A giant violation of the second commandment (that’s the one forbidding visible representations of God) burned to the ground yesterday near Cincinnati, OH (HT: Brad Lindvall).
The Reformed consensus on the rejection of images of Jesus is strong and ecclesiastical. Heinrich Bullinger confessed (Second Helvetic Confession, 1561/1566, ch. 4):
IMAGES OF CHRIST. Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. He denied that he had come “to abolish the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). But images are forbidden by the law and the prophets” (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9). He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever (John 16:7). Who, therefore, would believe that a shadow or likeness of his body would contribute any benefit to the pious? (II Cor. 5:5). Since he abides in us by his Spirit, we are therefore the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16). But “what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (II Cor. 6:16).
Heidelberg Catechism (1563):
96. What does God require in the second Commandment?
That we in no wise make any image of God,1 nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.2
1 Deut 4:15-19. Isa 40:18, 25. Rom 1:22-24. Acts 17:29. 2 1 Sam 15:23. Deut 12:30-32. Matt 15:9. * Deut 4:23, 24. * John 4:24.
97. May we not make any image at all?
God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping any likeness of them, either to worship them, or to serve God by them.1
1 Exod 23:24, 25. Exod 34:13,14. Deut 7:5. Deut 12:3. Deut 16:22. 2 Kgs 18:4. * John 1:18.
98. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?
No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His word.2
1 Jer 10:8. Hab 2:18,19. 2 2 Pet 1:19. 2 Tim 3:16,17. * Rom 10:17.
Westminster Larger Catechism (1647):
Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
For more on this see Danny Hyde’s summary of the Reformed case against images.
The second issue is that of interpreting providence. Some folk will be tempted (as I was) to appeal to this episode as a providential confirmation of our view. Others, however, may argue that this is a sign that the folk who built what we regard as an idol should have done a better job of it. As you can see, Interpreting providence is not as easy as looks.
We should not be skeptical about natural revelation. God has revealed his moral law in nature. This is the consensus Protestant view. That law reveals God’s righteousness and justice. It convicts sinners of their unbelief. The Apostle Paul teaches this explicitly in Romans 1-2 and by example in Acts 17. He mocked the Greeks for their paganism and their stupid attempts to represent God.
Nevertheless, there are limits to natural (general) revelation. Then there is sin. We sinners are busily suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1). We should be thankful, therefore for special revelation, God’s Word, which is quite clear about how God views any and all attempts to represent any of the triune persons. The Reformed churches addressed this question by studying God’s Word, coming to a consensus as to the teaching of God’s Word, and that agreement is summarized in the confessional statements quoted above.
The good news this morning (on the West Coast of N. America) is not that God struck down a silent idol but that Jesus, God the Son incarnate, is the “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15).The idol in Ohio is silent, but the Son of God is not silent. He is the “Word” (self-disclosure) who was in the beginning, who was with the Father, through whom the Spirit proceeded, and who is consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit (John 1; Nicene Creed). Where we have become image-making and image-worshiping idolaters, the Image of God worshiped his Father in true holiness and perfection. He did it in our place as our righteous substitute, surety, and mediator. Even as we contemplate the folly of giant statues of the ascended Lord of Glory let’s also give thanks for his pity and grace toward helpless idol makers.