderstanding was supposed to be is not exactly stated. I am a classical Protestant, and we don’t pray to pictures. The EO do. What misunderstanding?
I need to take a brief moment to say something about Wes Callihan’s apology for an article entitled “Presumptuous Icons” that he wrote for Credenda some years back. He has since apologized for his ignorance of the subject when he wrote it, which only he can testify to. If he felt bad about how much background reading he had (not) done when he wrote that piece for us, I sure don’t mind. But objectively, his article was quite good, and if he resubmitted it to us again tomorrow (having done all the needful reading), I would publish it again verbatim with whoops and happy yells. Wes is a good friend, and he is currently worshiping at Trinity Reformed Church here in Moscow, and he is presumably happy with his pastors and elders, who say things like this.
“The fact is, the Seventh Ecumenical Counsel dealt meticulously with the issues surrounding the use of Icons in Christian worship.” I am happy to grant that they dealt with these issues meticulously. That is not the same thing as biblically, or correctly. So if they, or an angel from Heaven, tell me, however meticulously they tell me, that I should be praying to a picture, I am not going to do it. Furthermore, I am going to be quite meticulous about not doing it. Look, guys, I am a Protestant.
My point about kissing was simply an illustration, and I am happy to provide another one (every bit as good) to make it clear that I understand the point being made here. Our congregation stands in our liturgy during the Scripture reading out of respect, and I stand when a lady enters the room. Are these the same? Well, the standing part is, but the meanings vary. Why can’t we make those kinds of distinctions while bowing down before a picture? Well, because the Bible says not to try.
Last point. “What is disappointing is, though certainly able, Pastor Wilson has refused thus far to do the reading and study easily available to him needed to understand the issue of Icons before making specious public declarations.” There is something of a baffling point here. I surely have no idea of what he means by “refused thus far to do the reading and study available to him.” How does he know what reading and study I have done on this?
Pastor Doug Wilson
“Nicodemus” responds to Pastor Doug Wilson
First, my thanks to Pastor Wilson for his willingness to openly engage issues surrounding Orthodoxy. Like him, I also appreciate that his response to my critique did not succumb to screeching, though I confess I’m not at all sure how doofus doofusing might look! Nevertheless, I believe it doubtful our difference on these serious issues can be reduced to sematical quibbles about blunders and disagreements.
Pastor Wilson Has Siamese-Twins!
As for the historicity of the Christian faith, historic facts must be interpreted. Reformed champion Cornelius van Til rightly argued there are no brute facts that are self-interpreting. Yet, Pastor Wilson seems to think this makes all historic facts themselves up for grabs! In his zeal to give Roman Catholicism an equal claim as Orthodoxy to being the ancient Church, he wants us to believe Rome and Orthodoxy were joined from birth like Siamese twins! We are to imagine two Christian Churches birthed (at Pentecost?) as Siamese twins, and after one thousand years, finally, needed a surgical separation. Is this not bizarre? What amateur historian (much less Patristic early Church scholar) believes this? None, nada, zilch. Pastor Wilson gently chided me for pretending to know he has not bothered to study much Church history, much less grasp it well. My apologies, he was right. I don’t know. But illustrations like this make one wonder. Does he believe his own Siamese twins analogy? Really? Or, does his determination to deny or blur Orthodox Church history (with his love for analogies) lead him to such silly historic revisionism. No amount of “unfolding my meaning” can salvage this (dare we say) Siamese-blunder.
Rather, if the good Pastor wants a anthropomorphic analogy for the early Church, I’d suggest a novel one, say a persecuted but thriving Body, that on occasion had cancerous tumors to surgically remove. Some cancers were less severe, other more. A few malignancies required several surgeries. Gnostic and Arian heresies plagued the Church for centuries (not two con-joined Churches). There were not two Churches at Nicaea, Chalcedon, or any other Church Council, before The Great Schism. Such analogies hint strongly why one might wonder if Pastor Wilson “…portrays a lucid understanding of Church history.”
Why Protestants Have Trouble With Church History
Yet Pastor Wilson demands we prove facts not in dispute by any reputable Patristic scholars. There is really no dispute about there being one Christian Church dominating history before the Great Schism Nor is there the slightest quarrel that the Nicene Creed had no Filioque clause for centuries. There is no historic dispute needing proof that the Filioque was added a few centuries later and rejected by Rome’s Bishop, then several centuries later, embraced by a different Pope mostly for reasons of political power. Five Church Patriarchs lived mostly in unity, peace and mutual submission to each other for centuries, and were far more likely to protect their status and rank, than yield them to Rome. How does one interpret these facts in such a way to get a dual Siamese-twin Churches needing surgical separation?
Protestants have neglected early Church history, and it appears, with good reason. A little study stirs up a natural instinct to obfuscate Church History precisely because within its early hallowed pages, one finds Bishops Ruling the Flock, a budding Liturgical life of worship often with Icons, no clearly developed or recognized New Testament cannon for several centuries, (and not least) a clear Sacramentalism around the Body and Blood of Christ. These are all just a tad embarrassing to Protestantism. Let’s just say it out loud. The Life, worship, practice, doctrine and government of the early Patristic Church contradicts much of Protestantism, while looking very much like Orthodoxy. This is why discussing Church History the first thousand years is so difficult with a Protestant. He instinctively knows he has a problem, so he is inclined to obfuscate even clear areas that are undisputed. This is also another reason why the life of the great Lutheran Patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan is so important. Doctor Pelikan, earned both a seminary degree from Concordia in Saint Louis, Missouri, and a PhD at the University of Chicago in 1946, at age 22! Though a devout Lutheran and son of Lutheran ministers, after a life time of scholarship, he converted to Orthodoxy at age 74 in 1998, only to repose eight years later at 82 in 2006. Wise Protestants will study his Five-Volume Church history. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine Vol 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700).
Icons Holy Scripture & Tradition
Pastor Wilson defends a story from a letter of a Priest destroying Icons to prove “that opposition to image-worship had an honored place in the early church, and did not come into existence at the time of the Reformation.” I countered that anecdotal stories prove nothing other than perhaps minor disputes existed. Yes, Iconoclasm did rear its head occasionally in the early church. So did Arianism and Gnosticism. Since Iconoclasm is not as serious as cancer as these, it was not dealt with as immediately or decisively for hundreds of years.
Protestants might rightly ask where the veneration of Icons came from? Where and how did the Church get the veneration of Icons? Church oral Tradition has that it was taught to the early Christian disciples by the Apostles themselves. It shows up in the writings of the Bishops as soon as the second century, not many decades after the Apostles passed away. Yet it might surprise Protestants that the oral Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy, arises right out of pages of sacred Holy Scripture.
This is a good place to see if Protestants take all of Holy Scripture seriously. The Apostle Paul exhorts his disciples in Holy Scripture to keep the Traditions. How many Protestant sermons have you heard on II Thess. 2:15 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” or I Corinthians 11:1 “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you.“ What is the Apostle Paul commanding here? There is an oral tradition that the Apostle is charging them to “hold and keep.“ (See also, II Thess. 3:6, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”) It is interesting that NIV (protestant) translators use the word “teaching” when the connotation it’s positive, but “tradition” when it’s negative. Also, the word “ministered” in Acts 13:2, is really the word Liturgy. Beware of translators with a theological bias, even in their handling of Holy Scripture.
Shall we assume the Apostles gave multiple exhortations to keep their Traditions in the texts of Holy Scripture itself, as a take it of leave it option? But is this not the typical Protestant mentality? Why is it that Protestants have so little respect, much less submission, to the Traditions the Apostles left and repeatedly exhorted the early Church Fathers to hold and keep? They might answer that their doctrine of sola scriptura doesn’t put Apostolic Tradition in the same category of authority as Scripture. Yet even here is it not strange to blame, and hide behind sola scriptura for a general ignoring and disrespect for Apostolic Tradition? Though Orthodoxy sees no reason to set Apostolic Tradition against Scripture (Scripture historically growing out of Tradition) the bottom line is a sad reality. Protestant tradition does not respectfully submit to Apostolic oral tradition, even after repeated exhortations directly from the pages of Holy Scripture! Could it not be similar to the Protestant posture toward Church history? Since Apostolic Tradition opposes their tradition, they clarify and smother it into irrelevance.
Yet Pastor Wilson chafes at me saying the icon issue is “an example of another embarrassing misunderstanding.” “What that misunderstanding was supposed to be is not exactly stated. I am a classical Protestant, and we don’t pray to pictures. The EO do. What misunderstanding?” Later he concedes, “I am happy to grant that they dealt with these issues meticulously. That is not the same thing as biblically, or correctly. So if they, or an angel from Heaven, tell me, however meticulously they tell me, that I should be praying to a picture, I am not going to do it. Furthermore, I am going to be quite meticulous about not doing it. Look, guys, I am a Protestant.”
I suppose my use of embarrassing (used misunderstanding once) is because Pastor Wilsons’ final appeal seemed shallow. It reminded me of discussions about alcohol with dear fundamentalists friends. Though he did not, Pastor Wilson might just as well have said, ‘Look guys, I’m a fundamentalist, with a simplistic, fixated view of Icon that no amount of bibilcal and historic reasons can possibly shake.’ They use their proof-texts (see Pv 23:31) like Iconoclasts use the second commandment. No amount of biblical or theological reasoning from Scripture or history can shake them. Could it be that Icons are for wine, beer and whiskey-drinking Protestants (Pastor Wilson?), an issue of simplistic fundamentalism? Otherwise they would engage the arguments made by the Seventh Counsel (Nicaea II) and Fathers, rather than gloss over them with a proof text. Calvin made an honest try, but completely missed the boat at several points. Let us grant that Pastor Wilson actually read this in Arakaki’s excellent but gracious refutation of John Calvin on Icons,
“However, Calvin’s philological argument misses the point. The dulia/latreia distinction was unique to medieval Catholicism. John Cochlaeus, a contemporary of Calvin, used this distinction in response to Calvin’s Inventory of Relics (Calvin 1960:111 n. 21). This distinction was not used at Nicaea II (Cavarnos 1973:9-10). This tells us that Calvin was not familiar with the official Orthodox position on icons. More importantly, it means that Calvin’s polemic against icons never effectively refuted the Orthodox position on icons.
The closest Calvin comes to rebutting the terminology of Nicaea II is in his study of the word proskuneo. Calvin marshals a whole list of proof texts where honor improperly given is strongly discouraged: Satan’s temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:10), John’s prostration to the angel in Revelation (Revelation 19:10 & 22:8-9), Cornelius’ falling before Peter’s feet (Acts 10:25). The word used in these three passages is proskuneo which can have the abstract meaning ‘to worship’ or the more concrete meaning of the act of prostrating one’s self before someone and kissing their feet (see Arndt and Gingrich). It was the custom among the Persians to prostrate one’s self before the king and kiss his feet. Because the Persians saw the king as an incarnate deity, this political act was charged with sacred meaning. Nicaea II used the word proskuneo for the veneration of icons but at the same time qualifies it by attaching timetike (to honor) to it. This is the word used in: “Honor your father and mother.” However, it appears that Nicaea II did a more than adequate job in defining and circumscribing the terminology for the veneration of icons and so anticipated much of Calvin’s philological arguments.
And elsewhere in the same article regarding history:
However, in dealing with patristic literature it is not enough throw out names and councils as Calvin did. [Wilson repeats him] One must show how these references demonstrate a universal consensus among the church Fathers (i.e., Vincent of Lerins’ famous canon: “What has been believed everywhere, always and by all” Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus). In the field of constitutional law the legal scholar’s strongest argument rests upon the findings of the Supreme Court, not the lower courts. Calvin’s references to one minor bishop (Epiphanius) or one local council (Elvira) or the polemical work sponsored by a king (Libri Carolini by Charlemagne) are all minor league stuff in comparison to the universal authority of an Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II) and the reputation of highly respected church Fathers (John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite).
Calvin’s polemic is understandable as a reaction to the extravagant and excessive ornamentation of medieval Catholic churches. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was troubled by the excessive ornamentation that resulted in the Church “resplendent in her walls and beggarly in her poor” (Coulton 1928:573). The extravagance of religious art was compounded by the absence of a regulating principle. Unlike the Eastern artistic tradition which had an art-manual and a shared understanding about proper iconography, in the West there was no centralization of its artistic tradition (Coulton 1928:243-244).
This resulted in Western European religious art being much more free in their depiction of God. Michelangelo’s depiction of God the Father with the long flowing beard in The Creation of Adam in the famous Sistine Chapel frescoes would not be allowed in the Orthodox tradition. During 1300s the Trinity was often depicted in the form of a man with three mouths, three noses, and four eyes or in the form of a head with three faces! (Coulton 1928:378) These excesses were such that the Roman Catholic Church was forced to curb them during the Counter-Reformation.
Let’s also assume Pastor Wilson has read and grasped all the arguments in Patrick Barnes excellent detailed refutation of Wes Callihan’s article. Below I give you just a taste of it, quoting Saint Athanasius from his Mr. Barnes’ conclusion :
We also note that the relationship with God that St. John directs us towards is not one of cerebral acknowledgment of “propositional truths” but rather to one involving all of our senses. Such also is St. Athanasius’ reasoning:
Men had turned from the contemplation of God above, and were looking for Him in the opposite direction, down among created things and things of sense. The Savior of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as a Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body….
The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension—above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth; throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God. 
To deny the importance of visual art in the context of worship as a means of relating to God is to turn the Christian faith into a cerebral and Docetic one that does indeed show disdain for creation and functional disbelief in the Incarnation. (Barnes)
But iconoclasm, both in its teaching and in its practices, undermined the saving mission of the Church at its foundation. In theory, it did not deny the dogma of the Incarnation. On the contrary, the iconoclasts justified their hatred of the icon by claiming to be profoundly faithful to this dogma. But in reality, the opposite happened: by denying the human image of God, they consequently denied the sanctification of matter in general. They disavowed all human holiness and even denied the very possibility of sanctification, the deification of man. In other words, by refusing to accept the consequences of the Incarnation—the sanctification of the visible, material world—iconoclasm undermined the entire economy of salvation. “The one who thinks as you do,” St George of Cyprus said in a discussion with an iconoclast bishop, “blasphemes against the Son of God and does not confess His economy accomplished in the flesh.” Through the denial of the image, Christianity became an abstract theory; it became disincarnate so to speak, it was led back to the ancient heresy of Docetism, which had been refuted a long time before. It is therefore not surprising that iconoclasm was linked to a general secularization of the Church, a de-sacralization of all aspects of its life. The Church’s own domain, its inner structure, was invaded by a secularized power. Churches were assaulted with secular images, worship was deformed by mundane music and poetry. This is why the Church, in defending the icon, defended not only the foundation of the Christian faith, the divine Incarnation, but, at the same time, the very meaning of its existence. It fought against its disintegration in the elements of this world. “Not only the destiny of Christian art was at stake, but ‘Orthodoxy’ itself .”  (Athanasius)
That Mr. Callihan’s argument arises from careless, perhaps willful ignorance of Orthodoxy has been relatively easy to demonstrate. Standing in contradiction to the Christian consensus and evincing a lack of sound reasoning, it fails to hold up to close scrutiny. We can only encourage him to read the works cited herein and seriously reflect upon what we have said. To do otherwise and remain an iconoclast would indeed be the height of presumption. (Barnes)
Note: Mr. Callahan offered an apology for his article (printed above). Curiously, Pastor Wilson defends it, while he with others in his denomination embrace the great Icon champion Saint Athanasius! Go figure?
An Exhortation to Sincere and Serious Protestants
Let me conclude with a final exhortation for serious and sincere Protestants: Do not rely on Pastor Wilson and others to do your homework, reading and study for you. Read the articles and Doctor Pelikan’s scholarship carefully. Study the far from simplistic wisdom of the Fathers quoted, as well as the arguments in Seventh Council (Nicaea II). Do your own study. In this you will discover that the rich, historic veneration of Icons grows out of the Incarnation and Christology of the New Covenant, and is as contrary to simplistic idol-worship, as standing out of respect for Holy Scripture, or kissing your mother is to false worship.
You say: “Church oral Tradition has that it was taught to the early Christian disciples by the Apostles themselves. It shows up in the writings of the Bishops as soon as the second century, not many decades after the Apostles passed away.”
Could you expand on this? Which second century Bishops and where in their writings?
A Reformed Christian Studying Orthodoxy
Read St Ignatios’ Letter to the Philadelphians (chapter 8, I believe). He warns against lists of Scripture and seems content to rely on tradition.
Of course, St Irenaeus’s book is partly built on this premise.
I read that passage, but see nothing about icons in the Church. Is there another passage, maybe?
The error here is mine — I quoted the passage, but failed to provide the context. “Nicodemus” was speaking about the presence of icons in 2nd century writings. My question, then, was supposed to be: “Where do icons and their use show up in those writings?”
Just a quick correction, I believe that last paragraph isn’t Athanasius, but Hieromonk [now Bishop] Auxentios.
***My point was that opposition to image-worship had an honored place in the early church, and did not come into existence at the time of the Reformation.***
Except as it was pointed out, and a case has been made, that the Epiphanius quotation is a forgery. While the case may not be air-tight, it is questionable scholarship to build such an argument on a shaky foundation.
As to “interpreted facts” and “who split from whom:”
This doesn’t have to be hard. It all boils down to Absolute Divine Simplicity and how that, plus the Filiioque, reinterpreted all of Western Theology. Because of its commitment to a pagan philosophical system, the West, particularly the Pope, reinterpreted all passages about Unity to mean “the one,” which meant “The Pope.”
Interestingly, ask yourself why the Reformers never challenged the doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, when there is not a shred of evidence for it in the bible. So much for sola scriptura. this shows just how much a dialectical child (relation of oppositions, anybody? Let the reader understand) Protestantism is of Rome.
“I also told a story of how Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, tore down an image in a church and wrote to Jerome about it, full of indignation. “It is a horrid abomination to see in Christian temples a painted image either of Christ or of any saint.” My story was not intended to be a respresentation of the entire early church. After all, at least one part of the early church had put that image up in the first place. My point was that opposition to image-worship had an honored place in the early church, and did not come into existence at the time of the Reformation.”
Opposition to images had an honored place? Wouldn’t it be better if Wilson were to say, that opposition to images had a place prior to the reformation? If it was honored, then by whom? This is just really bad arguing. Wilson should learn the rule of inference before asserting a conclusion with a faulty premise. Secondly, the fact that things the reformation taught can be found in church history is not denied by the Orthodox minds, nobody denies that Arius, Nestorius, the Monothelites all denied tradition, and used a personal mode of interpretation (Sola Scriptura). Nestorianism was around before the reformation, does that make it honored as well? Bad logic
He also says:
“But wait a sec. All history is interpreted history. This is true of institutional history as much as any other kind of history. Talking about whether EO left Roman Catholicism or Roman Catholicism left EO is like debating which Siamese twin left the other one during the surgery. If we are talking aboutage (which is the question I was answering in the video), they are both of them the same age, whether before or after the surgery.”
This just shows how close to Rome the reformed minds are in their thinking. Wilson here is asserting that both Rome and Orthodoxy made up one church, as Rome asserts to this day,in that Orthodoxy is still alive today, but without its head (the pope) however, Orthodoxy believes Rome to be a schism, in which Rome, who took on a system of thought out of platonism, and greek philosophies, morphed into a different thing. Can Orthodox say that Rome is the whore, and the reformation is the bastard, and to determine the differences really isn’t plausable? Wilson is not familiar with Orthodox literature or the Orthodox perspective on church history, yet we are false, and wives shouldn’t follow husbands into Orthodoxy from the reformed church. That is not a responsible shepard if reformed theology is the true church.
“The fact is, the Seventh Ecumenical Counsel dealt meticulously with the issues surrounding the use of Icons in Christian worship.” I am happy to grant that they dealt with these issues meticulously. That is not the same thing as biblically, or correctly. So if they, or an angel from Heaven, tell me, however meticulously they tell me, that I should be praying to a picture, I am not going to do it.”
Well, since the defence of the use if Icons was Christology, mainly a Chalcedonian Christology that his confession claim to hold to, it seems that the best thing to do is show how the Christological implications of the 7th ecumenical council were not in fact Chalcedonian, in fact, it should be easy, since the ones who were being answered were arguing Christology, but a Nestorian Christology. Does Wilson stand in defense of those idol smashers, even if they are Nestorian in their Christology? Also, asserting that the 7th ecumenical council is not biblical, is simply that, and assertion. Sola fide isn’t biblical..just because. Is that alright for me to conclude with showing how?
Well said Castleman.
I misspelled allot of words, but the point is clear. My excuse is that I had to write it fast 🙂
If Doug Wilson is a pastor then we should try and show more respect for non-Orthodox clergy in our responses. Also his brand of non-Anglican Reformed protestantism is alot closer to us than the other non-Anglican Reformed flavors. And so it is in our best interest to nurture a positive relationship with these folk. They get enough disrespect and hostility from their conservative Reformed brethren. I know sometimes it is hard. Especially when they say certain things about us, for it is hard for me at times to control my zeal, but we should try and show some restraint and more compassion when possible.
Pastor Doug Wilson seems to be putting all his cards on the idea that bowing to something is wrong regardless of the motivation behind it. But even Scripture shows that bowing before something isn’t wrong in and of itself.
“The LORD reigns; Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved! The LORD is great in Zion, And He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name— He is holy. The King’s strength also loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His footstool— He is holy.”
And so it’s not against Scripture to bow before things. Also the issue of Christology is a Biblical issue and so his concept of Biblical is only a selective reading of Scripture as guided by his Iconoclastic Reformed tradition for the Lutherans believe in Sola Scriptura too, but they allow statues in their churches and so his concept of Biblical is only a selective reading and not the whole scope of Scripture itself. Thus the 7th council was and is Biblical.
I see you are using the Oral Tradition argument in your response against Doug Wilson. Personally, this isn’t an argument I would use for this issue. However, I do realize that a number of people(Orthodox, Roman Catholic and maybe some high high church protestants) make use of this argument.
There are other ways to prove our use of Icons, signs, and symbols in the 2nd century.
Christ is in our midst!
Thanks for this response. Folks like Wilson and Leithart, and Jordan are the reason that I’ve become interested (enamored?) with Orthodox theology recently. There are many areas in which we are close — often times “pop” understandings of Reformed theology make that unclear (such as our emphasis on predestination meaning determinism, which it usually does not). Certainly, we do have our differences — and they will take years of concerted effort on all sides to parse and to come to terms with. We may never be totally agreed, but maybe we will see some areas of Christian liberty where now we see only communion-breaking division.
One other thing, in talking to Reformed theologians, when it comes to worship, we have a guiding rule known as the “Regulative Principle of Worship.” Understanding what is meant by that can be a bit tricky (there are more rigid and more loose understandings of it in the Reformed world), but is essential in discussion. An example of what a Reformed pastor might argue with it (I’m not saying that this is what Wilson would do):
The RPW states that whatever is not explicitly commanded in worship is forbidden (one of the key proof texts is Dt. 12).
Nowhere in the New Testament are icons (or liturgy, vestments, lectionaries, etc.) commanded for use in worship.
Therefore, icons (etc.) are not to be used in worship.
Note that the argument is seeking to be Biblical, but does ignore many theological issues (such as Christology). Knowing about the RPW (as it is, to be blunt, our Tradition, as it were) will help in any conversations.
Thanks, again, for your humility. I hope for an enduring conversation between all of us for the glory of God and the progress of His Gospel.
Hey Russ, great comments. You will find as you read the articles and comments here that several of us come from a long history in the Reformed Faith and are much like you…serious inquirers into things Orthodox from just that (Reformed CREC) background…with years invested in the regulative principle of worship, the Solas…amongst many other things. There’s alot here before this exchange you would enjoy and profit from reading.
I have several questions to ask you.
1.) Does the Reformed understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship assume that this is what first, second, and third century Christians understood things to be? Or is it just a 16th century scientific/academic assumption or speculation that the Reformed tradition adheres to regardless of what the actual reality was on the ground in regards to this issue in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries?
I am asking because for me, one of the ways to figure out how to understand the Christians of the first century in regards to worship and other things not specifically mentioned in the New Testament is to see what the next generation of Christians had to say about the issue, and the generation after that…..so on and so on. For something was past on to future generations.
2.) In earlier posts of this blog, Robert critiqued a book by Keith Mathison called the shape of Sola Scriptura. Now in that book there was a distinction made between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura. Dr. Mathison made it seem as if Solo Scriptura was a distortion of the true “”protestant”” position. He made it seem as if the Anabaptist view wasn’t the real protestant view. But it would seem as if the Reformed tradition holds to both Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura.
I say this because when it comes to the issue of the Regulative Principle of Worship, well, you guys seem more Solo Scriptura. Whereas on other issues you guys seem more Sola Scriptura.
Also there seems to be a strong tendency for the Reformed tradition to go in the direction of Solo Scriptura.
3.) The New Testament doesn’t give us much detail on Christian worship in general, and Saint Paul never told his church plants to only go by the explicit wording of the yet to be New Testament in regards to Church Worship and so by what authority did the Reformed have to change Roman Catholic worship? Who told them they could do this? What told them they could do this?
You mentioned Deuteronomy 12 as a proof text, but the context of that is in regards to the Mosaic Law. If we are going to use both the Old and New Testaments when it comes to the topic of Christian worship then the issues of incense, decorations in worship, vestments, bowing down before the footstool, and Liturgy all come back to the forefront.
And so by what authority did the Reformed have to do this? The Ancient Christian worship was a hybrid of both Jewish Synagogue and Temple worship (In both it’s western and eastern forms)
And so by what authority did the Reformed have to do this?
In some ways, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m not known for being particularly strident in my application of the RPW, opting for more of what has been called the “Informed Principle of Worship” (http://www.messiahnyc.org/ArticlesDetail.asp?ID=96 for the start of a decent series on it).
However, I’ll respond to the best of my ability:
1) I think the assumption is that the first century, at least, operated like this. With the finds at Dura-Europos and elsewhere, though, the historical argument is becoming shakier. At this point, though, the historical seems to matter little — it is our Tradition, from which there can be no dissent (EO and the Reformed are not that different, even though we are very different).
2) The knife’s edge of Sola Scriptura can easily lead to either a rejection of Scripture via the historical-critical method (with popular expressions such as Phyllis Tickle) or Solo Scriptura. I’ve seen Reformed folks fall off of both sides. We know we need some sort of Tradition, but are often unsure whether to go scientific or fundamentalistic. Often, we just opt for adopting the parts of Scripture that seem to work for us (such as exclusive psalm-singing in my denomination, yet nobody greets one another with a “holy kiss” — that has, supposedly, been replaced by the business-like handshake). I do think there is a way to be Sola Scriptura and still use the guidance and wisdom of the Tradition, but very few (maybe Jordan and Leithart are exceptions?) follow it: the Scriptures are the corrective to any human Tradition (Western or Eastern) since they don’t change. Certainly the Reformers thought they were combating, not an evil Tradition, but excesses that had separated Christ from the people — any religion needs to watch out for that. The Old Testament (written to us “as examples/types”) gives plenty of stories about how God’s Holy Spirit guided a people who were taking His instruction (the Tradition of the Torah) and adding excess that needed to be cleared away (this might also be a metaphor for Jesus’ regiving of the Torah in Mat. 5-7, etc.). But I digress…
3) This one is tougher. I mentioned Dt. 12 as a proof-text, partially because many Reformed look askance at prooftexting (as they should), yet we allow it in this instance (among many others). The main thrust of the argument, as I understand it, is that everything carries forward from the OT as it has been changed through Christ. So, in the rare instances that we utilize figural/typological exegesis, the Temple and its services and accoutrements all prefigured Christ and, therefore, are no longer commanded (which would make there use “idolatrous” — it also makes singing Ps. 150 a little awkward for new-comers, as we sing a capella). However, the principles behind them are still in force — so for Dt. 12, the command is to worship only as God commands, which in the OT was this way, yet because of Christ in the Church is a different way (as you can imagine, the Book of Revelation is a bit of a stumbling block, but usually it is waved away as not being relevant).
The question you bring up over and over is: by what authority did they do this? Frankly, I don’t know. My guess is that they looked at the Scriptures, they looked at their current situation, and they put two and two together: something was amiss. (They could also, though, have been motivated by the Spirit in a pre-sin Jeraboam ben-Nebat sort of way, I’ve often thought that this might be a decent analogy). I’ve read interesting arguments, though, that the first-gen Reformers wanted to stay closer to the liturgical tradition, but their successors (especially Knox) wanted to destroy all things Catholic…and therefore all things patristic. Some are trying to regain that first-gen mentality, but if you ask “how many conservative Reformed does it take to change a lightbulb?” the answer will be, “It is a sin to change the lightbulb.”
I know I didn’t fully answer the questions — I’m probably not qualified (nor sufficiently committed to the party-line) to do it.
In addition to early church literature you might want to look into the archaeological evidence as well. Archaeologists discovered a well preserved Jewish synagogue and a Christian church in the town of Dura Europos which date to the early third century. You visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dura-Europos_church and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dura-Europos_synagogue. This seems to point to the very early usage of icons (images) in Christian churches and suggest that the use of icons (images) derive from Christianity’s Jewish roots.
The bold part below shows bowing at His footstool.
“The LORD reigns; Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved! The LORD is great in Zion, And He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name— He is holy. The King’s strength also loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His footstool— He is holy.”
Jos. 7:6 And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads
1Ch 28:2 Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said, Hear me, my brethren, and my people: as for me, it was in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God; and I had made ready for the building.
Psa 132:7-8 We will go into his tabernacles; we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O LORD, into thy resting place; thou, and the ark of thy strength.
Barnes Notes: The footstool of our God – David views the ark as God’s “footstool,” because he was enthroned above it visibly in the Shechinah, or luminous cloud, present from time to time above the mercy seat and between the cherubim (compare the marginal references).
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: and for the footstool of our God; or “even for it”, for the ark is meant, which is so called, Psa. 99:5 for as the Lord sat between the cherubim over the mercy seat, the lid of the ark, it was, speaking after the manner of men, a footstool to him…
Keil and Delitszsch Commentary:I purposed (cf. 1Ch_22:7) to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of Jahve, and the footstool of the feet of our God, i.e., for the ark and for the capporeth upon it, which is called “footstool of the feet of our God,” because God was enthroned above the cherubim upon the capporeth.
Jamieson, Faussett abd Brown Commentary:or the footstool of our God — God seated between the cherubim, at the two extremities of the ark, might be said to be enthroned in His glory, and the coverlet of the ark to be His footstool.
It is true that Doug Wilson’s story about Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis is based on a forgery.
I am glad to see that Pastor Wilson continues to make it easy for me to convert Calvinists to Orthodoxy.
Note: This comment is being posted on behalf of Nicodemus.
For the sake of time, and to allow you to do some grunt-work, I’ll refer you to Prof. Pelikan’s reference and bibliography in Vol 2 linked in the article; and to Arakaki’s article where he reference Eusebius’ Church History where “colored portraits that were made of Christ and his apostles (7:18)” and “the fact that Eusebius…final version of his Church History appeared in A.D. 325 deals a devastating blow to Calvin’s historical argument.” And also later… “Calvin’s assumption of the anionic nature of Jewish and early Christian worship is not supported by scientific evidence. Recent archaeological findings show that as late as the third century, Jewish synagogues and Christian churches had images in their interiors, as demonstrated by the findings at Dura-Europos (circa 240-250 AD) in modern Syria.Baby Moses – Dura-Europos Synagogue. The presence of sacred images in both church and synagogue tells us that the early Church did not invent icons but carried them over from its Jewish predecessors. This also indicates that the presence of icons in Orthodox churches today represents a profound continuity with Jewish worship. If icons have Jewish roots, Calvin’s historical arguments are rendered nonsensical.”
Of course, we should not expect to find as elaborate and well-developed Iconography in the early persecuted Church as we do later…just as we expect and see in most other early Church doctines and practices.
It is not very clear to me, but you are likely right. Thus, I happily deferr to you about the reference to my last quote from Barnes’ article not being Athanasius. My apologies.
That Pastor Wilson’s unfortunate use of a letter about the early Iconoclasm, likely being a forgery is not a great testament to his acumen in Church History. Yet per your interesting argument per Divine Simplicity, please developed a bit more for us here. (A good paragraph or two will likely suffice.)
My sincere apologies if in my critique of Pastor Wilson’s comments, I have overstepped and fallen into unwarranted disrespect or unkindness. I did not intend to slight Pastor Wilson’s person in any way. This is especially so since as I have every reason to believe he is the consummate gentlemen in person, and especially with non-believers. My criticism were only intended to be directed toward his arguments made for Iconoclasm. These I thought were weak at best, and very ill informed.
***Yet per your interesting argument per Divine Simplicity, please developed a bit more for us here. **
All traditions teach some form of divine simplicity. I was referring to the specific Augustinian doctrine that God’s essence is *absolutely* simple. What I mean is that on the Augustinian gloss (which the Reformation tradition upholds) is that God is his attributes, *is* functioning as a great “equals” sign.
This implies the Filioque. However, the Filioque is a direct challenge to the faith and how the Fathers are read. If the Filioque and absolute divine simplicity are true, then it is obvious that the fathers’ are out of accord with later theologians (which is the Orthodox point).
This means the faith has to be changed. Both Rome and Protestantism say the faith evolved (except they call it “developed”).
This is from pages 207 through 211.
The one from up above is the wrong link. This is the right one.
from pages 207 – 211
This is excellent, but heavy reading. Not sure I got it all on the first read, but shall try again. Thanks for the link. It is nice to see someone (Ferrell?) has at least tried to connect-the-dots for us rather just make summary statements.
***If Doug Wilson is a pastor then we should try and show more respect for non-Orthodox clergy in our responses.***
Of course, we should be charitable towards Wilson, but he has also spent the past fifteen years making snide, backhanded snarky remarks towards basically everybody, Reformed, Catholic, or Orthodox. The reason he is universally disliked in the Reformed community is not because of his unique theology, but because of the way he presents it and deals with others who disagree.
That doesn’t justify our behavior, but it does place it in larger perspective.
I have known and loved Doug Wilson for some 15+ years and have never known him to be anything but a Christian gentleman in person. He is due the respect of a beloved Pastor…whom thousands of Refomed Presbyterians, Baptists, and even Anglicans love and respect. To say he is “universally disliked in the reformed community” is simply false — though there are indeed many “Truly Reformed” of Scott-Puritian persuasion who openly denounce him (& I think have excommunicated him!). His being normally good at thinking on his feet with a sense of humor, sometimes makes his quip responses to question seem far more insulting and disrespectful than I’m sure he intends. I believe Nicodemus’ attempt above to layout sharp disagreements with Pastor Wilson’s video, was for the most part, an honest attempt to focus on the merits of Pastor Wilson’s arguments, without attacking his person.
I agree with David that we need to treat one another with respect. It’s okay to critique another person’s position but then it is important to back up your position with evidence and sources. But let’s stay away even from indirect personal attack, e.g., this is what others think about so and so. I want this to be a safe place for Christians from the Reformed and Orthodox traditions to exchange ideas. I’m glad to see Russ Warren’s willingness to engage JNorm even though he admits he (Russ) doesn’t have all answers. We’re all learning from each other.
Sorry about that, David. A few remarks by way of clarification,
1) I thought Nic’s video response was very charitable and didn’t understand why someone thought he/we/they were attacking Wilson.
2) My remarks on Wilson being “universally disliked,” besides noting the deliberate overstatement, was coming from a hard-line RTS seminary/OPC background. In that background, and especially those who run in the “Modern Reformation/White Horse Inn”, in which case, given that context, he is universally disliked. I took Wilson’s case and identified with him in seminary, and suffered for it.
I understand brother. One can be “universally disliked” within a the context of a narrow faction of the Refomed community…LOL! And I sympathise w/your plight at seminary. I suppose from a Orthodox perspective it is a shame if not a certain irony. Pastor Wilson (along with the other CREC men) is trashed unmercifully by the hardcore Reformed for “being a Papist” simply for appreciating some Orthodox and Anglican books (Shumemmen & NT Wright) — only to get taken to task here by the Orthodox! At least he is reading and willing to learn from men (even ancient saints) outside his own camp…despite it getting him in hot water on all sides! I’m sure he’s just trying to be faithful…as are we all. God have mercy upon him…and us too!
Thanks for understanding. If anyone needs proof on the matter, go to the leading Calvinist message board, http://www.puritanboard.com, and type in “Doug Wilson” in the search box. WARNING: graphic language will follow. Compared to that, this blog entry is a love-fest.
No doubt about it Baroque. I suspect there are a few thousand of these types who live in their own triumphal world…2,500 tops. Wilson likely sell three times as many books on first print in a far wider and less insular (slightly) audience. Their might be one or two TR Reformed types in the PCA or OPC with a broader reach and following — but much of the venom they spew at Wilson and the CREC is just jealousy at his success and reach — especially with sharp young men. Some whom have headed to Anglicanism and Orthodoxy (see the great success, influence and reach of Fr. Josiah Trenham below).