The following quotation shared is from Paul Strawn, as he speaks about the profound influence the Emperor Constantine had on Christian worship. Here, we can see a clear move away from the humility and simplicity of the primitive Christian worship described by men like Justin Martyr:
“With the advent of Constantine in the 4th century, and consequently, the governmental and public support of Christianity, what had been occurring in private homes, could now occur publically and in a much grander scale. In that Christ was believed to have brought Constantine to power, Christ in worship became less the Lamb of God, and perhaps, more, Christus Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ), Christ the “All-Powerful” or “Lord Almighty” (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:18) or “Ruler of All”. Depictions of Christ, his chest and his head with right hand raised symbolizing his right to speak, his left hand holding the Scriptures, would come to dominate the half-domes of the apses of the churches in the eastern Roman Empire. In the west, in Rome, Majestas Domini, “Christ in Majesty”, Christ sitting on his throne as the ruler of the world, would become similarly ubiquitous. The effect on worship must have been dramatic, as the government-backed bishops, standing in front of and under the image—reminiscent of the images of Greek gods and goddesses in pagan temples—would have been view as possessing much of the authority and power represented by it. In the East, the concept of Christ as the not just the power of God, but also the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24,30) would also gain import, as the church in Constantinople would be named “Hagia Sophia” “Holy Wisdom” referring to Christ himself as providing true knowledge of God. This occurred as the Eastern Church took a decidedly mystical turn in the 6th century due to the popularity of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. In the west, the image of Christ as judge emerged at the end of the Middle-Ages, sitting on a rainbow, the sword of Revelation 1 protruding from his mouth. It is this image in part, that caused Martin Luther to seek the righteousness of God in Scripture. And not surprisingly, the worship of Luther’s day had become one of appeasing the righteous judge Christ. Mass was attended, but being in Latin, not understood. The Lord’s Supper was received, but as the highest and best work for which man could gain credit before God. Supplication was made to the saints for their good favor and credit, while their bones—relics—were venerated for the same purpose. All was overseen by priests, making sacrifices—the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ on the cross.
The argument could be made, that the gutting of the churches during the Reformation of such images of Christ provided a proper corrective, of ridding the churches of images of Christ which were accurate, but came to overshadow the proclamation of the gospel itself. But in view of Christ, what ultimately did barren worship spaces represent? What was proclaimed to the Christian in a room where no image of Christ was present? Well for the followers of Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich it was clear: Christ was not present within them, at least, according to His human nature—the nature that could be represented artistically. Christ was, after all, in heaven. The only representative of the Christ was the Christian. And the only way that the Christian, who had been directly illuminated by God, could be known, was by 1) how they lived, or 2) how they felt. So the two strains of Calvinism that dominate the Evangelical (Baptist) mega-churches devoid of any images of Christ, offer (almost in gnostic type fashion) assurance through the action of a Christian (Calvin), or assurance through the feeling of the heart (Arminius). Worship services therefore concentrate not on preaching and sharing Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, but right-action (by doing the right thing) and right feeling (through the usage of music, and light, and now modern imagery!). Eastern orthodoxy has gravitated somewhat away from Christus Pantokrator just as Rome has moved away from Majestas Domini, “Christ in Majesty,” embracing instead Mary, who since the Vatican I council of 19th century is proclaimed to have ascended into heaven. Anglican worship seems to take place in ornate settings, often void of images of Christ, presumably evoking the idea of a realized presence in heaven by the congregation. And of course, Pentecostal worship hearkens back to that of Montanus, of the awaiting of divine utterances from inspired leaders in barren facilities.”
(Strawn 46, 47, bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized)
Read along with this what Pastor Sonntag had talked about earlier in their presentation, about the real focus of Christian worship:
“Simple words are spoken: “Your sins are forgiven.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution. Simple words are connected with simple visible, every-day elements, with water, bread, and wine: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution. “Take, eat. This is my body which is given for you. Take, drink. This is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution.
As we know, just from the history of the means of grace within the church itself – this earthy simplicity is perceived by a vast majority of Christians as scandalous and foolish. There are the fast growing churches that are growing on the anti-creational heritage of Zwingli and Calvin, ranging from Congregationalists and Presbyterians to “flaming” Pentecostals. They all uphold Zwingli’s assertion that the Spirit needs no created vehicle, that it is, in fact, “below” the Spirit as uncreated God to use created stuff to accomplish his saving purposes.
Yet, also those churches we typically describe as having “sacraments” as God’s tools in this world – we typically feel some affinity to them, especially when confronted by massive amounts of folks getting their marching orders from Zurich or Geneva. But, really, what do we see there? Some type of operation by God through these means, even some sort of “presence” of Christ in these means is affirmed. However, this presence is no longer affirmed as a gospel presence, but only, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, as something to heighten the value of our sacrifice to God. This turns the whole purpose of the means of grace on its head.
Full pardon of all sins, even salvation itself – the near-total agreement in Christendom seems to be that these precious gifts must not be contaminated by being issued by God through such humble means of grace. It can’t be that easy. It can’t be that simple. It can’t be that humble. After all, then everybody could get saved!
Apparently not everybody will get saved – not those who maintain: salvation needs to be a more glorious, less mundane, more complicated process that involves feelings of rapture, hard labor, or something similar on man’s part – something that all world religions could identify as “religious” or having to do with God.
This “something” would be something the old Adam, religious as he is in the ways of the law, could identify as such. The history of Christian worship can also be described as the attempt to cover up, make palatable to natural man the very gospel Christ established in an embarrassingly simple, “unreligious” way.
The bible never said the gospel would be, or should be, recognizable to natural man without the Spirit. It does say that the gospel in the humble forms in which Christ willed and instituted it would be foolishness to those without the Holy Spirit (cf. AE 5: 42-43; 36:336-337; 40:197, 258-259), that it would be known as gospel only by the Spirit working through that very gospel – that only the new man would know: While the external form is humble, simple, mundane, here the almighty, living God himself is at work, rescuing sinners from the depth of hell…..”
(pp. 36-37, bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized)
Image, Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from deesis mosaic) from Hagia Sophia: Wikipedia