REFLECTIONS UPON THE USE OF TANGIBLE IMAGES IN THE WORSHIP LIFE OF THE CHURCH - PART ONE

 

By: Larry D. Harvey

 

            The purpose of this article and the ones to follow is to encourage care and discipline in our thoughts and practices involved in the use of tangible images of God and the Persons of the Trinity within the worship life of the Church and particularly within that physical space commonly referred to as the Chancel.  These articles are not addressing verbal imagery, i.e. "word pictures" formed in the mind through the oral or written proclamation of God's Word.

 

            I intend to move slowly through this examination which may well mean that certain articles in this series may conclude before additional necessary arguments are made or any conclusions are suggested.  However, I consider this matter sufficiently important that it requires a careful and slow construction allowing ample time to truly consider each "building block" before proceeding on to the next.  Your patience is accordingly humbly requested. 

 

            The question that I anticipate running behind and through these reflections is whether or not there is a real danger drawing people away from Word and Sacraments in our use of artistic, tangible images particularly within the sanctuaries, in which the Divine Services of our congregations take place.

 

            Let us first hear the Word of the Lord speaking to us through His prophet Isaiah:

 

"'Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.'" (Isaiah 55:1-3, emphasis added; ESV)

 

            As the Lord calls people to repentance that they may be saved, note the manner of delivery of salvation in these verses.  They receive the rich food that is good and saves through hearing.  He promises to be present Himself in that Word heard through the ears of man and through that Word, to deliver salvation. 

 

            What else has God said?  Consider these words as well:

 

"'Therefore watch yourselves very carefully.  Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under earth....Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.'"  (Deuteronomy 4:15-18, 23,24, emphasis added, ESV)

 

            Consider also the following from within the Ten Commandments:

 

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God is a jealous God,...." (Exodus 20:4,5, emphasis added; ESV)

 

            Over the centuries since Christ's Ascension, controversies about images, including bare crosses, crucifixes, statues, and paintings, have been so fierce as to involve physical torture, execution, heated debate, and proclamation of anathemas.  In today's world, we could add power point presentations, screens, and the like, to the discussion, but hopefully not to the bloodshed.

 

            Most of the information that will be presented in these articles will be from Part IV of Martin Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent, as translated by Fred Kramer (St. Louis, MO., Concordia Publishing House, 1986, pp. 51-142)  But before we begin that examination, in the next issue I intend to first renew our understanding of the property and attributes of the Holy Scripture.  For that, I intend to draw upon Christian Dogmatics,Volume I, by Francis Pieper, D.D., (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 1950, particularly pp. 307-329) 

 

 

LDH

Larry D. Harvey has served as a Bible Class leader and Lay Leader in several congregations in Texas for over thirty years.  He is an attorney practicing in Houston, Texas.  He has served as General Counsel and a Director of Crossties Lutheran Ministry Resources, Inc. since its inception.  He and his wife, April, reside in Spring, Texas.  

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