Images and the Indian Church

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by steadfast7, Apr 12, 2011.

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  1. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Hello Friends,
    Great to be back on PB after a long while ... greetings to the Brethren, old and new!

    So, I'm in India, working with a Reformed Baptist church planter affiliated with Heart Cry (Paul Washer). My observations so far is that Indian Christianity in the villages makes lots of use of images of Christ (and Mary, since they purchase them from Catholic sources), but not for the purpose of veneration, as is the case with their religion. They often have posters on their walls of very random scenes and celebrities, I think simply to add colour to their homes, and to reflect things that mean something to them. Obviously from a Confessional standpoint, the issue of images is settled, but what are some strategies for instructing and exhorting them in this area if they are not strictly Reformed? Is it even possible for it to be deemed acceptable?
  2. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    Teach the people from your confession of faith or catechism, whichever that is?
    I know the Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms explicitly condemn Christ being portrayed in an image.
    If the opportunity is there, it would probably be a good idea to start a catechism/confession class and go through the whole thing.
  3. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    My thought would be to just thoroughly teach through the broad application of the Ten Commandments.

    The WLC with Scripture proofs is a good reference, even if you are not teaching the Catechism.

    Dr. Sproul has written that idolatry is perhaps the most basic human sin. John Calvin called the human heart an "fabricum idolarum" (idol factory).

    While that sin does relate to many other sins, some in a most obvious and direct way, my inclination would be to not emphasize it per se- just teach through thoroughly (and repeatedly) the broad application of the Ten Commandments, in twin with the message of God redeeming sinners.

    You can draw from church history occasionally also in exposition.
  4. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks David. Do you suppose there are ways of speaking about images from within their culture and paradigm that may help to lead up to the climax in the confession?
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Why not begin with Paul, Act.17 ? He went into a situation in the Gentile world, with religion every bit as image-saturated as India is at present.

    The Jewish faith had always been anti-idol (even when it was filled with disobedient idolaters imitating the surrounding culture). Christians, as with their father Israelites of old, are different from heathens. Completely, on this subject.

    And I'd say, following Paul's example, that you don't downplay that distinctive; but rather you make the MOST of it. According to Paul, Act.17:29, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man." The image is NOT like God, not like Christ. It is leading them not toward God and knowing him through Christ, but away from him.

    Everyone KNOWS better than to worship God with idols. However, they suppress that knowledge. The Spirit will open the eyes of his elect to see this truth, and repent. So, preach the truth.
  6. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Scott, please elaborate on the church history part. From my limited understanding the debate was very divided with the iconodules getting their way in the 7th council.

    Also, what would be a good response if they say that they merely look at the image as one who looks at a picture of a beloved one?
  7. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    For example, what Mr. Calvin said about the human heart. Also, appropriate references to reformers commentary on veneration of icons, anything God made rather than God. (Remember, placing anything God made, including the human mind or imagination at or above the God who made them is idolatry).

    Smile, and tell them, that's nonsense. For starters, they need to love God a whole lot more than a family member or friend. It is His Word that brings Him to mind, not things He created (wood and stone, photos, etc.). He seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
  8. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Where possible, it's usually better to instruct from the gospel rather than from the law. The demands of love have more power to change hearts than do the demands of the law. Where the New Testament church is corrected by the epistle writers, an appeal to live according to the gospel is the argument used more often than is citing Old Testament law.

    So although the Second Commandment applies, consider arguing first of all that these images cheapen the gospel. No artist's guesswork could ever come close to capturing the greatness of our Savior or the depths of what he has done for us. To see such a weak and incomplete image of Christ daily, and to focus on it, is to miss the true Jesus found in the Scriptures and fail to appreciate to gospel as we ought. Other religions may have "deities" that can be captured perfectly well in a picture. But the Christian gospel of the very Son of God come down to be born, live a perfect life, die for our sins, rise in victory and return to judge the world—well, no picture will do for that.

    In the end, you want to get people to remove such pictures not first of all out of moral obligation (even though it may apply) but first of all out of joy in the gospel.
  9. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    I understand this thinking.

    It seems though that the power in the Word of God comes with it- whether "law" or "gospel"- it's all the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

    We have no idea what God will do with it in an individual circumstance.

    It was powerful to understand that the God who made all things, detests His creatures worshipping anything He has created- including our own ideas, and imagination. We are not free to "make it up," even with our own good intentions.

    He has revealed Himself even through nature enough that all His Creatures might know enough of Him (without inventing "reminder" substitutes [icons, effigies]). All the more when when His Word has revealed Himself in a special way, and that through it He commands we worship in Spirit and in Truth.

    All creation doing otherwise is put on notice of how much this offends its Creator, seemingly especially so, by His dealing with it in times past.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2011
  10. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I would agree that we don't want to make too sharp a distinction between law and gospel. It is all the Word of God, and the most profitable instruction of all is to know that entire Word very well. Also, the Spirit certainly may use any part of the Scriptures to instruct us, convict us of sin, increase our faith, etc. It surely isn't wrong to point to the Second Commandment in this situation, and much would be right about doing so.

    Yet, is it easy sometimes to point to a commandment and forget that "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb 1:2). There can be many good approaches that aren't necessarily the best approach in most situations. I still think the arguments we find in the epistles suggest that instructing from the gospel was the apostles' first instinct, and a good one for us to copy.

    On top of that, when it comes to images of Jesus not directly used in worship, I've personally found the argument from the gospel to be more direct, require fewer steps, and lead to fewer objections than linking the issue to the Second Commandment. I realize there are some on this board who're very fond of citing the Second Commandment in these cases, and I realize our confessions use this argument. It is a good argument. But I ask, which of the following sounds more like what you might expect if Paul were addressing the issue in an epistle:

    "Don't make images of Christ, for the Law says 'you shall not make any graven image.'"


    "Don't make images of Christ, for you know that the glory of Jesus and the riches of his grace to you far exceed your ability to express them in a picture."

    Both are good arguments. But I choose the latter as the better argument and the one closer to the most common pattern of church-era instruction in the Bible.
  11. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Good arguments to illustrate one set of choices.

    More and more, I would look at this from the standpoint of Romans 1.

    God doesn't want us to worship anything He has created.

    Not even our imagination of Him. We're not free to "do as we please" when God has revealed what He wants us to do (the Word).

    There is obeying God out of love for Him, and obeying God out of fear of Him.

    Fear of God in the biblical sense.

    We don't have it, and seem to have lost most public consciousness of it in our generation.

    Curiously, pagan cultures, in their own false understanding of God, seem oft to have more consciousness of that than do we.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I would advise focusing on the language first and make a mental note so that you may re-address this issue next year after you have bonded, culturally assimilated, and learned the language better.

    Some of the Reformed believe that what is actually prohibited in the 2nd commandment is the making of images for the purpose of worship, and not merely the making of images (John Frame's The Doctrine of the Christian Life, page 484) and even some presbyterians have distinguished between a. images used in worship, which are forbidden and b. images used in teaching or as art.

    Therefore, I would resist any urge to immediately acuse the Christians in India of practicing idolatry in the same manner as their neighbors do and would grant that there is a difference between idols and pictures of Jesus for teaching or art, even if you find both instances a confessional violation and are uncertain as to whether this difference is a difference of kind or a mere difference of degree.

    If you find someone practicing idolatry, therefore, I would urge you to address this situation at once, even with little language or cultural orientation. However, if this is merely the careless practices of using Jesus-pictures for art/decoration or teaching, then wisdom might have you delay this discussion until you have better bonded and learned the local language.
  13. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor


    What pergy said. Try to go slowly & avoid errecting barriers to future ministry. Keep the end game in view, but don't push people too far, too fast.
  14. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Pergy, are you saying that one can use images of Christ (for decoration and teaching purposes), and still be faithfully reformed?
  15. Moireach

    Moireach Puritan Board Freshman

    I hope not.
  16. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I asked Mr. Library (R. Andrew Meyers) for some help on this topic. Here is what he gave me.

    Here are a few to chew on:

    Origen, Against Celsus [an opponent of Christianity] 7.62 quotes Celsus thus:

    "They [the Christians] cannot tolerate temples, altars, or images."

    ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second | Christian Classics Ethereal Library

    Origen, Against Celsus [an opponent of Christianity] 7.65:

    "...but it is not possible at the same time to know God and to address prayers to images."

    ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second | Christian Classics Ethereal Library

    Synod of Elvira (c. 306 AD), Canon 36:

    "There shall be no pictures in the church, lest what is worshipped [saints] and adored [God and Christ] should be depicted on the walls."

    History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325. | Christian Classics Ethereal Library

    Eusebius (sorry, I don't have the citation, but J. Marcellus Kik quotes him thus):

    “Who can therefore counterfeit by dead and insensible colors, by vain shadowing painter’s art, the bright and shining glistering of such His glory? Whereas His holy disciples were not able to behold the same in the mountain; who therefore, falling on their faces, acknowledged they were not able to behold such a sight.”

    Pictures of the Christ by J. Marcellus Kik | Witnesses Unto Me

    Calvin also quotes Augustine against images in the Institutes, Book 1. Some discussion of this is found here:

    Augustine on Images and Idolatry

    And it's worth reading Philip Schaff on the history of Christian art in the early church.


    I hope that helps a bit.

    ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Par

    Let us now see what follows. “Let us pass on,” says he, “to another point. They cannot 637tolerate temples, altars, or images.48284828 [The temples here meant are such as enshrined images.] In this they are like the Scythians, the nomadic tribes of Libya, the Seres who worship no god, and some...
  17. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for gathering those quotes Randy. But aren't the Reformed confessions much more authoritative for us, rather than individual ancient authors? In terms of church history, it seems that an ecumenical council (namely, the 7th) would carry a lot more weight as well, but that doesn't matter because we don't recognize any council after Chalcedon.
  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am mainly saying that if they are not openly worshipping the images, and merely using these images as art or house decorations that this might be an issue to put on hold for awhile whle you assimilate.
  19. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    The 2nd Nicaean is a deviation from truth. That is the Council you refer to.

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