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Pictures in the Sanctuary

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “Why doesn’t Oakwood have any pictures of Jesus in the sanctuary?”

     Answer: Bear with me a bit, because I think an answer to this question needs a little historical context. This may not seem like a matter of deep theological importance in this day and age, but there have been many “iconoclastic” controversies in the church since its earliest days. When we hear the word “iconoclast” we think of people or movements that challenge and reject cherished traditions. But the word originally referred to people who removed and/or destroyed religious “icons” including pictures, engravings, or statues in churches because they believed them to be a violation of Scriptural teaching.

     One of the most intense iconoclastic periods in church history was during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church had, over the centuries, corrupted the worship of the church by adding unscriptural rituals involving veneration of statues and pictures of Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and the “saints” of church history. As church reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli called the church of Jesus Christ back to Scripture, their teachings swept across Europe and beyond, and church leaders came under conviction and began to remove the statues and pictures from their sanctuaries. In most cases, these removals were done in an orderly fashion, but sometimes violent mobs would go from church to church smashing and burning these images and statues.

     The Biblical issue at the root of all of the dispute is the interpretation of the Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Deuteronomy 5:8-9).  Generally speaking, Christians have understood that the Lord is not prohibiting the creation of just any kind of picture, engraving, or statue – the Lord calls us to be artists after His own image. The commandment is particularly addressing the use of these kinds of images as the focus of or aid to worship. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the meaning of the commandment in this way: “…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”

     It is man’s fallen nature to desire a material, tangible focus for his faith – to represent God with physical objects that can be handled and manipulated. But God has chosen to reveal Himself in worship only by the proclamation of His Word and the sacraments ordained by Jesus Christ, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Therefore we must be careful in our worship to avoid any temptations to associate our worship of the Lord with any other images or objects meant to represent Him. For that reason, we do not put any pictures or images of Jesus Christ or representations of the Persons of the Trinity in the sanctuary of the church lest they be used as an aid or focal point for our worship. 

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Books I Read in 2021 You Should Read in 2022

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BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian  

     It’s that time of year again. At the beginning of every year, I find myself looking back at the books I read in the previous year and planning for the ones I want to engage with in the new year. I have a growing list of books planned for this year, and a goal for how many I hope to read. We have a lot of book worms at Oakwood, so I’m sure many of you have a similar practice at the beginning of the year. That’s why I’m giving you this list of my favorite reads from 2021. Maybe one of these will find its way on your 2022 book list!

The "Just-For-Fun" Book

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By JK Rowling

     Harry finds his way onto my list every year, and for good reason. This is the best fiction story of our generation, and it ranks right up there in history with the greats like The Lord of the Rings. Don’t @ me! It’s true. Maggie and I have just recently begun reading the series with our boys, so I’m sure you’ll see another of JK Rowling’s masterpieces again on next year’s list.

The "I’m-Telling-Everybody-About-This-Book" Book

The Puzzle of Ancient Man: Evidence for Advanced Technology in Past Civilizations
By Donald Chittick

     My dad told me about this book, and I am glad he did. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but the content was fascinating. Chittick examines the architectural, engineering, and even artistic accomplishments of ancient civilizations (think Egypt), and argues that these ancient people must have had greater knowledge than we often attribute to them. For example, Egypt’s Great Pyramid is constructed of 2.3 million blocks, each of which weighs more than 1 ton. Historians estimate it took 100,000 men 20 years to build it. If those men worked 10 hour days, 365 days a year for 20 years, they would have to place 31 of those blocks each hour. And that doesn’t take into account the cutting and transportation of those blocks! Modern-day engineers estimate that with today’s modern machinery it would take 27 years just to cut the stone, let alone to build the pyramid. The book doesn’t offer more than hypotheses for how all this was accomplished, but it’s a fascinating read!

The "This-Book-Is-Important" Book

Liberty for All; Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age
Andrew Walker

     In recent years Christians, and other religious folks, in America have been asking a question that most of our forebearers were blessed to take for granted, "Will religious liberty endure for the next generation?" The rise of the concept of “sexual liberty” over the last 10 or so years has called this into question. As issues involving gay marriage and “trans rights” have emerged, our culture has been forced to ask how (or if) sexual freedom and religious freedom can co-exist. What we are increasingly discovering is that they cannot. One will inevitably drown the other out. This book makes the argument that for the good of the entire society religious freedom must remain our “first freedom.” Yes, this book is important. I hope you will read this book, consider its ideas, and stand for this freedom for Christians, and for people of every faith.

The "Baptism" Book

Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism
JV Jesko

     Oh man, guys. This book is awesome! There are definitely a lot of folks at Oakwood who have questions about our view of baptism. Look no further! Whether you come from a Baptist background and are wanting to better understand what you’re getting yourself into at Oakwood, or you’re happily convinced on the matter and want to dive into the beauty of this sacrament, this book is for you. It is a bit on the academic side of things, but Fesko is a fabulous writer. I don’t think you’ll find it too burdensome. And if you want to skip over the historical stuff on the front end, and skip to the biblical justification for baptism and its meaning, you’ll still gain a ton! Seriously, pick this one up!

The "Theological-Mic-Drop" Book

Simply Trinity; The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit
Matthew Barret

     Sometimes theologians and academic types get into biblical sparring matches that don’t matter all that much in the end. That is not the case with this book. Over the past 10 years, a significant debate has been brewing dealing directly with the nature of the Trinity. Recently, a group of theologians (Most notably Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and Owen Strachan) have argued that there exists within the Trinity what they call “relations of authority and submission.” Their view is variously called “Eternal Functional Subordination” or “the Eternal Subordination of the Son.” Sometimes you see it abbreviated to EFS or ESS. It’s a highly problematic view with wide-ranging implications. First and foremost, if Christ is truly “eternally subordinate to the Father” as they argue, then he cannot be “co-equal” with God as the church has confessed since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. This book is an attempt to call out this view for what it is: a Christological error bordering on heresy... and it’s fabulous. When I finished the book I thought to myself, “I don’t know how you could read this and still conclude ESS is legitimate. This book is Matthew Barrett’s mic drop on ESS.

The "Books-For-Dads" Books

The Boy Crisis; Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What You Can Do About It
Warren Farrell and John Gray

The Intentional Father; A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character
Jon Tyson

     I couldn’t decide which one to recommend, so I’m just giving you both. As a dad with three boys one thing that regularly crosses my mind is how in the world I’m supposed to develop these goofy and awesome boys into men. So, I’m regularly looking for books with a bit of wisdom to offer. That said, The Boy Crisis isn’t so much advice as it is a look at why so many boys are struggling in our modern world. What makes this book so worthwhile is that after pointing out the many struggles of boys, the authors propose the research-based solution: dads. What is so remarkable about this is that these authors don’t appear to be believers. They’re just researchers who’ve picked up on something that God has written in the fabric of reality: that dads play a key role in their son’s development.

     The Intentional Father is a more practical guide to raising boys. The author, Jon Tyson, is a pastor in New York and his central thesis is that developing boys into men requires more than haphazard, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attempts. It demands intentionality. The weakness of the book is that Jon is essentially just telling us what he did, though he certainly admits that his way isn’t the only way. This book is not the silver bullet for raising boys, but I think reading what this dad did will generate both ideas and motivation. If you’re raising boys it’s worth the read!

     Well, there you go! I hope you found something here worth checking out. If not, that’s okay too! Enjoy your reading in 2022, and let me know if you find a book you couldn’t put down.

Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

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