Reformed Ethos, Part 2: Polemic Against Idolatry


Historically, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches have embodied a distinctive way of being the Christian community. Dr. John H. Leith, professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, identified nine motifs or themes of this ethos.

Second, there is a polemic against idolatry. "Reformed theology has resisted every effort to get control of God, to fasten the infinite and indeterminate God to the finite and the determinate whether it be images, or the bread and wine of the sacraments, or the structures of the church. God is free, and God acts and speaks when and where he chooses" (p. 74).

"Man's responsibility is to listen to the word of God and to correct what he thinks he heard by continuing to listen. The human starting point is not one's own existence but the will of the creator or lord. Therefore every effort to domesticate God, to shape God according to man's own understanding of what he should be, to fasten God to some finite and determinate object and thus to control him must be firmly repudiated" (p. 74).

"The practical consequence of this polemic against idolatry was an iconoclasm that held in question every human achievement and that refused final loyalty to any human being or to any human endeavor" (p. 74).

How can we best embody this in the lives of the churches we serve today?

To read more, see John H. Leith, An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition: A Way of Being the Christian Community, revised edition (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), Chapter 3, "The Ethos of the Reformed Tradition," pp. 70-88.

For more information, click on this link to Westminster John Knox Press:

An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition.

To learn more about Dr. Leith, click on this link to the Foundation website, including a memorial, a selected bibliography, and a link to audio recordings of thirty-seven of his sermons and lectures:

John Haddon Leith.

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV
Grace and Peace,

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
4103 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 678-8352