What is an Idol?

I would like to take a break from 1st Timothy for a second to discuss a little future Th.M topic. Toby from Classical Presbyterian has challenged me to make the case that a stained glass image that is supposed to represent Jesus is the equivalent of worshiping an idol. However before I begin that I do want to say as with the discussion we had over the use of musical instruments, the fathers of the Reformed Faith are unequivocally on my side (not to say that Toby has a side). Just one medium snippet from John Calvin shows this:

Idolaters in vain endeavor to elude this second point (Deut 5:8-9) by their foolish cavils; as amongst the Papists that trifling distinction is commonly advanced, that only λατρέια, and not δελέια is prohibited. For Moses, first of all, comprehends generally all the Forms And Ceremonies Of Worship; and then adds immediately afterwards the word עבד, gnabad, which means properly to serve. Hence we conclude that they make a childish endeavor at evasion, when they pay only the honor of service to pictures and statues. But if we grant them what they desire, not even so will they escape; because the prohibition is equivalent to God’s declaring that He will not be worshiped in wood and stone, or in any other likeness. For unbelievers have never been carried away to such an extent of folly as to adore mere statues or pictures; they have always alleged the same pretext which now-a-days is rife in the mouths of the Papists, viz., that not the image itself was actually worshiped, but that which it represented. But the Spirit everywhere reproves them for worshiping gods of wood and stone, since God rejects that carnal worship which unbelievers offer before stocks and stones. If any one should ask them, whom they have it in their mind to worship, they will immediately reply, that they offer to God that honor which they pay to pictures and statues. But this frivolous excuse comes to nothing; because to erect the idol before which they prostrate themselves, is really to deny the true God; and, therefore, no wonder that He should declare that unbelievers worship wood and stone, when they worship in that wood and stone phantoms of their own imagination. And we have already said, that all rites which do not accord with the spiritual worship of God, are here forbidden: and this is enough, and more than enough to put to flight all such misty notions, (nebulas.)…But if it be not agreeable to our judgment that God should repay every one according to his deserts, and yet that He at the same time requires the sins of their fathers of the children, we should remember that His judgments are a great depth; and, therefore, if anything in His dealings is incomprehensible to us, we must bow to it with sobriety and reverence.

One could at this point say well we are not Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox and we do not offer prayers to the images of Christ or other fleshly beings in mediation that plaster our sanctuaries, and you would be right to say that. However it would not be right to say that praying is all that we do in the worship of God or that stain glass images of Christ cannot become idols of worship to people in the sanctuary. We deceive ourselves if we say that the images of the 12th Century Danish sculptor that adorn our walls dressed in a toga standing in for Jesus can in the least bit be taken seriously. Why would it even make sense for half-a-second to us to place a fake Jesus on the decor of the house of God? Would we tolerate placing a triangle in place of a cross? So why does it not bother us to place the picture of a sinful human in place of Christ, even if we are “worshiping” it? So even before we get into any real discussion of whether or not this false Christ can equal an idol we must first think about whether it is prudent to give people a false impression of what Christ looked like in the flesh. If we consider this I think we have the answer to our idolatry question already.

I Have a Th.M Topic

My Calvinistic credentials have always been questioned because I have always been accused of planning too far ahead for there to be any real belief in providence. Well putting all that to the side I have decided to do my Th.M in Historical Theology at Erskine Theological Seminary on the “appearance” of images in Presbyterian Churches. Beginning with a look at the once traditional Calvinistic outlook on images in the church building I will trace the development of church architecture in the United States from the beginning of the 19th Century to the end of the 19th Century and see how the architectural conceptions changed in Presbyterian Churches from the beginning to end of the century and how the theology of the Church allowed for the incorporating of stained glass, ornate imagery, and pictures of Christ within the sanctuary.

Should be fun.

A Decision Has Been Made

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth my wife and I have decided that it would be best for me to go to Erskine Theological Seminary to pursue a Th.M. Lots of things went into making this decision including:

Theology (Erskine is committed to the Reformed Faith, Presbyterian Polity, and Infallibility)

Location (Wife’s educational opportunities and me not wanting to live in a big city)

Education (Erskine is well respected and the Faculty is top-notch)

Chapel
(Erskine requires students to attend chapel and gives them class credit for it)

Th.M Program
(The Program allows me to focus on the area of study I want with ability for Full-Time Ministry)

While one could question any of the above reasons and some have their drawbacks (like work opportunities for me and my wife) and seem contradictory (as I do not attend chapel here at PTS so why I would want it to be mandatory may seem strange) after examing all the options the Th.M program at Erskine offers both the educational and structural integrity I am looking for in a seminary. Any comments, questions, and/or critiques are more than welcome. I will answer anything you want.

Quick Questions on Seminaries

I am looking to work on a Th.M degree after I finish seminary and have narrowed down my choices (for various reasons) to three seminaries.

(In no particular order)

Covenant Theological Seminary
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Erskine Theological Seminary

Any information anyone has on these schools (I have already visited their websites. I am looking for personal interaction) would be greatly appreciated.