Images of Christ, Part 2
This and the previous article show that images of Christ undermine various essential doctrines, not simply an essential doctrine. Let us continue setting forth the reasons why. First, it undermines the doctrine of the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ. Consider WLC question 53 which states, “How was Christ exalted in his ascension?
Answer. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared unto and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections to where He is, and to prepare a place for us, where he himself is, and will continue until his second coming at the end of the world.”
Note a few things. The Catechism teaches that Christ in our nature visibly went up into the highest heavens and that we are to raise our affections to where He presently is visibly. This means that Christ being visible in the throne room of God in true flesh is to be where our affections are to be regularly directed. Our minds and thoughts are to be directed to where He is embodied in heaven, not pictured below. This implies that any embodiment of Christ on earth (whether by statues, movies, or drawings) assumes that His bodily presence in heaven is an insufficient and/or inappropriate embodiment. Indirectly applied, it means, by implication, that by making Christ visible below it assumes that something is wrong with His present visibility above. With that logic, unless Christ can be seen below, His visibility above lacks efficacy and or sufficiency. The necessity of making Christ visible below undermines His embodied efficacy high above and, in so doing, distracts the Christian from setting His affections where Christ is seated above.
The scriptures tell us to find comfort in the knowledge that Christ is visibly in heaven. This is why question WLC question 55 states, “How does Christ make intercession?
Answer. Christ makes intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers.”
Christ’s humanity appearing in our nature continually above means that we do not need to make Him visible anywhere else because He is indeed actually visible where it is essential for Him to be so. To make images of Christ below is to declare that His true incarnate self as seen above is deficient. God perfectly made His Son visible and to make Him visible is to presumptuously assume that the Father’s work needs human improvement. Making Christ visible consequently assaults the doctrine of the incarnation rather than affirming it.
Second, it undermines the efficacy of the word of God and the sacraments. In Galatians 3:1 Christ is said to be vividly portrayed as crucified through the verbal proclamation of Christ. This is to say that in the word of Christ in the Spirit through faith, the Saint indeed sees Christ vividly. WLC question 89 states that God especially makes the preaching of the word of God an effectual means to convince and convert. Chapter 25:3 states, “Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life to the end of the world and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise make them effectual thereunto.” The making of images of Christ seriously undermines the ability of the word of Christ to effectually portray Christ.
Notice that God is said to have given us the means of grace that are sufficient to both gather and perfect and to do so unto the end of the world. Which is to say that such means are sufficient to gather and perfect until the very end. So it is that while the Spirit says that God effectually manifests His presence via the word in the Spirit, the Presbyterian minister says (implicitly) that he has other means that make that word effective. It seems that those who take this exception also have a deficient pneumatology as they do not believe that He can work in the heart of a young child through the word of Christ as He seems to have age restrictions (according to them). Furthermore, the making of images of Christ undermines the sacraments which are said to be that which makes Christ visible to His church. In the WCF section on sacraments (27:1) it says,
“Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.”
In the wisdom of God, it is baptism and the Lord’s table that make Christ and His benefits visible to the church. Section 3 says that the sacraments are made effectually by the work of the Spirit and the word. So it is that the minister who believes that it is acceptable to make Christ visible (to children or anyone else) through man-made images undermines the signs in which God has said to indeed make Himself visible. If Christ and His benefits are said to be made visible in the sacraments and effectual in word and Spirit (which our children can see both regularly), then any other means by which Christ is made visible is unnecessary.
Every time a church member is directed by a minister, either directly or implicitly, to learn of Christ by images, they state God’s means of visibility to be insufficient and deficient thus declaring man’s means of visibility as superior. Either Christ and His benefits are made visible by the sacraments making images pointless or they (sacraments) do not make Christ visible and thus making the sacraments pointless. Consequently, images undermine the supremacy and sufficiency of the means of grace which is a vital organizing concept for reformed ecclesiology, missiology, and piety. Means of grace and images of Christ are antithetical to each other. Furthermore, the making of Christ visible through images also undermines Christian piety. John 17 states that the world will see Christ through the church's redemptively grounded affection for itself. Paul tells the church that the very members themselves, in the Spirit, are God’s written letter that makes His character visible (2 Corinthians 3). Paul also tells the church that it is through the gospel and law being applied to normal life that the gospel is adorned (Titus 2). Again, the making of images proves itself to be a distraction and faulty counterfeit of all the places where Christ in various ways is said to be made visible and in so doing fosters ignorance of Christ.
Third, the making of images also violates the 9th commandment. Nowhere in scripture do we get any physical description of any kind of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 53 his physical appearance is merely said to be unimpressive. So it is that any physical depiction of Him is a creation of the human mind which falsely portrays Christ to others. Any physical image of Christ is a lie that testifies falsely to Christ’s appearance and thus violates the 9th commandment. Every image of Christ bears false witness to His physical appearance and merely projects whatever kind of Christ is being imagined by the author.
Fourth, it undermines the doctrine and ministry of the Spirit. In the gospels, Jesus says in John 16:7 “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Notice something crucial about the gospel ministry in the Spirit in the New Covenant era; it is better that Christ is not visible on the earth but rather visible in heaven. Jesus literally says that it is better that He go away as it is connected to the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit who operates below considering Jesus' visible ascension above. According to Christ, there is something distinctly purposeful and advantageous about Christ being unseen below and the unseen Spirit’s ministry below. So it is that those who make space for Christ being made visible below operate against the very nature and purpose of the Spirit’s New Covenant ministry and in so doing work against His ministry. Hence, we can see in this article that the making of images undermines the doctrine of the incarnation, ascension, and intercession of Christ, the efficacy of the means of grace, and the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit.
Aldo Leon is the Senior TE of Pinelands Presbyterian church in Miami, Florida (PCA). He is married to Rebecca and is father to Elias, Adonias, and Abriella. He currently serves on the counsel for the Gospel Reformation Network in the PCA and is the host of the Kingdom Polemics Podcast.