A concise summary of reasons not to have images of Christ at Christmas (or any other time)

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I’ve been working through my understanding of this issue for quite a while now.

Agree or disagree?

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10 Responses to A concise summary of reasons not to have images of Christ at Christmas (or any other time)

  1. Jon says:

    Agree heartily….

    For a further delving into the discussion past this concise summary, I would point you to the author’s larger article, published in The International Journal of Systematic Theology, Volume 6, number 2, April 2004 which can be downloaded at:

    http://www.oceansideurc.org/co-laborers-writings/

    David VanDrunen – Iconoclasm, Incarnation, and Eschatology.pdf

    VanDrunen does a wonderful job in his larger article tracing the history of the “icon” (image) debate and does much to improve on the typical iconoclast position and offers a broadening of the typical Reformed approach to the question of “Are images of Christ proper even if they aren’t being ‘worshiped’?”

  2. Micah says:

    This is a weak article, that is actually not an argument, but a representation of what some other people thought. And not even anyone specific, but some unnamed, uncited Reformed Theologians from over 2000 years of post-advent history. It’s only point to be taken seriously is one that any 15 year old recognizes. Christmas is commercialism and that aspect should be avoided at all costs. But the rest is a preconceived notion with little substantive thought.

  3. Jon says:

    I want to post more later, but I find a short post now to be appropriate.

    VanDrunen’s argument is two-fold. Primarily, that, the 2nd commandment disallows images of Christ, both as decorations and objects of worship. under this idea, he presents several historical admonishments that have arisen due to this understanding of the 2nd commandment (making God something we can control, etc.) Secondly, VanDrunen’s case follows the logic that we find the physical reprentation of Christ in the sacrament (ordinance) of the Table as we look forward to the eschatological realization of Christ’s return.

    I’ll grant that he doesn’t provide detailed citations, but this article was published in a monthly periodical, not an academic journal. This fact is precisely why I provided the link to his full analysis of the issue. I’m assuming this hasn’t been read. However, even without citation, one only has to spend a few minutes researching to find ample discussion of this among reformed theologians. (Calvin, Zwingli, Owen, Flavel, Machen, Murray, VanTil, Warfield, Hodge (both of them), Schaefer……to name just a few.)

    Finally, let it noted that we who disagree with the use of images find the discussion to be of an ‘in-house’ nature. With that said, we should remember the creed of Augustine and echo ‘and in all things, charity’.

  4. micah says:

    first, the second commandment was very specific to idol worship, incidentally it was not related in context to the Messiah. it would not be inherently applicable to all possible or known religious images or symbols. It would apply only to those specific elements or images utilized for the purpose of false worship. The false worship or identification with false worship was the nature of the idol and actions related to it.

    second, the Bible is replete with imagery, representations and types that we can use as tools. therefore, a nativity scene placed in my house as a reminder of his birth is not the same as a statue of st christopher to whom i offer incense and prayer.

  5. Jon says:

    The second commandment finds itself in two parts; first, the disallowing of the making of idols, second, the use of those images in worship. (See Calvin’s discussion of the second commandment for a full exposition of this point: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol04/htm/iii.htm )

    The second commandment would be explicitly related to all fashioned images of deity. If Jesus was Deity, and the second commandment disallows the making of a representation of deity, then the second commandment disallows the making of a representation of Jesus.

    Second, the Bible is replete with imagery, representations and types that God prescribed for his people. Yet, God explicitly disallowed the making of idols. Which means it is just as much a sin for me to have a statue of a calf that I call baal as it is for me to offer incense and prayer to it.
    It must be noted that the idol worshipers in pagan practices did not consider their idols to be the gods themselves, rather, they were merely representations of their idea of that God. The Pole of Asherah wasn’t Asherah, herself, but was a representation of a supposed metaphysical reality.

    The existential means that God has prescribed under the New(er) Covenant are those of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are not to add to that faulty elements of our own imaginations as to what Jesus’ weigh and length were as an infant, nor as he appeared when he atoned for our sin.

  6. Stephen says:

    Under the old covenantthere is no question that rules are rules. Under the new covenant, we are given the why instead of just the what. The result is that some rules no longer applye.g. cutting hair, dressing in a certain manner etc. As it applies to we who are under the new covenant, you must keep in mind that each commandment is founded in love, and we have a reason for each. We are not under law (legalism) but under grace.

    In Rom 1:18 on, it states that Gods invisible attributes are perceived by what has been made (creation). Verse 23 describes that foolish men EXCHANGED the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. The fruit of that foolishness was the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. Also they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.

    You must also define worship. Worship is magnifying and praising God in the reflection of his perfect glory and invisible attributes. Reflecting on the image itself should certainly not lead directly to worship. It is then when you magnify the image beyond its purpose. Basking in the image would cause someone to think through each brush stroke or carving as a reflection of God. It of course isnt.

    However, having an image which leads to the reflection of Gods invisible attributes may certainly be used a tool. When I see an image of Christ on the cross, I can be led to think of the spiritual battle that was fought that day, the conquering of sin, the perfect wrath of God, the perfect love of Christ etc. (all invisible qualities). An image certainly isnt necessary to accomplish this.

    Having images can possibly be dangerous, because some may in fact exchange the glory of God expressed in invisible attributes for created things. But under the new covenant, it isnt necessarily forbidden. Worshiping God is the point of the O.T. commandment. We should do so intentionallywith or without images.

  7. Jon says:

    Quite frankly, it is absurd to propose that the commandments, as such under the older covenants, were not founded in love and were given arbitrarily with no substantive reason. To state that we are not under law, but under grace, immediately after such a claim shows a failed recognition that there can be no grace, except where law (that condemns) is present. I concede that much of the Law given under Moses had its direct application to a particular people of a particular time (i.e.  Civil Law), and that much of the Law given under Moses was inevitably typological (i.e.  Ceremonial Law), but there is yet a third category of Law that stands applicable for Gods people, throughout all time. That particular category is commonly known as the Moral Law, which is best summarized in the Decalogue. It is apparent, in Jesus Sermon on the Mount, that the Law, which had been lowered to mere externalism by the religious leaders of Jesus time, was not about mere legalistic observance, but rather, showed the true character of God as revealed to His people. His law, as stated by Paul, served as a tutor, to show Gods people their sin and to drive them to Messiah (the promised seed) for redemption. It stands to reason then, that while the Law/Gospel distinction stands, it is not proper for a full bifurcation to be asserted.

    To state that having an image which leads to the reflection of Gods invisible attributes may certainly be used a tool seems to me a more blatant violation of the Second Commandment than does the simple proposal of No visual representations of Deity allowed. I cant say that I disagree with the above definition of worship, yet I find the conclusions that are made to be self-defeating, if worship is magnifying and praising God in the reflection of his perfect glory and invisible attributes and having an image which leads to the reflection of Gods invisible attributes may certainly be used a tool. Yet, to focus on the existential method of an image, rather than on written and spoken word is contrary to the unique identity of Gods revelation throughout redemptive history. Yet, God knowing our frame, has set in place complete, existential expressions of his redemption, under many forms in the older covenants and expressed in fewer under the full revelation of Messiah; Baptism and the Lords Supper. It is in these ordinances that we find the perfect representation of the Redemption purchased by the work of Christ, therefore, barring the discussion of the second commandment, the Biblical witness on the emphasis on the preached word and the administration of the sacraments makes an imaginative pursuit of the likeness of Christ to be daft, if not outright foolishness.

    But under the new covenant, it isnt necessarily forbidden. Worshiping God is the point of the O.T. commandment. We should do so intentionally, with or without images.

    Are we to understand that the commandment remains in effect yet with different implications that have not been explicitly corrected by Jesus or the Apostles? I.E.  Are we to understand that an image of God, which was forbidden by the second commandment, was sin under the older covenant administrations, but is now OK since, Worshiping God is the point of the O.T. commandment? I dont know that such a position can be consistently supported. How many of the other commandments should we change because they disagree with our current practice?

  8. Stephen says:

    Back up a second. When I said rules are rules, I was referring to the OT practices of worship, not necessarily just the second commandment. My point was to say that the NT clarifies much of what happens in the OT, and we arent necessarily bound to the same ruleswhich is certainly true in worship. We have a freedom in the way in which we worship that they didnt have. Of course, there are bounds to those freedoms. My point was to use the NT to bring a new covenant perspective on things that happened under the old covenant.

    Having said that, the second commandment (the whole of it) would fall under moral law, and keep in mind that it is sandwiched between two context verses. In fact the why is given in the commandment. In some other commandments, the why is not given. Before the phrase in question, the commandment is to have no other gods before me. Period. After the phrase in question, it says dont serve created things, because I am a jealous God who brings iniquity to those who hate me. (As opposed to those who love me).

    The Romans, (NT) verse visits the topic again and states the problem of men exchanging the glory of God for things. i.e. have a god before God and serving/worshiping created things instead of the Creator.

    The Bible is as lengthy as it is in order to display Gods working in history as well as how people have screwed things up. It also serves as context to simple commandments. When the Bible speaks of those who violate the second commandment, it is clear to specify (just like the Romans verse) that their heart was neither loving nor worshiping God. Instead they were worshiping something other than God. The Romans verse went on to say that they had other lust in their heart that caused even more problems. This is a far cry from a nativity scene. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for taking the honoring of the Sabbath to an unhealthy, legalistic level. It was certainly a commandment.

    Also, the Lords Supper and Baptism are not optional things in the church. The frequency of the Lords Supper may be, but not partaking in it. I agree that those ordinances are all that is needed or prescribed, but that does not imply that other things are forbidden.

  9. Derek Lidbom says:

    A few questions (not that I completely agree with what they imply, but questions I have nonetheless):

    1.
    “We have a freedom in the way in which we worship that they didn’t have.”

    Explain your rationale for this freedom. Why didn’t they have it and why do we?

    2.
    “I agree that those ordinances [Lord’s Support and Baptism” are all that is needed…”

    To what end do you add more to those practices? What is the goal of adding to the prescribed worship? Is there anything that is too far as long as your heart is right?

    3.
    (Related to 1). Of the 10 commandments, are there other ones that have been “loosened” (my word) as the one on worship has, instead of clarified (tightened?) as Jesus seemed to do with the sermon on the mount.
    Here they are for refreshment:
    1. You shall have no other gods before me.
    2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them
    3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
    4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
    5. Honor your father and your mother
    6. You shall not murder
    7. You shall not commit adultery
    8. You shall not steal
    9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s

  10. Blake says:

    **I DID NOT READ THE ARTICLE.

    It looked too long for me to read on a quick break at work.

    My gut tells me that worshipping an image is sin, but using images as symbols to remind you of the God you worship is fine.

    I am not sure if that is what you are talking about and my gut has been wrong before. I guess ya’ll are discussing it so much because it is not clear in the Bible.

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