Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14).
Recently, the President accused the former administration of “wire-tapping” him during the primaries. The former White House strongly denied the accusations as delusional. In subsequent hearings, representatives of the former White House admitted they had been “investigating” the President and his aides and “monitoring their communications” for possible connections to Russia, but insisted that no “surveillance” or “wire-tapping” occurred.
I suppose there’s a technical distinction between being “investigated” and having your “communications monitored” and being “surveilled” and “wire-tapped.” And maybe that distinction impresses the lawyers. But I think common people, with common sense, including the President, would say: it’s all the same thing!
I thought of that when I heard that Hank Hanegraaf, the Bible Answer Man, converted to Orthodoxy. I was thinking of how he has just entered a world of idolatry.
I’m referring to the Orthodox worship of the saints.
When you walk into an Orthodox Church, it will typically be covered wall-to-wall with icons of the saints. You’ll also often find pieces of hair or bone or cloth—relics of their earthly lives—displayed around the church. People will walk around the church, crossing themselves, and bowing to each icon and relic, and kiss it. During an Orthodox service, various hymns and prayers will be sung to the saints.
Now, Orthodox theologians will emphatically deny that they worship the saints (see here). They distinguish between worship, which is given only to God; and veneration, which is given to the saints. They claim that they only venerate the saints. They love and honor the saints in the same way you would love and honor your mother. The two are completely different, they claim, and veneration is not idolatry.
I think that’s a distinction without a practical difference.
To use their own example, I, too, love my mother. I respect her memory. I honor what she did for me. But even though I love and honor her, there are certain things I haven’t done, and don’t expect to do, for her.
I’ve never built a church and named it after my mother.
I don’t pray to my mother.
I don’t sing worship songs to my mother.
I don’t wear amulets and jewelry with her image on it.
I don’t bow down to pictures of her.
I certainly don’t put pictures of her around my church (next to Jesus), including in front of the pulpit, and behind it, and expect people to bow down and kiss her face.
I don’t preach sermons about my mother (at least, not primarily about her!).
I don’t have fast days, or feast days, in her memory.
I don’t have a private shrine in my home devoted to my mother and to God.
I don’t teach classes about the theology of my mother.
I don’t say she was essential to the world’s salvation.
In other words, while I love and respect my mother, I don’t worship her.
Let’s be clear: the Orthodox Church worships the saints.
They perform all the same acts of worship towards the saints as they do to Jesus, and to God. Lawyers and theologians can debate all they want about whether it is technically veneration or worship, but common-sense can plainly see that it is worship and therefore idolatry.
My message to Hank Hanegraaf is the same as Paul’s message to the Corinthians—flee!