Friday, April 14, 2006

The Images Strike Back

Images, otherwise known as icons, are making a comeback. Admittedly this comes from Christianity Today whose definition of Reformed apparently comes from Andover Newton Theological Seminary, which if I am not mistaken feeds the United Churches of Christ. The church that pushes for homosexual marriage is hardly the representative of the Reformed tradition. Yet, this is not the only example of a push to return to images. Take for example, Reformed Catholicism’s recent post on the subject. If one wants to see the exegesis in favor of images, Dr. Paul Owen provides us with the new analysis of the Second Commandment allowing for images in worship.

It is no secret since I have posted on the subject before I am against images. No pictures of Christ, no pictures of the Spirit, nothing. I base this in part on the second commandment. Dr. Owen’s post assumes too much about the nature of the second commandment, and Deuteronomy 4:14-20 for that matter. Dr. Owen restricts this to imaging surrounding false gods. He seems to deny that imaging God is forbidden, only imaging false gods. Yet it should be noted that in Exodus 32:4-5 Aaron clearly claims the golden calf is an image of Jehovah. It is not some new false God, he proclaims it is the god that brought them out of Egypt, a reference to Jehovah. And then he proclaims the next day as a feast to Jehovah. The proper name of God is used in reference to the golden calf. They were not making foreign gods, they imaged the God, and it violated the Second Commandment.

Dr. Owen also fails to deal with John 4:24 that tells us we are to worship God in spirit and truth. We are not to need physical objects to aid our worship. We are not to need Jerusalem or any old mountain. We are not to need these relics to be true worshippers. Instead, our worship is to be in spirit and truth. Nor does he deal with Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Sight is not mentioned at all. In fact, we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Nor did he reference Isaiah 40:18 where he openly asks, "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" These verses do not seem to lend themselves to only discussing foreign god images, but a prohibition on images all together in worship.

Dr. Owen did provide another argument in favor of images of Christ that is commonly used. Jesus is the image of God, and we are simply imaging the image of God. That must be allowable. Plus, they are not images of the divine nature, but Christ in the flesh. That argument was given by men like John of Damascus when they argued in favor of images. The imaging Christ’s flesh argument runs afoul of the universal definition of the person of Jesus Christ as given in the Council of Chalcedon. The person of Jesus has two natures, and they cannot be divided nor mixed. Thus, any picture of the person of Jesus Christ is a picture of the divine nature as well as the human nature. No picture can do that, and any picture that tries violates the Second Commandment. By making the argument that images are not trying to capture the "ineffable divine nature", he admits that trying to do so is wrong. Thus, in order to keep images of Christ, one must throw out the Council of Chalcedon. This is the conclusion reached by Constantine V as did the Council of Hieria which included 338 bishops. They rightly pointed out that Jesus left us the bread and wine as proper images, we need nothing else. Images were also rejected by Charlegmane and the Council of Frankfurt lest anyone be swayed by the argument that the church pronounced them acceptable in Nicaea II.

In the end, we should remember the progression of Romans 1:18-32. The rejecters of God refused to glorify him as God (21) and turned to their vain imaginations instead. Thus, they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image (23). It is from there that they continue down the path of sin. Images are no small matter, but cut to heart of the nature of God.


Andrew Duggan said...

You could file that one under the heading of Yeah hath God said...Part 72,310,009,320,932

The argument comes off exceedingly like the serpent's in the garden. The suggestions of Satan (WCF 21:1) are so often formulaic.

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hat appointed.
(WLC 109) Emphasis mine.

And regardless of how those, who make those images, or vainly attempt to worship God thereby, might object, God accounts them as those that hate Him. (WLC 110, Exodus 20:5,6)

Compare that to John 14:15, as Jesus said, if ye love me, keep my commandments. Also John 20:29, Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou has believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

What can you really expect from those that hate God and have hated Him for generations?

polymathis said...


I found your blog through my friend Wes' blog. Thank you for that link to Christianity Today! This trend has been growing for decades and Mel's movie seems to be the icing on the cake ( When images are lifted up, preaching Christ & Him crucified is down-played.

Justin Donathan said...

"What can you really expect from those that hate God and have hated Him for generations?"

That doesn't quite sound like the humility that comes from believing one is saved by grace alone. In fact that sounds more like Jonah's attitude when God wanted him to preach to those he considered beneath him.

Also are you willing to say that all Christians who don't shun any image of Jesus hate God. Did C.S. Lewis hate God? He was an Anglican and they are pretty fond of crucifixes. In fact do all anglicans hate God? And I guess everyone hated God before the Reformation when there was no tradition that shunned images? Further even men like Geerhardus Vos and Martin Luther himself must have been God haters as both argued that the second commandment, and indeed the whole of Scripture does not condemn all pictures of Christ.