A curiousity of history – Catholic Charlemagne’s view concerning the veneration of images

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Deuteronomy 4

9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons; 10 specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. 11 And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. 12 And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. 13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.

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The Pilgrim Church (Hardcover)

The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent is helpful in getting an overview of the history of Christianity, especially the history of Bible Christians, from the days of the apostles to the early 20th century. 

In it I learned something that surprised me about Charlemagne, that his view concerning images was opposed to that which Romanism held then and holds today (Nicaean CouncilsTrent, the Council of (Concilium Tridentinunm); Catechism of the Catholic Church).

In learning and trying to write about this, I’ve waded out into waters over my head, however, though the history is complex, I think it’s fair to draw conclusions from the basic elements I know. 

Emperor Charlemagne called and presided at the Council of Frankfurt, which not only addressed the adoptionist heresy but responded to the acts of the Second Council of Nicea, which upheld the veneration of images. The issue of making and venerating images was extremely contentious back then, even violent. I wish that we too would be concerned about it, but in a peaceful, respectful manner.

Selected timeline:

754 – The Iconoclast Council rules against the veneration of images, and many images are destroyed. (Sometimes this council is referred to derisively as “The Mock Synod of Constantinople.”) (Please note that this link takes you to Jesuit Fordham University.)

787 (786) – The Second Council of Nicea reinstates veneration and anathematizes the Iconoclast Council.

790 – The Caroline Books are written; in them the veneration  of images is shown to be unBiblical.

792 – Charlemagne forwards materials on the Second Council of Nicea to Offa, king of the Mercians in Britain.

794 – The Council of Frankfurt opposes veneration of images but retains their use for instruction and adornment.

800 – Charlemagne is crowned emperor. Under his leadership the Carolingian Renaissance of learning continues.

Opposition to the veneration of images remains in Francia and Britain for an extended period.

Seeing that the Council Frankfurt rejected the veneration of images, while retaining their use for instruction and adornment, it is fair to say that Charlemagne’s view of images was closer to that of many evangelicals today than it is to that of Catholics of his own day and ours.

What is your view? Evangelical, Catholic, Biblical? Guess my own view is showing…

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Charlemagne instructing his son, Louis the PiousThe COUNCIL of FRANKFURT AD 794 (from The Pilgrim Church)

“The question of images had an important place in the Council called and presided over by Charlemagne at Frankfurt (794).3  Both civil and ecclesiastical rulers were present, so that it legislated on all matters. The pope sent his representatives. The decisions of the Second Council of Nicea, which had established the service and adoration of the images, were set aside, though they had been confirmed by the pope and accepted in the East. In their zeal for images, those who favored their use went so far as to call their opponents not only iconoclasts but also ‘Mohammedans.’ Nevertheless it was laid down in Frankfurt that all worship of images was to be rejected; there was to be no adoration, worship, reverence, veneration of them; no kneeling, burning of lights or offering of incense before them, nor any kissing of lifeless images, even though representing the Virgin and the Child. But images might be allowed in churches as ornaments and as memorials of pious men and pious deeds.

“Also the teaching that God can only be worshiped in the three lanagues – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – was controverted, and it was affirmed that ‘there is no tongue in which prayer may not be offered.’ The representatives of the pope [Adrian I] were not then in a position to protest. The general feeling of the Franks, in their wars against, and missions to, the heathen Saxons was not favorable to idolatry.

“Louis, the third son of Charlemagne, who was at that time King of Aquitaine, succeeded his father as Emperor (AD 813). He was an admirer of a Spaniard named Claudius, a diligent student of the Scriptures, who had become renowned for his Commentaries on the Bible. As soon as he became Emperor, Louis appointed Claudius Bishop of Turin. The new bishop, with his knowledge and love of Scripture, took immediate advantage of the favorable circumstances created by the Council of Frankfurt, going even beyond its decrees in removing from the churches of Turin all images, which he called idols, not excepting the crosses. So many approved that no effective resistance could be made in Turin. Claudius also taught publicly that the apostolic office of St. Peter ceased with his life, that ‘the power of the keys’ passed to the whole episcopal order, and that the Bishop of Rome had apostolic power only so far as he led an apostolic life. There were naturally many who opposed this. Prominent among them was the abbot of a monastery near Nimes (look up for diacritical marks), yet even he admitted that most of the Transalpine prelates agreed with the Bishop of Turin.”

3. Latin Christianity, Dean Milman, Vol. III.

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The heartbreak is…

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…that there is “another jesus.” Jesus Himself warned that there would be many “christs”. Seen at every turn, the hand held out to you is false – there may be a wound, a bit of blood, or a scar, but the hand isn’t His. Please don’t run ahead of faith – faith pleases Him – and go to movies that lie. Be patient for you will see Him as He is.

Please don’t go to see The Young Messiah or Risen. No man or child can portray the God Man, Jesus Christ. To look into the eyes of a pretender is to be open to the lie.

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Matthew 24:5

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

1 John 3:2

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

1 Peter 1:8

whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

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The Easter season – is this celebration Biblical?

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Galatians 4

Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

1 Corinthians 11

23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

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As we approach the Easter season, please take time to sample the testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ on manmade holy days. Please go here to read the rest of “Deconstructing Krismass” from which these quotes on holidays were copied (Mint, Anise and the Cumin blog). 

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“To take the ground that the church has a discretionary power to appoint other holy days and other symbolical rites is to concede to Rome the legitimacy of her five superfluous sacraments and all her self-devised paraphernalia of sacred festivals. There is no middle ground. Either we are bound by the Lord’s appointments in his Word, or human discretion is logically entitled to the full-blown license of Rome.”

–John L. Girardeau (professor, Columbia Theological Seminary, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.), Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (1888).

Festival days are an entrenching upon God’s prerogative: for none can appoint an holy day, but he who hath made the days, and hath all power in his own hand, which is clear; first, from the denomination of them in both Testaments; in the old they are called the solemn feasts of Jehovah [Lev. 23:1; Ex. 32:5], not only because they were to be kept to Jehovah, but also because they were of his appointing.”

–John Bernard (Nonconformist minister, England), The Anatomy of the Service Book (1641).

“It is not a work but a word makes one day more holy than another.

“There is no day of the week, but some eminent work of God has been done therein; but it does not therefore follow that every day must be kept as a Sabbath. The Lord Christ has appointed the first day of the week to be perpetually observed in remembrance of his resurrection and redemption. If more days than that had been needful, he would have appointed more. It is a deep reflection on the wisdom of Christ, to say, He has not appointed days enough for his own honour, but he must be beholding to men for their additions. The Old Waldenses witnessed against the observing of any holidays, besides that which God in his Word hath instituted. Calvin, Luther, Danaeus, Bucer, Farel, Viret, and other great Reformers, have wished that the observation of all holidays, except the Lord’s Day, were abolished. A Popish writer complains that the Puritans in England were of the same mind. So was John Huss and Jerome of Prague long ago. And the Belgic Churches in their Synod, Anno 1578. … All stated holidays of man’s inventing, are breaches of the Second and of the Fourth Commandment. A stated religious festival is a part of instituted worship. Therefore it is not in the power of men, but God only, to make a day holy.”

–Increase Mather (Nonconformist minister, New England), Testimony Against Prophane Customs (1687).

“When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.”

–Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 81:4.

“I would to God that every Holy-day whatsoever beside the Lord’s Day, were abolished. That zeal which brought them first in, was without all warrant of the Word, and merely followed corrupt reason, forsooth to drive out the Holy days of the Pagans, as one nail drives out another. Those Holy-days, have been so tainted with superstition that I wonder we tremble not at their very names.

“See the place, Oecolampadius (in Isa. 1:4), thinketh that no wise Christian will condemn us. I never heard wise man yet, who did not judge that a great part at least of other feasts besides the Lord’s Day should be abolished.”

–William Ames (Nonconformist minister, exiled to the Netherlands; professor of theology at Franeker), A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship (1633).

“Q. 3. May not the Popish holy-days be observed?

“A. The Popish holy-days ought not to be observed, because they are not appointed in the Word; and, by the same reason, no other holy-days may be kept, whatsoever pretence there be of devotion towards God, when there is no precept or example for such practice in the holy scripture.”

–Thomas Vincent (Nonconformist minister, London), An Explicatory Catechism: or, An Explanation of the Assembly’s Catechism (1708).

“We therefore condemn the following errors, and testify against all who maintain them:

“1. That any part of time is appointed in divine revelation, or may be appointed by the church, to be kept holy, in its weekly, monthly, or annual returns, except the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath.”

–Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (Covenanters), Reformation Principles Exhibited (1806).

“[The Waldenses] contemn all approved ecclesiastical customs which they do not read of in the gospel, such as the observance of Candlemas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and the feast of Easter. . . .”

–William Sime, History of the Waldenses (1827).

“We believe that the Scriptures not only do not warrant the observance of such days [i.e., “holy” days], but that they positively discountenance it. Let any one impartially weigh Colossians 2:16, and also, Galatians 4:9-11; and then say whether these passages do not evidently indicate, that the inspired Apostle disapproved of the observance of such days.”

–Samuel Miller (professor, Princeton Theological Seminary, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.), Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolic Constitution of the Church of Christ.

“It is notorious, that wherever other days than the Sabbath are religiously observed, there that holy day is less strictly observed than its nature demands–less strictly than it is generally observed by those who regard it as the only set time which God has commanded to be kept holy. It is also notorious, that holy days, as they are called, are times at which every species of vice and disorder is more flagrantly and more generally indulged in, than at any other time; so that these days are really and highly injurious to civil society, as well as an encroachment on the prerogative of God.”

–Ashbel Green (minister, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.), Lectures on the Shorter Catechism (1841).

“[T]hose who quote those portions of Scripture in opposition to the idea of a divine obligation on Christians to observe the Sabbath are found for the most part, in one section of the Church, and as members or dignitaries therein they are very far from being consistent. Their reasoning on behalf of their theory and their practice are diametrically opposed. If the Apostle Paul were permitted to revisit earth, we might imagine him addressing them somewhat after the following manner:–‘Ye men of a half-reformed Church, ye observe days and times. Ye have a whole calendar of so-called saints’ days. Ye observe a Holy Thursday and a Good Friday. Ye have a time called Easter, and a season called Lent, about which some of you make no small stir. Ye have a day regarded especially holy, named Christmas, observed at a manifestly wrong season of the year, and notoriously grafted on an old Pagan festival. And all this while many of you refuse to acknowledge the continued obligation of the Fourth Commandment. I am afraid of you, lest the instruction contained in my epistle, as well as in other parts of Scripture, has been bestowed upon you in vain.’”

–Robert Nevin (minister, Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland and editor of the Covenanter Magazine in Ireland), Misunderstood Scriptures (1893).

“Q. 7. Is it not a daring intrusion upon the prerogative of God to appoint as a stated religious festival any other day or season, such as Christmas or Easter?

“A. It is an impeachment of the wisdom of God and an assertion of our right and ability to improve on his plans.”

–James Harper (professor, Xenia Theological Seminary, United Presbyterian Church), An Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (1905).

[Rules that help distinguish between truth and lies, walking in divine truth promotes godliness] For example when debating whether to maintain Lenten Eve (Fat Tuesday), Epiphany (when the wiseman saw Christ), and other Roman Catholic holidays or to radically abolish them, some people may say yes and others no. However, the godly immediately know the right way, for they understand that Roman Catholic holidays have no basis in Holy Scripture and that regular observance of them offers occasion for much sin. The celebrations cause great disorder in the places or homes where they are observed and become a stumbling block to real holiness as they strengthen the old man. The godly swiftly conclude that Reformed Christians who would gladly abolish or ignore the feast days have the truth on their side.”

–Willem Teelinck [1579-1629], The Path of True Godliness, p. 101.

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The Practice of Idolatry within the Church by Richard Bennett and Randall Paquette

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II Corinthians 5:16

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”

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Berean Beacon logo

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Used by permission; see note below.

November 16, 2015

Praise for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” resounded from pulpit to pew.  It is evident that there are many Christians who, without reservation, are prepared to accept movies about “Christ,” even one in the Catholic tradition.  The question, therefore, that must be asked is this: In the light of Scripture, is the position defendable of the people in accepting movies with Christ being portrayed, or do they fall under the condemnation of Almighty God?

No Revival Without the True Gospel and a Righteous Anger Against Images

Evangelicals have discovered themselves confronting crisis upon crisis.  After decades of endeavor and aggregate growth, moral turpitude and the apparent demise of marriage, like corrupt weeds, blossom before their faces.  The modus vivendi embodied in the 1994 “Evangelicals & Catholics Together” (ECT) still confuses and deceives.  Its ecclesiastical endorsement has further led many Evangelical churches to believe that there is no essential difference between Catholicism and biblical Christianity.  The dramatic “Passion” movie perpetuates the lie.  In the Evangelical camp, the carnal pandering of “seeker sensitive” churches loiters unquestioned.  The unregenerate fill the pews and silence the pulpits.  There is no conviction of sin, because the Gospel is not openly admitted or acknowledged.  Within the Reformed churches there is division, contention, and strife caused by the “Auburn Avenue controversy” and the “New Perspective on Justification.”  Revival has been preached, pursued, and prayed for and still remains aloof.  “We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were, brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.”[1] 

In the soil of “another” Gospel no revival can spring!  In the temple of images and pictures can come no renewal!  From Moses unto Hosea, those who sought to revive the spirit of the nation and would have hearts return to a true worship of God, condemned images.  And that which is condemned in the Old Testament is not justified in the New Testament.[2]   The great revivals in Christian history have flourished under the true Gospel and the denunciation of idolatry.  So it was with the Vaudois, the Waldenses, the Lollards, the Bohemians, and the Reformers.  In the Dark Ages, luminaries such as John Wycliffe and John Huss attacked the corruption of idolatry and preached the Gospel.

In the USA during the Great Awakening, preachers inspired by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and William Law, sought to glorify God in the Gospel by uniting veracious worship with the censuring of images.  “If Jesse Lee had not come into Massachusetts, some one else pressed in spirit, like Paul at Athens ‘when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry’, would have found utterance and would have had followers.”[3]  Following Jonathan Edwards’ publication of the journal of David Brainerd,

“The revival had greatest impact when Brainerd emphasised the compassion of the Saviour, the provisions of the gospel, and the free offer of divine grace.  Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared….Their communities were filled with love.”[4]  

The witness of this testimony must not remain unheeded if we are to receive the blessing we long for from On High, for “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?”[5]

Christ’s Divine Person is Revealed Only in One Human Body

Christians reason within themselves that since God became a man in the person of Christ, a picture of Jesus is but an image of an image.  Their rationalization is that the Incarnation is justification, if not authorization, for us to depict Christ in human form.  They argue further that no portrait can display a man’s soul, thus Christ’s body can be legitimately pictured distinct from His Divinity.  Poor deluded Christians, unwilling to sever the last vestiges of carnal thinking, averse to bringing “every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  Amongst humanity, Christ remains unique.  Any attempt to represent this uniqueness in human form (an achievement that God alone could do in the Incarnation) destroys it.  The multiplicity of depictions with various facial features, hues and expressions, denies it.  A man has but one nature, and thus he can be legitimately portrayed with no offense to what he is, but not so Christ who is also Divine; and to make Him into an “image like unto corruptible man” is to transgress the Law and insult the Godhead.  Those who saw Christ upon this earth had before their eyes “God manifest in the flesh.”  What animistic artist or photographer could claim such for his effort?  What do we have then?  Is it not an attempt to create a likeness of the One of Whom we have no likeness?  This then is the very essence of idolatry – the false representation of God.  In the silence of our chambers we should reverently pray, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”,[6] and lo, the answer thunders down through the ages, “I am God, and there is none like me.”[7]

The Person of Christ consists of two indivisible natures – the perfectly “Human” and the perfectly “Divine.”  He who was manifested in the flesh was really and truly God.[8]  And yet, He had real human flesh.  “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.[9]  Pictures or movies of Christ are merely portraits of a human body.  It is totally impossible to show forth the divinity of Christ; this only His body in heaven can now do, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”[10]  The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, and not figuratively, for he is both God and Man.  This “fullness” can never be found in types, figures, or likenesses of Him.  Any such replication is utter deceit.  Whenever a bodily form is ascribed to Christ Jesus, it remains a gross lie.  This fact—that Christ Jesus is both God and Man—is a great and central doctrine of Christian faith.  What Evangelicals fail to comprehend in making portrayals of Him is that by so representing Christ, they are perjuring themselves before the All Holy God because all depictions of Him succeed in showing humanity bereft of divinity.  “What profiteth the graven image…a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?”[11]  The words of Scripture alone patently present the divinity of Christ.

Christ Jesus in His Person and perfect human nature is the express image of God.  Whoever has seen Him has seen the Father.[12]  If Jesus were only a man, albeit the best of men, it would be quite acceptable to portray Him.  But Christ is not!  He is the express image of God, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.”[13]  This image involves His eternal essence and as such is singular and cannot not replicated or reproduced.  Those who accept pictures and movies of Christ fail to comprehend that they have reduced Christ’s incarnation to humanity alone.  These representations ignore the unique character of Christ Jesus as the unexampled “express image” of God.  While He is truly Man, yet Christ’s perfect humanity cannot be separated from His divinity.  Such practice perpetuates the heresy of Nestorius who taught that Jesus was two distinct “persons,” one human and one divine.[14]  The uniqueness of Christ Jesus coupled with the command not to practice idolatry is given in the strongest terms in the New Testament.  “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”[15]    

There can be no doubt that it is He of whom it is said, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” … “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made”; Who Himself declared “I and my Father are one,” was worshiped as “my Lord and my God”!  He is very God of very God.

Do we imagine that God in His omniscience did not foresee portraits, pictures, canvas, or cameras?  Are we wiser than He?  There beats within the heart of every man a craving for visible forms conjured up in the human mind to give expression to religious beliefs.  Because of this evil desire, the Lord God has forbidden idolatry, warning of its corrupting influence.  If believers have been deceived in this matter, it is our desire and prayer that they see the truth of God’s Word and understand that they have been feeding upon ashes and say, “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain.”[16]

Presentations That Confuse the Distinction Between God and His Created World

A picture or movie of Christ, because of inherent limitations, resides in the world of created things from imaginations.  Whatever aspirations may be intended, it can rise no higher than that which it is.  Hence, it blurs the distinctness between God and man, confusing the Creator with the creation.  The Apostle Paul reveals the cause of this confusion,  “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”[17]  This digression, the Apostle tells us, continues because, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man….”[18]  The problem is this: “to whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?”[19]  The Scriptural answer is clear: “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”[20]

Any attempted portrayal of Christ transforms the medium itself into a mediator between God and man.  The viewer, restricted within the confines of this humanistic plane, imagines that he knows the Lord, at least in some measure.  With this instilled image of Christ throbbing within his mind, the viewer is allowed to wander, silently thinking his own thoughts, constrained by an impression that is not Christ.  Thus, the viewer’s mind continues to be conformed to the world by the created image and by his own subjectivity.  Although such visual presentations appeal strongly to the sensual impulses, they do not explicitly present to any man the objective truth concerning the Lord. 

Our knowledge of Jesus Christ must be formed from the truths in Scripture and not by subjective impressions of artistic interpretation.  In the latter, the artist and the viewer combine God and His creation into a single entity within the picture, and this is the visible expression of idolatry.  This spurious image lays the foundation for a pantheistic concept of God.  Marvel not then that, “Soaring pagan numbers have churches worrying and calling for stricter controls on cult TV programs and films that celebrate sorcery like “Harry Potter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”[21]  The command given in Scripture is to choose God’s way so as to know and follow Christ in His Word!  When obeyed, upon the pages of Scripture, in the words of the Law, in the grace of the Gospel, we know Him in spirit and truth. 

We do not see Jesus Christ with the physical eye.  This is the whole meaning of faith.  The excellence of the object of faith is the unseen Jesus.  While sense deals with things that are seen, reason is a higher plane.  Faith, however, ascends further still, and assures us of abundance of particulars that sense and reason could never have found.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[22]  Faith nourishes itself upon the power and promises of the Unseen, “I had fainted unless I had believed to see.”[23]  We can understand, then, the logic and consistent purpose of why the Lord God forbids images. 

Pictures and Movies That Break God’s Law and Defile God’s Grace

Evangelical churches demonstrate an ignorance of the meaning of the Second Commandment, which forbids using images to represent God. 

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”[24] 

This commandment prohibits the creation and use of graven images.  It essentially brings to mind that God is Spirit, not to be conceived of or fashioned in man’s image or any other creature’s image.  In Deuteronomy 4:12-16 is found a parallel passage,

“And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.  And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.  And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.  Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:  Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”

What is forbidden is the similitude of the Lord Himself.  No similitude of the Divine was given to the people and none was to be made.  In the New Testament we see that no “similitude” of Christ Jesus was given, and the commandment must remain unabridged.  Any similitude or image of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit is sinful and insulting to the majesty of the Lord God.  And what of those who seek balm for their conscience in preferring pictures over statues, as if the lack of one dimension, depth, transforms the image into a thing acceptable unto God?  They well imagine that they have acted more nobly toward the Lord because theirs is not a “graven image.”  It comforts them not to be upon the Roman road of idolatry, oblivious to the fact that they parallel it upon the Greek route.[25]  God forbids the making of a likeness of anything.  Therefore, it is a transgression of God’s law to make a “representation” or “semblance” of anything in heaven or upon the earth, to delineate God.  He calls those who break this commandment “those who hate me,”[26] and those who keep the commandment, “those who love me.”[27]  Punishment for iniquity is promised to the transgressors, while blessing is pledged to its adherents.  From God’s perspective, idolatry is spiritual adultery; so, with the indignant reaction of a betrayed husband, He continues, “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”[28]

The Lesson of the Golden Calf

The children of Israel languished in impatience and unbelief at the base of Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses, who seemingly would not return.  Impatience grew into murmuring, murmuring into loud complaining.  They had never seen God with their eyes; and now His anointed, “this Moses, . .we wot [know] not what is become of him.”  He too, it appeared, had vanished, never to return.  “Up,” they enjoined Aaron, “make us gods.”  The natural yearning of their hearts demanded visible forms for religious expression and someone or something to lead them now that they believed Moses was gone.  But there is a price to be paid; the pure must be forfeited to produce the crass.  They must part with their gold and bring it to Aaron; he took it, “and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods (Elohim), O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.  And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.”  The children of Israel looked upon this idol and called it “Elohim …which brought thee up out of Egypt.”  Aaron ratified this designation, for with the image as centerpiece, tomorrow would be a feast to Jehovah.  But what did God see?  The answer is given in Scripture, “They made a calf in Horeb and worshipped the molten image.  Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass; they forgat God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt.”[29]

The Apostle Paul tells us that idolatry is changing, “the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.[30]  What was their glory, and is the Church’s glory, is in truth the glory of God Himself; and it cannot, and must not, be represented by an image of a man or a beast.  God, knowing the evil inclinations of men, and their struggle to justify their ungodly deeds, especially those done in the name of religion has declared, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[31]  Whatever theologians may debate concerning this verse, one thing is clear, if you give a physical representation to Christ’s face, then you have defined and defiled the glory of God.  Whether a “man” or an “ox that eateth grass,” any attempt to replicate that glory, save that which God does Himself, is idolatry.

An Overview of the Christian History of Idolatry

The Apostles, whose gospels and epistles are the very oracles of God, are men who could say, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life,”[32] never give a physical description of Christ.  Rather, they proclaimed what He said and what He did.  They emphasize His death and resurrection, explaining the significance of these events, and the necessity of faith in them in order to be saved.  The Apostle Paul pointedly states that we know Jesus no longer after the flesh,[33] He is now known through faith.  Peter says of Christ, Whom having not seen, ye love, in Whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  And men and women, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, exulted in the unseen Christ just as the Patriarchs had done in the unseen Jehovah; neither did they clamor for a description of the Lord.  The New Testament’s muteness on this point is an essential compliance with the dictates of the Old Testament.  Any other existing source claiming to provide a description of Christ is extracanonical.[34]

In the first two centuries of the Church, Christians did not use images to represent Christ.  During this infancy of the Church, the early Christians would not bow to the image of Caesar or to any work of man’s hands.  They had no images, statues, or pictures; they well understood that the God they worshiped would never have accepted such an affront, for He alone is God.  How then did idolatry come into the Church?  It was through a process of time, indifference, ignorance, and deceit.  In the year 313 A.D., when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire, pagans by governmental edict, and not regeneration, found themselves to being called “Christians.”  Not knowing God or the Gospel, they flooded the Church, idols in their arms, in their homes, in their minds, and in their hearts.  True believers, however, opposed pictures and statues as representing Christ.  The controversy raged back and forth for several centuries, and there was much turmoil over the matter.  In the midst of this battle, Pope Gregory the Great I (604) presented a seemingly innocent and compellingly plausible argument in their favor.  He wrote to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles, who had destroyed the images in his diocese, “What books are to those who can read, that is a picture to the ignorant who look at it; in a picture even the unlearned may see what example they should follow; in a picture they who know no letters may yet read.  Hence, for barbarians especially a picture takes the place of a book.”[35]  Such carnal reasoning usurps authority from the Word of God.  But in truth, if the illiterate cannot read, they can certainly “hear,” and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” because “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Then, in the year 754 A.D., a large council of bishops declared that such pictures are not biblical and therefore are not acceptable in the Church.  Twenty-three years later, however, another council of bishops reversed that teaching.  The Second Council of Nicea, which met in 787 A.D, required the use of pictures and statues as signifying Christ.  This inexcusable idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church led into what is called the Dark Ages.  When the Reformation came, and with it the true Gospel, there was also a condemnation of the evils of idolatry.  To escape idolatry, many people left the Catholic Church, and Bible-based churches sprang up in many countries.  At the time of the Reformation, both pastors and people realized that everything respecting God that is learned from images is both false and futile.

“O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.”[36] 

How did it come to this?  It may well be argued that the spirit of Jezebel is alive in the Catholic Church, and that the Church is teaching God’s servants “to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”[37]  As with any education, this one commences in the elementary grades:  the decorative “religious” pictures, the carnal reasoning, the excuses and justification, and the assurance that the incipient deed will go no further.  But the Catholic Church knows that every man is at heart an idolater, and it takes but a blink of the eye to go from hanging an image to bowing the knee.  Thus, once the rudimentary lessons are learned and accepted, her students are almost certain to progress into a papal form of idolatry.  Unless vigilance is exercised in guarding against that initial step, the conclusion is inevitable.  Because Christ is the focus of true Christianity, any picture that attempts to portray Him becomes special in comparison to all others.  Although the picture is not Christ, nor is it an honest replication of Him, eventually in the mind of observer it will be both.  It must certainly be the latter initially, else why hang a picture of an unknown stranger upon the wall?  Ask the owner of that picture, “Who is this?” and he shall answer without hesitation, and with no more proof than general consensus, “It is Jesus,” when in fact it is not, and thus it fulfills all the criteria necessary to qualify as an idol—a false representation of God.  And because he is certain that this image is Jesus, he is bound by his respect for Christ to honor the picture, but “honor” will eventually give way to “reverence,” and “reverence” shall cede to “veneration.”  Surely this is the curse that he binds about the necks of his children’s children’s children.  It is to be feared that this warning will fall upon deaf ears.  Many who call themselves Christian have a cavalier attitude toward the issue of idolatry.  They rationalize using circular reasoning along these lines, “I am saved and I use pictures, movies, and videos of Christ; therefore, pictures, movies, and videos of Christ cannot be wrong for Christians.”  Hence, God no longer is adjudicator of what is right and what is wrong; the creature is, while presuming upon the holy gift of salvation as a license to do his own pleasure.  God’s Word ceases to be the basis for what is believed, but rather what is believed becomes the interpreter of God’s Word.  In effect, the “Christian’s will” becomes the arbitrator that reins in and corrals, or confines, the truth of Scripture.  How much easier is it then to relegate the Word of the Lord to the status of a “silent partner” when one adopts Catholicism’s official teaching, “By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new ‘economy’ of images”?[38]  Sadly, it becomes much easier.

It seems that none of us is ever far from the taint of Egyptian idolatry.  It cleaves to our garments, and it beckons us back during the night watches.  Unless prayerful and vigilant, we succumb, perhaps not at once, but by moments and by steps.  That which was an object of our indifference becomes a focus of our need.  Mark this well: the pictures that this generation hangs in the temple will be the idols that the next generation shall worship.  There is little hesitation to insert the adjective “sacred” before the word “picture,” and this provides the rationale for veneration.  How many Christians have defended the concocted image of Christ adorning their wall by saying that they worship not the image but that which the image represents.  Do they honestly believe by this false argument they honor God?  Indeed, they speculate as the papists do today, and assume as the pagans did many centuries ago.  The ancient pagans lived in societies awash with statues and shrines dedicated to each of their gods.  These idolaters also believed that when they knelt before their effigies, they were worshipping the gods, which the image represented.  No doubt this association, allied with natural superstition, imparted a conscious quality to the idol for the worshipper, but let this fact be counted a warning rather than a distinction.  Does not the Church of Rome, where truth once again bows to superstition, claiming “miracles of animation” regarding their idols?  Her votaries [public vows] have testified of statues that move, weep, and bleed.[39]  This is the legacy of all idolatry. 

What Then Should One Do?  

As we read of the “high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,”[40] and “the better promises”[41] that He has for His people in the New Covenant than in the Old, we have a great well-founded hope for true conviction on this fundamental issue.  The promise given is explicit and most encouraging:  “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”[42]  The efficacy of Christ Jesus’ blood is very great.  It is sufficient to reach to the very soul and conscience.  A soul defiled with idolatry can be purged, its conscience relieved and enabled to serve the living God.  The blood of Christ not only convicts through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, but it also absolves the true believer, enabling him to serve the living God in a worthy manner.

The Apostle Paul proceeded most strongly, calling on all to repent from the absurdity of idolatry.  This is meant not simply those who knew it indeed was idolatry, but those who in ignorance did so:  “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”[43]  Men greatly dishonor God if they make Him after the likeness of a mere human body.  It is like unto the sin of apostasy, in that it puts Christ Jesus to open shame.  Most beloved, to think that it is acceptable to present the Lord in imagined human flesh that is not His own glorified flesh is to engage in idolatry.                     

There is no higher obligation than to obey the command of God.  It can be done.  God does not expect the impossible.  It is a fearful thing to think that some have concluded that this matter of idolatry is inconsequential.  There will be no revival in the absence of the true Gospel.  There will be no revival without sincere repentance for making and using images, which is the predominant sin of movies and pictures that portray the Lord Jesus Christ. ♦

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”[44] 

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Permission is also given post this article in its entirety on Internet WebPages. Our Website is: http://www.bereanbeacon.org

Pastor Randall Paquette may be contacted for preaching or speaking engagements at:

paquette@tds.net

[1] Isaiah 26:18

[2] God will cast all idolaters into “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1-8; Acts 17:29-30; and Romans 1:22-25

[3] http://216.239.37.104/search?q=cache:l4a0QsT5bn8J  3/12/04

[4] http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/fire/ff-1700.htm  3/12/04

[5] II Corinthians 6:16

[6] Exodus 15:11

[7] Isaiah 46:9

[8] I Timothy 3:16

[9] Hebrews 2:14

[10] Colossians 2:9

[11] Habakkuk 2:18

[12] John 1:14; 14:9

[13] Hebrews 1:3

[14] Nestorianism is the heresy named after Nestorius who was born in Syria and died in 451 AD.  He advocated the doctrine that Jesus had two distinct persons.  The biblical solution to that controversy was stated at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) when it was shown that Christ has two natures in His one person.  On questions about whether the two natures can be merged into one, confused or separated, a later the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) showed biblically that the two natures can never be confused with each other, nor can they be separated from each other.

[15] I John 5:20-21

[16] Zechariah 10:2

[17] Romans 1:21

[18] Romans 1: 22-23

[19] Isaiah 40:18

[20] Romans 12:2

[21] 2003 Reuters Limited 6/20/03

[22] Hebrews 11:1

[23] Psalm 27:13

[24] Exodus 20:4-6

[25] The Greek Orthodox honor and kiss icons.  These are pictures and not statues.  They state “use of icons was defended and upheld at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  The end of that council is still celebrated as the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’ in today, and icons remain a central part of Orthodox faith and practice.” 

http://www.fact-index.com/e/ea/eastern_orthodoxy.html

[26] Exodus 20:5

[27] Exodus 20:6

[28] Exodus 20: 5

[29] Psalm.106: 19-21

[30] Roman 1:23

[31] II Corinthians 4:6

[32] I John 1:1

[33] II Corinthians 5:16“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”

[34] Not included in the canon of Scripture.  Ex.: The Apocrypha is not included in the Protestant Bibles.

[35] Ep. ix, 105, in P. L., LXXVII, 1027 http://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/Catholic_Tradition_art.html 3/15/04

[36] Isaiah 3:12

[37] Revelation 2:20 She has plied her trade with unparalleled success, from Babylon to India.  But her greatest achievement, the Church of Rome today, has its adherents kneel before a crucifix (which is an idol) whilst the priest raises before it an Eucharist, the oblation of the “bloodless” sacrifice of the Mass—and then amidst the orchestration of this solemn act, her votaries, in their turn, eat this thing sacrificed unto idols precisely as Rev.2:20 charges.  But how did this come about?  Not over night.  Jezebel taught in stages commencing their education with the primary lessons: pictures hanging in homes to inspire, used to teach the illiterate, and statues used to represent, the “saints,” Christ, et al., and all to be pious ornaments in the churches, etc.  But the end was inevitable.  Rest assured, should the Lord tarry, the same Evangelical churches, which today tolerate pictures, will one day be having their communion with one on the table in front of the elements (perhaps some already do) and eventually will place it in a predella and bow before it and eat their bread.  Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  It is that same Jezebel who was “suffered” [tolerated] by the elders at Thyatira that is being tolerated in Evangelicalism today, and the result is assured.

[38] Catechism, Para 2131

[39] US News & World Report 3/ 29/ 93.  “The case of the Weeping Madonna,” pp. 46-50

[40] Hebrews 8:1

[41] Hebrews 8:6 “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”

[42] Hebrews 9:14

[43] Acts 17:30

[44] I John 5:21

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