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John Wilson

Flagitious Corruptions

How perverse, when these flagitious corruptions are manifest, not only to defend them, but cloak their deformity, by impudently pretending that they belong to the genuine worship of God!

John Calvin's 1543 manifesto, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, included a sweeping attack on the use of images in worship. There Calvin argued that gross superstition—"the idolmania with which the minds of men are now fascinated"—could be rooted out only "by removing bodily the source of the infatuation," that is, by prohibiting all images from the church. Calvin explicitly denied that a distinction can be made between the proper use of images in worship and the superstitious or brazenly idolatrous substitution of the mere image for the transcendent God.

The Reformed rejection of images continues to be influential even after the passage of nearly 500 years. In 1965, Eerdmans published a beautiful, stout, heavily illustrated book called Christ and Architecture: Building Presbyterian/Reformed Churches. The authors were Donald J. Bruggink, a minister of the Reformed Church in America and a professor of theology, and Carl H. Droppers, an architect and professor of architecture.

Here I am picking out just one theme from this splendid book. If you turn to page 565 of Christ and Architecture, you'll find a photo of a church interior. The caption on the facing page reads as follows:

Note the honest use of concrete block as the interior surfacing, the honest use of precast beams and precast slabs of the roof. There is no attempt here to cover this basic material with older, more acceptable, materials. The materials are honest. At the same time note the use of concrete for pulpit, font and organ support. There is no pretense; these materials are doing the job well without camouflage of any sort.

It is easy to poke fun at such rhetoric—the honest use of concrete block in this church will remind many readers of public restrooms they have known—but in part that ...

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