Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More against images

Calvin continues his rant in chapter 11 against the use of images.  He comes right out and declares that Pope Gregory was wrong in allowing images to be used in the church.

I must still disagree with Calvin in this matter, partially because I think he is assuming too much when people see a painting and partially because I think he is taking fragments out of Bible verses and not keeping them in proper context.  For instance, in 1.11.5 he cites two verses: "the wood is a doctrine of vanity" (Jer 10:8) and "a molten image is a teacher of falsehood" (Hab 2:18).  If you are of the mindset that any image (graven or otherwise) is an idol then you could use these two partial verses to make your point.  Look at Jerimiah chapter 10.  This is the Lord speaking to the Jews.  He begins by saying "Do not learn the ways of the Gentiles..."  Then he begins describing how a palm tree is cut down and fashioned into an idol.  It is lifeless and does nothing.  It must be carried by its people.  Then we get to verse 8: "But they [the Gentiles] are all together dull-hearted and foolish; A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine" (NKJV).  In context, this passage is referring to Gentiles worshiping false gods made from wood and not Jews painting pictures.

Habakkuk has a similar message.  Once again it is God speaking.  He is warning against greedy people, jealous people, violent people, and more.  The end of the chapter 2 reads:
       18 “ What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it,
      The molded image, a teacher of lies,
      That the maker of its mold should trust in it,
      To make mute idols?
       19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’
      To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’
      Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
      Yet in it there is no breath at all.
       20 “ But the LORD is in His holy temple.
      Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (NJKV)

A representation of God is not what is described in this passage.  It is an idol made from stone that its maker wants it to become a god with power. 

Calvin calls on earlier theologians to help with this cause.  Augustine had written against "images of God in a Christian temple" (Augustine, Faith and the Creed).  The Council of Elvira decreed, "...there shall be no pictures in churches, that what is reverenced or adored be not depicted on the walls."

Calvin does make a good point.  Pope Gregory and others had maintained that images are the books of the uneducated.  Calvin responded by declaring that if the church did its duty, there would be no uneducated people.  "Indeed, those in authority in the church turned over to idols the office of teaching for no other reason that that they themselves were mute."  He goes on to say, "What purpose did it serve for so many crosses - of wood, stone, silver, and gold - to be erected here and there in churches if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse [Gal 3:13], to expiate or sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb 10:10], to was them by his blood [Rev 1:5], in short, to reconsile us to God the Father [Rom 5:10]?  From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone."

Again, Calvin continues his argument against images.  He states, "And there is no difference whether they simply worship an idol, or God in the idol.  It is always idolatry when divine honors are bestowed upon an idol, under whatever pretext this is done."  Right after this he (incorrectly in my opinion) refers to Aaron creating the golden calf and having the people worship it.  He told them that it was this calf that led them out of Egypt.  I cannot think of a single passage in Scripture where God revealed himself as a calf.  Also, the people worshiped the calf, it was not simply an image to help show God's glory but an object of worship itself.

Yes, we must be careful not to attribute God's powers to inanimate object in church or anywhere.  Do we really need to remove all images from our churches for fear that they will not teach the people of God's glory but become gods in themselves?

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