Written by R. Scott Clark |
Thursday, July 7, 2022
Recovering the distinction between sacred and secular will not solve all our problems but, like its analogue, the nature/grace distinction (not dualism), the sacred/secular distinction is an important tool as we continue to learn how to navigate a post-Christian culture.
A significant part of the process of recovering and applying classical Reformed theology to our contemporary situation (sometimes called ressourcement, a French word which refers to getting back to original sources) is recovering the distinctions that we lost in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are a number of these, e.g., the archetypal/ectypal distinction, which, in Recovering the Reformed Confession, I called the categorical distinction; the distinction between law and gospel, which, in the classical period of Reformed theology (i.e., the 16th and 17th), was received as basic. Another lost distinction is that between the sacred and the secular. This is a distinction that our classical writers employed regularly but one that is regarded with suspicion today. In this discussion, sacred refers to that which is devoted to God. Think of the way Leviticus speaks of that which is dedicated to God or holy. Secular, in this context, refers to that which is common to Christians and pagans alike, which is not dedicated to God or holy in that sense. It does not mean “unclean” or defiled but simply not specially set apart. Think of the difference between the loaf of bread in your kitchen and the bread that has been consecrated for use in the Lord’s Supper. We often say during the administration of the Supper, “this sacred meal.” That there are secular meals is necessarily implied. Your family dinner is such a meal but it is not dirty or corrupt.
Recovering the Distinction Between Sacred and Secular
The traditional Christian (and Reformed) distinction is regarded with suspicion by some because it is unfamiliar. It is also, as a recent correspondent wrote to me, regarded by some as a Roman Catholic distinction. Some have been taught that the sacred belongs to God and the secular belongs to the Devil. That would be Manichaeism (i.e., the theology behind the Star Wars films). Others have been taught (directly or indirectly) by the followers of Abraham Kuyper that any distinction between the sacred and the secular somehow removes the sovereignty of God.
Neither of these was true in the classical period of Reformed theology and they are not true now. The Protestants saw the secular and the sacred as two distinct spheres over which and through which God exercises his sovereign providence.
Calvin used “secular” as a category without prejudice regularly. E.g. in Institutes 1.8.2, he contrasted the different styles between the human authors of sacred Scripture and “secular” writers. We see the same usage in 1.8.6. Calvin regularly wrote of secular judges, secular philosophers, secular work. E.g. in 4.7.22 he contrasted the properly sacred work of ministry with Gregory I’s complaint that he was forced to be too occupied with “secular affairs.” This way of thinking, speaking, and writing was universal among the magisterial Protestant Reformers and the Protestant orthodox.
We should not confuse the category secular with the use of “secular humanism” and “secularism” as pejoratives. Just as there is a difference between science and scientism so there is a proper distinction between things that are secular and a philosophy of secularism.
One way to think about the distinction between the sacred and the secular is to consider the restriction that the Apostle Paul placed on us in 1 Corinthians 10:14–21. The problem facing the Corinthian church was what to do about sharing meals with pagans.
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By Grover E. Gunn — 1 year ago
Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Monday, November 22, 2021
Zwingli’s balanced moderation is especially commendable in light of the abuses against which Zwingli was reacting. The core of the popular piety in the western church shortly before the Reformation was a devotion to the cult of the saints combined with an insatiable appetite for sensuous forms of worship, especially worship through visual experiences.
Two of the Reformed champions of the second commandment and the regulative principle of worship are Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger. As a pastor at Zurich, Zwingli was the driving force behind the purging of images that were being abused as objects of worship in the city’s houses of worship. Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor at Zurich, later wrote the Second Helvetic Confession, which contains a clear and strong creedal condemnation of the idolatrous use of images in worship.
These were men of the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century, Ralph Erskine promoted the view that every possible visible representation of Jesus in His humanity is inherently an idolatrous moral abomination. He regarded a mental image of Jesus in His humanity as a form of atheism and referred to such images as vermin. We should not assume without evidence that this eighteenth century view was shared by sixteenth century champions of the regulative principle such as Zwingli and Bullinger.
Zwingli obviously didn’t share Erskine’s view as evidenced by the following statement in his 1525 work, An Answer to Valentin Compar: “No one is forbidden from having a portrait of the humanity of Christ.” Zwingli allowed such images with two restrictions: they should never be venerated, and they should never be put in any place designated for worship. Zwingli also cautioned that everyone “who now has the image of Christ in his house should take care that he not make it into an idol; for as we have already said, with us no pictures become idols faster than those of Christ.” Notice that Zwingli warned against making such an image into an idol. He did not label all such images as inherently idolatrous or necessarily idolatrous. An Answer to Valentin Compar contains Zwingli’s most extensive treatment of images, the one that he himself referred to as his “complete opinion” (Garside 1966, 162, 171, 179).
There is further evidence of Zwingli’s view on this question in an edition of Zwingli’s treatise on the Lord’s Supper published in Zurich in 1526. In the center of the title page is a box containing the book’s title and other publication information. To the left of the box is a drawing of Israelites collecting manna in the wilderness, and to the right of the box is a drawing of Jesus feeding the five thousand in another wilderness. Above the box is a drawing of what I take to be some Israelites standing around a Passover table, and below the box is a drawing of Jesus seated at a Passover table with the twelve disciples for the Last Supper (Dyrness 2004, 59–60; Zwingli, H. 1526b). The use of these drawings on the title page may have been the decision of the printer independent of the author. Another Zurich printer printed the same work in the same year without using this artwork (Zwingli, H. 1526a). Nevertheless, the title page art found in one Zurich printer’s 1526 edition of the book is consistent with what Zwingli had written earlier about visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, this book was published in Zurich, the city where Zwingli had so much influence. The only departure from the realism of a historical scene in this title page art is the aura around Jesus’ head which symbolically alluded to His deity. Symbolically alluding to Christ’s deity is not the same as trying to depict the deity of Jesus, which is invisible and indepictable.
Zwingli’s balanced moderation is especially commendable in light of the abuses against which Zwingli was reacting. The core of the popular piety in the western church shortly before the Reformation was a devotion to the cult of the saints combined with an insatiable appetite for sensuous forms of worship, especially worship through visual experiences. In the early days of the Reformation, Zwingli commented:
Have we not all thought it a sacred thing to touch these images? Why have we imprinted kisses upon them, why have we bowed the knee, why have we paid a high price merely for a view of them? (Zwingli, H. 1981, 332).
Zwingli was pastor of the Great Minster church in Zurich from 1518 until his death in 1531. When he became the pastor, the church building contained some relics and many visual representations of Jesus, apostles, martyrs, and other departed saints, including Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of these items and even ornamental decorations were removed in the cleansing in 1524. The reason for removing even decorations was that all these items had long been integral parts of a larger system of false worship with a long history. The iconoclastic cleansing of the church buildings in Zurich removed all remnants and reminders of this comprehensive religious system which had defrauded the people for so long. The greater the fraud, the greater the reaction of the victims when they discover it. Therefore, even some of the ornamental decorations had to go.
One of the criteria for selecting what to remove in the Zurich cleansing is illustrated by some comments that Zwingli made about one image that was removed and another which was not. The Great Minster building had two images of Charlemagne, the king who long before had ordered the erection of the church building. One image was an altar painting of Charlemagne in a kneeling position, and the other image was a statue of Charlemagne seated on a throne in a niche high up in an exterior tower. Zwingli explained why one was purged and the other was allowed to stay:
We have had two great Charleses: the one in the Great Minster, which was venerated like other idols, and for that reason was taken out; the other, in one of the church towers, which no one venerates, and that one was left standing, and has caused no annoyance at al (Garside 1966, 150).
The criterion for purging that is here illustrated is functional abuse. The people had venerated the image with religious connotations that was located inside the church, but they had not venerated the image with secular connotations that was located high on the church’s exterior. The one that had been abused as an object of veneration was purged, and the other was allowed to stay. Thus decisions were sometimes made based on people’s attitude toward an object and the way they treated it.
Another illustration of this functional criterion in purging images is Zwingli’s attitude toward images that were in the sanctuary windows. Zwingli expressed tolerance of these because no one tended to worship them there.
Next after these I do not think those images should be disturbed which are put into windows for the sake of decoration, provided they represent nothing base, for no one worships them there. (Zwingli, H. 1981, 337).
Zwingli, an advocate and champion of iconoclasm in the sense of purging images from places of worship, was moderate regarding some non-cultic visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. A good summary of Zwingli’s balanced views on images is found in this statement from his 1523 work, A Brief Christian Introduction:
It is clear that the images and other representations which we have in the houses of worship have caused the risk of idolatry. Therefore they should not be allowed to remain there, nor in your chambers, nor in the market-place, nor anywhere else where one does them honour. Chiefly they are not to be tolerated in the churches, for all that is in them should be worthy of our respect. If anyone desires to put historical representations on the outside of the churches, that may be allowed, so long as they do not incite to their worship. But when one begins to bow before these images and to worship them, then they are not to be tolerated anywhere in the wide world; for that is the beginning of idolatry, nay, is idolatry itself (Jackson 1901, 208; Zwingli, H. 1984, cf. 2:70–71; Garside 1966, cf. 149–50).
Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531, and he was succeeded as the religious leader of Zurich by his close friend Heinrich Bullinger. One would expect Bullinger to continue the doctrines and practices of Zwingli, the martyred pastor. There is evidence of this in the Zurich church’s policy toward music in public worship. Under Zwingli’s influence, the church at Zurich removed all music from its public worship services. The church at Zurich did not resume singing in public worship until 1598, twenty-three years after Bullinger’s death.
In his book Zwingli and the Arts, Garside argues that Bullinger continued the legacy of Zwingli. As evidence of this, Garside shows the similarity of Bullinger’s language on images in the Second Helvetic Confession to some of the language on images which Zwingli used in his Commentary on True and False Religion and in An Answer to Valentin Compar. Yet Bullinger did have some statements in his confession that some might interpret as contrary to Zwingli’s position on visual representations of Christ in His humanity:
We do therefore reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. For although Christ took upon him man’s nature, yet he did not therefore take it that he might set forth a pattern for carvers and painters. He denied that he came ‘to destroy the law and the prophets’ (Matt. v. 17), but images are forbidden in the law and the prophets (Dent. iv. 15; Isa. xliv. 9). He denied that his bodily presence would profit the Church, but promised that he would by his Spirit be present with us forever (John xvi. 7; 2 Cor. v. 5).
Who would, then, believe that the shadow or picture of his body doth any whit benefit the godly? . . .But that men might be instructed in religion, and put in mind of heavenly things and of their own salvation, the Lord commanded to preach the Gospel (Mark xvi. 15) — not to paint and instruct the laity by pictures; he also instituted sacraments, but he nowhere appointed images (Schaff 1977, 3:836–37).
Bullinger, however, does not here directly address the limited and restricted possibilities in which Zwingli allowed for certain visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, there is nothing in the above which indicates that Bullinger would disagree with Zwingli’s position, nor is there reason to believe that Zwingli would disagree with what Bullinger wrote in the above. The purpose of the incarnation certainly was not for the Theanthropos to serve as a model for engravers and painters. Nor can pictures serve as a substitute for the reading, teaching and preaching of the Scriptures. There is nothing in Bullinger’s statements above that condemns as necessarily immoral all possible mental and artistic images based on the graphic descriptions of events involving Jesus that are found in the inspired gospel accounts.
In Common Places, Peter Martyr Vermigli expressed a view of visual representations of Jesus in His humanity that is similar to Zwingli’s view:
Now, as touching those images, which resemble things created, let us see how they may be suffered, or not suffered. And first of all, Christ cometh verie well to remembrance, in that he is man, for in that respect he may be resembled, painted out. For that is not against the nature of the thing, seeing he was verie man, neither against the art of painting, which may imitate bodies (Martyr 1583, 340 2.5.10).
Peter Martyr Vermigli also read and expressed agreement with the Second Helvetic Confession. I assume that he would have qualified his agreement if he had found any of the confession’s language contradictory to his own position on visual representations of Jesus in His humanity.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS. This article is used with permission.
See also:Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity
Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment
Dyrness, W. A. 2004. Reformation Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garside, C., Jr. 1966. Zwingli and the Arts. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.
Jackson, S. M. 1901. Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland 1484–1531. Heroes of the Reformation. New York, NY, and London: The Knickerbocker Press.
Martyr, P. 1583. The Common Places of the Most Famous and Renowned Divine Doctor Peter Martyr, Divided into Foure Principall Partes: With a Large Addition of Manie Theologicall and Necessariie Discourses, Some Never Extant Before. A. Marten. London: H. Denhad and H. Middleton.
Schaff, P. 1977. The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes in Three Volumes. Vol. 3, The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Zwingli, H. 1526a. Ein Klare under Richtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Cristoffel Froschouer.
———. 1526b. Ein Klare underrichtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Hans Hager.
———. 1981. Commentary on True and False Religion. Editor S. M. Jackson and C. N. Heller. Curham, NC: The Labyrinth Press.
———. 1984. Huldrych Zwingli Writings. Vol. 2, In Search of True Religion: Reformation, Pastoral and Eucharistic Writings. H. W. Pipkin. Pittsburgh Theological Monographs. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications.
By Carl R. Trueman — 3 weeks ago
Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Any Christian leader who manages to separate mercy from rules in such a way as to prioritize the former over the latter would not really be merciful at all. Rather, he would be seriously delinquent in his duty. He might even be merely pandering to the spirit of this age.
Announcing the death of Benedict XVI on its Saturday front page, the New York Times drew a contrast between his papacy and that of his successor:
The two men were reportedly on good terms personally, but it was at times an awkward arrangement, and Francis moved decisively to reshape the papacy, firing or demoting many of Benedict’s traditionalist appointees and elevating the virtue of mercy over rules that Benedict had spent decades refining and enforcing.
As a Protestant and (at best) an amateur observer of things Catholic, I cannot comment on the fairness of this analysis. What is interesting, however, is the way the language, in its contrast of mercy with rules, points to deeper issues within society as a whole, Catholic and Protestant, religious and secular. In fact, mercy is incoherent if there are no rules, rules that are rightly believed and applied. Only if there is a rule, and a just rule, can forgiveness for its transgression be seen as an act of mercy.
More pointedly for Christianity, underlying the comment is the notion that rules can neither be motivated by nor embody mercy in themselves. This is a common but dangerous idea that, if true, would prove lethal to the faith. It is also rather selectively applied today. Christianity makes it clear that human beings are designed to be a certain kind of creature. We are free and self-determining in a way that other creatures are not: The swallow instinctively builds a nest but we design houses freely and intentionally. Our freedom, however, operates within certain parameters as set by the limits of human nature. I cannot jump off the Empire State Building and fly, for example, or dive into a cauldron of boiling oil and expect to emerge unscathed.
By Staff — 1 month ago
In keeping with the journalistic tradition of looking back at the recent past, we present the top 50 stories of the year that were read on The Aquila Report site based on the number of hits. We will present the 50 stories in groups of 10 to run on five lists on consecutive days. Here are numbers 31-40.
In 2022 The Aquila Report (TAR) posted over 3,000 stories. At the end of each year we feature the top 50 stories that were read.
TAR posts 8 new stories each day, on a variety of subjects – all of which we trust are of interest to our readers. As a web magazine TAR is an aggregator of news and information that we believe will provide articles that will inform the church of current trends and movements within the church and culture.
In keeping with the journalistic tradition of looking back at the recent past, we present the top 50 stories of the year that were read on The Aquila Report site based on the number of hits. We will present the 50 stories in groups of 10 to run on five lists on consecutive days. Here are numbers 31-40:
A Fellow Pastor’s Exhortation to Greg Johnson: Repent
His basic position is that he was born gay, there’s little chance of him ever changing from that orientation and so he somehow deserves to be in the pulpits of Jesus Christ’s Church, and that we actually need to have more men like himself in pulpits. He says he needs to be authentic to the way he was born, and anyone who commends him to Christ to change his sexual orientation is being abusive and unloving toward him.
Overture from Southeast Alabama Presbytery Asks the 49th PCA GA to Amend BCO 16 By Adding a New Paragraph
Southeast Alabama Presbytery approved an overture at a March 31, 2022 Called Meeting, asking the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to “amend BCO 16 by adding a new paragraph using wording from the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality.”
Don’t Look Now But Your “Reformed” Theology Might Not Be Confessional
There has not just been a blurring of Reformed confessional boundaries but, also, some churches and presbyteries have intentionally erased their doctrinal walls of protection. None of this is surprising once we consider that the formal teaching of systematic theology has at many institutions been relegated to historians rather than theologians. This phenomenon has opened the door to subjective and more novel takes on settled matters of theological intricacy. Stated differences and exceptions to confessional standards are not taken seriously. Pastors and ruling elders needn’t be acquainted with their confessions, let alone be theologians, as long as their views can be accompanied by a fragile appeal to confessional standards being a “consensus document” along with citing a scattered few seventeenth century theologians who held to sometimes esoteric views that did not win the confessional day.
‘I Was A Mess’: Lesbian Professor Turned Christ-Follower Shares What Changed Her Heart
“I realized that part of why I didn’t understand how to be a godly woman was because I didn’t understand how to be a woman, which was hilarious because I’m a professor of women’s studies at the time. I was a mess, and I committed my life to Christ because I believed He was true and real and I had no idea what He was going to do with a mess like me.”
Some Early Reactions to the 49th PCA General Assembly
Even though the PCA consists of men who love the Lord and love our standards, it is greatly divided. The future still looks dim, but light continues to shine in the most unusual places at the most inopportune times. I attribute this to fervent prayer. Never discount the providence of God to change things. My fear today in the modern evangelical world is that energized holiness is being replaced by quiet piety, and therapeutic theology under the guise of love has replaced the Law of God.
The PCA Presbytery of The Ascension Receives Report On “Still Time To Care
At its July 30, 2022 stated meeting, The Ascension Presbytery voted, by a voice vote, to receive the Report of their Ad Interim Committee to Study “Still Time To Care,” by Greg Johnson. In its conclusion the Study Committee stated: “Our careful interaction with this work has demonstrated to us that there are several areas of agreement with Johnson’s thought. At the same time, our study has uncovered fundamental and foundational problems with both the biblical and confessional fidelity of Johnson’s underlying thesis and the clarity and coherence of the demonstration of that thesis.”
Leaving Lent Behind
The more we recognize Christ and His work as sufficient, the less we need man’s endless legislation of rituals and observances to feel spiritually complete. However, the less we see Christ as sufficient the more vulnerable we will be to all sorts of clever ways to either add to the gospel’s sufficiency and/or efficiency.
Why Did Overtures 23 and 37 Fail to Pass the PCA Presbyteries?
I believe a majority of those in most PCA presbyteries are opposed to Revoice and all that it represents. The failure of Overtures 23 and 37 was not a vote for Revoice Theology. Those who denigrate the PCA with this line of thinking are ignorant of the PCA and her Presbyterian procedures. I believe that anyone identifying as a celibate homosexual (SSA) would be rejected for ordination in most PCA presbyteries today.
Conservatives Split From Reformed Church in America Over LGBTQ Issues
The new denomination, besides not affirming same-sex marriage or ordination of LGBTQ individuals, will have a strong emphasis on church planting and feature a flexible organizational model meant to foster theological alignment and efficient decision-making, according to leaders with the Alliance of Reformed Churches.
A Brief Word on the Explicit Endorsement of Side B in the PCA
Though it may be true that no court has formally endorsed Side B in the sense of issuing a resolution that says something along the lines of ‘We the session of Generic Presbyterian hereby commend the school of doctrine known as Side B to our members, to our follow presbyters, and to the denomination at large,’ yet still some of our courts have lent other forms of support to the contemporary movement to normalize homosexual experience among us. That support has been no less real just because it has not taken the form of endorsement.