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Catechism Class – H/C LD35B, The Use and Misuse of Art.


Use and Misuse of Imagery and Art

H/C LD35B, Q97-98

We have looked the meaning of the second commandment, as taught by the catechist, and learned that this commandment of the first table of the Law is about how we worship God, – that we’re not to make any image or representation of God, nor worship Him in any way that he has not specifically commanded in His Word. To complete our look at Lords Day 35, we have two further questions and answers to consider.


Before we begin though, read Isaiah 40:18-31 and note down how the prophet Isaiah compares the greatness of God with the pathetic worthlessness of the idols made by man hands.  He says, “To whom then will you liken God?  Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” The question is rhetorical.  There is nothing that can compare with Almighty God, – no image, no idol, no statue.

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The catechist asks:-

Q.97. May we then not make any image at all?

A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them. 

  • God CAN never be visually portrayed!  As we learned in our last lesson, we simply don’t know what Jesus looked like, and we certainly can’t ever picture or imagine God the Father in our finite minds, – for he is a Spirit. Unlike the fanatic fringe of the charismatic surge, we do know that the Holy Spirit is blue, and fun-loving!  BUT:-
  • God SHOULD never be visual portrayed.  ‘What constitutes a graven image?’   We certainly know that we are not to make statues and icons that purport to be representations of God, whether God the Father, the Son or the Holy Ghost.  This was the sin of Israel, and why they were so sternly warned against it in the scriptures, Exodus 34:17 You shall make no moulded gods for yourselves.  We wouldn’t do ANYTHING like that.   Or would we?  isn’t Jesus God?  Of course he is.  And don’t we often give our children books that have ‘pictures of Jesus?’  Should we?   You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  

CASE STUDY. In 2004 Mel Gibson, a Catholic actor and film director produced ‘The Passion of the Christ.’  It was a feature length film, described by Wikipedia: ‘It depicts the Passion of Jesus largely according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It also draws on pious accounts such as the Friday of Sorrows along with other devotional writings, such as the reputed Marian apparitions attributed to Anne Catherine Emmerich.’  Surprisingly, a lot of evangelicals went to see the film, and some people took non-Christians along, many hoping to use this film as an evangelistic tool. I knew that quite a few church people had been to see the film in Belfast, so the following Lord’s day I preached on the second commandment, and called on any professing believers who had been to see the film to repent of that sin, and ask the Lord for forgiveness.  It wasn’t a popular sermon by any means!  SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?  PUT ASIDE YOUR PRE-CONCEIVED IDEAS, EVEN YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, EVEN IF YOU ACTUALLY WATCHED THE FILM YOURSELF – AND ASK, IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED IN LORD’SDAY 35 – WAS THIS A BREACH OF THE SECOND COMMANDMENT, AND SHOULD CHRISTIANS HAVE SUPPORTED IT IN ANY WAY?  

  • What about artwork showing animals or people etc?  Does the second commandment mean that we should never have any statues  at all or that Christians can never appreciate beautiful art?  Certainly not and the catechist says Creatures may be portrayed,. Our instructor’s reasoning is clear here.  We cannot SEE GOD, or perceive him, or visualise him in our minds, so how can we hope to depict him? But we can see the created world around us.  We can see animals and nature and people, and we can see the works of our hands, our buildings and engineering achievements. So, there’s no reason why we can’t make statues of famous people, or historical figures.  Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about statues. The catechist sees no biblical prohibition of statues of people, artworks, photographs, paintings, films etc., with two very important provisos…. 
    • We are never to worship any visual portrayal of any thing.   
    • Never to use such images to serve God.   If we claim that our making of an image or idol is to serve God, we are deluding ourselves.  What then about the Catholic practice of erecting statues of saints?  Some Catholics will argue that they do not ‘worship’ the BVM, but that she, and her visual representations, encourage them in their devotion to ‘her Son.’  The Catechist will have none of this.  We are not to attempt to serve God through visual representations – whether those images are ‘religious’ or depictions of the most mundane or banal nature.  You can see the importance of the catechist’s clear warning about this, when you see groups of religious devotees standing around some statue, hoping that an inanimate object will shed a tear or smile upon them,  The dangers of visual imagery leading to superstition cannot be overestimated.

Now, this brings us to our final question and answer of Lord’s Day 35:-

Q.98 But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity”?

A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants his people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of his Word. 

Many of the so called ‘laity’ in the days when the Catechism was written were illiterate – they couldn’t read or write very well, if at all.  There are of course still people with literary issues, and there are children, whose literary skills are not yet fully developed… should we not use art and images to instruct them?  The argument may be made, that we need to show people pictures to help them to understand Bible stories. To be balanced here, the argument made by many evangelicals who use imagery of Jesus to teach children bible stories is that we are not BOWING DOWN TO THEM OR WORSHIPPING THEM – just using art to educate those who are unable to read and understand text books, and therefore not breaking the second commandment.  

This was the very argument that the people who went to see ‘The Passion of the Christ’ used.  They claimed that if they brought unconverted people along to the cinema to see this very dramatic and poignant depiction of the death of Jesus, someone may become a believer in Christ!  That’s NOT what Paul says in Romans, and it’s not what the catechist teaches in his answer to question 98.  Read: Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

That’s GOD’S WAY of bringing people to faith in himself.  Not through showing them pictures, or erecting statues – but through the faithful preaching of God’s Word, ALONE!  Now, we must ask the question – do we think that we know better than God?  If God says faith comes by hearing the word of God set forth, why would we question that, and try to do it our way, instead of his?  Is this not itself a sin, – thinking that I am right and God is wrong?  

And not only is the ministry of the WORD ALONE God’s chosen method of conversion, it is God’s chosen method for Christian growth.  1 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

For further reading:-

Deut 4:15-19; Is 40:18-25; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:23.

Lev 10:1-7; Deut 12:30; 1 Sam 15:22, 23; Mt 15:9; Jn 4:23, 24

Ex 34:13, 14, 17; Num 33:52; 2 Kings 18:4, 5; Is 40:25.

Jer 10:8; Hab 2:18-20. .Rom 10:14, 15, 17; 2 Tim 3:16, 17; 2 Pet 1:19

Psalm taken from Sing Psalms (Free Church of Scotland) accessible on


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