Religious Images in Worship

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Order of Contents

Articles
The History of
.     The Early Church
.     The Reformation
.     Quotes  3

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Articles

1500’s

Bucer, Martin

Ch. XI, ‘The Reason Why Images Should be Abolished’  1524  7 pp.  in Ground and Reason  Buy  pp. 169-176

This was the first, major reformed treatise on worship, which gave the ground and reason for the first reformed worship services of the Reformation, as they held them in Strasbourg, Germany.

“…one of the most significant documents in the history of Reformed worship.” – Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old

“We have also preached against idols and images.  The honorable Council has made a survey, and all images in the foremost churches which have been especially esteemed have been removed.  The Christian congregation which I serve has removed all images and pictures out of its church…  The leaders in the congregation of God in Zurich have given more than sufficient, clear, Scriptural proof that it is Christian and justified…” – Bucer, p. 169

A Treatise Declaring and Showing Diverse Causes Taken out of the Holy Scriptures of the sentences of holy fathers and of the Decrees of devout emperors, that pictures [and] otherimages which were wont to be worshipped, are in no wise to be suffered in the temples or churches of Christen men. By the which treatise the reader that is indifferent, shall see and perceive how good and godly a dead it was of the senators of Argentine, that of late days they caused all the images with their auters to be clean taken out of their churches. The authors of this little treatise are the open preachers of Argentine  ToC  1535

Ursinus, Zacharias – ‘Concerning Images & Pictures in Christian Churches’  11 pp.  in Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 525-536

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1800’s

Protestant Association

‘On Idolatry’ 1840, from the Protestant Magazine, Vol. II, November 1, 1840

‘Queen Elizabeth I’s Opinion Of Sacred Pictures’  from the Protestant Magazine, Vol. II, November 1, 1840

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The History of Images in Worship

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The Early Church

Ussher, James – ‘On Images’  †1656  14 pp.  in Answer to a Jesuit, with other Tracts on Popery, pp. 430-444

Ussher, in the polemical context against Romanism, traces the Early Church’s large rejection of images in worship against the later development that rose into to the Romanist acceptance of them.  Ussher’s discussion includes religious images in worship, images of God generally, and images of Christ.

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The Reformation

Eire, Carlos – War Against the Idols: the Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin  Buy  1989, 336 pp.

This excellent history book shows that purity of worship and the removal of religious images from the place of worship, including all images of Christ (whether in worship or not) was a hallmark of the reformed wing of the reformation.  Much different than most reformed churches today.

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Historic Quotes

The Leiden Synopsis  1625

Andreas Rivetus, Disputation 19, ‘On Idolatry’, Thesis 27

What we have said about images should not be taken to mean that we generally consider every use of images to be unlawful; in our view this applies in an absolute sense only to images of the Trinity.  As far as creatures are concerned, apart from idolatrous worship that is contrary to the first table of the Law, and apart from indecency, shamefulness or other similar abuse contrary to the second commandment, we do not condemn the art of making images; and we don’t deny that it brings about some good for the sake of the illustration of history in public life.

But we do think that in the sacred places where God is worshiped images are not necessary, even if they do contain some historical or doctrinal use, or help to commemorate something.  What is more, we think that they are dangerous, and for that reason unlawful, and that they should not be brought into Christian churches but removed and banished from them, even if they are not adored, and lest people “who seek Christ and his apostles not in the written books but on the painted walls meet up with error” (Augustine, On the Harmony of the Gospels, Book 1, chapter 9).

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Samuel Rutherford  1642

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, Ch. 20, Article 1

We acknowledge the scriptures of God contained in the Old and New Testament to contain the whole doctrine of faith and good manners, our Covenant rejects all traditions contrary, without and beside the word of God, and so it rejects all religious observances, all human ceremonies, all religious symbolical signs, all new means of worshipping God, all images, positive rites which have any influence in God’s worship as will-worship, and impious additions to God’s word, Jer. 7:7; 2 Sam. 7:7; Deut. 12:32; Deut. 4:2; Lev. 10:2; Heb. 1:13; Heb. 7:14; 1 Chron. 15:13; 1 Kings 12:32; Matt 15:14; Rev. 22:18, whereas they lack warrant from God’s word.  All actions of divine worship, all religious means of worship, all actions of moral conversation must be warranted by, according as it is written

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James Fisher  1753

The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained

Q. 23. Is it lawful, as some plead, to have images or pictures in churches, though not for worship, yet for instruction, and raising the affections?

No; because God has expressly prohibited not only the worshipping but the MAKING of any image whatever on a religious account; and the setting them up in churches, cannot but have a natural tendency to beget a sacred veneration for them; and therefore ought to be abstained from, as having at least an “appearance of evil,” Isa. 45:9-18; 1 Thess. 5:22.

Q. 24. May they not be placed in churches for beauty and ornament?

No; the proper ornament of churches is the sound preaching of the gospel, and the pure dispensation of the sacraments, and other ordinances of divine institution.

Q. 25. Were not the images of the cherubims placed in the tabernacle and temple, by the command of God himself?

Yes; but out of all hazard of any abuse, being placed in the holy of holies, where none of the people ever came: they were instituted by God Himself, which images are not; and they belonged to the typical and ceremonial worship, which is now quite abolished.

Q. 26. Are our forefathers to be blamed for pulling down altars, images, and other monuments of idolatry, from places of public worship at the Reformation?

No; they had Scripture precept and warrant for what they did, Num. 33:52, and Deut. 7:5 — “Ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.”

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Related Pages

Images of Christ 

Regulative Principle of Worship

Worship