Idolatry and Antiquity: Why we don’t have the the copy from Paul’s pen

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In Kiev, Ukraine there is a place called Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. This holy site is the birthplace of the Russian Orthodox church. The grounds are frequented by many pilgrims every day. At the surface level, you can see a series of beautiful old buildings with the classic Eastern

kiev caves

Photo Credit: http://primetour.ua/en/excursions/kiev/kievo-pecherskaya-lavra.html

Orthodox church architecture, complete with gold domes and lively colors. But the topside is only half the story. The real history lies in the caves below. Due to the conditions underneath the earth, the caves were used to naturally mummify the “saints” who originally founded the church. And they’re still down there. I’ll admit, the bodies are in amazingly good condition for being just shy of 1000 years old. I watched as person after person navigated the tunnel, candles in hand, offering a kiss of respect to the glass separating their resting place from the public walking area. The mood was somber, quiet, reflective, and I’ll even say, moving. It made me sad as I watched people pray to these saints as if being in the presence of a 1000 year old mummified corpse has a special portal to heaven. There is but one mediator between God and man. They put his dead body in a cave too, but he didn’t stay but 3 days.

I was reading in Kings not long ago. I noticed a verse that for whatever reason, had never caught my attention before. Israel was plagued by terrible King after terrible King as a pattern. Then comes a breath of fresh air, King Hezekiah. He is noted as one who did right in the eyes of the Lord. Second Kings 18:4 records”

He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).

Hezekiah destroyed a national icon, of sorts. This was the bronze serpent that was God’s chosen tool of deliverance in Numbers. The bronze reptile on the pole represented God’s judgment and salvation at once! (No coincidence there, right?) Jesus would reference this sacred stick in John 3:14. Just like Moses lifted the staff with the serpent, so would the son of man, the perfect man, bearing the curse of God for the salvation of those who will look to him, be lifted up. The problem was the people worshipped the tool of deliverance as if it were the deliverer.

13233280_10154267744886180_1769193385_nImagine what we could sell that stick for to some collector today! If people will pay $28,000 for a decade old piece of toast that supposedly has the image of the virgin Mary on it, just think if we could verify the authenticity of the actual hand crafted serpent stick

 

from the wilderness generation? EBAY might just explode. Inspired by the insane attention of the piece of toast, you can actually get your very own Virgin Mary toaster!

Reflecting on this verse reminded me of what else we don’t have. With apologies to Mr. Jones, we do not have the ark of the covenant. The ark was a significant if not the key feature in the tabernacle, later the temple, and a huge part of Israel’s history in the time of the Judges and Kings. We have it referenced in the NT, but it’s no where to be found.

We also do not have the original copies of God’s word. They are non-extant, meaning, no longer in existence. In God’s sovereignty, couldn’t he have have preserved these original autographs? Of course he could have, we have older things. But peeking into a cave in Kiev may give us a clue as to why we don’t have them. Could you imagine the tourist attraction and worship rituals that would ensue if we had the original Romans or Isaiah? I believe in God’s wisdom he’s kept these potential idols away from his people so they would not be tempted to worship at the papyrus.

We worship now what we do not see. Faith is forward looking. We do not have a holy place, a holy relic, holy water, or any special place or item that gives us liver shivers where the Spirit shows up in unusual ways. We have the true substance, that is Christ, and we wait for his return. A day has come where the words of Jesus to the woman at the well resonate with Christ’s followers:

[21] Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. [22] You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. [23] But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:21-23)

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Allen Cagle

About Allen Cagle

Allen serves as the Lead Pastor at Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach, FL, in the Jacksonville area. He graduated from The Master's Seminary (MDiv) in 2005 and is currently working on a DMin degree at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. Allen is married to Mindy and has three awesome kids.
  • I always find it interesting that people in your christian community constantly make judgement about other people’s faith.

    “It made me sad as I watched people pray to these saints as if being in the presence of a 1000 year old mummified corpse has a special portal to heaven. ”

    Jesus is indeed the one mediator between God and man but that doesn’t mean that we can’t participate in that mediation as his body the Church. We pray for each other do we not? Are we somehow sinning against the “one mediator” role of Christ when we do? Are those in heaven not alive in Christ? Are we not told that they offer prayers of the faithful to God? (Pslam 141:2, Rev 8:4). Are we not told by Jesus himself that God is the God of the living? Are we not told that prayers of the righteous has great power (James 5:16), are those in heaven not pure and righteous?????

    The Orthodox like the Catholics and all Churches who go back to the time of Christ always understood that those who pass from this life to Christ, continue to belong to his Church. We don’t pray to them as your christian community insists we do. We ask them for prayer, like we do any other brother or sister in Christ. (This maybe an English thing, my second language, but doesn’t the old usage of pray mean “ask”?)

    Also did not bones of the prophet bring people back to life? Did not shadow of Peter heal a sick man or a handkerchief of Paul? If those things can happen you don’t think that God can allow his grace to flow through even the relics of his saints???

    God bless.

    • Allen Cagle

      Hi MatthewRy, thanks for interacting. You mention praying for each other. Of course we pray FOR each other but not THROUGH each other. That is a mediators role. That was my point. Sorry if I wan’t clear. I agree with you, and James 5, that the prayer of the righteous is powerful but we have no reason to think James was talking about asking dead people in heaven to pray now for us. In context, James was encouraging people to pray for one another in the context of the local fellowship. You would have to import something completely foreign into that text to say he’s references saints who are in heaven. I don’t ask a dead person to pray for me and I don’t seek a relic for a special dose of grace. There is no biblical reason to do so.

      • I don’t think we disagree, partially at least. When someone asks me to pray for them. Am I praying FOR them or is the person praying THROUGH me? I don’t see the difference. When I ask a person glorified with Christ our Lord in heaven, who is alive in Christ in ways we can’t imagine to pray for me, is he/she praying FOR me or am I praying through them? I don’t see a difference. Either the Church is the body of Christ (both on earth and in heaven) or it is not. If it is how does a little thing like death separate me from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we are still in the same body! Ps 116:15 Plus book of revelation is clear that those in heaven offer prayers of the faithful, so they do have a role to play in heaven, a role dealing directly with our prayers.

        I understand that from your tradition this is foreign but it isn’t to vast majority of Christians in all ages, and to belittle this practice is strange to me. We simply take the incarnation very seriously. God is often using relics and bodily things to offer us his Grace. Jesus the Lord being the most obvious example! Also the bible is full of relics like I mentioned, paul’s handkerchief, bones of elijah. God can pour out his grace any way he wants and he wants to use matter to do it. Jesus used mud and spit to heal! Why else would he come down to us in a body, so this is quite biblical.

        I find the protestant fear of matter being an instrument of grace to be a bit Gnostic, there is a certain fear of the incarnation and what it implies. I hope this is not the case but it looks like this to me in my dealing with protestants.

        James 5 you are right is not speaking about the dead. But the dead who are in Christ are not dead but more alive then you and me!

        I hope we can grow to understand each other instead of simply condemning what we don’t understand.

        • Allen Cagle

          I can agree that some have adopted an almost Platonic dualistic approach to matter and see it in an almost Gnostic way. I agree, matter is not evil, per se. God made matter and it matters 🙂 That said, I think traditions that practice any form of the Intercession of the Saints have a hard time proving their case from the 66 books of the Bible. The passages you cited do not instruct us to pray through the saints in any way. I think you are conflating a few verses and ideas that should not be together when you link praying through and praying for. There is no verse in the Bible that teaches me to ask for prayer from, or otherwise pray through a dead person, other than Jesus. I get your point, they are alive in Christ, but they are physically dead and not in view in passages like James 5.

          • Of course we Catholics and our Orthodox brothers feel we don’t need to prove everything from the bible all 73 books we have. Sola scriptura is a Protestant doctrine after all not found anywhere in the bible and not binding on me or anyone.

            Yet all the principals for asking saints to pray for us are there in scripture. I find no contradiction between our practice and the word of God. Infact out practice is making clear biblical teaching make more sense. The most important of them is our unity in the body of Christ and our communion with the great cloud of witness that came before us. Nothing can seperate us from the love of Christ not even death!

            Thank you for allowing me to interact with you. Our disagreements are meny but we share love for Christ and that unites us. Our praying with the saints is nothing more then participating more in His body. Sharing his life with those who came before us not some magic hope that saints or we ourselves can save us somehow.

            God bless and pray for me.

          • Allen Cagle

            Thanks MatthewRy for your tone on the interaction. I think you put your finger on the root of the issue, Sola Scriptura.

            I will certainly pray for you. Thanks for reading.