Order of Contents
The Biblical Argument
Physical Homage to Images is Wrong Despite Any Intention Otherwise
A Cross in the Place of Worship?
Crosses, apart from Worship are Lawful
Historical Images from the Bible, apart from Worship, are Lawful
The History of
. The Early Church
. The Reformation
. Quotes 5
The Biblical Argument Against Religious Images in Worship
Fentiman, Travis – ‘Visual Imagery, Drama & Dancing in Worship’ 2017 140 paragraphs
The Reformed wing of the Reformation, in seeking to reform Christian worship by Scripture Alone, systematically removed all religious imagery that God has not prescribed from their places of worship. Here is the extensive Biblical argument for why they were right.
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
Calvin, John – Institutes, bk. 1, ch. 11, sect. 13 d. 1564 2 pp.
Ursinus, Zacharias – ‘Concerning Images & Pictures in Christian Churches’ 11 pp. in Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 525-536 d. 1583
Ames, William – ‘Concerning Images’ 1633 20 pp. being Ch. 3, Section 7 of A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, pp. 284-304
Ussher, James – ‘Of Images’ in Answer to a Jesuit with Other Tracts on Popery, pp. 430-445
‘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
Physical Homage to Images is Wrong Despite Any Intention Otherwise
Letters (Edinburgh, 1894), pp. 193-4 Also reprinted by Banner of Truth. Rutherford is here quoting from some other public document, possibly from the Latin of David Calderwood’s Altar of Damascus, p. 595.
Letter 91, to Robert Gordon of Knockbrex
“As the religious homage done to an image, or even to elements, is in itself an external act of idolatry, insofar as the act is concerned, although the intention of such homage may be directed to God the Great First Cause, —so the act of kneeling to a piece of bread, seeing that, according to the ordinance, the whole man, internal and external, ought to be engaged in the elementary signs, is a relative act of worship and an adoration of the bread itself.
The reason is: an intention to worship a material object is not of the essence of external adoration, as appears in a religious act of homage. Thus, the bending of the knee before the Babylonish image is an external act of worship, even though the three youths had no intention to worship any but the true God; and in like manner, those who, from fear or the hope of reward or vain-glory, bend the knee to Jeroboam’s golden calf (which the text clearly enough proclaims to have been done by the king himself, from no religious motive but the mere desire to rule), do pay ad- oration to the calf by the external act, although, no doubt, they may suppose the calf a mere created object and unworthy of honor,—because the act of homage, whether we mean it or not, is, from the ordinance of God and nature, a symbol of worship.
Therefore, as the bread [in the Lord’s Supper] denotes the body of Christ (even though that idea be not present to the mind), so in like manner, kneeling, when used as a religious service, is the external adoration of that bread, in presence of which we bow as before the delegated representative of God, be our intention what it may.”
A Cross in the Place of Worship?
Letter 112, ‘Calvin to Dr. Richard Cox and his Associates at Frankfort’, pp. 346-7 in Gorham, Gleanings of a Few Scattered Ears June 12, 1555
“Undoubtedly, in my opinion, no man endued with sound judgment will deny that lights, crosses and trifles of that sort flowed from superstition. Whence I hold, that those who retain them, while they possess liberty of choice, draw to eagerly from dregs. Nor do I see what purpose can be answered by burdening the Church with frivolous and useless (not to call them by their proper name, noxious) ceremonies, where we enjoy the liberty of establishing a pure and simple order.”
Calfhill, James 1530?–1570 English puritan
An Answer to John Martiall’s ‘Treatise of the Cross’, ‘To the Reader’, p. 51
“I appeal to the conscience of every Christian, whether we (avoiding the occasion of idolatry) tend any whit to paganism, as the Papists by their devices do, or whether we (by removing all images, and consequently the cross too) do derogate from Christ and from His passion as they do, which, having the material cross, cannot come to the knowledge and faith of The Crucified.”
Fulke, William 1538–1589 English puritan
“[Stapleton:] ‘From the Church they take altars, crosses, images,’ etc. [Fulke:] Because the temple of God hath nothing to do with images, 2 Cor. 6:16.”
Cox, an English bishop
Number 22 in John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion, and other various occurrences in the Church of England, during Queen Elizabeth’s happy reign, vol. 1, part 2, pp. 500-503
A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, p. 7-8, 214, 232, 353, 464
“The next step which the Rejoinder takes… is to [Flacius] Illiricus [d. 1575], about permitting the use of a surplice, where it is to be noted that before Illyricus there had been effectual pleading against [human] ceremonies, even cross and surplice, in Helvetia [Switzerland] at Tigure, whereupon they were removed, as Zwingli relates (De Baptismo).
And a long time before that, the Waldenses (of whose blood were made torches to light us in the right way) did contend against all human traditions as unlawful.”
“To the [citation of the] Confession of Wittenburg [by ‘good divines’] it is answered [by Ames’s opponents]: 1. That it does not so much as give any glance at Mark 7.
Which, how true it is, may appear by these their words:
‘Nor is it lawful to restore either the old rites of the law, or to devise new in their place to signify the truth of the gospel now come to light, as for example, to use banners and crosses to sign Christ’s victory on the cross: of which kind of i […]ly devised representations is the whole furniture of Mass accontrements, which they say does set forth the whole passion of Christ and many such like things. Of which sacred ceremonies Christ preaches out of Isaiah: In vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the precepts of men.'”
“The divines of France and the low countries (with the [Wittenburg] Confession) reject all ceremonies that carry some mystery or signification in them. Our question is, whether human ceremonies of mystical signification be lawful? If these testimonies be not plain enough, I know not what is plain.”
“But for the interpretation of doctrine, by practice, if the Rejoinder will have this hold in the ancient times, what reason can he give that it should not also hold in our time? If so, then why is not our argument good: Calvin, Bucer, Beza, the divines of Helvetia, France, Netherland, etc. have in their practice, banished cross, surplice and kneeling [in receiving the Lord’s Supper]…”
“…it is added by the Rejoinder that Beza says of some that retain the cross, they may use their own liberty. But in the next words he adds: ‘If they have any just causes of retaining this sign in their churches.’ So that he limits that liberty unto such causes as he was not privy to; nay [not for any use] to such as they at Geneva found to be clean contrary. As for us, we have many necessary reasons why we do no way tolerate that sign, and their causes (alleged in the 8th Epistle) were not peculiar to any time or place, but pertain as well to England as to Geneva.”
“If these other things of policy be necessary, necessitate precepti, in regard that Jesus Christ has commanded them to be observed, why then are some things alterable which Christ has commanded to be observed, some things unalterable? Cross and surplice, which prelates say have been in the Church these twelve hundred years, are in themselves as positive, and have as small affinity with the civil laws, customs and manners of nations (except they mean sinful customs) as sacramental eating and drinking. And the like may be said of all the alterable ceremonies sometimes in use, in England, and now in force amongst Papists.”
“…as Papists say, their unwritten Traditions are agreeable to the Word, and though beside Scripture, yet not against it: And the very will of God no less than the written Word; and let Formalists assure us, that their positive additaments of surplice and cross are the same which God commands in the Scriptures by the prophets and apostles, and though beside, yet not contrary to the Word: But I pray you what better is the distinction of beside the Word, not contrary to the Word of God…
A Dispute Touching Scandal and Christian Liberty, p. 89-92 in The Divine Right of Church Government 1646
“Answer 1: Though the cross were first framed for no adoration, yet we plead against the images and crosses of Lutherans as not necessary in divine worship, and therefore to be removed, though never adored.”
“3. We say the sign of the cross is a mere instrument of idolatry and superstition, and what ever good intention or pious signification was stamped on it at the first by men’s carnal wisdom and will-zeal, it no more made it good than if upon the image of Dagon you would found the like good intention and pious signification.”
“2. How does [Richard] Hooker prove that the vessels made for Baal are in their own nature more incurable than the sign of the Cross?
You may remove the superstitious intention and idolatrous use of any vessel and turn it to a good use; yet Josiah burnt them to ashes. The like may be said of the groves which he stamped to powder and cast in the brook Kidron, and of the five chariots five of the sun which he burnt with fire, and of the bones of dead men, not any of these being of their own nature more indifferent and innocent creatures of God, [nor] were of their own nature more scandalous and more incurable than the sign of the cross.
The like may be said of altars, and I pray, are reasonable men, the priests of the high places, of their own nature incurable? Are they not capable of repentance and curable by doctrine? Yet 2 Kings 23:20, Josiah slew all the priests of the high places.
4. It is false that scandalous objects of the third sort [named by Richard Hooker: things subject to great corruption which are curable with ‘more facility and ease’] are more easily cured, except they be removed for no human prudence, when the sign of the cross and the brazen serpent are sure not necessary in God’s worship.
And when men have, and so still may abuse them to, superstition and idolatry, can make these, being now actively scandalous, to be not actively scandalous, as no arc can make a pite [brick-shaped fuel] to be no pite.
Indeed God’s ordinances, because necessary, may be cured from scandal by teaching. But it is only God’s prerogative by his commanding will to make a thing, not necessary in his worship, to be necessary, and to alter the nature of things so as his command could have made the brazen serpent to remain a lawful teaching sign and no scandalous object, and only He might have forbidden the burning of incense to it.”
Gillespie, George – English-Popish Ceremonies, pp. 51, 81-82, 96-98
Willet, Andrew – ‘Of the Image of the Cross, or Crucifix’ in Synopsis Papismi (London, 1592), Controversies Concerning the Church Triumphant, 9th Controversy: concerning Saints Departed, 2nd Part, 5th Question, 2nd Part, pp. 357-358
Fentiman, Travis – ‘The Cross’ in Visual Imagery, Drama & Dance in Worship 2017
Calfhill, James – Answer to Martiall’s Treatise of the Cross
Calfhill (1530?–1570) was an Anglican clergyman, academic and controversialist.
This was Calfhill’s major work, it being a response against the Roman Catholic John Martiall, who had dedicated his book to Queen Elizabeth on hearing that she had retained the cross in her chapel. Martiall replied against Calfhill, who was in turn responded to by William Fulke.
Fulke, William – A Rejoinder to John Martiall’s Reply Against the Answer of Master Calfhill to the Blasphemous Treatise of the Cross in Fulke’s Answer to Stapleton, Martiall & Sanders
Fulke (1538–1589) was an English Puritan divine.
The Roman Catholic priest John Martiall had dedicated his book, A Treatise on the Cross, to Queen Elizabeth on hearing that she had retained the cross in her chapel. Calfhill, above, responded to this work. Martiall returned the response. This work of Fulke is a second response to Martiall.
Crosses (and other Religious Symbols), Apart from Worship, are Lawful but not Always Wise
A Dispute Touching Scandal and Christian Liberty, p. 89-92 in The Divine Right of Church Government 1646
“Objection: Be it true that crosses were purposely appointed to be adored, yet not so now. The Jews would not admit of the image of Caesar in the Church, yet they abolished it not, but admitted it in their coin…
1. Though the cross were first framed for no adoration…
5. We remove not crosses from coinage, no more than the Jews did the image of Caesar. But we agree with them. [Richard] Hooker being judge [recognizing], in [us] banishing them from the worship.”
Historical Images from the Bible, apart from Worship, are Lawful, as are Secular Images
Institutes, bk. 1, ch. 11, sect. 12 (tr. Beveridge)
“I am not, however, so superstitious as to think that all visible representations of every kind are unlawful. But as sculpture and paintings are gifts of God, what I insist for is, that both shall be used purely and lawfully, that gifts which the Lord has bestowed upon us, for his glory and our good, shall not be preposterously abused, nay, shall not be perverted to our destruction. We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God Himself has forbidden it…
Visible representations are of two classes, viz., historical, which give a representation of events, and pictorial, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition…
pp. 349-350 of ‘Whether it be lawful to have the images of the Trinity, of Christ, or of the Angels’ in Synopsis Papismi (London, 1592), Controversies Concerning the Church Triumphant, 9th Controversy: concerning Saints Departed, 2nd Part, 5th Question, Part 1, Second Article
“2. Though it be not simply unlawful to express in painting the visible shapes that were showed in vision to the prophets, if it be only for use and signification of the history, or if there be any other commendable use: yet to make those shapes for any use of religion, or service of God, is abominable idolatry.
Fulke, ibid.: Epiphanius saw in a Church at Anablatha, an image painted in a table, as it had been of Christ or a saint; he took it down and cut it in pieces: affirming that it was contrary to the Scripture for any image of a man to hang in the Church of Christ. The Elibertine Council, Canon 36 decreed that no pictures should be made in Churches. If no pictures, much less carved images, which are a more strong provocation to idolatry.
Augustine renders a reason why it is dangerous to have images in Churches, where there is yea but the least fear of superstition: Quis orat intuens simu∣lachrum, qui non sic afficitur, vt ab eo se exaudiri putet, nec ab eo sibi praestari, quod desideret, putet? Who (sayth he) prayeth beholding an image, and is not so affected as though he were heard of it, and hopeth not to have that performed by it which he desireth? Ps. 113.”
The Synopsis of Pure Theology, vol. 1, p. 481 1625
“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 worshipped 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, ch. 9).”
A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, pp. 283-284 1633
“Whereunto it was replied that then Cassander’s images (not for adoration, but for information and incitement) are not Popish, which the Rejoinder does not only grant, but also proves it, by the consent of Calvin himself (Institutes, book 1, ch. 11, sect. 12), where he says, that historical images, or pictures, may have some use, in teaching, and putting, in remembrance.
Now for this, let it be considered that Calvin in that section speaks only of ordinary pictures for teaching and putting in remembrance of that which they represent of themselves, without any ecclesiastical institution, as certain words written do signify a certain meaning without any special institution. Such (it may be) would be the picture of Ananias in a white surplice, signifying with other pictures agreeable to the story, that Paul esteemed and called him a whited wall (Acts 23:3). But in the very next section, which is the thirteenth, Calvin, disputing against setting up of any images in churches, does sufficiently declare that he allowed of no ceremonial religious use of images, such as is of our cross and surplice.”
The History of Images in Worship
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.
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.
A Clear and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper (1559, RHB, 2016), p. 144
“We consider the placement of images and statues in the places of worship as explicitly forbidden by God’s Word a thousand times. For why else would they be placed there except for worship? Is it to stir the memory? And yet the Holy Spirit is wiser than we are.”
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).
English Popish Ceremonies (Naphtali Press, 1993)
Part 2, Ch. 3, p. 77
“…it is well enough known how many heterodox doctrines are maintained by Formalists, who are most zealous for the ceremonies, about universal grace, free-will… images… etc. Their errors about those heads we will demonstrate, if need be, to such as doubt of their mind. In the meantime, it has been preached [by formalists] from our pulpits among ourselves that Christ died for all alike; that the faithful may fall away from grace… that images in churches are not to be condemned…”
Part 3, Ch. 2, p. 167
“But they say immediately, ‘We teach that these images are not to be worshipped.’ As if, in fact, says [Jerome] Zanchius (De Imagin., col. 402),
‘God had not once rather diligently done the same thing through Moses and the prophets, that we are doing. So then why did He even want all images abolished? Because it is not enough to teach by word that an evil thing must not be done; but the slight obstacles, the incentives, the causes, the occasions of evil doing must be abolished.’
It is not enough, with the scribes and Pharisees, to teach out of Moses’ chair what the people should do, but all occasions, yea, appearances of evil, are to be taken out of their sight.
‘Those things affect more powerfully, and affect more, which fall upon the eyes than those which fell upon the ears. And so Hezekiah had been able to warn the people not to worship the serpent, but he preferred to break it in pieces and completely remove it from visibility,’ says one well to this purpose. (Thomas Naogeorgus [Kirchmeyer] in 1 Jn 5:21)”
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…
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.”