On Idolatry. 18 December 2020

On Idolatry

Every Christian should know that idolatry is forbidden in Scripture, both in the Old and the New Testaments.
The first of the ten commandments reads: Exodus 20:2–6 (ESV) 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The New Testament is unambiguous: 2 Corinthians 6:16 (ESV) 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Idolatry is identified as a “work of the flesh” that will exclude those who practise it from the Kingdom of God:
Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Most Christians understand that idolatry stands opposed to everything that God expects.
But there are other attributes to idolatry that need to be understood by Christians and failing to grasp these things can make idolatry into a less-than-real threat, a theory so to speak. I suggest these points:
1. Idols are always a lie. Now what is valued by an individual or a society is not necessarily a lie, but when it is elevated to an object of worship, it is a lie. Take for example wealth: wealth is a good thing, and it is not an evil thing to gain wealth, manage it, and exercise stewardship over it. But understood in its proper place, wealth is insufficient as a deity. It is a falsehood to consider wealth as the total purpose of life. Wealth as an idol is a rejection of God (Matthew 6:24). The modern State claims absolute authority over the family and the church. This too is a lie.
2. Idols are always polytheistic. There are many gods of idolatry, whereas the Triune God of Scripture is One in three Persons. The God of the Bible is perfect in unity and purpose.
Because of the limited nature of an idol, its insufficiency to fulfill the role of deity, there must be many idols. So there are idols of power, human autonomy, individualism, collectivism, knowledge, science, culture—the list can go on and be very long.
Only the Triune God can explain and fulfill the role of absolute truth, beauty, love, holiness. All idols are inadequate caricatures.
3. Idols are absolute, which is contradictory. This point is made clear by the fact that each idol claims absolute authority, but these absolutes contradict and conflict with one another: in sexual morality, complete autonomy is demanded to the point that abortion is a sacrament to the sexual revolution. On the other hand, also a product of the sexual revolution, this autonomy of the person is removed entirely by societal demand for the acceptance of sexual perversion: same-sex marriage and transgenderism. In the name of autonomy, abortion is always legal; but in the name of collectivism, taxpayers opposed to it must still fund it.
There are many examples of conflicting absolutes: since the outbreak of Covid-19, safety has taken on the role of a god, with many sacrifices demanded. The balance between individual rights and freedoms and the demand for safety has been abolished.
The State has, in these times of God’s eclipse, claimed absolute authority over the family and church. In the family, because the State claims the authority to define a family—members, number, gender. Over the church, because the church can only function within the permission of the State.
4. Idols demand sacrifice. This is clearest in the role of abortion in society, where individual autonomy is exercised over an unborn human being from conception to birth. Since Covid-19, the physically weak have been denied health care in the name of (sacrificed to) safety, the god of 2020. The residents of Long Term Care homes have been sacrificed as well, because safety is now an absolute. This, of course, contradicts even the idolatrous autonomy of the individual!
5. Idols enter into absence (Exodus 32). When a people rejects the presence of the invisible God, visible, contradictory, weak and inadequate idols are sought to replace Him.
A beginning response to idolatry is found in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 1
What is thy only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. –Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).
Any answer to this question that is NOT “my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” is an idol. I believe that many Christians have fallen into idolatry this year, and that idol is safety. No sacrifice is too small: employment, the love and fellowship of a family, gathered worship, freedom of movement—all are freely given up in the name of safety.
But there is another idol, the State, that claims absolute rights, power, and authority over all of life. This is an “idolatrous absolute” that must be rejected by the Christian. It is indisputable that the State in itself knows no limits, making it a dangerous threat to the Christian.
“Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). In order to do this, we must be able to identify them and act against them.
©Scott Jacobsen. All rights reserved.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp. 18 December 2020

The martyrdom of Polycarp:
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as],” Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.”
The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.” But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods.” Speaking thus, they cried out, and besought Philip the Asiarch to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to do so, seeing the shows of wild beasts were already finished. Then it seemed good to them to cry out with one consent, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For thus it behooved the vision which was revealed to him in regard to his pillow to be fulfilled, when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he turned about and said prophetically to the faithful that were with him,” I must be burnt alive.”
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken, the multitudes immediately gathering together wood and fagots out of the shops and baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them in it. And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals, — a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”

When the Church Loses Its Saltiness

“Ecclesiastical structures that depart from the faith do so by the loss of distinctiveness, the gradual conformation of their thought and life to that of the larger community. Sociological observations confirm that, by and large, the religious institutions of the United States do not teach values that are distinctive to their own traditions but rather use religious terminology that ratifies the values of the broader society. There is little to distinguish what the churches say from what other institutions teach, and we are left therefore with only an indistinctive religion-in-general.

. . .

Thus, the master of the American church is likely to be whatever cultural or intellectual fad has gained the ascendancy. Christology displays this tendency when the Gospels are used selectively to show that the ‘real Jesus’ was an exemplar of the American middle class, or perhaps a guerrilla fighter, a social democrat, or a model of psychological fitness. That is a recipe for intellectual and spiritual sterility, for by accepting the dead end of the reigning assumption, the church absorbs whatever conclusions ‘enlightened’ people consider current. In sociological terms, the church functions as just another means used by the political and social establishment to integrate society’s values into the next generation. The support it receives depends on the extent to which it uncritically transmits values. Its passivity makes it acceptable and ensures its irrelevance. C. E. M. Joad saw the Church of England being transformed by this process into a ‘mere purveyor of vague ethico-religious uplift.’”

Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983. Pp. 235-37