God has designed the human body in a marvelous way, and Biblical religion is very physical. We believe in the resurrection of the body, against all pagan ideas of the immortality of the soul. We bury our bodies, not burning them. Human beings in their totality, including our bodies, are the images of God and are designed to serve Him.
When we sit down we are in a position of rest and judgment. We don’t sit to receive orders. We sit to evaluate. Our body is designed to fall backwards into this position.
The fullest position of rest is reclining. We recline to sleep and to make love. The disciples reclined with Jesus at the Last Supper. Sitting or reclining, positions of rest, are the only appropriate postures for the communion meal.
We stand to receive orders. We stand because we are ready for action, ready for obedience. God has made our bodies this way.
We can also fall forwards, prostrating ourselves. This is the posture of humility, submission, and adoration.
And so, we kneel for the confession of sin in worship, stand to hear the Word, sit to evaluate the sermon (Acts 17:11, and recline to eat the communion meal.
Thus, the Second Word is intensely physical. The iconolaters in the semi-Christian churches maintain that when they bow and adore icons and statues and crosses and sacraments, they are only rendering “second class” worship, veneration not adoration. They say that their mental attitude is right, so that their body’s posture does not matter. This is not the attitude of Biblical religion; it is the attitude of paganism.
The Biblical, authentically Christian worldview says that our body influences our mind, just as our mind influences our body. This is obvious to us when we are tired and cannot think well, or if we are on drugs or have drunk too much alcohol. But it is also true, for instance, that if we sit for prayer we will not understand prayer very well. It is also true, for instance, that if we kneel for communion we shall never understand very much about the meaning of the communion meal.
Moreover, if we kneel for communion, eventually we are all too likely to wind up adoring the communion elements, which are nothing but bread and wine. The Bible never provides any rite for consecrating bread and wine so as to turn them into Christ’s body and blood in some sense. Rather, the Bible says that Christ’s body and blood are really and mystically given to us as we eat the communion meal.
Thus, the body and its postures are important, very important. They are important enough that God has attached great curses to moving the body in the wrong way: bowing before manmade objects in worship. The only way to get around this law of God is to do what the heretical churches have done: adopt a pagan view of the relationship of mind and body.
The Curse & Blessing of the Second Word
The most horrible of all curses is found connected to violations of the Second Word. For this reason alone, I believe that no one in his right mind would consider going into the iconolatrous churches. God says that those who set up images and prostrate to them, as a way supposedly of worshipping Him, are in reality guilty of hating Him. He says that they are spiritual adulterers, who provoke Him to jealousy. He says that He will curse their children to the third and fourth generation. By way of contrast, those who resist this temptation will be blessed for thousands of generations! In the light of such horrible threats, we should be very, very careful what we bow down to!
God says that those who bow to icons and sacraments hate Him. To hate means to treat with contempt. God has set up the wonderful covenant as a means to have conversation with us, but we prefer to bow to silent images!
God says that He is jealous, and this is the language of marriage in the Bible (Numbers 5). Suppose a man says that he loves his wife, but spends all his time drooling over the centerfolds of Playboy magazine. Does he love her or has he betrayed her? If we love our wife, we converse with her; the fact that so many marriages are silent is proof of the depth of our Original Sin, and is something we must fight. But now we set up pictures of other women, and say that they remind us of our wife. We masturbate in front of these pictures, and say that it is almost the same as making love to our wife. We say that the affection we give to these pictures “rises up” to our wife. It does not matter that she has told us to get rid of these things! That is exactly how God regards image-worship. No wonder God hates it, and no wonder he regards those who do it as hating Him!
The fact that judgment runs down to the third and fourth generation is significant. It means that the results of breaking the Second Word are not immediately obvious. Protestants who go into Rome, Orthodoxy, or Anglo-Catholicism still retain their knowledge of the Bible. They still have some moral discipline. And since these churches are not completely idolatrous, there is some reinforcement of the Word of God to be found in them. The corruption of iconic worship, however, will become clear by the fourth generation, for a culture will emerge that is cruel and degraded. Men who move their families into these semi-Christian churches doom their children and grandchildren.
Why Do Men Make Idols?
When a pagan or a semi-Christian makes an idol or an icon, he knows full well that he has not created a god. Rather, he believes that his image somehow captures some of God’s divine “being” and thus establishes a link between himself and God, or between himself and the saint. It is the same as voodoo. The voodoo priest makes a doll to represent you. He energizes the doll by getting some of your hair or blood and putting it into the doll. Then, when he sticks a needle into the doll, you are supposed to feel the pain.
I recall when I was young and for a few years attended a Roman Catholic parochial school, the Catholic kids would buy holy cards, which were sort of like religious baseball cards but with pictures of saints on them. Then they would ask the priest to bless the cards. This made the cards “special.” It was implied, if not always stated, that this blessing energized the card and made it a special telephone to the saint.
For an icon in the Eastern Church to be a real icon it has to be made by a consecrated monk, using consecrated wood and pigments, and properly consecrated. Thereafter it has captured some of the essence or being of the saint it portrays, and is a window to that saint. It is not true that the icons are just pictures to remind us of our older brothers and sisters in heaven.
The consecrationist view of the sacraments says that after the priest has consecrated the bread and wine, they become in some mystical sense the body and blood of Christ. Thus, they may be held up and adored, prayed to, etc. You want to keep some of the leftover consecrated bread in the church so that people can come in an have “conversations with the blessed sacrament.” In authentic Christianity, there is no rite of consecration of bread and wine. Rather, Jesus told us to give thanks for it, and we receive Him, really and mystically, as we eat it. But the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine.
All of these perverse teachings are based on a pagan view of existence. These doctrines treat persons as if they were impersonal forces or objects. Instead of relating to God personally through conversation, we get some of God’s “being” and stuff it into bread and wine and bow down to it. This notion views God as a Thing, not as a Person. Similarly, the notion that we can capture part of the saintness of the saint and put it into an icon treats the saint not as a person but as a thing. Voodoo does the same thing, but treats living people this way, seeking to create an impersonal, mechanical link to another person by means of the doll and hair.
These objects are not viewed as gods, thus, but as mediators or links to God. They are essentially mechanical, impersonal links. They are false mediators, counterfeits of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God. Man does not want God Himself as a Mediator, because God is not under our control. We want to create our own mediators.
Romans 1:18 says that men suppress the truth. To suppress the truth, men must know it. Thus, part of the essence of Original Sin is self-deception. Iconic religion participates in this self-deception in a very obvious way. The iconolater creates an object that supposedly links him to God or to a saint. Such a heavenly being is supposed to have authority over us, but these icons are silent, and thus have no authority over us at all. If anything is obvious it is that these objects have nothing to do with God or heavenly authorities at all. They cannot, for they cannot give us orders or counsel. Yet the iconolater, in his self-deception, thinks that these silent things, which he has set up, are links to heavenly authorities. It escapes his sin-darkened mind that this is completely contradictory.
The reason the iconolater is determined to live with this self-contradiction is that he must be in control. He must be the one to make the mediator, and the mediator must be silent so that he can keep control of his own life. This is the opposite of the true state of affairs, revealed in authentic Christianity. God has set up the Mediator, and the Mediator is anything but silent! We are not in control of who the Mediator is or how He has effected our salvation. And when we submit to the Mediator, we must hear His Word, which has supreme authority over us and constantly rebukes our sinful tendencies.
Thus, to summarize:
God sets up the Mediator.
The Mediator is verbal, not visual.
We must listen and be changed.
In paganism and semi-Christianity,
Man sets up the mediators by making images.
The mediators are visual, not verbal.
The mediators are silent, so we are not changed.
Now, the semi-Christian churches think that we can have both the Bible and images, both the Word and silent bowing to manmade objects. God has said no to this. God tells us in the Bible over and over again that if we try to do both we are adulterers, married to God but masturbating with idols. (Since idols are not real, we cannot fornicate with them, we can only masturbate with them. Does my language offend you? Good, it should! This is how God views it!)
Since these churches have both, there are people in them that focus on the Bible rather than on bowing to objects. We can rejoice in this, and some writers and thinkers in these traditions have genuine insights into God’s plan for history. Because they have mixed Christianity with paganism, however, there is only so far they can go.
Idolatry and Iconolatry
The Bible shows us that any attempt to worship God through images is treated by Him as idolatry. Those who use images claim to worship Yahweh, but in fact worship a figment of their own imaginations. Today the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to worship the God of the Bible, but we know that they worship a false god of their own invention.
For this reason, the Protestant Reformers rightly said that when men set up artifacts and bow down to them, claiming to worship the God of Christianity, they are actually worshipping a false God of their own devising. They hate the real God, setting Him aside for one they have made.
Sins against the Second Word come into existence when it is no longer possible to break the First Word openly. In the first phase of Israel under the Law, the Israelites tended to worship other gods, as throughout the period of the Judges. By the time of the Kingdom, however, it had become clearly established that Yahweh was the God of Israel. Forsaking Yahweh and worshipping other gods by name was no longer a likely avenue for the sinful heart to follow. But it was possible to worship Yahweh hypocritically.
Breaking the Second Word is hypocrisy at its most blatant. The Israelites set up shrines and little temples on high places, and put in these shrines objects representing the lesser gods who were said to be in Yahweh’s court: Baal, Asherah, etc. There might be a golden calf to represent the focal point of mediation to Yahweh. People would to the shrines and leave gifts to buy favors from these lesser gods, just as the semi-Christians light candles and incense to icons and statues today. Thus, while giving lip service to Yahweh as God, the actual religious practice focused on the service of manmade mediators. This was the awful “sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who caused Israel to sin.”
This is hypocrisy because it is claiming to worship God while doing exactly what He has explicitly ordered us not to do. There can be no more extreme form of hypocrisy.
Men are naturally idolators. They worship anything but the true God. Once the true God reveals Himself, it is natural for sinners to stray from Him. Common sense tells us that one of the foremost ways to stray from the true Yahweh is to invent a false Yahweh. We still get to speak of the Trinity, of Christ, of Jesus, etc., but we invest these terms with false meaning. This is what Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do, for instance. Now, what did Yahweh say to Israel was the test by which they would know if they were worshipping the true Yahweh or a false Yahweh? It was the Second Word. If they set up images and worshipped at or through them, they were worshipping a false Yahweh of their own imagination. This is why iconolatry is just disguised idolatry. Worshipping “Yahweh” on high places, or worshipping “Yahweh” at the calves, or worshipping “Yahweh” while rendering service to various baals (powers, saints), all of these are idolatrous because this “Yahweh” does not exist.
How can I know that my worship is acceptable to God? I can relax and offer Him my praise as long as I don’t venerate any manmade object.
What About Catholics?
Of course, the semi-Christian churches recognize the possibility of false Christs, but they only recognize them doctrinally. Thus, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to a false Christ. This is one valid approach to the question, but when it is the only approach to recognizing a false Christ, it betrays the influence of gnosticism and intellectualism. Another approach, and the one the Bible emphasizes, is worship. Worship shows our hearts, which are deceptive. Our hearts deceive us. How, then, can we know our hearts? The Bible says that if we venerate manmade objects we are not worshipping the true God, and that is evidence that our hearts probably “hate” God. It may feel right to us, but our hearts cannot be trusted. Man can only look on the outward appearance, and that means I can only see my own outward appearance. I cannot discern my own heart. God has, thus, graciously given me outward signs by which I can assess myself. The Second Word is preeminent among them.
So, should we regard Roman Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox people as Christians? The Reformers treated their baptisms as legitimate but their practices as corrupted by idolatry. The Reformers recognized that the Bible distinguishes between sins of being misled from high-handed sins. People who grow up in such cultures may never really and effectively be challenged to set aside such damaging practices. People converted from paganism to Roman Catholicism may come into the Church because they want Christ, the Bible, the Church, the worship of God, etc. They get some “barnacles” along with it, and they accept these because they don’t know any better. We should give them the judgment of charity.
But what of people who forsake authentic Christianity and go into Rome or Orthodoxy or Anglo-Catholicism? What about Scott Hahn and Frankie Schaeffer? They men already had Christ, the Bible, the Church, the sacraments, true worship, etc. But they wanted something else. They wanted idols. They have yielded to the idolatry of their hearts. They are apostates. I do not believe we can give them the same judgment of charity, though all judgment ultimately rests with God, and He will deal with them.
The Protestant Church today is dying in many ways, and some people become so frustrated with it, and become so enamored with the seeming strength of the Vatican or the seeming strength of Orthodox tradition, that they go into one or the other. This is a foolish decision, one that is essentially sinful. Still, we have to have some charity in some such cases. When the shepherd (authentic Christianity) is struck, the sheep sometimes scatter.
(to be continued)
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons.