Images of Christ, Part 3
Having laid down the foundation for how allowing for images of Christ indeed strikes at the vitals of various reformed doctrines, let us consider some common objections:
1. We do not use images in Lord’s Day worship but simply in teaching children. Answer. The second commandment of the Decalogue and the Standards do not forbid making images of Christ simply in public liturgy but rather the making of images of any kind (as it pertains God’s essence and any person).
2. I am not worshipping the image; it is simply about Christ in a pedagogical manner. Answer. All knowledge of Christ is unto the end of worship and doxology (Ephesians 1:3-18) and therefore, to learn of Christ pedagogically but not doxologically is not Christian pedagogy. Furthermore, the scriptures and confession not only forbid worshiping images, but also worshiping Christ in and by and through the image. In addition, if people truly do not worship the image of Christ why has it often been the case when such images are removed from nativity sets, windows, and other places on church property that people are deeply troubled, angered, divisive, and demanding that such images remain?
3. This logic leads to the rejection of the Christian arts. Answer. Christians are free to depict the Christian story, events, and concepts visibly; however, God’s being and essence are not to be visibly depicted. God commands His people to remember Him and His acts of redemption with stones and
various visible monuments and yet condemns them for visibly portraying His essence.
4. This logic would make the incarnation impossible as the incarnation indeed makes Christ visible. Answer. God made His Son visible by His own prerogative and He never told anyone else to do the same or imitate Him.
5. Jesus took on flesh and so it is that we can physically portray Him. Answer. You do not know what He looks like therefore, such portrayals are idolatrous projections. Jesus is God and man in one flesh and portraying one nature and not the other truncates the hypostatic union.
6. Images are only for Children in their early years. Answer. The proverbs say that one is to raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. If you train children in the way of images, then they will very likely not depart from knowing Christ through images. The thousands of adults in the visible church (reformed and all others) who have and use images attest to this.
7. In the OT God appeared visibly in various ways (fire, smoke, bushes, temple) and so it is that it is appropriate to portray God visibly. Answer. In all the visible manifestations of God His essence remains hidden. Notice how on Sinai and the temple, God’s naked essence is hidden in smoke. God’s visible manifestations portray His essence and being as hidden.
Having considered the common objections and answered them, let us conclude with some further considerations and conclusions.
Making images of Christ is unacceptable due to how it has a causal relationship with superstition and a correlation with Papacy and other liturgical traditions such as the Lutherans and Anglicans. Whether ministers recognize it or not, the reformed tradition has always seen the real correlation between superstition and idolatry and images of God’s being (for all persons of the trinity). Images of Christ are antithetical to what is at the heart of the reformed tradition which focuses on the audible rather than the visible. Portraying God via images is essentially pagan and the means by which the pagans worship their gods (Amos 5:5-27). Furthermore, allowing images in the church would be a stumbling block to those coming out of the Papacy and other similar traditions whereby worship of Christ through images was undoubtedly the reality.
The tendency to separate doctrines from practices in various areas of church life is amplified by the discontinuity of the first and second command as it pertains to images. In our day we have men who hold to Biblical complementarianism and yet their practices have women doing various elder duties. We have men who hold to the Biblical sexual ethic and yet allow a man to practice ministry as a self-identified Sodomite who acts and looks effeminate. Not connecting the conviction in the first command to the practice of image-making in the second will inevitably lead to the erosion of the conviction and a general paradigm in which other convictions are eroded. Hence it is so that the connection between the first command about who God is and the second as to how He is worshiped means that the allowance of images to portray Christ will inevitably erode the doctrine of God.
Depicting Jesus as a cartoon belittles His majesty to the young and old and contributes to the West’s tendency to hold to a domesticated Christ. Furthermore, the way the NT via word portrays the ascended Christ is radically different than the way He is portrayed in Christian literature. Consider how the word portrays Him in Revelation 1:12, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and this face was like the sun shining in full strength.” Men who allow for a cartoon Jesus to portray Christ to anyone in the church diminish His exaltedness and supremacy and hence in so doing go against WSC and WLC question 1 which speaks about man’s chief end is to glorify God.
Ministers who allow images in the home while barring them in liturgy feed into the ever-increasing issue of a dualistic, compartmentalized, spirituality in the church. Holding to the second commandment in liturgy and then breaking it everywhere else feeds into this hypocritical dualistic Christian life that monopolizes an ecclesiastical, confined piety. Mockery of Christ is out of bounds in the liturgy but defended in the home. Such hypocrisy and duality should not be acceptable amongst ministers who are called to guard the church. Reformation in the Bible (2 Kings 18:4) always goes hand in hand with the removal of images in all places, not simply the temple. Lastly, this view of liturgical life as sacred and everyday life as less than sacred (as it pertains to images of Christ) is a Roman Catholic, dualistic view of space.
In conclusion, the exception of the second command as it pertains to images of Christ should not be taken in any Reformed denomination by any minister. Why? Simply put it undermines and corrupts the doctrine of scripture, the doctrine of God, Christology, the law of God, the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of the sacraments. It undermines and invalidates the distinctiveness of the reformed tradition (and what is at the heart of it) from Anglicans, Papists, Lutherans, and the Greek Orthodox. In many cases, these household images have led to the reformed portraying Christ visibly in their church buildings proving that sequestering images to the home to remain there is a fallacy. Separating practices from doctrines in the second commandment is connected to an ever-increasing spirituality in the church that separates various elements of doctrinal orthodoxy from biblical orthopraxy. Reformation in the second commandment on this particular matter is vital to our quest to recapturing the purity and centrality of the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, and the doctrine of the church and sacraments.
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.