January 13, 2015

Let's Worship The Right Things

Well. A few loony people shot up Paris the other day, (ostensibly) because they’re insulted at some cartoons that poked fun at Mohammed. Not only is it forbidden to ridicule the prophet, but we shouldn’t even speculate as to what he looked like. This prohibition comes not from the Q’uran but from the Hadith, an early oral history that became the foundation for much of Islamic tradition, including Sharia Law.

For the prophet is a mere man, not deity; and human nature being what it is, images tend to evolve into icons, which eventually become objects of worship. I get it. 

Wait, this theme sounds familiar. I’m beginning to think the Muslims are on to something.
Much of my earliest religious training took place in a classroom (or sanctuary) replete with icons: Paintings, statues, images on candles. Jesus here, Mary there, this or that saint in-between. The protocol was important; every believing home should have one, if not several. Depending on the situation, we should bow or kneel in prayer before them.
But why? Never got a straight answer on that one. Good Christian boys don’t ask questions, they just do as they’re told.

Through the ages, churches laid out vast sums to either fabricate or purchase religious images. Over time, sacred art made Mary more prominent than Jesus. The business of sending out missionaries, or feeding the hungry or healing the sick in their midst, suffered. They couldn't imagine worshipping God without a full complement of worldly trappings.

A first-time visit to an Orthodox sanctuary can induce a state of sensory overload with bright colorful images everywhere. During the Reformation, Zwingli, Cranmer, and others called for the destruction of such images. History has labeled them iconoclasts (image-smashers). With this upheaval, the real mission of the church was neglected in many places.

Back in the 1980s, a black preacher in Los Angeles hired a local artist to paint a black Jesus and produce hundreds of copies. Once this task was complete, he called for all members of his congregation to destroy any images of the “white Jesus” in their homes and replace them with this new one. Granted, Jesus probably looked more like Morgan Freeman than Ted Neely. But really?

Perhaps these “sacred images” serve to foster greater devotion and piety among the faithful. I doubt it. One thing for sure, it never worked for me. And in the record of history, they have served to distract and divide the flock again and again. Sectarian splits. Racial separation. Political controversy. None of it has ever converted a single soul to follow God.

The cause of Christ (that is, the one we see described in the pages of Scripture) isn’t about buildings and statues and paintings. It isn’t about bestowing earthly treasures on a heavenly institution.

If you can’t worship Jesus in a forest, or a bungalow, or your bedroom…

Or if you’d rather expend your congregation’s resources for steeples instead of people…

Then perhaps it’s time to rethink exactly what it is that you’re worshipping.

Yes, I do believe the Muslims have the right idea. Let’s direct our devotion to God, not stuff.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Steve ---

    I was told by an Orthodox priest that icons (which not only have images of Jesus, Mary, etc., but also depictions of biblical events) originated to help illiterate people learn Bible stories. I was tempted to ask, "Why not promote universal literacy, as the Jews of Jesus' day did? And if most of your congregation can now read, aren't these icons obsolete?"