There was a recent Facebook extravaganza (conversation) regarding prayers to the departed saints which was touched off by my claim that this was little better preparation for heaven than studying the latest Playboy centerfold in preparation for marriage. Towards the end of the comments section, I suggested that there was a bit of gnat straining and camel swallowing going on, and my friend Matt Peterson was somewhat taken aback by that characterization and requested an explanation. So here it is.
While I haven’t had the time to go back through and read all of the comments (I have a wife and four young children), from what I skimmed over, I actually don’t have a huge problem with the points Matt was making. He seems to have been working hard to guard some broader principles regarding our union with Christ, and he wasn’t so concerned about defending the particular practice of prayers to saints. He just wanted to make sure that I (and the cyber world at large) didn’t reject it on the wrong grounds. And fair enough. I have no qualms with careful distinctions; truth matters.
But here’s my concern that I don’t think Matt has caught on to yet. Whether we’re talking about icons or prayers to the saints in the Eastern or Roman churches or walking the aisle, praying a prayer, and signing a card in the Evangelical churches, there are millions of souls in grave danger. They are in grave danger because they think they are saved because of this external conformity to some ritual or practice. But this is not the same thing as being born again, being forgiven, washed clean with the blood of Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. And Reformed people do it with Calvinistic soteriology, infant baptism, Christian education, whatever. Every tradition has their shibboleths. And then on top of that, there is a current outbreak here in the US, where the Roman and Eastern churches are getting inundated with Evangelical burnouts. These are people who don’t understand the gospel, have serious issues in their families, don’t understand submission to authority, and in a grip of an idea, something shiny and ancient looking, are sprinting towards full blown idolatry looking for something to bandage the gaping hole in their souls.
Meanwhile, I happen to know that the Eastern and Roman churches aren’t bastions of Christian freedom. For all the fine distinctions between dulia and latria, there are millions of people enslaved by their sins and kept under the thumb of that guilt through ignorance, superstition, and manipulation by practices, rituals, and doctrines propagated by those churches. I happen to believe that there are true Christians in those churches, both in leadership and among the laity. But when I meet a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox on the street, I almost always come away disappointed and sad. Here’s another slave. And what these people need is not a grad school theology class. They need a simple explanation of the gospel: You’re a sinner. Jesus died and rose again on your behalf. He is King of the world. Repent and believe.
The camels and gnats I was referring to were not the fine distinctions in themselves. The camels and gnats are these: If the world is full of people eating rat poison, and someone points out that rat poison isn’t good for you, what good is it for a bunch of people to get on their blogs and facebook pages ranting and raving about how unfair people are being to the purveyors of rat poison? Don’t tell me rat poison has a good and honorable use, that its history and traditions are glorious. That’s not the point. When people are eating rat poison they need to be warned not to eat rat poison. If people are strangling themselves with icons, don’t become all blustery about the proper use of Christian art.
Whatever the best possible characterizations of praying to pictures may be, the fact is that millions are currently on their way to hell, masturbating their souls with icons and incense and prayers to St. Gertrude. That’s called camel swallowing and gnat straining.
These people need Jesus not someone defending their porn problem, even if there is such a thing as nudity in fine art.
So blessings to all you true believers in Jesus, and may the Holy Ghost haunt all you sons of the devil who are held captive by your sin and guilt. God knows who you are, and so does your wife.