The Legacy of the True Historical Patrick

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This article by Richard Bennett was originally posted here on March 16, 2015. It is a joyful document full of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!


March 3, 2015

“before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire…”

Patrick of Ireland

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Ireland has a very distinctive history. It was an island untouched by the Roman legions, and Patrick, the Evangelist, brought to it the Gospel of grace. Patrick was himself descended from a family that had been, for two generations at least, in Christ Jesus. His father, he tells us was “the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a presbyter, of the settlement of Bannaven Taburniae.”1 These facts are recorded in Patrick’s own testimony of faith. This authentic document is preserved in five manuscripts: one in the Book of Armagh of the seventh century, the second in the Cotton Library of the tenth century, a third in the French monastery of St. Vedastus, and two more in the Cathedral Library of Salisbury. This authenticated document is the main source of both the person and the mission of Patrick, and also his clear statement of the Gospel of grace.

Patrick was born in the year 3732 in a town on the River Clyde in Roman Britain, now a part of Scotland. When he was sixteen years old, Patrick was captured by a band of pirates who sold him to a chieftain in what is now county Antrim in Northern Ireland. For six years he tended flocks. In his testimony he tells us, “I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun.”3 It was during the time of his captivity that he turned from his careless ways and came to a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. He was convicted that he was a sinner. In his own words,

“before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”4

Patrick, like so many of the godly men of history, found God’s favor in the riches of the grace of Christ. This was the theme echoing throughout the testimony of Patrick, in his own words “I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace.”5 He then grew in the grace of God. Having believed on “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,”he directly received “of his fullness…grace for grace.”In his own words,

“More and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”8

Patrick relates how, after six years, he escaped and after a difficult journey on land and sea returned to his people in Scotland. In his own words, “I was again in Britain with my family [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go any where else away from them.”9

His Direct Mission from the Lord

Like the Apostle Paul, he received a clear and personal call from the Lord to preach the Gospel in the land of his former captivity. He described his call in these words,

“I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.”10

He speaks of being called again in dream another night, but makes it clear how he interpreted what was happening by the Scriptures. He wrote, “‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.’” And again, “‘The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.’” Thus, Patrick relies on Scripture to understand his experience and to see that it was the Lord Himself who was calling him. In his own words, “‘He who gave his life for you, He it is who speaks within you.’”11 He understood that Christ Jesus, who had died for his sins, was the One who was calling him to work as an evangelist in the very island where he had been held captive.

A second historical document from Patrick’s own hand is his letter to Coroticus. In it he explains his assignment from God to a foreign nation for the glory of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus. His own words are the following, “Thus I am a servant in Christ to a foreign nation for the unspeakable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”12 This is a major factor in understanding Patrick. He knew himself as a sinner and found salvation where only sinners find it, “in Christ Jesus our Lord.13 The first words of his testimony read, “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.” Likewise, in the beginning of his letter to Coroticus he states, “I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland”. Quite clearly Patrick saw himself as a sinner. He did not look to some spark of life from within himself or to some ritual; rather, he looked unto Christ Jesus. Patrick’s words, “unspeakable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” shows his distinct and personal comfort and courage in Christ. Totally unlike religion that looks to rituals, Patrick had his eyes set on the Lord. Catholicism now, and to some extent even in Patrick’s time, looks to sacraments as necessary for salvation.14 Patrick saw himself only as a sinner saved by grace in Christ Jesus. Patrick’s message is that salvation is totally in Christ alone–a message utterly diverse from that of Roman Catholicism then and now.

His Mission Begins

Patrick, the Christian Evangelist, being about 30 years old and together with some brothers in the Lord, set out for Ireland. He arrived in or about the year 405. This fact of history is authentic and verified. For example, Marcus, an Irish Bishop, who lived at the beginning of the ninth century, states that Patrick came to Ireland in the year 405 AD and Nennius, who lived about the same time, repeats the statement.15 This date is of great importance because many centuries later there was an attempt made to confuse Patrick with Palladius, who had been sent out by Pope Celestine as a missionary to Ireland. When news of Patrick’s Christian success had reached Rome, Pope Celestine then sent Palladius as a bishop to bring the churches under the control of the Papacy. It was in 432, at least 27 years after Patrick’s commission from God, that Palladius from Rome came on the scene. When Palladius did come to Ireland, it was to an Ireland that had many Christian churches and that did not accept his message of subservience to the Bishop of Rome. In actual fact, Palladius was greatly discouraged by his lack of success. To quote from the historian Philip Schaff, “Palladius was so discouraged that he soon abandoned the field, with his assistants, for north Britain, where he died among the Picts….The Roman mission of Palladius failed; the independent mission of Patrick succeeded. He is the true Apostle of Ireland, and has impressed his memory in indelible characters upon the Irish race at home and abroad.”16

God’s Grace over the Course of 60 Years

The work of Patrick and his associates in Ireland was extremely difficult. He came up against the old pagan religion of the Druids. The people believed in the Druids as pagan priests who mediated for them in the things of the spirit. When Patrick preached Christ Jesus in his own words he said,

“I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, and the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth. As He once promised through His prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.’ And again, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’ And I wish to wait then for His promise which is never unfulfilled, just as it is promised in the Gospel.”17

He wrote of baptizing many thousands of believers after they had professed faith.18

He also wrote about anxious journeys, difficulties, and disappointments. He combated the powers of darkness in the priesthood of the Druids. He relied on Christ Jesus and the glorious Holy Spirit given to convict people of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He understood grace to be entirely from God when he declared,

“I, alone, can do nothing unless He Himself vouchsafes it to me. But let Him search my heart and [my] nature, for I crave enough for it, even too much, and I am ready for Him to grant me that I drink of His chalice, as He has granted to others who love him. Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from His people whom He has won in this most remote land. I pray God that He gives me perseverance, and that He will deign that I should be a faithful witness for His sake right up to the time of my passing.”19

Over the course of 60 years, Patrick went the length and breadth of Ireland preaching the Gospel and, like Timothy and Titus before him, he ordained elders and established churches. It is reckoned that at the end of his days there were 365 churches across the island. These were established, as were the churches in Biblical times, with the people served by a pastor or elder. The authority of the pastor was one of service, rather than lording it over the people. It was like that which was established in the pages of Scripture. Likewise, the monasteries set up by Patrick, were totally unlike the monasteries that were established under the Church of Rome. These monasteries were quite like those of the Vaudois and other early Christian churches of northern Italy and southern France, whereby men came aside for some years to be trained in the Scriptures and to learn how to evangelize and to bring the Gospel to others. Later in their lives these men married and had families. These men were not forsaking the world for some retreat of inner holiness; rather, they were men who saw light and life in Christ Jesus and wished to evangelize others with the true Gospel. Because of these monasteries and the churches that Patrick founded in Ireland, Ireland became known as the “Isle of Saints and Scholars”.

600 years of Fruitfulness

The clarity of the Gospel message cherished by Patrick and those who worked with him was to live on for many years after him. There were many famous missionaries like Patrick such as Columba and his companions who set out for Scotland in 563. Then there was Columbanus with his companions that went to evangelize France and Germany in 612. Kilian and the brothers that accompanied him went as missionaries to Franconia and Wurzburg in 680. Forannan and twelve brothers with him set out to bring the Gospel to the Belgian frontier in 970.20

For more than six hundred years, Irish missionaries carried the Gospel with the same truthfulness as Patrick’s to Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and beyond. Darkness covered Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. The Dark Ages had begun and the Roman Church, having gained rulership through intrigue and persecution, now held most of Europe in her iron grip. Even so, in those dark centuries, the Irish missionaries continued to spread the true Gospel, seed which for centuries to come would bear much good fruit all across Europe.

EMBEZZLEMENT OF THE LEGACY OF PATRICK

With the coming of the Danes in the ninth century, however, the Celtic Church in Ireland began to lose its Biblical clarity. Further, Papal Rome began to unleash military power to bring Ireland under her control. This began with the decree of Pope Adrian IV issued to King Henry II of England in 1155. The Pope authorized the invasion of Ireland and sent the king a ring of investiture as Lord of Ireland, calling upon the monarch to, “to extirpate the vices that have there taken root, [in Ireland]…saving to St. Peter and the holy Roman Church the annual pension of one penny from each house.”21

King Henry carried out the designs of the Papacy in 1171 and with a strong military force subdued the whole Irish nation. He received from every Archbishop and Bishop, at the Synod of Cashel in 1172 charters whereby they confirmed the Kingdom of Ireland to him and his heirs. The King sent a transcript of these charters to Pope Alexander III, who, according to the letters of the Archbishops and Bishops, was extremely gratified by the extension of his dominion, and in 1172 issued a bull confirming the Papal decree of Pope Adrian. Further rulings were sent from Rome to Henry II and to the princes and nobles of Ireland, and to the bishops of Ireland to establish the hierarchy over the people and pastors and enjoin obedience of both Ireland and England to the Papal throne.

The Heritage of Patrick Lives On!

The heartbeat and the soul of Patrick was the Gospel of Christ. He wrote in his testimony,

“I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless, I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul’s desire. I am not ignorant of what is said of my Lord in the Psalm: ‘You destroy those who speak a lie and a lying mouth deals death to the soul.’ Likewise the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘In the day of judgment, men shall render an account for every idle word they utter’’ So it is that I should fear mightily, with terror and trembling, this judgment on the day when no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each one shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgment seat of Christ.”22

These words of Patrick are as a prophetic trumpet of the Lord. It is most serious to steal the legacy from the people of the nation, particularly when that heritage was life and light in Christ Jesus! Many Irish have grown up engrossed in the rites and rituals of Roman Catholicism. Many of us, turning from those dead things and having drunk deeply of the Biblical grace of God that is in Christ Jesus, now want to stand on Patrick’s words, “no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each one shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgment seat of Christ.” To publish abroad the Gospel of God’s chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world”23 is our longing now, as it was Patrick’s then. The wonder of Patrick’s life was simply God’s grace in Christ Jesus. The divine call to the true Gospel went forth from Ireland for more than 600 years. Just as Patrick expected the power of God’s grace to overcome the priesthood of the Druids, we now stand for the same Biblical Gospel that he preached to evangelize even those in the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy. The battle is the Lord’s and the victory will be His. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”24 In the legacy of Patrick, we pray Christ words, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.”25 The frightening words of the Lord ring in the ears of those who spend their lives in man-made religion, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”26 No person by merely acknowledging Christ through a priesthood and sacraments shall have any part with God in Him, but only the one who does the will of His Father. The Lord made the will of the Father abundantly clear when He said, “this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”27 “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts….28 As Christ Jesus’ Gospel stands, so also is His call on your life. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”29 Believe on Him alone for, “this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”30 Then you will stand where before you Patrick stood immoveable, and this is how it will be for all eternity. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”31Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”§

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Permission is given by the author to copy this article if it is done in its entirety without any changes.

Permission is also given [to] post this article in its entirety on Internet WebPages.

The Confession of Patrick, http://irelandnow.com/legends/confession.html, 1/29/03, p. 1.

2 “According to the best authorities, Patrick was born about A.D. 373; and Lanigan has adduced good evidence to prove that he died in A.D. 465 (Apud Lanigan, vol. iv. p. 112). The Book of Armagh furnishes corroborative evidence of the same fact. It says, ‘From the passion of Christ to the death of Patrick there were 436 years.’ The crucifixion took place about A.D. 30; and adding these thirty years to the 436 that intervened between the crucifixion and the death of Patrick, we arrive at A.D. 466 as the year of his demise. Traditions of the highest authority attest that he spent sixty years in preaching the Gospel to the Scoto-Irish.” From, “St. Patrick: Apostle of Ireland” in History of the Scottish Nation by J.A. Wylie (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co. Andrew Elliot, Edinburgh 1886) Vol. II, Ch 9.

The Confession of Patrick, p. 2.

4 Ibid., p. 2.

5 Ibid., p. 5.

6 John 1:14.

7 John 1:16.

The Confession of Patrick, p. 2.

The Confession of Patrick, p. 3.

10 Ibid., p 3.

11 Ibid., p. 3.

12 Letter to Coroticus, http://prayerfoundation.org/st_patricks_letter_to_coroticus.htm 1/30/03, p. 2.

13 “…that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith..Philippians 3:8-9

14 “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (italic in the original). Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second ed., (United States Catholic Conference, 1997) Para. 1129.

15 The historian, J A Wylie goes to great lengths of demonstrate the fact that Patrick came to Ireland to evangelise in 405. Among others, he quotes Dr. Killen as saying “‘Its [i.e., this fact] claims to have been acknowledged by the best critics of all denominations,’ by Usher, Ware, Tillemont, Lanigan, and Neander….He [Dr. Killen] thinks that Patrick arrived in Ireland immediately after the death of Nial, or Nial of the Nine Hostages, in the year 405.’” From “St Patrick: Apostle of Ireland” by J.A. Wylie in History of the Scottish Nation, Vol. II, Ch. 13, endnote No. 4.

16 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 2, Sect. 14, “The Conversion of Ireland”.

17 The Confession of Patrick, p. 5.

18 Ibid., p. 2.

19 Ibid p 8

20 For a more complete list, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 2, “Conversion of Northern and Western Barbarians”, Sect. 15, “The Irish Church after St. Patrick. The Missionary Period”.

21 The full text of the Papal Bull of Pope Adrian IV that empowered king Henry II to conquer and subdue Christian churches to Rome can be read at:http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/medieval/bullad.htm 3/4/2015

22 The Confession of Patrick, p. 8.

23 Ephesians 1:4

24 Luke 12:32

25 John 17:24

26 Matthew 7:21

27 John 6:29

28 Hebrews 3:7, 8

29 Romans 10:17

30 1 John 5:11-12

31 II Corinthians 5:17

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Books about Catholicism – from a former Catholic who reads a lot on this subject

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books

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A sampling from Tom’s list:

Bennett, Richard. On the Wings of Grace Alone (2015). AMZ (available from Amazon)

Boettner, Loraine. The Mass (1970). TP (available from Amazon third-party sellers)

McCarthy, James G. The Gospel According to Rome (1995). AMZ

Tom said about this book, “If I had to recommend only one book to interested Catholics it would be ‘The Gospel According to Rome’ by James G. McCarthy…”

Kauffman, Timothy F. Quite Contrary: A Biblical Reconsideration of the Apparitions of Mary (1998). TP

Kauffman, Timothy F., ed. Geese in Their Hoods: Selected Writings on Roman Catholicism by Charles Haddon Spurgeon(1997). TP

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There are many more for study at excatholic4christ’s Books page

Source: Books

The Practice of Idolatry within the Church by Richard Bennett and Randall Paquette

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II Corinthians 5:16

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”

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Berean Beacon logo

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Used by permission; see note below.

November 16, 2015

Praise for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” resounded from pulpit to pew.  It is evident that there are many Christians who, without reservation, are prepared to accept movies about “Christ,” even one in the Catholic tradition.  The question, therefore, that must be asked is this: In the light of Scripture, is the position defendable of the people in accepting movies with Christ being portrayed, or do they fall under the condemnation of Almighty God?

No Revival Without the True Gospel and a Righteous Anger Against Images

Evangelicals have discovered themselves confronting crisis upon crisis.  After decades of endeavor and aggregate growth, moral turpitude and the apparent demise of marriage, like corrupt weeds, blossom before their faces.  The modus vivendi embodied in the 1994 “Evangelicals & Catholics Together” (ECT) still confuses and deceives.  Its ecclesiastical endorsement has further led many Evangelical churches to believe that there is no essential difference between Catholicism and biblical Christianity.  The dramatic “Passion” movie perpetuates the lie.  In the Evangelical camp, the carnal pandering of “seeker sensitive” churches loiters unquestioned.  The unregenerate fill the pews and silence the pulpits.  There is no conviction of sin, because the Gospel is not openly admitted or acknowledged.  Within the Reformed churches there is division, contention, and strife caused by the “Auburn Avenue controversy” and the “New Perspective on Justification.”  Revival has been preached, pursued, and prayed for and still remains aloof.  “We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were, brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.”[1] 

In the soil of “another” Gospel no revival can spring!  In the temple of images and pictures can come no renewal!  From Moses unto Hosea, those who sought to revive the spirit of the nation and would have hearts return to a true worship of God, condemned images.  And that which is condemned in the Old Testament is not justified in the New Testament.[2]   The great revivals in Christian history have flourished under the true Gospel and the denunciation of idolatry.  So it was with the Vaudois, the Waldenses, the Lollards, the Bohemians, and the Reformers.  In the Dark Ages, luminaries such as John Wycliffe and John Huss attacked the corruption of idolatry and preached the Gospel.

In the USA during the Great Awakening, preachers inspired by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and William Law, sought to glorify God in the Gospel by uniting veracious worship with the censuring of images.  “If Jesse Lee had not come into Massachusetts, some one else pressed in spirit, like Paul at Athens ‘when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry’, would have found utterance and would have had followers.”[3]  Following Jonathan Edwards’ publication of the journal of David Brainerd,

“The revival had greatest impact when Brainerd emphasised the compassion of the Saviour, the provisions of the gospel, and the free offer of divine grace.  Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared….Their communities were filled with love.”[4]  

The witness of this testimony must not remain unheeded if we are to receive the blessing we long for from On High, for “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?”[5]

Christ’s Divine Person is Revealed Only in One Human Body

Christians reason within themselves that since God became a man in the person of Christ, a picture of Jesus is but an image of an image.  Their rationalization is that the Incarnation is justification, if not authorization, for us to depict Christ in human form.  They argue further that no portrait can display a man’s soul, thus Christ’s body can be legitimately pictured distinct from His Divinity.  Poor deluded Christians, unwilling to sever the last vestiges of carnal thinking, averse to bringing “every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  Amongst humanity, Christ remains unique.  Any attempt to represent this uniqueness in human form (an achievement that God alone could do in the Incarnation) destroys it.  The multiplicity of depictions with various facial features, hues and expressions, denies it.  A man has but one nature, and thus he can be legitimately portrayed with no offense to what he is, but not so Christ who is also Divine; and to make Him into an “image like unto corruptible man” is to transgress the Law and insult the Godhead.  Those who saw Christ upon this earth had before their eyes “God manifest in the flesh.”  What animistic artist or photographer could claim such for his effort?  What do we have then?  Is it not an attempt to create a likeness of the One of Whom we have no likeness?  This then is the very essence of idolatry – the false representation of God.  In the silence of our chambers we should reverently pray, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”,[6] and lo, the answer thunders down through the ages, “I am God, and there is none like me.”[7]

The Person of Christ consists of two indivisible natures – the perfectly “Human” and the perfectly “Divine.”  He who was manifested in the flesh was really and truly God.[8]  And yet, He had real human flesh.  “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.[9]  Pictures or movies of Christ are merely portraits of a human body.  It is totally impossible to show forth the divinity of Christ; this only His body in heaven can now do, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”[10]  The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, and not figuratively, for he is both God and Man.  This “fullness” can never be found in types, figures, or likenesses of Him.  Any such replication is utter deceit.  Whenever a bodily form is ascribed to Christ Jesus, it remains a gross lie.  This fact—that Christ Jesus is both God and Man—is a great and central doctrine of Christian faith.  What Evangelicals fail to comprehend in making portrayals of Him is that by so representing Christ, they are perjuring themselves before the All Holy God because all depictions of Him succeed in showing humanity bereft of divinity.  “What profiteth the graven image…a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?”[11]  The words of Scripture alone patently present the divinity of Christ.

Christ Jesus in His Person and perfect human nature is the express image of God.  Whoever has seen Him has seen the Father.[12]  If Jesus were only a man, albeit the best of men, it would be quite acceptable to portray Him.  But Christ is not!  He is the express image of God, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.”[13]  This image involves His eternal essence and as such is singular and cannot not replicated or reproduced.  Those who accept pictures and movies of Christ fail to comprehend that they have reduced Christ’s incarnation to humanity alone.  These representations ignore the unique character of Christ Jesus as the unexampled “express image” of God.  While He is truly Man, yet Christ’s perfect humanity cannot be separated from His divinity.  Such practice perpetuates the heresy of Nestorius who taught that Jesus was two distinct “persons,” one human and one divine.[14]  The uniqueness of Christ Jesus coupled with the command not to practice idolatry is given in the strongest terms in the New Testament.  “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”[15]    

There can be no doubt that it is He of whom it is said, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” … “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made”; Who Himself declared “I and my Father are one,” was worshiped as “my Lord and my God”!  He is very God of very God.

Do we imagine that God in His omniscience did not foresee portraits, pictures, canvas, or cameras?  Are we wiser than He?  There beats within the heart of every man a craving for visible forms conjured up in the human mind to give expression to religious beliefs.  Because of this evil desire, the Lord God has forbidden idolatry, warning of its corrupting influence.  If believers have been deceived in this matter, it is our desire and prayer that they see the truth of God’s Word and understand that they have been feeding upon ashes and say, “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain.”[16]

Presentations That Confuse the Distinction Between God and His Created World

A picture or movie of Christ, because of inherent limitations, resides in the world of created things from imaginations.  Whatever aspirations may be intended, it can rise no higher than that which it is.  Hence, it blurs the distinctness between God and man, confusing the Creator with the creation.  The Apostle Paul reveals the cause of this confusion,  “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”[17]  This digression, the Apostle tells us, continues because, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man….”[18]  The problem is this: “to whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?”[19]  The Scriptural answer is clear: “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”[20]

Any attempted portrayal of Christ transforms the medium itself into a mediator between God and man.  The viewer, restricted within the confines of this humanistic plane, imagines that he knows the Lord, at least in some measure.  With this instilled image of Christ throbbing within his mind, the viewer is allowed to wander, silently thinking his own thoughts, constrained by an impression that is not Christ.  Thus, the viewer’s mind continues to be conformed to the world by the created image and by his own subjectivity.  Although such visual presentations appeal strongly to the sensual impulses, they do not explicitly present to any man the objective truth concerning the Lord. 

Our knowledge of Jesus Christ must be formed from the truths in Scripture and not by subjective impressions of artistic interpretation.  In the latter, the artist and the viewer combine God and His creation into a single entity within the picture, and this is the visible expression of idolatry.  This spurious image lays the foundation for a pantheistic concept of God.  Marvel not then that, “Soaring pagan numbers have churches worrying and calling for stricter controls on cult TV programs and films that celebrate sorcery like “Harry Potter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”[21]  The command given in Scripture is to choose God’s way so as to know and follow Christ in His Word!  When obeyed, upon the pages of Scripture, in the words of the Law, in the grace of the Gospel, we know Him in spirit and truth. 

We do not see Jesus Christ with the physical eye.  This is the whole meaning of faith.  The excellence of the object of faith is the unseen Jesus.  While sense deals with things that are seen, reason is a higher plane.  Faith, however, ascends further still, and assures us of abundance of particulars that sense and reason could never have found.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[22]  Faith nourishes itself upon the power and promises of the Unseen, “I had fainted unless I had believed to see.”[23]  We can understand, then, the logic and consistent purpose of why the Lord God forbids images. 

Pictures and Movies That Break God’s Law and Defile God’s Grace

Evangelical churches demonstrate an ignorance of the meaning of the Second Commandment, which forbids using images to represent God. 

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”[24] 

This commandment prohibits the creation and use of graven images.  It essentially brings to mind that God is Spirit, not to be conceived of or fashioned in man’s image or any other creature’s image.  In Deuteronomy 4:12-16 is found a parallel passage,

“And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.  And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.  And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.  Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:  Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”

What is forbidden is the similitude of the Lord Himself.  No similitude of the Divine was given to the people and none was to be made.  In the New Testament we see that no “similitude” of Christ Jesus was given, and the commandment must remain unabridged.  Any similitude or image of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit is sinful and insulting to the majesty of the Lord God.  And what of those who seek balm for their conscience in preferring pictures over statues, as if the lack of one dimension, depth, transforms the image into a thing acceptable unto God?  They well imagine that they have acted more nobly toward the Lord because theirs is not a “graven image.”  It comforts them not to be upon the Roman road of idolatry, oblivious to the fact that they parallel it upon the Greek route.[25]  God forbids the making of a likeness of anything.  Therefore, it is a transgression of God’s law to make a “representation” or “semblance” of anything in heaven or upon the earth, to delineate God.  He calls those who break this commandment “those who hate me,”[26] and those who keep the commandment, “those who love me.”[27]  Punishment for iniquity is promised to the transgressors, while blessing is pledged to its adherents.  From God’s perspective, idolatry is spiritual adultery; so, with the indignant reaction of a betrayed husband, He continues, “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”[28]

The Lesson of the Golden Calf

The children of Israel languished in impatience and unbelief at the base of Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses, who seemingly would not return.  Impatience grew into murmuring, murmuring into loud complaining.  They had never seen God with their eyes; and now His anointed, “this Moses, . .we wot [know] not what is become of him.”  He too, it appeared, had vanished, never to return.  “Up,” they enjoined Aaron, “make us gods.”  The natural yearning of their hearts demanded visible forms for religious expression and someone or something to lead them now that they believed Moses was gone.  But there is a price to be paid; the pure must be forfeited to produce the crass.  They must part with their gold and bring it to Aaron; he took it, “and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods (Elohim), O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.  And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.”  The children of Israel looked upon this idol and called it “Elohim …which brought thee up out of Egypt.”  Aaron ratified this designation, for with the image as centerpiece, tomorrow would be a feast to Jehovah.  But what did God see?  The answer is given in Scripture, “They made a calf in Horeb and worshipped the molten image.  Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass; they forgat God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt.”[29]

The Apostle Paul tells us that idolatry is changing, “the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.[30]  What was their glory, and is the Church’s glory, is in truth the glory of God Himself; and it cannot, and must not, be represented by an image of a man or a beast.  God, knowing the evil inclinations of men, and their struggle to justify their ungodly deeds, especially those done in the name of religion has declared, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[31]  Whatever theologians may debate concerning this verse, one thing is clear, if you give a physical representation to Christ’s face, then you have defined and defiled the glory of God.  Whether a “man” or an “ox that eateth grass,” any attempt to replicate that glory, save that which God does Himself, is idolatry.

An Overview of the Christian History of Idolatry

The Apostles, whose gospels and epistles are the very oracles of God, are men who could say, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life,”[32] never give a physical description of Christ.  Rather, they proclaimed what He said and what He did.  They emphasize His death and resurrection, explaining the significance of these events, and the necessity of faith in them in order to be saved.  The Apostle Paul pointedly states that we know Jesus no longer after the flesh,[33] He is now known through faith.  Peter says of Christ, Whom having not seen, ye love, in Whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  And men and women, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, exulted in the unseen Christ just as the Patriarchs had done in the unseen Jehovah; neither did they clamor for a description of the Lord.  The New Testament’s muteness on this point is an essential compliance with the dictates of the Old Testament.  Any other existing source claiming to provide a description of Christ is extracanonical.[34]

In the first two centuries of the Church, Christians did not use images to represent Christ.  During this infancy of the Church, the early Christians would not bow to the image of Caesar or to any work of man’s hands.  They had no images, statues, or pictures; they well understood that the God they worshiped would never have accepted such an affront, for He alone is God.  How then did idolatry come into the Church?  It was through a process of time, indifference, ignorance, and deceit.  In the year 313 A.D., when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire, pagans by governmental edict, and not regeneration, found themselves to being called “Christians.”  Not knowing God or the Gospel, they flooded the Church, idols in their arms, in their homes, in their minds, and in their hearts.  True believers, however, opposed pictures and statues as representing Christ.  The controversy raged back and forth for several centuries, and there was much turmoil over the matter.  In the midst of this battle, Pope Gregory the Great I (604) presented a seemingly innocent and compellingly plausible argument in their favor.  He wrote to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles, who had destroyed the images in his diocese, “What books are to those who can read, that is a picture to the ignorant who look at it; in a picture even the unlearned may see what example they should follow; in a picture they who know no letters may yet read.  Hence, for barbarians especially a picture takes the place of a book.”[35]  Such carnal reasoning usurps authority from the Word of God.  But in truth, if the illiterate cannot read, they can certainly “hear,” and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” because “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Then, in the year 754 A.D., a large council of bishops declared that such pictures are not biblical and therefore are not acceptable in the Church.  Twenty-three years later, however, another council of bishops reversed that teaching.  The Second Council of Nicea, which met in 787 A.D, required the use of pictures and statues as signifying Christ.  This inexcusable idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church led into what is called the Dark Ages.  When the Reformation came, and with it the true Gospel, there was also a condemnation of the evils of idolatry.  To escape idolatry, many people left the Catholic Church, and Bible-based churches sprang up in many countries.  At the time of the Reformation, both pastors and people realized that everything respecting God that is learned from images is both false and futile.

“O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.”[36] 

How did it come to this?  It may well be argued that the spirit of Jezebel is alive in the Catholic Church, and that the Church is teaching God’s servants “to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”[37]  As with any education, this one commences in the elementary grades:  the decorative “religious” pictures, the carnal reasoning, the excuses and justification, and the assurance that the incipient deed will go no further.  But the Catholic Church knows that every man is at heart an idolater, and it takes but a blink of the eye to go from hanging an image to bowing the knee.  Thus, once the rudimentary lessons are learned and accepted, her students are almost certain to progress into a papal form of idolatry.  Unless vigilance is exercised in guarding against that initial step, the conclusion is inevitable.  Because Christ is the focus of true Christianity, any picture that attempts to portray Him becomes special in comparison to all others.  Although the picture is not Christ, nor is it an honest replication of Him, eventually in the mind of observer it will be both.  It must certainly be the latter initially, else why hang a picture of an unknown stranger upon the wall?  Ask the owner of that picture, “Who is this?” and he shall answer without hesitation, and with no more proof than general consensus, “It is Jesus,” when in fact it is not, and thus it fulfills all the criteria necessary to qualify as an idol—a false representation of God.  And because he is certain that this image is Jesus, he is bound by his respect for Christ to honor the picture, but “honor” will eventually give way to “reverence,” and “reverence” shall cede to “veneration.”  Surely this is the curse that he binds about the necks of his children’s children’s children.  It is to be feared that this warning will fall upon deaf ears.  Many who call themselves Christian have a cavalier attitude toward the issue of idolatry.  They rationalize using circular reasoning along these lines, “I am saved and I use pictures, movies, and videos of Christ; therefore, pictures, movies, and videos of Christ cannot be wrong for Christians.”  Hence, God no longer is adjudicator of what is right and what is wrong; the creature is, while presuming upon the holy gift of salvation as a license to do his own pleasure.  God’s Word ceases to be the basis for what is believed, but rather what is believed becomes the interpreter of God’s Word.  In effect, the “Christian’s will” becomes the arbitrator that reins in and corrals, or confines, the truth of Scripture.  How much easier is it then to relegate the Word of the Lord to the status of a “silent partner” when one adopts Catholicism’s official teaching, “By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new ‘economy’ of images”?[38]  Sadly, it becomes much easier.

It seems that none of us is ever far from the taint of Egyptian idolatry.  It cleaves to our garments, and it beckons us back during the night watches.  Unless prayerful and vigilant, we succumb, perhaps not at once, but by moments and by steps.  That which was an object of our indifference becomes a focus of our need.  Mark this well: the pictures that this generation hangs in the temple will be the idols that the next generation shall worship.  There is little hesitation to insert the adjective “sacred” before the word “picture,” and this provides the rationale for veneration.  How many Christians have defended the concocted image of Christ adorning their wall by saying that they worship not the image but that which the image represents.  Do they honestly believe by this false argument they honor God?  Indeed, they speculate as the papists do today, and assume as the pagans did many centuries ago.  The ancient pagans lived in societies awash with statues and shrines dedicated to each of their gods.  These idolaters also believed that when they knelt before their effigies, they were worshipping the gods, which the image represented.  No doubt this association, allied with natural superstition, imparted a conscious quality to the idol for the worshipper, but let this fact be counted a warning rather than a distinction.  Does not the Church of Rome, where truth once again bows to superstition, claiming “miracles of animation” regarding their idols?  Her votaries [public vows] have testified of statues that move, weep, and bleed.[39]  This is the legacy of all idolatry. 

What Then Should One Do?  

As we read of the “high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,”[40] and “the better promises”[41] that He has for His people in the New Covenant than in the Old, we have a great well-founded hope for true conviction on this fundamental issue.  The promise given is explicit and most encouraging:  “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”[42]  The efficacy of Christ Jesus’ blood is very great.  It is sufficient to reach to the very soul and conscience.  A soul defiled with idolatry can be purged, its conscience relieved and enabled to serve the living God.  The blood of Christ not only convicts through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, but it also absolves the true believer, enabling him to serve the living God in a worthy manner.

The Apostle Paul proceeded most strongly, calling on all to repent from the absurdity of idolatry.  This is meant not simply those who knew it indeed was idolatry, but those who in ignorance did so:  “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”[43]  Men greatly dishonor God if they make Him after the likeness of a mere human body.  It is like unto the sin of apostasy, in that it puts Christ Jesus to open shame.  Most beloved, to think that it is acceptable to present the Lord in imagined human flesh that is not His own glorified flesh is to engage in idolatry.                     

There is no higher obligation than to obey the command of God.  It can be done.  God does not expect the impossible.  It is a fearful thing to think that some have concluded that this matter of idolatry is inconsequential.  There will be no revival in the absence of the true Gospel.  There will be no revival without sincere repentance for making and using images, which is the predominant sin of movies and pictures that portray the Lord Jesus Christ. ♦

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”[44] 

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Pastor Randall Paquette may be contacted for preaching or speaking engagements at:

paquette@tds.net

[1] Isaiah 26:18

[2] God will cast all idolaters into “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1-8; Acts 17:29-30; and Romans 1:22-25

[3] http://216.239.37.104/search?q=cache:l4a0QsT5bn8J  3/12/04

[4] http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/fire/ff-1700.htm  3/12/04

[5] II Corinthians 6:16

[6] Exodus 15:11

[7] Isaiah 46:9

[8] I Timothy 3:16

[9] Hebrews 2:14

[10] Colossians 2:9

[11] Habakkuk 2:18

[12] John 1:14; 14:9

[13] Hebrews 1:3

[14] Nestorianism is the heresy named after Nestorius who was born in Syria and died in 451 AD.  He advocated the doctrine that Jesus had two distinct persons.  The biblical solution to that controversy was stated at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) when it was shown that Christ has two natures in His one person.  On questions about whether the two natures can be merged into one, confused or separated, a later the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) showed biblically that the two natures can never be confused with each other, nor can they be separated from each other.

[15] I John 5:20-21

[16] Zechariah 10:2

[17] Romans 1:21

[18] Romans 1: 22-23

[19] Isaiah 40:18

[20] Romans 12:2

[21] 2003 Reuters Limited 6/20/03

[22] Hebrews 11:1

[23] Psalm 27:13

[24] Exodus 20:4-6

[25] The Greek Orthodox honor and kiss icons.  These are pictures and not statues.  They state “use of icons was defended and upheld at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  The end of that council is still celebrated as the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’ in today, and icons remain a central part of Orthodox faith and practice.” 

http://www.fact-index.com/e/ea/eastern_orthodoxy.html

[26] Exodus 20:5

[27] Exodus 20:6

[28] Exodus 20: 5

[29] Psalm.106: 19-21

[30] Roman 1:23

[31] II Corinthians 4:6

[32] I John 1:1

[33] II Corinthians 5:16“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”

[34] Not included in the canon of Scripture.  Ex.: The Apocrypha is not included in the Protestant Bibles.

[35] Ep. ix, 105, in P. L., LXXVII, 1027 http://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/Catholic_Tradition_art.html 3/15/04

[36] Isaiah 3:12

[37] Revelation 2:20 She has plied her trade with unparalleled success, from Babylon to India.  But her greatest achievement, the Church of Rome today, has its adherents kneel before a crucifix (which is an idol) whilst the priest raises before it an Eucharist, the oblation of the “bloodless” sacrifice of the Mass—and then amidst the orchestration of this solemn act, her votaries, in their turn, eat this thing sacrificed unto idols precisely as Rev.2:20 charges.  But how did this come about?  Not over night.  Jezebel taught in stages commencing their education with the primary lessons: pictures hanging in homes to inspire, used to teach the illiterate, and statues used to represent, the “saints,” Christ, et al., and all to be pious ornaments in the churches, etc.  But the end was inevitable.  Rest assured, should the Lord tarry, the same Evangelical churches, which today tolerate pictures, will one day be having their communion with one on the table in front of the elements (perhaps some already do) and eventually will place it in a predella and bow before it and eat their bread.  Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  It is that same Jezebel who was “suffered” [tolerated] by the elders at Thyatira that is being tolerated in Evangelicalism today, and the result is assured.

[38] Catechism, Para 2131

[39] US News & World Report 3/ 29/ 93.  “The case of the Weeping Madonna,” pp. 46-50

[40] Hebrews 8:1

[41] Hebrews 8:6 “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”

[42] Hebrews 9:14

[43] Acts 17:30

[44] I John 5:21

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