Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hey, Matt? Do you really think nativity scenes are idolatrous??

You never know what you'll see at Mudrake's. (Well, actually, it is pretty predictable!) But my Christian brother Matt suggested in a comment over there --maybe with tongue in cheek --maybe not--that nativity scenes were idolatrous.

If he really thinks that, I hope he also doesn't take any photographs as they might qualify as graven images of things on the earth.

Granted, some Catholic laity around the world seem to relate to the statuary of Catholic churches as pagans do to idols --praying to them. Missing the point that God is Spirit --and He is everywhere --and we do not reach Him or praise Him through a statue. But I believe Catholic doctrine denies deifying and worshiping Mary. Maryology is a medieval development --and some say it improved the lot of women and mothers. Some say it is an adaptation of the Mother Earth/Mother/Goddess pagan worship. Whatever, Mary is a special lady who found favor with God --and did all that God asked of her.

I think the creche scenes such as we enact in our church Christmas programs are, like the Christmas carols, re-telling the "greatest story ever told." Drama was one way the medieval church told Bible stories before people had access to the Bibles --"morality plays," they called them. Re-enactments of this timeless, true tale help to make the story come alive again and again --

The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy --
Immanuel, God with Us --
He shall save His people from their sins!
Glory to the new born king!
Joy to the world --the Lord has Come!

and finally

He rules the world --with Truth and Grace!

"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


matthew said...

I don't think nativity scenes are idolatrous but I don't care for drama during worship at all. I'm not unique in this belief, though. Many, if not most, churches down through history have avoided it because of its idolatrous nature.

I know, I know... you don't think you're actually worshiping the people on stage. But that's terribly condescending to the cultures you do believe use idols. They don't actually think their idols are gods, they believe their idols stand in for gods. We're condescending if we think it's only primitive cultures that have idols.

I know you'll still disagree with me and I don't want to get into a long defense of this but, yes, I think drama and pictures and video during worship is idolatry. And I'm not alone.

Barb said...

I'm sure you are not alone --"there's nothing new under the sun."

However, I have never heard it before --that drama is a form of idolatry. (Granted, movie star worship is idolatry. And worship of one's self or kids for being talented is self-idolatry --whether it's an academic, financial, sports, music or theatrical talent--or physical beauty)

But I know from study of English lit/history that the church USED drama --the morality plays --as it used statuary --to help the people visualize the stories --in the absence of Bibles. IT is a teacher. Flannelgraph representations, pictures in books--your Jesse tree --all visual representations to teach the stories and truths.

Church folks don't worship the actors --and protestants avoid the statuary because people have SEEMED to worship the statues and I think theologically ignorant people have worshiped statues and icons, relics, etc.

I don't think you are correct in saying that pagans didn't think the spirits resided in the statues of the deities. I believe the feeling they have toward statues is "religious" and "worshipful." And they thought they had powers --that the gods resided in man-made idols. That's idolatry. And the good Biblical example is the Baal worshippers in the O.T. vs. the altar to God --not a man-made god.

matthew said...

Well, I'm sure you're right that pagans sometimes think the spirits reside in their idols. I meant to point out that Scripture is full of warnings to Christians about their idols. It's interesting to me that we think only the simple minded have idols.

There's a distinction between the first and second commandments, right? The first prohibits us from having other gods while the second forbids us from using idols to worship the true God.

Barb said...

Well, Matt, I never heard that the concern of the 2nd commandment was worshipping the true God with the use of idols. I've always thought it was about worshipping other gods --and yes specifying not to worship images of anything made with our hands. Update below for those whose memories are rusty:

Exodus 20:
"You shall have no other gods before [a] me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Apparently, when people made graven images, they did so for the purpose of worshipping them as gods --as competition for God.
We know that when we make an angel in a costume or for a decoration, we are not worshipping something in HEaven. And we know we don't really know what angels look like exactly, though there is Biblical reason to think they are like us --though created "higher" than we.
So they are probably made in God's image, also. So we truly mean no offense and no idolatry when we depict Bible characters for purposes of teaching and telling the stories --helping people to visualize the truths of the stories --helping them stay awake! rather than dozing off for a droning voice!

If we decide to be legalistic about every thing in the Bible, we can become very heavy laden --very burdened --and Jesus said we are under his light yoke as our Burden-bearer --as the scape goat for our sinful shortcomings.

There is a beautiful sculpture at Greenville College, of Jesus washing feet of someone. To remind us to be servants. Not to compete with our Lord for worship.

I certainly don't mean to say that the "simple-minded" have idols --I said the "theologically ignorant" may pray to statues of Mary and Jesus and think of God's spirit as residing in them. Whereas, you and I and many others know better, being TAUGHT that we shouldn't worship man-made idols as though God or any gods were in them.

matthew said...

I'm surprised you never heard what I'm saying about the second commandment. It sounds like you may as well lump the first and second together, then.

Take the Israelites and the golden calf, for instance. The Bible clearly teaches they were using the golden calf to stand in for God. God was scary up on the mountain; their golden calf was much easier to be close to.

It's not legalistic to obey God's commands. God commands that we not use images in our worship so we don't do it. Even if you think people will be bored. It's not legalistic to pay close attention to God's law and then actually try to obey it. It's legalistic to add to God's law or think we can attain righteousness by following it. I can't help but note how you routinely call good what God calls bad and call bad what God calls good.

It sounds like you don't think you're capable of having any idols because you're not so vulgar as to genuflect in front of them. Again, I just think it's arrogant to believe you're so much more enlightened than Old Testament Christians, New Testament Christians and those simple pagans. God is very concerned with how He is worshiped and we can't just approach Him any way we want. Surely you agree with that. The Old Testament is full of this.

No drama. No statues. They're idols.

Jeanette said...

Interesting conversation. Question:

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Does the above verse mean we should not even take photographs of anything or have portraits or landscapes drawn?

I've wondered about this myself at times.

When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders at that time which was the greatest commandment he basically repeated the first commandment but then added we should love our neighbor as ourselves. (Sorry Denis but your 3 word paraphrase is not complete) He also said that if we break one commandment we have broken them all.

So another question: Is it right to tell a "white lie" to not hurt someone's feelings or are we to be so brutally honest as to hurt someone's feelings? Of course we should be brutally honest, but how many of us have told a "white lie"? And how often do we do it?

Anyone who has seen "The Passion of the Christ" got to see the best representation of the last night and day of Jesus' earthly life. It made it so real to some that many people were saved because they realized the suffering He endured for us.

I didn't and don't worship the actors in the movie, but the movie is powerful and can be used to God's Glory.

And, Matt, although the ten commandments are very important, none of us has kept them all, thereby breaking them all. That's why we are no longer under the rule of Mosaic Law, but came under Grace the moment Jesus died and the veil in the Temple was rent in half. Now we, too, can approach God through Jesus and not just the high priests who had to wear ropes around their waists in case they died in the Holy of Holies because no one else could enter that sacred dwelling place of God.

So, should we get rid of all our cameras and photos because "someone" interprets it as worshiping idols?

While I respect and revere the Law I cannot keep the Law and no one other than Jesus ever did keep it completely. Now we are covered by Grace, and I am so thankful.

Is loving your spouse and children considered idolatry? It could be in some people's eyes, but I think that's what God wants us to do, but He must always come first.

Rob R said...

Matt, the nativity scene is not idolatrous because it has Jesus and Jesus is God, so when our family sacrifices, prays to and wildly dances before our nativity scene, God is honored. Mmm'kay?

Barb said...

Matt, you cross a line to say I'm calling good evil and evil, good.
You are making a judgment here in error.

Drama simply is not inherently the worship of idols --though it can be if we worship drama or worship actors. Most of us Christians are aware that we can make anything an idol, loving it more than we love God. Admiring it excessively. Sometimes we do that in our taste for fine arts, probably. Especially if we become art snobs.

But I don't see how the reinactment of a Bible story--or the dramatization of a Christian messge/theme is idolatry at all. I marvel at your conclusion and am wondering if it is unique to you or something your church teaches. Did you think that about the movie "Fireproof" which I have not seen--but my daughter said it was wonderful --illustrating the importance of staying true to your spouse --stirring the emotions as the Holy Spirit does through various ministry activities. (My grandfather was one to appreciate emotions as a gift from God --saw them as motivators to higher aspirations.)

I don't see drama as worship--but as a tool for teaching. I think drama can be part of a worship service --without being the object of worship --without being an idol.

As for the golden calf being a stand-in for the God of Abraham--it was another god --and it was a pagan practice to make gods with your hands and then worship them. I bet it had more to do with them being influenced by fertility god worship around them, coming out of Egypt as they did --with all the orgy-type sinful sexual behaviors that went with it --they weren't convinced that there was any god on the mountain with Moses. The desire to make a beautifully cast gold figure and then deify it --we don't understand that today. People today are more likely to believe in no gods but themselves.

Barb said...

BTW --are you under the influence or something? Read what you wrote in the morning light.

I don't think I'm more enlightened than OT Christians --since there were not any.

But I do think we are more enlightened than the OT Jews because the Church has the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the light. He came into darkness. I DO think the Church today knows better than to dance around a golden calf of our making --in worship. Idolatry takes different form today--but it isn't usually the drama ministry in a church.