by Josiah Audette
“I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first work of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubles less clear to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine.” You will read this excerpt in a favoured book of mine from the Scottish satyrical writer Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary.” I have often perused this book since its first introduction to me through the frequent references of it in the debates of the reputable polemic Christopher Hitchens and theologian, Douglas Wilson. As you may deduce, this brief excerpt in the volume of satyrical word definitions is from the introduction in the alphabetical category of the letter “I”. The other week I interested myself in the second word listed in the I category, namely, Iconoclast. In its serious definition and modern connotation Iconoclast means a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. It was love at first sight for me. After all, the dictionary is a book of love and one giant romance novel to the effervescent bibliophile. “A person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. Iconoclast.” Its historical meaning refers to A breaker or destroyer of images; a name which Catholics gave to those who reject the use of images in religious worship. Indeed I should like to conceive of myself as an Iconoclast after the Puritans and reformers before me. More specifically, as a Christian Iconoclast modelled after that peerless Iconoclast in Biblical history, King Josiah. “Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord.” As I perceived it, Christians ought and are the congregation of Iconoclasts bringing about the decimation of societies’ idolatrous abominations. Removing every revered institution, dismantling every venerated ideology which abrogates the law of God. So the Christian is either an Iconoclast or an Idolator. As Mr. Amberson observed in his last message, their are several and sundry idolatries without the Church that if we as Iconoclasts do not crush, they shall doubtless crush us.
By idol or idolatry I mean something beyond some conception of a pagan figure or object, I mean rather a created thing which endeavours to place itself where only the uncreated God is. In “The Anatomy of Melancholy” Robert Burton writes, “We are thus bad by nature, bad by kind, but far worse by art, every man the greatest enemy unto himself. We study many times to undo ourselves, abusing those good gifts which God hath bestowed upon us, health, wealth, strength, wit, learning, art, memory to our own destruction.” So we can be idolatrous with our without images. Idolatry as such is strictly forbidden, “Turn ye not unto idols, more make to yourselves molten gods: I am the Lord your God.” For we are doomed if we do so. “I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.” I wonder if we realize just how doomed our society is by its idolatrous abominations. If we are blind or just ever belligerent optimists to the present and future state of our culture. Now I am no fan of optimism or its denomination. In the words of Ambrose Bierce, optimism, “Is a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof – an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.” As Douglas Wilson illustrates, two days before the destruction of Sodom was it possible for Lot’s wife to say, “Well, its all right so far.” We may even confess to ourselves, “Yes, we have some issues in our city, a looming crises in politics, and other problems in the economy, but its not so bad.” Thus we join the company of the idols which are reserved by God for complete annihilation. However I don’t see that being the common response to the state of the nation in our church. I don’t think any of us are saying, “All right so far.” I believe rather that each of us are concerned with responding to the current situation. We all want to do something about it. The question merely, is, “What is something constructive which we can do?” How can we be Christian Iconoclasts? How can we effectively and actively quell the present judgment?
The one thing which we can do, and indeed the only thing which we can do is worship God as we have the privilege of doing every Lord’s Day. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Not just the iconoclasts maxim, but also our prayer and model. Since idolatry is placing ourselves where God belongs we know to combat idolatry in our hearts we must place ourselves at the feet of where God is. When we worship we rise to the courts of the Lord in heaven. When we worship we ascend that holy hill, we boldly enter into the holy of holies, we have entrance into the heaveanlies. In response to our worship, God in heaven comes to us. We do not pray, “Thy Kingdom go” because it is coming. Heaven only comes through worship. His Kingdom only comes only as we hallow our heavenly Father’s name. How do you hallow God’s name on earth? Hallow it in heaven. How does God’s Kingdom come to us? We go to it. How do we go to it? Worship our Father in the name of is Son in the power of his Holy Spirit in the heavenly places with the congregation of God. Our church’s mission statement rightly begins with the simple declaration that we exists “For the right worshipping of God.” This is the central function of Christ’s Church and its local, visible expression here in Grace Haven.
WEAPON OF WORSHIP
The statement, “Thy Kingdom come” doesn’t just infer it does not “go” but rather “comes” through hallowing worship. It also infers that here on earth we are under an entirely different and opposing kingdoms and kings. The Christian Iconoclast comprehends this reality more so than others. The Christian Iconoclast knows what the Kingdom of God actually is. Morecraft writes, “Christ’s mediatorial kingdom is the manifestation of the sovereign rule of God in power and grace which establishes a new civilization of righteousness and blessedness in history by the power of the Holy Spirit in, under and through the Lord Jesus Christ in fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises.” It is establishing the crown rights of King Jesus for all of life, for all the world. Thus the Christian iconoclast as they read the news realizes it is far from being so. The troublesome problems, the idolatrous ideologies, the crisis and catastrophes, we have done on earth as it is not done in heaven. They comprehend the extent the Kingdom of God has to come just in order to be realized. The Christian iconoclast realizes how our nation is enclosed and fortified within the bulwarks of hell. But the Christian Iconoclasts also knows what weapon the parapets of hell cannot withstand. As states just a few Sundays ago, it is the church. “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” So you want to do something? You read the news and ask what equips you to stop that stuff? You browse the internet and wonder what to do with all the stupidity out there? You want to storm the gates of hell? Well every seven days Grace Haven gathers at their castle gates and has the privilege of taking up the battering ram of worship and taking another swing. Our one weapon and our only weapon is the right worship of God. But it is no small weapon. Rather against its force, “The gates of hades will not prevail.”
God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shin upon us; Selah.
That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.
Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.
Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Then shall the earth yield ehr increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
SPOILS OF BATTLE
When we prevail against these gates there will be many consequences. We will experience change and reform in economics where we take credence to the seventh commandment and no longer steal through inflation or redistribution. We will experience political consequences as we begin to recognize God’s order of state, local, church, family, and individual government. We will experience social consequences in dealing with the poor, widows, and orphans and exercising restitution through justice in the courts. We will experience cultural consequences as we shed the ideals of humanism and statism. We will experience artistic consequences as we stop thinking outside the Bach and in the Cage. However, we must keep in mind that these areas are the spoils of battle and nor our weapons.
This is where the Iconoclast can made an idol out of his very iconoclasm. Politics, economics, arts, sciences, education, food, culture are what we are fighting over and for, but they are not what we are fighting with. It is a form of idolatry for the Iconoclast to think he is going to change anything by advancing particular economic policies, advocating certain educational conventions, applying a political agenda, or adjudicating on artistic or cultural methods. “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” “Confused be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols.” Christopher Hitchens quipped on stage with his Jack Daniels whiskey flask in hand, “I don’t believe we need better politicians. I believe we need a better electorate.” Close, but no cigar. Conservative politics, family economics, home education, multi-generational families, artistry or culture are not our saviours, but they do still need saving. How are they to be saved? Who is their saviour? The only saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. How do we appeal to our only Saviour? Through the triune worshipping God in Jesus’ name, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the heavenly places. Worship is our weapon in the battle. These things are the spoil of battle and not our weapons. As Douglas Wilson exhorts, “So, you want to do something constructive? Its right before you. You have a Bible? A Car? You got a hymnal? You can go to church and worship God.” If you are watching the news during the week and wonder what you are able to do about it all you should say, “Well today’s Friday… Sunday’s coming.” But instead what do we often do as misguided Iconoclasts? We watch the news first thing in the week, are horrified, encounter the urge to bring resolution, and imbue our week with all kinds of activities. On Monday we study the weapon of political agendas. Tuesday we really hone in on our home education pedagogy. Wednesday we start to overtake the artistic scene. Thursday we maneuver ourselves into becoming a cultural influence in the community. Friday we experiment with family economics. Saturday we busy ourselves with social engagements and ministry. Sunday we engage with raising our multi-generational homes, and oh wait a minute…. what about church worship. Right, this too is idolatry. This is backwards. Politics, family, economics, education, social welfare, the arts and sciences are the spoils of battle not the weapons. Worship is our one and only weapon effectual to prevailing against the bastion of hades.
ENGAGEMENT & INTEGRATION
Douglas Wilson illustrates worship in the local Church on Sunday as the centre or the engine of reformation and revival. There are some dualist, gnostic Christians who are all about majestically liturgical worship but disavow any engagement in the nitty-gritty of politics, economics, education of the world. This is like starting a big engine, but without ever putting it into gear. There are other Christians who are all about cultural integration, political agendas, artistic influence, social engagements but this whole worship thing just weighs the car down. Their Christianity is never any good at going up hill. Worship is the engine with which we engage all of life with and furthermore integrate with all God’s people for. The right worship of God is our only pure, entire, whole, and peaceful common ground. If you make anything other than worship your engine for reform you commit idolatry and your car falls apart. When you make anything other than worship your integration point your fellowship divides and everyone exits the vehicle. If you make politics your engine then your will integrate based on your political agendas. If you make generations of children your engine you will collect passengers based on their family discipline and educational customs. The problem is not that these pursuits are intrinsically bad, but rather such prioritization is idolatry (Placing the created where the uncreated God is) and are insufficient grounds for full fellowship and effective reform. You will never fully integrate on political agendas, artistic influence, social engagements, culture, educational conventions, or child raising principles. These things do not produce worship. These things are not the ladder by which we ascend into heaven. These things are not the red carpet upon which the Kingdom of God proceeds. Rather, when you worship God on the Lord’s Day in the local church His kingdom comes as promised in Christ. He makes you right with Him. He makes you a charitable Christian, a hospitable disciple, a submissive wife, an honouring child, an industrious daughter, a godly patriarch, an epistemologically self-conscious educator, an inspired artistic influence, and so on. These are the fruits of worship, not the works of worship. These are the spoils of battle, not the weapons of battle. So ask yourselves why do we hang out together? What bring us together? Is it our common practice of home education? Is it our calvinistic theology? Is it our multigenerational family model? Or is it ultimately and unfailingly the triune worship of God in the name of His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the heavenly places? If it were not for Jesus Christ would you be hanging out with these people? No. Then why do you qualify your fellowship with others on any other basis than worshiping the One who was whole that was made broken that we who are broken may be made whole?
REFORMATION & REVIVAL
Judgment begins in the house of the Lord. Francis Schaeffer writes, “The church in our generation needs reformation, revival, and constructive revolution. At times men think of the two words reformation and revival as standing in contrast one to the other, but this is a mistake. Both words are related to the word restore. Reformation refers to a restoration to pure doctrine; revival refers to a restoration in the Christian life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture; revival speaks of a life brought into its proper relationship tot the Holy Spirit. The great moments of church history have come when these two restorations have simultaneously come into action so that the church has returned to pure doctrine and the lives of the Christians in the church have known the power of the Holy Spirit. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation; and reformation is not complete without revival.” This brings us to the second portion of the Lord’s Prayer we have before us. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Reformation and revival as Schaeffer writes, doing the will of God as Mr. Johnson last spoke about, rightly worshiping God as was covered today is not possible without the Holy Spirit. We live in the Spirit and the Spirit in us by regeneration and continually receive him through prayer and the Scriptures. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth… the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life.” “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” How do we walk in the Spirit? Romans 8:5, “They that are after the Spirit mind the things of the Spirit.” What are the things of the Spirit we are to be mindful of? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodnesss, faith, meekness, temperance.” What does the Spirit do in our worship? “He shall testify of me.” “For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” “Now we have received… the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
Want to be a Christian Iconoclast? First repent of being an idolatrous one. Restore through reformation and revival worship as the engine of all of life and the integration of all God’s people. Avail yourself of the weapon of worship and gather with the congregation of Iconoclasts each Lord Day to prevail against the gates of Hades. In the fullness of the Spirit realize God’s transformation in your life. Worship God the Father in the name of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit with the assembly of God in the heavenly realms.