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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2007Printer-Friendly
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Idolatry in the Church
AUDIO BROADCAST: Idolatry in the Church
Let the Bible Speak Radio
Dr. Alan Cairns

One of the burning issues of Reformation times was what to do about the vast number of images and relics that the Church of Rome had accumulated over the years. Those images were heathen in origin and practice. Images were supposed to be a help to worshipers but they became objects of worship. The church commanded that the faithful should venerate them and accord to them the reverence that properly belonged to what they supposedly symbolized. In addition, certain relics were supposed to carry in them a special blessing because of their claimed connection with Christ or some real or imaginary saint. Of course, Rome had invented subtle distinctions to denote different kinds of worship. Latria is the worship of God; dulia is the worship accorded to the saints; hyperdulia is higher than dulia but less than latria and is accorded to the Virgin Mary. These are distinctions without differences, as a glance at the prayers Rome offers to the Virgin will make clear. In Reformation times there was absolutely no way in which the common worshipper could distinguish one kind of worship from another. When the people bowed to images they worshiped them. It was rank idolatry.

When people accepted the Reformation and its message they generally recognized that those images had no right at all to be in a place of Christian worship. They thus denounced image worship as idolatry. And for many of them that raised the question of what to do with the idols. Some who feared too much change too quickly favored leaving the images at least for the present. Others believed that they should not compromise with idolatry and set about forcibly removing the images. On occasion, that led to a violent campaign of iconoclasm, which was not helpful to the cause of Christ-the wrath of man, especially when it leads to lawlessness, does not promote the praise of God.

But the images had to be dealt with. They still do. The word of God is absolutely clear. There are to be no images of man's making in the worship of God. Especially, there are to be no representations of God. The second Commandment leaves no room for any exception to this divine rule. Yet Rome filled churches with images of Christ. God limits worship to Himself and yet Rome piled up images of various saints and an endless supply of bogus relics which the people were to worship. So the Reformation had to address the subject of images and idolatry masquerading as Christianity. The result was that in the Reformed churches at least, and those who were of the Anabaptist persuasion followed suit, the form of worship that they adopted was simple and Scriptural and free from images and relics.

Today, Rome still maintains her pre-Reformation addiction to the idolatry of image worship. The tragedy is that many Protestants have lapsed into their own form of idolatry. Here's a question: The Bible commands us to make no likeness of God; we believe that Jesus Christ is God; so why do many professing Bible-believing Christians have such things as cribs with the "Baby Jesus" in them or holy pictures depicting Him in His life, death or ascension? Why did so many Christians promote Mel Gibson's film of Christ (which he intended as an extended commentary of the Romish Mass), in which an ungodly actor portrayed the Son of God, when the law of God commands us to make no kind of likeness of God?

It's time we got back to having a bit of the backbone of our Reforming fathers. Their iconoclasm may have been counterproductive but at least it was a stand against idolatry, a stand we sorely need to have reintroduced in today's Protestant churches.

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