Christian Idolatry

Some may mistakenly take the title of this post to be an oxymoron, thinking a Christian incapable of idolatry. They would be wrong.

I’ve noticed a disturbing theological trend recently. I won’t specify the writings that led to my thoughts on this matter, aside from saying they were from a high-ranking member of a mainstream Protestant denomination from whom I expected better.

There is a growing fascination with Jesus as a kind of idol, even if acknowledged as Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, though some would heretically restrict Him to being just a man, although a particularly fine example of the species. They approach Him as a kind of elevated divinity on a pedestal, a kind of idol deserving emulation, adulation, and adoration, no doubt such as Apollo and Baal once elicited. What does it mean to make God the Son into simply a singularity, a point of holiness or proper behavior or just nice guyness? What does it mean to reduce the Incarnation of the Most Holy for love of us to a set of take-them-or-leave-them morals, perhaps projected in a PowerPoint presentation? In all these things, in seeking answers to questions, these people are looking outside themselves in the usual manner of idolatrous man, looking for an image to conform themselves to, to sacrifice superfluities to for conscience’s sake, to an idol that doesn’t talk back with any absolute requirements of them. If these are members of the Body of Christ, they appear to be artificial appendages, created by the skillful hand of men, designed to fit the Lord’s Body for His presumed absence of limbs, but they are unnecessary, indeed are superfluous because He has living limbs, and so are instead left aside, unused and unwanted. It is a willful idolatry, at once placing the locus of all responsibility for holiness outside oneself, and simultaneously making every such worshipper the cult’s high priest, expecting honor and all the best from his god simply by holding the position.

They do this, neglecting that the Church is His Body, that we are members precisely of Him, and so we are incapable of externalizing Him if we are truly in a proper relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ our God. He is not “out there” but we are “in Him” and “of Him” if we are truly members of His Body the Church. There are no two ways about this. The process of sanctification, called by our Eastern Orthdox tradition theosis, is ongoing, a life of immersion in the Body of Christ that leads to a sea-change in our lives. As we humbly let go, and let God the Holy Spirit like a Holy Fire pass through us and purify us of our passions, we are more and more like the gold tried by the fire, purer and purer. But this worship, this intra-familial love, is not something directed outward, but, to quote the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, “holy things for the holy.” It is the hand honoring the head, the heart, the shoulders. It is the Body standing erect, supporting the Head. It is the symphony of members of the Body of Christ in a holy life, organically living in an ongoing act of worship that breathes God the Holy Spirit for air.

What of that sea change, that complete transformation?

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange . . . .
Wm Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 1, scene 2

There is no sea-change into the rich and strange without immersion into the ocean itself. Staying on the shore, proclaiming love for the ocean will do nothing. Basing one’s life and character upon the movement of the ocean will do nothing. One must be immersed, baptized, in it. That ocean is Christ.