How to get kicked out of church: Idolatry, part a

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. (NRSV)

We arrive at number 3 in the top 6 list of ways to get kicked out of church. As the links in the verse indicate, I have posted on the last three. I'm working my way up the list. I figure sexual immorality may take several posts, since humans have found so many ways to be sexually immoral and the Bible covers many of those. As I noted earlier, I think all of these sins, except drunkenness, correspond to one of the 10 commandments. Idolatry is the number 2 commandment. For the Corinthians, who came out of the Greek and Roman mythology and idol worship, this demarcation is very important to them. When I wrote about idolatry earlier, I spent many posts on its importance today. I will quote from those posts in 2007.

The commandment itself is at Exodus 20:4-6
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. 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, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I wrote, this anti-idol statement can be positively stated as, "only the Creator deserves worship." The ancillary statements point out that God can affect your descendants quality of life, unlike the piece of wood or rock you are worshiping.

God's point is that he isn't perceived with our eyes, but with our spirits.
Philip asks Jesus in John 14:9-10 to show them the Father. Jesus replies,

“Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?"

Yet, we have no image of Jesus to adore from the Bible. We have a negative image. Isaiah 53 tells us he was unattractive.

53:2 He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
53:3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.

He didn't stand out, yet seeing him was seeing God. His image is the only image of God that is acceptable to worship. We don't have that image now, not the physical one. But we do know a lot about God by the record of his life among us. We are prohibited from worshiping a thing of creation, but we are called to worship a creator. What do we know about Jesus? Gayle Erwin summarizes, based on the Gospels and Philippians 2:5-11, the Nature of Jesus:

The Nature of Jesus

1. Servant
2. Not Lord It over Others
3. Lead by Example
4. Humble
5. As A Child
6. As the Younger
7. As the Least
8. Last
9. Used No Force on Us
10. Was Not Driven by Selfish Ambition
11. Made Himself of No Reputation
12. Was Fully Human
13. Obedient
14. Unto Death

How can this God, just described be reduced to an image? It's an insult. It's a blasphemy. One that God punished the Jewish nations for by Assyria and Babylonia. By that time, they supplemented worship of him with worship of other gods and their idols and the dissipation that followed inevitably. We are conformed to the image of what we worship. Even noble things, though approaching an aspect of God's nature, are limited. Why would someone only enjoy one facet on a diamond? All those facets together cause the brilliance and the beauty. Any idol is partial. Worshipers realized this and had to supplement their pantheon. Which Paul speaks about on Mars Hill in Acts 17:29-31 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.

God closes all the loopholes.
1 - don't make it
2 - not of anything
a - above
b - below
c - swims
3 - don't bow down to it, see Daniel 3 where Daniel's buddies get busted for refusing to bend their knees to an idol
4 - don't worship it

I'm part of the company that John the disciple wrote too, "dear children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21 - NIV) I figure he wrote that because they were having trouble with them.
This one isn't that hard to break. If i kiss a wad of cash, aren't I adoring something other than God? If I reverentially caress a brand new car...If I bow to a Christian statue? Now that's a divisive issue in Christendom. Here's the argument in the 8th century
1. Iconoclasm condemned the making of any lifeless image (e.g. painting or statue) that was intended to represent Jesus or one of the saints. The Epitome of the Definition of the Iconoclastic Conciliabulum held in 754 declared:

"Supported by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, we declare unanimously, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that there shall be rejected and removed and cursed one of the Christian Church every likeness which is made out of any material and colour whatever by the evil art of painters.... If anyone ventures to represent the divine image (χαρακτήρ, charaktēr) of the Word after the Incarnation with material colours, let him be anathema! .... If anyone shall endeavour to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colours which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, let him be anathema!"

2. For iconoclasts, the only real religious image must be an exact likeness of the prototype -of the same substance- which they considered impossible, seeing wood and paint as empty of spirit and life. Thus for iconoclasts the only true (and permitted) "icon" of Jesus was the Eucharist, which was believed to be his actual body and blood.

3. Any true image of Jesus must be able to represent both his divine nature (which is impossible because it cannot be seen nor encompassed) and his human nature (which is possible). But by making an icon of Jesus, one is separating his human and divine natures, since only the human can be depicted (separating the natures was considered nestorianism), or else confusing the human and divine natures, considering them one (union of the human and divine natures was considered monophysitism).

4. Icon use for religious purposes was viewed as an innovation in the Church, a Satanic misleading of Christians to return to pagan practice.

"Satan misled men, so that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. The Law of Moses and the Prophets cooperated to remove this ruin...But the previously mentioned demiurge of evil...gradually brought back idolatry under the appearance of Christianity." [20]

It was also seen as a departure from ancient church tradition, of which there was a written record opposing religious images...

The thing that strikes me about idols is they are never cheap. Why can't an idol be made of dirt? Why the investment? Perhaps its a front loading of worship. Unlike the living God who requires our entire life and every facet of it, idols, perhaps, are satisfied with a glitzy upfront payment with small daily payments thereafter.

Idolatry and greed have something in common.
Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
This is scary, so scary that some translations make" idolater" a separate descriptor instead of a modifier of the covetous person. Perhaps that is a key for us modern idolaters. In case we didn't get it, Paul restates it in his letter to the Colossian church. Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Egypt, in contrast to Israel, is a metaphor for the world; tangible, immediate, easy, enslaving. The land of Israe, however,l is promised, comes with struggle, and is free as long as enemies are not allowed in, alot like the life of the Christian. Our struggle is the temptation to return to Egypt, a land of idols and abundance and slavery. We are called to a life of rejection, abundance, freedom, and true worship of the one God. In Egypt, even the children are enslaved and can be killed at whim of the king. In Israel, generations can thrive and blossom, as long as they stay away from Egypt. Egypt and Israel need to stay separate. In Israel, there is no other God and there are no images of Him. The reward of faithfulness is a blessing on our descendants, a much better inheritance than a chunk of corruptible stuff.

God makes it simple. Do I want to bless my family or curse it? Will i hold onto and worship the false gods in my life, the little household gods in my heart or in my driveway or my refrigerator, and bring misery to my family, or will I embrace the one true God and embrace Him fully, totally to the happiness of my family?

If you click on the links you can see more context of what I quote from. In part B of this topic I will look at how the church dealt with mass idolatry among Christians, the Lapsi, during Roman persecution, something know as the Novatian and Donatist controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries.


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