Religious Images in Worship

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Order of Contents

The Biblical Argument
Articles  4

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  3

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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.

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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

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

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1600’s

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

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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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A Cross in the Place of Worship?

Excerpts

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’s Fortress Overthrown, p. 80

“[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.”

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Ames, William

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.”

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Rutherford, Samuel

The Divine Right of Church Government  1646

p. 10

“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.”

p. 40

“…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.”

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Gillespie, George – English-Popish Ceremonies, pp. 51, 81-82, 96-98

Fentiman, Travis – ‘The Cross’  in Visual Imagery, Drama & Dance in Worship  2017

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Books

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.

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Crosses (and other Religious Symbols), Apart from Worship, are Lawful but not Always Wise

Rutherford, Samuel

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…

Answer:

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.”

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Historical Images from the Bible, apart from Worship, are Lawful, as are Secular Images

Calvin, John

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…

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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).”

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Ames, William

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.”

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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