Images of Jesus

Jan 3rd, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Five years ago I had the chance to visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City for a Good Friday service.  Since college it had been a dream of mine to see Dr. Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer, preach in person.  Keller founded Redeemer in 1989 and over the past twenty years it has become one of the most influential churches in America. During this time Dr. Keller himself has become one of the most influential leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It would be an understatement to say I was incredibly excited to see Dr. Keller preach in person. Even to this day, I have the highest respect for the man. As I walked into the Redeemer service, however, I was shocked by the church bulletin I was handed. A gory painting of Jesus, dead on the cross, covered the entire front cover of the bulletin.  Having been schooled by “truly reformed” folk in the Deep South I could hardly believe my eyes. The leading church in my denomination was openly violating the Second Commandment! I was so disturbed I could hardly listen to a word of the sermon.

In seminary, however, I came to reconsider what the Bible actually teaches about images.  My reason for re-examining the issue had nothing to do with Catholic influences, but rather the teaching of an RTS Professor, John Frame.  In Frame’s massive book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, he takes exception to the historic rejection of images of Christ by Reformed Churches.  He makes the argument that having no images of Jesus can lead to practical “Docetism,” the ancient church heresy which claimed Jesus had no physical body.  Frame concludes his argument by writing, “So I know of no reason to forbid pictures of Jesus… And there are positive reasons to use pictures of Jesus in the church’s pedagogy.”1

Here we have two men, both of whom are among the most influential leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America, rejecting the traditional Reformed understanding of 2nd Commandment. These men have not rejected the historic understanding of this commandment in order to stir up trouble in their denomination. Instead, they believe that Christians are actually being deprived of something when images are forbidden. Frame specifically references and affirms the 2nd Council of Nicaea in 787, which affirmed the beneficial use of images in places of worship.2 These men have been bold in standing against the majority opinion in their denomination in order to affirm what the Catholic Church has always believed.  Images are good.  Gazing at a crucifix has the effect of freeing us from our habitual skepticism as we see the concreteness of our Savior. I’ll conclude with an anonymous poem which powerful captures just how “beneficial” the crucifix can be for believers.

If you would like to know God … Look at the crucifix.

If you would like to love God … Look at the crucifix.

If you want to serve God … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder what you are worth … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder how much God loves you … Look at the crucifix.

If you want to know the need for self-denial and sacrifice … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder how much you should forgive others … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder how much you should do for others … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder how much your faith demands … of you in humility, poverty, charity in every virtue … Look at the crucifix.

If you want to know what unselfishness and generosity are … Look at the crucifix.

If you wonder how far your own unselfishness should go to bring others to Christ … Look at the crucifix.

If you wish to live well … Look at the crucifix.

If you wish to die well … Look at the crucifix.

  1. Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2008, p. 486 []
  2. Frame, p. 482 []

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  1. Jeremy,

    Beautifully put, brother. A priest friend of mine shared a story of how he once counseled a woman to “pray the crucifix”, that is, to gaze at the crucifix and enter into the love of Christ for her when she was enduring a most difficult time.

  2. I recall an bit of a storm when I was a deacon in the Reformed Church of Pukekohe. The denomination had a magazine – Faith in Focus – and someone had done a page for children that had a pencil drawing of Jesus – I don’t remember, perhaps the Good Shepherd or something. An elder in one of the churches – I think he was a preaching elder, but don’t recall for certain – wrote in, shocked that the magazine would commit idolatry. I responded to the editor, and a storm ensued, which seemed to indicate the following views on the part of this elder:

    1) Any depiction of Jesus was idolatrous.

    2) It was a sin for a Christian to go to an art gallery that might contain pictures of Jesus.

    3) It was a sin to have any religious art in a church.

    I was far from the Catholic Church at the time, but I was really quite upset by this – it seemed to me – irrational view.

    I remember years later when, a Catholic, my wife and I were to be sponsors in RCIA for two friends of ours from the Reformed Church who were becoming Catholics. The RCIA class was really pretty unsatisfactory. I recall at one point the leader asking us to talk about what image we had when we thought of God. One woman – very devout in her practices and, I am sure, with no slightest tinge of deliberate heterodoxy in her mind – said that sometimes God seemed to her like a big teddy bear.

    I cringed, as you may imagine. When it came to my turn, not knowing exactly what to say, I said that I wasn’t sure what image I had of God, but that you would be able to recognise Him when you saw Him by the holes in His hands and feet. Ms Teddy Bear responded, shocked, that that was Jesus; we were talking about God.

    Confusion abounds, I’m afraid. John Frame is Reformed, but, thank God, he is not like my elder friend. Frame’s writings were amongst those that helped me into the Catholic Church.


  3. Of course they can do that in the PCA! It’s a liberal denomination and that’s why God permitted the establishment of yet another brand of presbyterianism: the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. You’ll never have to worry about images of Jesus being splashed about on bulletin covers there! In fact, I was recently at one of their services where the pastor warned the congregation never to use statues or icons or crucifixes, especially not to do any devotional staring.

  4. Hi Hirduin,

    Thanks for stopping by Called to Communion and checking out the post. What Scripture text do you see in the New Testament that makes you disagree with John Frame’s conclusion?

  5. @Hirduin:

    In fact, I was recently at one of their services where the pastor warned the congregation never to use statues or icons or crucifixes, especially not to do any devotional staring.

    When we moved to our small town in New Zealand to start a Reformed Church there (successful, I am happy to say – not so cool from their point of view when, 10 years later, I told my pastor I was going to have to become a Catholic!), our little congregation bought the local Baptist Church’s building, as the Baptists were building a new, larger building. The little Baptist Church, which the Reformed Church of Pukekohe still uses, had a large, plain cross on the front – not a crucifix, of course, just a cross.

    Taking it down was one of the first actions of the Session. Don’t know what they did with the wood – maybe burned it, in good Oliver Cromwell fashion.

    No devotional staring allowed there!


  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joshua Cade. Joshua Cade said: is reading: "Images of Jesus" […]

  7. I would add to your poem: “If you want to be a good spouse…Look at the Crucifix”

  8. I appreciate your heart, Jeremy. I tend to agree with you (as well as Keller and Frame) that such a narrow understanding of the 2nd Commandment as many take is not necessary or helpful. So we are “together” on that. You’ve identified the “danger” that comes with a simplistic understanding of the commandment. But I also think that the poem that you cited may also touch on another type of “narrowing” that really is at the heart of so many reformed folks’ concerns on this issue. Thirteen times I am urged to look at the crucifix. I understand that this is literature, and that repetition is a tool. But it is not really the crucifix to which we need to look. We need to look beyond the crucifix, to that which the crucifix points– Christ crucified. It’s not an image, but a reality. Further, to understand the Gospel more fully, I need also to see Christ’s perfect fulfilment of the Law in my place, and Christ raised from the dead and now seated at the Right hand of the Father, interceding for me. The crucifix does not show me those things. This does not mean that the crucifix is flawed; it just means that no single picture (or image) is capable of capturing (and communicating) the fulness of our hope in Christ. So I would simply urge caution with regard to venerating any image. Because on a picture’s “best day” it is only a partial communication of what Christ has accomplished for us. You have rightly noticed that we reformed-folk probably have an unhealthy allergy to things like this. I might gently observe that the Cathlic culture is conducive to the holding too tightly to the images, such that many don’t connect the image to the thing signified. Should these things compel us to abandon our traditions? I think not. But we both have our dangers.

  9. Dan Smith,

    “Thirteen times I am urged to look at the crucifix… but it is not really the crucifix to which we need to look. We need to look beyond the crucifix, to that which the crucifix points– Christ crucified.”

    crucifix – from crucifixus, meaning “the crucified One (i.e. Christ)”; definition – a cross with the figure of Jesus crucified upon it

    I’m not sure how one separates Christ from the crucifix or how, in some way, the crucifix does not directly point to Christ. A crucifix is not a crucifix without Christ upon it, rather it becomes a cross.

    The Son, as you know also became Man. His physical being could be detected before and after the resurrection. People wrote icons and painted images of Him. There are even icons that were miraculously given to us (none of which I’d expect you to believe; i.e. the Shroud, the Icon not made with human hands, Veronica’s cloth, etc.) not made by men. The only reason why there are images of Christ with a perm in many Good News Bibles today is because they borrowed from the features of the images of Christ passed down from Christian tradition. To deny that these images have any value is to deny the Incarnation itself. Though there are many parallels between Protestantism and Islam, iconoclasm is another one of them. When we venerate sacred images of Christ, we worship the God who became Man, a real event, a real person, who has a real Body.

  10. “To deny that these images have any value is to deny the Incarnation itself.” I don’t believe that I have denied this. I have simply suggested caution. Their value has a limit. “Holding firmly to Christ” is not done by clutching a statue of Jesus. It is done by resting in what Scripture says is true, more than trusting what the world, the flesh, and the Devil tell my heart. I understand that the icon may comfort me by way of reminder. But the icon is just that– a reminder.

    I don’t really think we are in radical disagreement. Perhaps we should call it “violent agreement” :-). Either way, I don’t have any reason to assume that I will change your mind; nor you mine. And that’s fine. I simply acknowledge that Jeremy’s caution to me (and to those in my tradition) is well-founded. I just also happen to think that my caution with regard to your tradition is also well-founded.

  11. Hi Dan,

    I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by Called to Communion and reading the post. I certainly hear your concerns. Frame makes some of the same points in The Doctrine of the Christian Life when he discusses his position on the 2nd commandment. The Catholic Church takes these concerns seriously as well. Even at the Second Council of Nicaea the Church made sure to distinguish the veneration of sacred images from idol worship. If we go with Frame and Keller though in affirming the “positive reasons to use pictures of Jesus in the church’s pedagogy”, how can we then put limits on how far to go with this? Who is to say how far is too far?
    I think an analogy from marriage can be helpful in understanding what Catholics are doing when we gaze upon a crucifix. I have a picture of my wife from our honeymoon sitting in our kitchen. I walk past the picture a hundred times a day. Sometimes though, I’ll actually take the time to pick the picture up and look at it for a few minutes. As I gaze at the picture I’m reminded of the gift God has given me in my wife. As I gaze at the picture I’m reminded of her love, beauty, and compassion. By the time I put the picture down something has happened to my heart; I find myself more in love with my wife. Granted, this process makes the picture itself more valuable to me because it is a conduit to my wife herself. In a very real sense, when I gaze at the picture of my wife I am gazing at her. You’re right though, it is not exhaustive – a crucifix doesn’t capture all of Jesus and all that He’s done for us, but it does help us fall in love with Him. Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss.

    Peace in Christ Dan – Jeremy

  12. Leaving aside my own opinions about the second commandment (by Protestant reckoning), I do think it is wrong for a minister to blatantly violate the confessional teaching of the church to which he has vowed submission. Everyone in the Reformed world should know that our tradition officially teaches that it is wrong to produce images of God. To just dismiss one’s ordination vows and place pictures of Jesus on your church bulletin is, in my mind, an example of arrogance at worst, or extremely poor churchmanship at best.

    I mean, setting aside our differing views of authority for a moment, what would you Catholics think of a bishop who refused to honor Mary at Mass because she was a sinner like everyone else? Sure, the progressives might applaud his courage to stand up for what he believes in, but does that make it right or praiseworthy?

  13. Hi JJS,

    If a Catholic Bishop or Priest denied the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium it could never be commended because we believe we believe Church Councils are infallible. On the other hand, if a Protestant Pastor goes against his confession, a confession that by its own admission is subject to error, his stance has the potential to be commendable if it puts him in agreement with the historic teachings of the universal Church. I think Keller and Frame are commendable in their willingness to concede the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church on a doctrine their tradition has historically condemned.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  14. But Jeremy, I prefaced ny question with the words, “setting aside our differences over authority.” So even if the Westminster Standards are fallible, that does not mean one may vow submission to them and then violate them at will. If you stay at a hotel and smoke a pack of cigarettes in your room even though it’s prohibited, can you plead your case to the manager that the hotel’s rules are not infallible so therefore it’s OK?

    My point is that even in church contexts with no infallible magisterium the rules matter, especially when you vow before God to uphold them.

    And yes, I realize I just compared the PCA’s polity to the rules of the Holiday Inn.

  15. @Jeremy and JJS:

    On the other hand, if a Protestant Pastor goes against his confession, a confession that by its own admission is subject to error, his stance has the potential to be commendable if it puts him in agreement with the historic teachings of the universal Church.

    I am a Catholic now and was a member of a Reformed (in the Calvinist tradition) – was, in fact, a deacon in that church.

    I absolutely agree with JJS on this. Short of committing sin, I think you must obey those who have the authority over you. It was actually my coming to this conclusion that was a major part of my becoming a Catholic. I was engaged in a major dispute with the elders in my congregation (over the issue of the age of Communion). I recall them finally rebuking me, and saying that I could discuss, disagree, whatever I wanted – but if I was to be a member of that congregation, I was expected to submit, short of sin.

    I cannot believe that it is a sin not to have pictures of Jesus around. I think any pastor whose confessional standards dictate that he should not depict Jesus is in error – potentially quite serious error – by not submitting.

    I (grinding my teeth, because I thought they were wrong :-)) did submit, did so genuinely and did my best to submit with my heart and mind. It was only after that they asked me to be a deacon, which I did.

    And I told my pastor, when I said, with tears, that I had to become a Catholic, that they were right – and that I had come to the conviction that there was a divinely appointed Church authority that I must submit to that meant I had to leave their congregation – the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Auckland.

    Best thing I did was to submit to what I thought an improper, and erroneous, command.


  16. JJ and JJS,

    I hear what both of you are saying and I have to concede that you make a valid point. However, JJ mentions that we can only submit to authority if we can do so without being forced to sin. My point is that if a pastor comes to discover the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or some other Catholic dogma rejected by Protestants, how should he respond if questioned on these matters by members of his congregation? If he tells the truth he violates his ordination vows, if he lies he violates the truth of God. I think he’s better off violating his ordination vows. My argument is that Keller and Frame are commendable in that they are willing, as leaders of their denomination, to take steps in the direction of true orthodoxy that have been historically denied by their tradition. There is no reason that the Westminster Confession cannot be changed or moderated. Many Reformed denominations adhere to a moderated form of the Westminster Standards already. These changes only come about when men challenge some of the errors of the authors of the WCF. John Frame has taken a great deal of criticism for his position on the 2nd Commandment. Yet, he has maintained it consistently and is simply doing what he’s suppose to do as a Reformed theologian (reformed and always reforming). However, I hear the point you are making and I think JJ is right that all Christians must submit to their authorities unless they are being asked to sin.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  17. @Jeremy:

    My point is that if a pastor comes to discover the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or some other Catholic dogma rejected by Protestants, how should he respond if questioned on these matters by members of his congregation? If he tells the truth he violates his ordination vows, if he lies he violates the truth of God. I think he’s better off violating his ordination vows.

    I completely agree. On the matter between me and my elders, I never said to them that I thought they were right (their view was that Communion should not be allowed until ‘marriageable age’ – their term). I only agreed to stop agitating about it, and, as a deacon, not to teach my view – but if they had asked me to affirm publicly their view, I would not have done so. I only meant that in the case at hand, if the denomination said “no images of Jesus” then – no images of Jesus! But I would not have said, if I had been that pastor, that I thought images of Jesus were wrong if I didn’t believe it.

    In fact precisely this issue arose in my deaconate ordination. I was to affirm all the stuff in the denominational standards – and one was making the ‘honouring of images’ as a sin. I said that I could not agree to affirm that because I didn’t think it was true. I was told that I could not be bound by anything I didn’t see affirmed in Scripture. I laughed and said that was a loophole you could drive a tank through – but they said they were happy to have me make that exception.

    They shouldn’t have done so, probably – some years after that I told them I had to become a Catholic – they should have seen it coming, I suppose, though I didn’t.


  18. Jeremy et al:

    I have great respect for Tim Keller. Last spring, I attended a service at Redeemer with the mission of reviewing the service and his sermon for First Things. You can read that review here. His book The Reason for God is not too shabby either. So I am of two minds about JJS’s criticism.

    On the one hand, he’s at least prima facie right that it’s dishonest to promise submission to an authority one proceeds to flout. But there are other possibilities here. One might be that Keller just didn’t vet the bulletin, but would have nixed the crucifix image if he had. That could be just negligence. Another might be that Keller no longer believes that the governing body of the PCA has any more real authority than he does. That could be just ego. But it might also be that, in his heart of hearts, Keller no longer believes that the PCA has divinely bestowed authority as distinct from merely human authority. In that case it wouldn’t be ego, but informed conscience.

    Of course one might still object that, in that case, Keller should just come clean and join a church he does believe has divinely given authority. Perhaps. But I have talked with many clergy for whom things are more complicated than that.


  19. JJS et. al.,

    It has been around two decades since I read it (and maybe more), but I have a fairly vivid memory of reading a PCA GA report from the (early?) ’80s that explicitly allowed for images of Christ to be used in the PCA (though not “used” in ways like veneration of course…), so that an image in a church bulletin would not constitute a transgression of PCA rules/law/whatever.

    Presumably this is to be understood as not constituting a break with the “system of doctrine, etc” of the WCF.

    Or am I just wrong about what I think I remember?

  20. Jeremy,

    I agree with you that one’s own conscience must be obeyed, but churchmanship 101 dictates that if a minister in a confessional denomination can no longer in good conscience obey the doctrinal standards to which he has vowed submission, then he is to declare his exceptions to his presbytery and submit to their collective judgment, and/or go through the process whereby the confessional statement he disagrees with may be changed.

    Please don’t feel the need to respond if you don’t want to, I’m just cranky today. Plus, Keller sort of rubs me the wrong way sometimes.

  21. In 2003 I visited R.C. Sproul’s church in Orlando while I was there for the Ligonier conference. BIG painting of Jesus on the cross in the back of the sanctuary. I was shocked! Shocked I tell you! My Reformed hero was breaking the 2nd commandment!

    Then I changed my view on images to conform to Sproul’s because I trusted his opinion so much. Sola Scriptura in action.

    David M.

  22. Notably, the belief that it is wrong for a Christian to look at images of Jesus has some interesting logical consequences:

    First, such a Christian must definitely not watch a movie like “The Passion of the Christ”, because any movie is just a quick succession of images one after the other. If it is wrong to look at an image on paper or a canvas, it is wrong to look at an image on a screen.

    Second, such a Christian must firmly believe, A PRIORI OF any scientific finding, that the Shroud of Turin is fake. Because if looking at images of Jesus is against his very will, the Lord could not have possibly left us with an image of Himself in order to tempt us, since God “tempts no one” (James 1:13).

  23. @ David Meyer– I live in Orlando and have visited Dr. Sproul’s church a number of times as well. I don’t really get the whole image of Jesus in his church as well. On the church’s website they claim to confess the WCF as well. However, I guess because they’re an independent church, they can do as they wish on this issue.

  24. @ Jeremy Tate:

    Actually, I don’t have any as I don’t disagree with this article at all. I was being a wee bit sarcastic and facetious. I am Catholic but previously a Calvinist, but from a family situation visited a local OPC congregation.

  25. Jeremy,
    I actually began life as a Catholic and left, and after a long journey am currently a member of a PCA church. I have not really thought deeply about the subject, I came to the site thinking about communion and consecration. However, my general sense is that for Catholics historically at least the danger was to attach spiritual meaning to the image/icon itself. I think that the Reformers were reacting to what they saw as a misuse of images/icons, and so the teachings came out of that background. Not sure if that is true, but that is what I suspect.
    Grace to you and peace.

  26. Joe,

    Yours is a story that is too often tragically true. Many begin life as a Catholic only to find themselves leaving the Church. There are, of course, differing reasons and circumstances, but often times, when one leaves the Catholic Church it is a result of not having really been exposed to the beauty and grandeur of the Faith. To be sure we do attach a spiritual meaning to the image/icon and for that we make no apology. It is the same type of thing one does when he holds in his hands an image of a departed loved one and kisses it and holds it dear to the heart. I do appreciate your coming to the site and do hope that you read some of the articles, even if only to get a feel or a sense of what the Church does teach, presented in a way that hopefully displays the beauty and depth of the Faith. Also, I would encourage you to listen in on the podcasts to give a sense of what many from the Reformed and Presbyterian world have discovered in coming into the fullness of the Faith. Welcome to Called to Communion!

  27. Joe,

    Thanks for commenting and welcome to Called to Communion. I think you’re right in saying that the reformers were reacting to what “they saw as a misuse of images/icons”. There was a great deal of corruption in the 16th century Church and many concerned belevers were quick to point to previously disputed practices (like venerating images) in the history of the Church in an attempt to identify the source of the problem. However, I think it’s telling that since Reformed Christians have now had five hundred years to think over this dispute some of them are starting to recognize the error of the 1st generation of reformers concerning this particular question.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  28. To A. David Anders, Tom Riello, et al: I freely acknowledge that we Reformed Protestants have had a bee in our bonnets about the issue of images for a long time. It is not an easy issue to deal with and we need to be very careful as to how we handle the subject. Handled in a very wooden way the response of the Scribes and Pharisees to The Incarnation might be the only proper one as mandated by the Second Commandment. And, in our zeal to avoid the obvious abuses of the R. C. church on this head, we Protestants have had a tendency to go too far the other way, especially recently, — as we tend to do sometimes regarding the subject of catechisms and confessions,– that is, we tend to eschew them altogether in our zeal to stand up for SOLA SCRIPTURA. As an extreme example of this, I am reminded of a favorite Presbyterian pastor who said that those who are newly born again should be locked up for a year or so– then they will be good for something. Of course there was an element of facetiousness to his remark, but also a certain seriousness also. To speak of this, I would like to refer back to my statement above of “the obvious abuses of the R.C. church” . You will say “What abuses were they?” I give one example. It’s quite lengthy, so please bear with me. A mystery Play: The Invention of the Cross

    The first scene represents Jerulalem, where the Emperor Constantine and Helena, his mother, have arrived to make search for the precious relic.
    Constantine to the Jews:
    Come tell me, Jews, what did you do
    With the cross whereon by you
    Christ was hanged so cruelly?

    As the play continues with many protestations from the Jews, Judas admits to knowing where it is buried. As they dig it up, three crosses are found and they are faced with the problem of determining which one was the one on which Christ died. Constantine’s mother, Helena, orders a dead body to be brought, as she says:
    To this corpse we will apply
    These three crosses carefully,
    And, if I be not mistaken,
    At the touch it will awaken.

    The three crosses are applied, and when the third touches the body it is resored to life.

    HELENA: O wonderful!
    Helena takes the true cross in her arms. Constantine kneels and worships it.

    O cross of Christ, how great thy power!
    In this place I thee adore;
    May my soul be saved by thee!

    HELENA: The cross hath brought to us God’s grace,
    The cross doth every sin efface.
    Here’s the proof……..

    This ‘play’ was put on by the mamelukes and canons, who sided with the Duke of Savoy, in an effort to show him that there was nothing to the rumors about the doubts being circulated concerning the attachment of Geneva to the Papacy. The year was 1523, in the early fall. Luther had burnt the bull from Rome; he had said before the Diet of Worms, “I cannot do otherwise”. The Reformation was advancing at Wittenberg. Four years earlier the Genevan patriot, Philibert Berthelier, had been executed by the Duke of Savoy for opposing him as he tread under foot the Liberties of the Genevans. Now, having subdued the city, the Duke, who was the brother-in-law of Charles V, and the uncle of Francis I of France,was welcomed with great ceremony and pomp, etc. Seizing the sovereignty, and expelling both liberty and the tendencies toward the Reformation with which he suspected the city was infected, he and his wife, Beatrice of Portugal, amused themselves with fetes, grandeur, flattery, and such ‘mystery plays’ as I have outlined above. But soon things would change. The Genevans make an alliance with the Swiss, and they triumph over the Savoyards— but not without great cost. Their struggle for Liberty was not very different from the struggle the American patriots would have with Great Brittain some two and a half centuries later. In 1523 the church was the state; there was no separation of church and state, and were it not for the Reformation, it would still be so. The Genevans made a great effort to restrict the authority of their bishop, Pierre de la Baume, to matters ecclesiastical, but he was also prince of the city, so what were they to do? In any case, many in Geneva put, by way of priority, the church above the question of Liberty. To do so is always dangerous, and indeed it is foolhardy if the church is not commited to the Bible alone. Belonging to such a church would make the worshipping of images so much easier because the distinction between the doctrines of God and the doctrines of men has been erased to a large extent, and we all tend to be creatures of habit. I am free to disagree with my Pastor, based upon what the Bible teaches; indeed a serious disagreement about the authority and integrity of the Bible is what lead to the founding of the PCA. You are not free to disagree with your priest –what will you use as a standard,–surely not the Bible!!! Thank you for your time and consideration. Yours, In Christ, A. Luse January 31, 2011.

  29. The Latin phrase “cujus regio, ejus religio” translates out as “whose realm, his religion.” This principle applied to most of Europe. Originally it supported Catholicism and Lutheranism. Tolerance for the Calvinists arrived in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia. It is history and is easily looked up.

    “You are not free to disagree with your priest.” Novel idea. I have disagreed with them on and off and have discussed my concerns with them. I have even brought them to acquaintance with passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which if I understand it correctly, was promoted by the Vatican because there was a need for the authoritative voice of the Church to be heard at the local level.

    It was the Bible that brought me out of Protestantism to Catholicism. The Bible is a Catholic book and the themes from the Old through the New Testament are Catholic themes, hinted at in the Old and fulfilled in the New by our Lord, His mother, and His Church. The new testament was written and the entire book codified by the Church of which I am a son. That too is history and is easily looked up.

    You read the Bible and see Calvinism. The Lutherans read the Bible and see Lutheranism. The Baptists read the Bible and see their religion. The Pentecostals read the Bible and see Pentecostalism. We could go on in this direction but I think you get the idea. You can look up Church in your local Yellow Pages if you require additional examples of the various understandings of the Bible. Clarity is not a strong suit on this issue since if one is the decider, one is hardly objective. The Truth, both the Person and the fact, are external in this case.

    So the authority you cite is not the Scripture itself, rather it is elsewhere. You have agreed with Calvin, at least with the PCA understanding of Calvin, noting that there are other understandings of Calvin, probably right in those local Yellow Pages.

    You are at the right website for some discernment on that position. Hopefully you’ll benefit from the responses you will get and the direction you’ll have to consider if you are to do justice to your endeavor in writing here.

  30. Arthur (re#28),
    To what extent do you think that the words ‘worship’ and ‘adore’ are used in the play? The term worship was not exclusively used to denote religious adoration of the One God that we use it today. Even in English during the 17th centuries one could use the term worship with regards to living persons and not be committing idolatry. Rather worship at times could mean ‘worth-ship’ or a word to show the high worth or value of a thing. The word adored could be used in a similar manner. I’m sure far better linguists and persons who understand the language of the time could make a far better case than mine however.

    If I might take you up on the idea of following a church that believes in the Bible alone, how does one within Sola Scriptura deal with schism and heresy? Is there really anyway to authoritatively place one’s own interpretation of the Scriptures above another believer? Does this add to the glory of God if there is no normative means by which Christ’s Body can maintain unity? According to the idea of Sola Scriptura are we justified in saying with St. Paul, one faith, one Lord, one baptism or do we multiply the number of faiths by the inability for the Sola Scriptura church to maintain an authority on the orthodox teaching of the Scriptures? Sorry for posting so many questions but at times there is a presupposition amongst the Reformed or Protestants that Sola Scriptura is the only means by which one can hold on to an absolute faithfulness to God.

    In the peace of the Lord,
    Steven Reyes

  31. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History & Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California posted [approvingly] the following excerpt written in 1692 by the Protestant Thomas Watson:

    Quest. 1. If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?

    Resp. No. Epiphanius seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, broke it in pieces; ’tis Christ’s Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ; we separate what God hath joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing, which makes him to be Christ.

    Regarding the claim about St. Epiphanius of Salamis see Steven Bigham’s book Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth. But consider Watson’s argument. The first premise, interpreted charitably so as to avoid Nestorianism, is that Christ is both God and man. The second premise is that pictures of Christ depict only His manhood not His Godhead. The third premise is that separating what God has joined is a sin. From the first two premises Watson draws his first conclusion, namely that to make a picture of Christ is to make Him to be but half Christ, leaving out that which makes Him to be Christ. From this, Watson infers that making a picture of Christ separates what God has joined together. And from that conclusion, along with the third premise, Watson draws the conclusion that making pictures of Christ is a sin. Written out with numbers, the argument goes like this:

    (1) Christ is both God and man.
    (2) Pictures of Christ depict only His manhood not His Godhead.
    (3) Separating what God has joined is a sin.
    (4) To make a picture of Christ is to make Him to be but half Christ, leaving out that which makes Him to be Christ. [from (1) and (2)]
    (5) To make a picture of Christ is to separate what God has joined together. [from (4)]
    (6) Making pictures of Christ is a sin. [from (3), and (5)]

    The problem with Watson’s argument is that (5) does not follow from (4), and thus the argument is invalid, because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. That (5) does not follow from (4) can be demonstrated by the fact that once a couple has wedded, and God has made them one flesh (Matt 19:6; Mk 10:9), it is not a sin to take a photo of the wife that does not include the husband, or to take a photo of the husband that does not include the wife. Depicting part of a union is not separating that union. An image that is incomplete in that it does not capture the entirety of what it images is not separating those aspects it does capture from those it does not. Otherwise it would be wrong to make any pictures of any human being, because for every person God has joined that person’s soul to his body, and yet no picture of a human being captures the entirety of that person’s soul, which is why we cannot look at a photo or portrait of a person and rightly conclude that we know all there is to know about that person.

    Of course it is possible for an image to misrepresent an object. But just because a picture does not exhaustively represent its object (i.e. communicate every property belonging to the object) it does not follow that the picture misrepresents the object. A misrepresentation communicates properties contrary to what the object actually possesses. An accurate representation, however, need not exhaustively represent the object; it need only communicate properties truly belonging to the object, and not communicate properties the object does not possess. Not communicating additional properties an object possesses is not the same as communicating properties the object does not have.

    So the fundamental mistake in Watson’s reasoning is his assumption that an incomplete depiction of a union separates that aspect of the union that it depicts, from that which it does not capture. That’s the additional premise he would need to move justifiably from (4) to (5).

  32. Bryan, #31

    Wasn’t Christ’s manhood alone visible to many people who saw him while He walked the Earth? How exactly was Christ always visible as God and man during His time here? Isn’t this just a consequence of the incarnation itself?

  33. Bryan 31, you err at multiple points:

    Chiefly you dismiss Watson’s premise using this counterexample:

    once a couple has wedded, and God has made them one flesh (Matt 19:6; Mk 10:9), it is not a sin to take a photo of the wife that does not include the husband, or to take a photo of the husband that does not include the wife.

    You equate the one-flesh union of a wife with husband, to the union of Christ’s manhood with his Godhead.

    In Scriptures, the one-flesh union of a wife with a husband is compared with (not equated with) the church’s relationship with Christ.

    You are making a false comparison.

    Even if you argue a fortiori that the union of Christ’s manhood with his Godhead, and therefore the separation is even less likely, you still fail to address the multiple prohibitions in the commandment, which says this:

    “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, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….

    There are two prohibitions here. It is not the mere making of an image; God himself separates the bowing down to the image [whatever it is] from the bowing down to himself. There are two points of Godly irritation:

    1. The making of an image itself (even if it is something that is in heaven)
    2. The bowing down to the image (even if it is something that is in heaven, implying, even if it is an image of God himself).

    Look at the rationale of John of Damascus:

    Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images

    St Basil says, “Honouring the image leads to the prototype.”… If, in common parlance, the king’s image is called the king, and the honour shown to the image redounds to the original, as holy Basil says, why should the image not be honoured and worshipped, not as God, but as the image of God Incarnate? …

    There are two components of this. First, Basil conflates the image of the king with the king himself. Bowing down to the king’s image is giving honor to the king. However, God says, this is not to be done. The image, whatever it is [even if it is an image of God] is not to be bowed down to on account of God’s jealousy.

    John of Damascus again:

    If we made an image of the invisible God, we should in truth do wrong. For it is impossible to make a statue of one who is without body, invisible, boundless, and formless. Again, if we made statues of men, and held them to be gods, worshipping them as such, we should be most impious. But we do neither. For in making the image of God, who became incarnate and visible on earth, a man amongst men through His unspeakable goodness, taking upon Him shape and form and flesh, we are not misled.

    The Second Council of Nicaea – 787 A.D. follows this rationale:

    Anathemas concerning holy images

    1. If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema.
    2. If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema.
    3. If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema.
    4. If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be anathema.

    God has, in the commandment, forbidden not only the making of images, but also the bowing down to them, even if they are said to be an image of God.

  34. Very incisive Bryan.

    My first thought about Watsons argument is that it is not possible to depict Christ’s Godhead directly, so to not depict it is not necesarily a wilfull ommision, because it is not even possible. If it were possible to depict, he would still not have a point (your example from human marriage shows this) because doing one thing does not necesarily exclude others. If I tell one of my kids I love them, that does not mean I dont also love the others. Or if we meditate on the Holy Spirit, that does not mean we have therefore rejected the Trinity.
    This is another case of the Protestant either/or vs. the Catholic both/and.

    If a crucifix is idolatrous, then so is my wedding ring.

  35. Hello John, (re: #33)

    You equate the one-flesh union of a wife with husband, to the union of Christ’s manhood with his Godhead.

    Actually, I never “equated” the two unions. I merely used the example of taking a photo of a spouse as an example of the falsehood of the claim that making a picture of part of a union separates that union.

    you still fail to address the multiple prohibitions in the commandment

    The purpose of my comment was not to address every aspect of the iconoclasm issue, but only to refute Watson’s argument. An act is not a “failure” that does not accomplish what one does not intend to accomplish by that act.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Update: See Gabe Martini’s “Is There Really a Patristic Critique of Icons?.”

  36. John (#33):
    You have an electronic image of your face in the comment. No one would deny that this is an image of you, even though it fails to show every portion of your body, much less the immaterial part. That was Bryan’s point. Moreover, by your own reasoning, you have violated the prohibition of the commandment by making an image of yourself. By reductio ad absurdam, your interpretation must be false. The semantic range of the term “image” in this context must be far narrower.

    The prohibition is clearly not against images that are intended to represent something else, but rather images that are intended to be the thing itself. That seems silly to us, but in more primitive culture, this is not an uncommon belief that one can appropriate the natural power of a thing (perhaps elemental spirit) into an object, much like the superstitious belief in necromancy, stealing the power of the spirits of the dead. This is why taking someone’s picture is often seen as a kind of soul-stealing in such animist cultures. There are even some sophisticated religions, like Shintoism, that have this kind of belief about spirits (kami).

    St. Basil’s point with respect to images that are simply intended to represent things, rather than to be animist avatars of their power, is that the honor is clearly *not* being paid to the image itself. Thus, it does not violate the prohibition in any sense, either in the making of the image or the honor paid to what is represented. Likewise, as noted by Bryan’s example and your photograph, what is represented can go beyond the boundaries of what is physically in the image.

  37. John, if no images of anything in heaven can be made, we must not make images of the apostles, or Mary, or the old testament saints. They are all filled with the spirit as christ is and he is their friend and brother, together as their lord. Christ is the elder brother of the family of the new humanity, and his person represents humanity in its fullest restored image.

  38. It seems to me your desire for images began when you longed to see Tim Keller preach “in person.” You had already begun to leave the essence of the Reformed faith at that point. Just a thought to ponder, since historically the Reformed faith has always emphasized the truths found in I Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:1ff; albeit inconsistently of course, e.g. George Whitefield.

  39. Good Morning Chris,

    I’m not sure how my desire to see Tim Keller preach in person is different from thousands of Protestants travelling to Geneva in the 16th century to see Calvin in person.

    Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) which must fundamentally change how the commandment concerning images ought to be understood. If cameras had existed in the 1st century should believers just toss out all the images of Jesus or should the Christ in the photos be adored? John Frame makes this argument as well in The Doctrine of God. The idea of the incarnation, of God becoming man, was almost inconceivable to the 1st century Jew. The understanding of images was turned on its head.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  40. Chris,

    If wishing to see someone in person constitutes a violation of the spirit of the Presbyterian ban on images, then I hope you are not a father. Or a husband. :-)

    Just sayin’. :-)



  41. Thanks for your reply, gents. You are basically missing the whole Soli Deo Gloria argument I am making, and how that relates to Christian leadership in the church. Anyone who venerates a particular Christian pastor/leader, may well be on the road towards Rome, which freely embraces such a piety of sight. There is a reason Calvin insisted on an unmarked grave. Just an honest difference between the two traditions, at least in principle.

  42. Chris,

    I understand the point you are making and I think it’s an important one.

    It may also be worth considering the influence of John Calvin himself on the Calvinist system of Doctrine or Luther’s influence on the Lutheran system of Doctrine. I would suggest to you that no single Catholic (Pope, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, ect) has contributed to Catholic Church teaching half as much as these men influenced the traditions which bare their names. There has never been a leader in the Catholic Church that has led thousands to abandon an entire system of doctrine in favor of another (as Luther and Calvin did). Calvin may have an unmarked grave, but the point is lost when thousands of Reformed pilgrims travel to Geneva in the summer of 2009 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth.

  43. A recently discovered underground church from the 5th century AD in the Cappadocia region of modern-day Turkey has frescoes on its walls, at least one of which shows an image of Christ. So either the Christians of the same century in which St. Augustine lived, and in which the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, AD 431) and the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, AD 451) took place, were already suffering the effects of ecclesial deism and falling into theological error (in which case it would be ad hoc to take these councils as authoritative), or Scott Clark’s position regarding the permissibility of making images of Christ (cf. in comment #31 above) is incorrect, and is itself a departure from what was acceptable practice in the early Church.

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