Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 35 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, I will be talking to you about questions 96-98.
This week, we continue our study by looking at the second of the 10 commandments, which outlines God’s prohibition against His people representing Him with the use of images or statues in worship. Last week, we focused on the first commandment, which was about worshipping the wrong God. The second commandment is about worshipping God in the wrong way.
Here is the second commandment:
Deut 5:8 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Lord’s Day Focus...
When you think of idolatry, what ideas come into your mind? Many of us think about small statues made to represent a god or goddess. That statue might be settled in the midst of a shrine surrounded by burning candles or incense. Then out in front of that shrine we might picture a person on their knees with their heads bowed, the hands clasped together offering prayers.
This image is not just some image that was seared into our minds because we saw it in a movie at some point, this is an accurate representation of the type of idolatry that takes place all over the world.
Many of you thought about some of the scenes in the Bible where false gods were worshipped. Maybe you thought about Paul in Acts 17, standing in the midst of a city full of idols. Maybe you thought about Elijah in the top of Mt. Carmel mocking the priests of Baal who were unable to get their god to show himself. Or perhaps your mind went to the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai worshipping at the feet of a golden calf that they called Yahweh.
All of these images represent the type of idolatry that God forbids, but that last image is the closest connection to the second commandment.
Question 96: What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?
Answer: That we in no way make any image of God nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded in His Word.
This commandment forbids us to worship our Creator on our own terms. Actually, this command forbids two things:
1. It forbids us to make images to represent God in any form.
2. It forbids worshipping an image of any kind.
J.I. Packer writes,
In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the triune God, or of any person of the trinity, for the purpose of Christian worship. The commandment thus deals not with the objects of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues and pictures of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid in worshipping Him.
Over the years, this issue has been debated in great detail. Does this apply to the coloring pages that we give our children in Sunday School? Some say yes, others say no. Does this means that Christian’s should not create artwork portraying the life, ministry, death and even the resurrection of Jesus? Some say yes, others no. Should Christians use nativity scenes in their holiday decorating?
Wherever you come down on these debates, I think it is vitally important that we take this command seriously. God commands His followers not to fashion or create images that are to be used to represent God to us that are intended to be used as aids in our worship.
Question 97: May we not make any image at all?
Answer: God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one’s intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.
One of the most natural follow-up questions to the prohibition about making an image to represent God is “why not?” What is the big deal? For starts, it is impossible for us to create an image that accurately represents God. He is unlike any being in the universe. He is unique, holy, One-of-a-kind and any image or representation of Him will fall short of the truth of who He is.
God is Spirit, which means that He cannot be seen. He cannot be made into an image and to do so would be to falsely represent His glory, His nature and His person. It would obscure His invisible glory for us to use a man-made image or even to use the image of a created thing in an attempt to represent Him. In other words, any attempt on our part to make a graven image would result in a misrepresentation of God’s true glory.
On the flipside, an image of God would mislead us and give us a false idea of Him. It is one thing to insult God by trying to imagine Him in a finite way. It is quite another for us to accept an image of God as an adequate substitute for the real thing. In the first instance He is mocked in the second instance we are worshipping a false god.
God forbids both errors in the second commandment.
Question 98: But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned?
Answer: No, we shouldn’t try to be wiser than God. He wants His people instructed by the living preaching of His Word – not by idols that cannot even talk.
This question brings up an argument from the time of the Protestant Reformation. The argument from the Roman Catholic side was that if the church removed the painted images depicting stories from the Bible, which contained artist renderings of God, then the average person attending church who is unable to read the Scriptures would not be able to understand what God has revealed in His Word. Therefore, the images (or books of the laity) aid the people in understanding the faith and without these images that faith would not exist.
The Reformers responded by saying, “Then we must teach them.” It is the responsibility of Christians, especially Church leaders, to teach God’s Word faithfully, accurately and always. We cannot rely on images, or in modern times video clips and theatrical sermonettes, in order to instruct God’s people about Him.
God has given us His Word and we must read it, teach it, preach it, and explain it. Our goal in worship is not to entertain it is to instruct. Our goal is not to give advice for life and then to sprinkle the occasional Bible verse in for good measure. Our goal is proclaim the Word of God and allow it to do its work in our hearts.
Next week, we will continue to study these 10 commandments by looking at the third commandment, which focuses on taking the Lord’s name in vain. I hope you will join me for that discussion as we look at Lord’s Day 36 and questions 99-100.
If you want to learn more about Cornerstone Baptist church, you can find us online at Cornerstonewylie.org. You can follow us on Twitter or Instagram @cbcwylie. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/cornerstonewylie. You can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or google play to stay up to date on all the new content.
Thanks for listening.
 J.I. Packer Knowing God (pg 44)