Chapter Seventeen: Reformed Worship Got Rid of Forbidden Images

Protestant Reformers Against Using Images to Represent God

The Reformation operated on the doctrine of justification by faith. Romans 1 gave the principle: the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). The very next verse in Romans puts faith against idolatry. To change God so that he will be the likeness of an image is to change God; it exchanges the glory of God for an image, and it turns the truth of God into a lie.

Even Roman Catholics recognized that Protestants based their opposition to images upon Biblical authority, although Catholics believed Christians are not forbidden to use images to represent God. For instance, here is how The Catholic Encyclopedia interprets Protestants rejection of images.
Images then were in possession and received worship all over Christendom without question till the Protestant Reformers, true to their principle of falling back on the Bible only, and finding nothing about them in the New Testament, sought in the Old Law rules that were never meant for the New Church and discovered in the First Commandment (which they call the second) a command not even to make any graven image. Their successors have gradually tempered the severity of this...Calvinists keep the rule admitting no statues, not even a cross, fairly exactly still. Lutherans have statues and crucifixes. In Anglican churches one may find any principle at work, from that of a bare cross to a perfect plethora of statues and pictures. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, loc, cit. p. 670.)
Reform Before Luther

Before the time of Martin Luther there was a violent attempt to reform the church in Bohemia, inspired in part by the writings of Wycliff of England. Followers of John Huss (1373-1415), frustrated at the idolatry in the church, destroyed images and pictures, and even organs, which they associated with idolatry. This work was led by a man named Ziska and his followers, who considered it to be their mission as servants of God to root out idolatry. Their mission was to reform the church, and they tried to destroy such idolatrous influence as monks and nuns who taught idolatry. This war continued for many years and broke out in many places.

Finally the emperor and the pope called upon their people to clear the land of Wycliffism and Hussism, promising full indulgences to those who would do the job. They gathered an army from many European countries, a great army of over 100,000 men. The Hussites responded by celebrating the Lord’s Supper and vowing to sacrifice their property and their blood for the reformation.

The pope’s side suffered great loss. At the slaughter of Aussig, in 1426, the pope’s Germans lost between nine thousand and fifteen thousand men, while the Bohemians lost only fifty men. Nearly every symbol of Roman Catholic religion was destroyed. Churches were burned with those who were trying to take refuge in them. The costly church buildings and convents, described by Sylvius the Roman historian as more numerous, more magnificent, and more decorated than those in other European countries, were nearly all demolished. More than five hundred churches and monasteries with all their symbols of idolatry were destroyed. (Miller, 589)

Luther preached that there was idolatry in the church of his day: he showed it to be fully as wicked as the idolatry exposed in both the Old and New Testaments. In Luther’s Lectures on Deuteronomy Luther called attention to the error of the Catholics who believed good intentions justified their images:
It is not a valid argument to declare on behalf of the traditions of men:

The Moabites were idolaters and made sacrifice to demons; we, however, serve the true God in ceremonies devised with pious intentions and with good zeal. Therefore our efforts are not the same as theirs.

I answer:

The Moabites and other nations did not worship demons, but they believed they were serving the true God no less than the idolatrous Jews, yes, than all our papists, even the holiest and most religious. But their godlessness consisted in this, that they took over the true name of the true God and worshiped Him with ceremonies not commanded by God but devised by themselves. Those who do such things imagine in their hearts that the true God is of such a sort that He wants to be worshipped and regards favorable whatever people who are still godless undertake without the Word of God. But as Psalm 5:5 says, He is not a God who will want godlessness. He is rather the God of the righteous, who are justified through the Word and His grace, not through their own strength. Therefore it necessary follows that their thinking about God is mere fiction and a lie. And the god whom they so devise and shape for themselves is not the true God but an idol of their heart, under which they worship the devil, the teacher and father of this lie (John 8:44). And so with their false imagination they indeed worship idols and demons under the name of the true God. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 9 Lectures on Deuteronomy. p. 53.)
Luther showed that when man creates images of “God” he then creates a system of worship by which to worship the god he made. Luther used the insight of the apostle Paul to show that the god thus worshipped is actually demonic, though man may ascribe to his god the name of the true God, and will by all means be persuaded he is worshipping the true God. Luther did not hesitate to turn the search-light of this exposition on the practices of Roman Catholicism.

To Martin Luther, idolatry meant worshiping a false idea about God rather than worshiping God as he is revealed in Scripture. In his “Preface to the Prophets” he said:
One who is accustomed to serve God in ways that have no testimony of God for them ought to know he is serving, not the true God, but an idol he has imagined for himself, that is to say, he is serving the devil himself, and the words of all the prophets are against him. For this God, who would let us establish worship for Him according to our own choice and devotion, without His command and Word,—this God is nowhere ...
God is not like the images that man imagines him to be, but God is revealed by the Word. The nature of God controls the nature of his worship. Unscriptural worship leads to demon worship. Luther said he accused some Catholics of worshiping images but they would neither admit that this was works without faith nor admit that they were worshiping the images. Yet Luther was convinced they were idolatrous. He said:
They will answer: Are you the man who dares to accuse us of worshiping the images? Do not believe that they will acknowledge it. To be sure it is true, but we cannot make them admit it. (The Eight Wittenberg Sermons)
This sermon by Luther shows how prevalent image worship was at that time, and it shows the growing popular reaction against image worship in that part of Europe. This was soon after Martin Luther had posted his 95 theses.

There seems to have been a growing awareness that Catholic worship was idolatrous. While Luther was hiding to avoid the death sentence, Carlstadt led Wittenberg’s town council in making a rule that images should be removed from the churches. The question of images, pictures, and crucifixes had been troubling the people in recent weeks. Zwilling led a crowd of people in overturning altars and smashing images and pictures of the saints. Carlstadt supported this movement on the basis of the Scripture’s laws against images. Carlstadt felt very deeply opposed to these images because previously had been so deeply attached to images, and he now realized they had diverted him from true worship. God is a Spirit and he must be worshiped in spirit. The man who contemplates a crucifix is reminded only of the physical suffering of Christ rather than of his spiritual tribulations, thought Carlstadt.

Luther was caught between idolatry and anarchy. Luther argued against creating an uproar by overthrowing the images by force. “Do you really believe you can abolish the images on this wise? No, you will only set them up more firmly,” he said. But on the other hand Luther encouraged, as the proper Scriptural opposition to images, the preaching of the Word against them. “Therefore it should have been preached that images were nothing and that God is not served by their erection, and they would have fallen of themselves,” he advised. He used the illustration of how Paul preached against idolatry when he found it to be the sin of Athens: Paul preached against the idols but he did not attack their images with physical force. He did not strike at any of them, but stood in the marketplace and said, “Ye men of Athens, ye are all idolatrous.” He preached against their idols, but he overthrow none by force.

The Reformers said that using images to represent God was idolatrous. Martin Luther, in his “Preface to the Prophets,” saw that using images to represent God was the kind of idolatry that the prophets preached against.
Again, since the prophets cry out most of all against idolatry, it is necessary to know the form which this idolatry had; for in our time, under the papacy, many people flatter themselves and think they are no such idolaters as the children of Israel. For this reason then they do not think highly of the prophets, especially of this part of them, because the rebukes upon idolatry do not concern them at all. They are far too pure and holy to commit adultery, and it would be laughable for them to be afraid or terrified because of threats and denunciations against idolatry. That is just what the people of Israel did. They simply would not believe that they were idolatrous, and therefore the threatenings of the prophets had to be lies, and they themselves had to be considered as heretics.
Luther explained that Israel’s idolatrous people really did not think they were idolaters any more than Catholics thought they themselves were idolaters. Both Israel and Catholics justified themselves by holding the same wrong definition of idolatry. Idolatrous Israel was a picture of Roman Catholicism, a picture Luther used against the idolatry in the church of his day.
The children of Israel were not such mad saints to worship plain wood and stone, especially the kings, princes, priests, and prophets, though they were the most idolatrous of all; but their idolatry consisted in letting go of the worship which God had instituted and ordered at Jerusalem, and where else God would have it, and improving on it, establishing it and setting it up elsewhere, according to their own ideas and opinions, without God’s command, and inventing new forms and persons and times for it, though Moses had strictly forbidden this, especially in Deuteronomy xii, and pointed them to the place that God had chosen for his tabernacle and dwelling place. This false worship was their idolatry, and they thought it a fine and precious thing, and relied upon it as though they had done well in performing it, though it was sheer disobedience and apostasy from God and his commands.
Luther then gave the example of the golden calves made by Jeroboam. We recognize them as idols, though Israel did not intend them to be idols. Israel only intended to represent God by an image. Jeroboam did not call the calves of gold idols but he called them God, the God of Israel. It was not Jeroboam’s plan to worship idols. He wanted to worship God, but since the temple was in Jerusalem he decided not to limit the worship to the temple but to spread it to the entire country.

God himself said that the Israelites were intending to worship God, not a false idol, observed Luther.
Thus we read in (1 Kings 12), not simply that Jeroboam set up two calves, but had it preached to the people besides, ‘Ye shall no more go up to Jerusalem; lo, here, Israel, is thy God, who led thee out of Egypt.’ He does not say, ‘Lo, here, Israel, is a calf,’ but ‘Here is thy God who led thee out of Egypt.’ He confesses freely that the God of Israel is the true God and that he led them out of Egypt; but men are not to run to Jerusalem after Him, but rather to find Him here at Dan and Beersheba, where the golden calves are.
Luther applied this lesson to the image-using clergy of his day who devised worship forms not authorized by Scripture. Plans and intentions don’t count, because those who killed the first Christians thought they, too, were serving God. Luther classed as “images” all kinds of forms created by man to represent God. All such forms for God are false and evil.

Luther supported his claim that the golden calves were not intended by Israel to be idols, but yet were declared by the Lord to be idols.
Why many words? God himself confesses that the children of Israel intended to worship, not an idol, but Him alone; for He says, in Hosea ii, ‘At that day, saith the Lord, thou shalt call me ‘My Husband’ and call me no more ‘My Master’ (footnote: ‘~shi, not Baali’). For I will take the name of the Baalim out of her mouth, so that one shall no more remember this name of Baalim. Here one must confess it true that the children of Israel intended to worship no idol, but the one true God. God says plainly, here in Hosea, “Thou shalt call me not more ‘My Baal.’” “Now the worship of Baal was the greatest, commonest, and most glorious worship in the people of Israel, and yet it was utter idolatry, despite the fact that by it they intended to worship the true God.
Even the Baals, idolatrous as they were, were intended (at least often) by the people to represent the true God. This did not justify having Baals.
Those who are used to serving God in ways that are worthless should know that he is not serving the true God but an false god that is imagined from his mind. Because of this he is abetting the devil and all that the prophets of old writings are against him.
Luther concluded that we must not depart to the left or to the right of the way revealed by the Word, lest there be no end of idolatry and lest it become impossible to distinguish between true worship and idolatry, “since all have the true God in mind, and all use His true Name.” (Luther: 403).

Such was the teaching of this great leader of the Reformation. Yet at times Luther was not so strong, and his lasting influence against images was not strong. After Luther’s death the Lutheran church settled for a place of compromise between the Calvinists’ total rejection of deity images and the Roman Catholics’ total usage of deity images.

The Swiss Reformers regarded worship that involved images as idolatrous. In the city of Zurich the pastors agreed to preach no doctrine they could not prove from Scripture. One of the pastors, Zwingle, examined the ritual of the Mass in the light of the Scripture, and he published his findings in a book called On the Canon of the Mass. Zwingle’s book supplied evidence against the Mass, the worship service of the Roman church.

Another book that got people’s attention was called The Judgment of God against Images, written by Louis Hetzer, a priest. A large crucifix outside the city was destroyed by some people who later were brought to trial. A large group of people assembled to consider whether image worship was authorized by the Gospel, and whether the Mass should be kept or abolished. Over 900 officials and representatives of the Catholic Church from all over Switzerland gathered. Before this large assembly, Zwingle, Leo Juda and others argued that the Bible was the only standard of faith and morals. Some church traditions, on the other hand, were contrary the Word of God.

Those Swiss authorities saw that neither the Mass nor the use of images could be justified by the Word of God. How should they get rid of these traditional religious forms? Zwingle prudently asked them to use great care and caution. “I am aware,” he said, “that there are timid souls who ought to be conciliated.” Most people were not yet enlightened enough to agree upon making the needed reforms, he felt. The rulers permitted each minister to choose for himself whether or not he would say more at that time. The officials reserved the right to make future changes if necessary.

The first martyr of the Swiss Reformation, Nicholas Hottinger, was the leader who knocked down the crucifix outside Zurich. Catholic leaders wanted him put to death, but the Zurich council was divided. Zwingle argued that Hottinger was not guilty of any religious crime because God’s law forbade the image that Hottinger destroyed. On the other hand, admitted Zwingle, Hottinger did resist the authorities. Eventually they banished Hottinger for two years. He went to Boden County and got a job. People in Boden County asked Hottinger about the new doctrines the Zurich pastors were preaching. Hottinger explained that they were preaching that since Christ was sacrificed once and for all, this means the Mass is really no sacrifice and is not needed; furthermore they were preaching that the customs of praying to the saints and adoring images are contrary to the Word of God. Hottinger was arrested in Boden County, and convicted of breaking their rule that forbade all discussion of religion. He was taken to Lucerne, condemned by the deputies of seven provinces, and then put to death. Just before he died, a nearby monk put a crucifix to Hottinger’s lips. Hottinger pushed it away and said, “It is by faith that we must hold Christ crucified in our hearts.”

The Council of Zurich protested Hottinger’s death. But the Helvetic Diet sent a delegation to Zurich to persuade the council and citizens to renounce their new doctrine and get rid of Zwingle and Leo Juda. The Diet conceded that the church was suffering in the papal system. Diet members said they were willing to cooperate for the correction of some other evils in the church. But the Council of Zurich decided to go ahead and destroy images. It was to be done by an orderly method. Families that had put images in the churches were to remove them within a certain time or else the images would be destroyed by a public authority. Officers were appointed to do the work. The twelve councilors, the three pastors, the city architect, masons, and carpenters were included in the task force. They went into the churches, closed the doors behind them, took down crosses, whitewashed walls, burned pictures, destroyed the images. Country churches then followed the example of those in Zurich. By these careful and deliberate measures, of which Zwingle was their advisor, civil trouble was avoided and the work progressed with citizen support.

Zurich soon stopped the Mass. The altars upon which the Mass had been sacrificed were replaced by communion tables. The Reformation spread in Switzerland to the state of Berne through the preaching of Haller and Meyer. Haller was the author of ten religious articles debated by Protestants and Catholics at a conference at Berne in 1528. One article stated that the worship of images, statues, and pictures is contrary to the Word of God.

In Berne, The ten articles were defended successfully by Zwingle, Oecolampadeus, Capito, Bucer and Haller. The assembly leaders asked the magistrate to adopt laws to further the Reformation. The authorities responded immediately by destroying the images and removing the altars from the churches. They also stopped the Mass. This example at Berne caused other undecided areas to join the Reformation, and the people of Constance, Schaffhousen, St. Gall, Glaris, Tokenburg, and other places got rid of such forms as images, altars, and the Mass.

The senators of Basle delayed doing anything about the image problem. Finally people took matters into their own hands. “Why should we spare the idols that light the flames of division?” asked the Protestants. Entering the cathedral they destroyed the altar, took down the pictures, toppled the images and then burned the remains outside in the street. Other churches carried out the same reforms. All symbols of idolatry were searched out for destruction. Private property was generally left up to the owners, but public churches were the objects of reform. No blood was shed.

Reformed worship was introduced in all the churches of Basle. Roman Catholics were permitted to stay, but many of them decided to leave. Erasmus, still supported by the Roman Catholic Church, decided to leave but he made the wry observation that, “So many were the insults heaped upon the images and crucifixes as to make it strange that those holy saints, who had been inclined to display such prodigies of power on very slight offences, should have refrained in this important emergency from displaying their miraculous power.” (Miller)

The Reformation in Switzerland cannot be separated from the removing of deity images. Getting rid of false images was a catalyst, and reformation followed. The motivation for putting away the false images was the determination to consistently follow the Word of God as the final authority for faith and worship.

Calvin’s words against using images to represent God have already been sampled in his commentaries on various Scriptures. In his Institutes, Calvin devoted Chapter 11 to the question of using images to know and worship God. The first part of the chapter “contains a refutation of those who ascribe a visible form to God.” (Institutes: I, 90)

The second part of chapter eleven discusses the origin of images and compares the similarity of Roman Catholic image usage with that of ancient times.

The third part of this section in the Institutes discusses the use and abuse of images, and “contains a refutation of the second council of Nice,” because that weighty but tragic council “very absurdly contends for images in opposition to divine truth” (Institutes, 90). Calvin disproved that council’s decision by merely quoting the ridiculous reasons they gave for justifying their images. For example, John, a deputy in the Eastern Churches, declared that because God created man in God’s image, man can and should make images of God. Calvin begins this chapter be affirming that the Scriptures uniformly define the true God as a being that must be contrasted with “every deity which men frame for themselves of their own accord” (Institutes, 91). God is the only witness to Himself.

Calvin shows that not all visual representations are banned—just all attempts at picturing God. The talent to paint and to sculpt is given by God. Talents should be used in a way to glorify God, not used in such a way that will ruin us (Institutes, 100).

Men are universally afflicted with “this brutish stupidity” of wanting “visible forms of God,” so they create them from such materials as wood and stone, silver and gold, or other lifeless material.

To protect ourselves against this common error, “we must hold it as a first principle, that as often as any form is assigned to God, His glory is corrupted by an impious lie” (Institutes, 91). This is the reason God’s law “curbs any licentious attempt we might make to represent Him by a visible shape...”

God does not compare such images, saying one is more appropriate than another: “He rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them.

It is rebellion against God to long for such visible shapes. This is because “the majesty of God is misled by an absurd and indecorous form of action, when He who is incorporeal is assimilated to corporeal matter:” (Institutes, 92). The error involves changing Him who is invisible into something visible; changing a spirit into a lifeless object; changing the one who fills all space into a speck of wood or metal. “Hence it is manifest that whatever statues are set up or pictures painted to represent God, are utterly displeasing to Him, as a kind of insult to His majesty.” (Institutes, 92).

The commandment against these images is a “prohibition which the Lord founds on His own eternal essence.” God’s holy nature is Calvin’s premise from which he refutes the Greek Church that guards against images but uses pictures, and it refutes Gregory’s ancient argument that “images are the books of the unlearned.” Calvin concludes this first division of his Institutes by saying, Whosoever, therefore, is desirous of being instructed in the true knowledge of God must apply to some other teacher than images.” (Institutes, 95)

Calvin’s belief is that the origin of idolatry is to be found in men’s feeling that God is not present with them “unless His presence is carnally exhibited.” Calvin gives the example of the golden calf: “... daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some augment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God.” (Institutes, 97).

Consequently, men in nearly every age since the world began, have “set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.” (Institutes, 97). This leads men to bow before those images and increasingly treat them as if they were God. “For this reason, the Lord not only forbade the erection of statues to Himself, but also the consecration of titles and stones which might be set up for adoration.” (Institutes, 98)

Calvin accused the Roman Catholics of his day of using forbidden images in a way similar to the ancient ways forbidden by the Bible. Their very best images for God were wrong. Calvin said there are those who want to use such images but also want to clear themselves of the stigma of idolatry. We don’t call them idols, they say. Well, neither did the Jews or her neighbors of old call their images idols. The prophets made it clear that those people were worshiping idols, no matter what the people wanted the prophets to call it.
The Roman Catholic attempt to distinguish between the kind of worship they called dulia, which they said could be paid to statues and pictures, and the worship they called latria, Calvin said was a false distinction.

The fact is, that they just display their ignorance while they belittle others. No matter how well they may speak they will show their ignorance. Their distinctions were, Calvin said, like a murderer or an adulterer trying to avoid conviction by calling their crimes by some other name. The burden of proof was still upon them to prove that their use of images differed from what the Bible prohibited long ago.

James Arminius, well known for his break away from Calvinism’s double predestination, did stay with Calvinism’s opposition to deity images. Arminius wrote a “Disputation” on idolatry, regarding his concern that images to represent God serve Satan’s purpose of leading the church away from the knowledge of the true God. Arminius said the Devil has been trying to persuade men to worship the true God in an image, because he knows that God is not to be conceived and worshipped in the form of any images, and thus, through image-worship, the Devil can deceive men and obtain men’s worship.
It always has been, and is now, the chief design of diabolical perverseness—that even the devil himself should be considered and worshiped as a deity—than which nothing can be more reproachful and insulting to the true God; or that all thought and mention of a Deity being removed, pure atheism might obtain, and, after conscience was taken away, men might be hurried along into every kind of flagitious wickedness. But since he could not effect this, on account of the notion of a Deity, and indeed of a good one, which is deeply impressed on the minds of men; and since he know it to be the will of the true God that he should himself alone be considered and worshipped as God, without any image (Ex. 20:3-5; Dt. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20); the Devil has been trying to persuade men to consider and worship as God some figment of their own brain or some kind of creature or, at least, to worship the true God in an image. (Arminius: I, 637)
Arminius declared that “this evil holds domination far and wide in christendom itself.” (Arminius, Vol. 1, 637)

Arminius pursued the essential meaning of idolatry. Do images lead people to Christ? If a person knows the image is not God and still bows before it as a representation of God, it is the same as “to say to the wood, with one portion of which he kindled the fire of his hearth and of his oven, and from another has fashioned to himself a god, ‘Deliver me; for thou art my god,’ (Isa. 44:15,17) and to a stone, ‘Thou hast begotten me’” (Arminius, p. 639, Ref. to Jer. 2:27). So Arminius, using the prophetic insight of Isaiah and Jeremiah, implies that if we use images to beget our concept of Christ, it is an idolatrous concept of Christ that is begotten. To lead people to an idolatrous “Christ” is to lead people to idolatry.

English Reformers Against Images

Two centuries before the Methodist revival, William Tyndale, an early reformer in England (1492-1536), wrote that idolatry could be practiced upon images made to represent God. Writing his exposition of the First Epistle of John, Tyndale said John’s concluding warning (1 John 5:20-21) to keep from idols is a warning to keep away from using false images for the true God.

We may put as much worship into the image of God as we might a false god. We may consider that to worship God through a false image is to really worship the devil.

To accept a false image is to corrupt one’s mental image of God. Serving a false concept of God is idolatry. In his comments on 1 John 4:12, Tyndale warns against making images of God for two reasons: we do not know what God really looks like (so a true image is not possible), and we know that God’s nature is love (so we know that a carved image is not appropriate to represent him). God is not a piece of wood, or something to be burnt. He is love and should be honored in that way.

Bishop Ridley, imprisoned with Latimer and Cranmer, was burned at the stake by the Catholics. He was martyred along with Latimer in October, 1555. During his imprisonment he wrote a treatise addressed to King Edward the Sixth, “Concerning Images: That They Are Not To Be Set Up, Nor Worshipped In Churches.” The treatise presented the king with a wide variety of biblical and historical reasons not to allow images to represent Christ. (Ridley, 11-20).

The Church of England, in its homilies, officially opposed the use of images in the worship of God. These homilies “were long authoritative” in the church (“Homily”, Ency. Americana, XIV, 341). They were approved as “godly and wholesome doctrine” by Article 35 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 (“Great Britain—Church of England”, Ency. Brit., XIII, 257).

The homily against idolatry warns that man’s natural tendency is toward idolatry, therefore man will soon be deeply involved in idolatry if he is given images as worship aids:
...idolatry cannot possibly be separated from images any long time; but that as an unseparable accident, or as a shadow followeth the body when the sun shineth, so idolatry followeth and cleaveth to the public having of images in Temples and Churches.
Idolatry is the problem that results when images are used in worship:
...the very nature and origin of images themselves draweth to idolatry most violently, and Man’s nature and inclination also is bent to idolatry so vehemently, that it is not possible to sever or part images, nor to keep Men from idolatry, if images be suffered publicly. (Cope, 46)
The homily compares idolatry with fornication: both are the natural tendency of man. Man’s nature is so prone to sin that if temptation is placed before him it will likely cause him to fall.
...the nature if Man is none otherwise bent to the worshipping of images (if he may have them and see them), than it is bent to whoredom and adultery in the company of harlots. And as unto a Man given to the lust of the flesh, seeing a wanton harlot, sitting by her, and embracing her, it profiteth little for one to say, “Beware of fornication, God will condemn fornicators and adulterers.” For neither will he, being overcome with greater enticements of the strumpet, give ear to take heed to such godly admonitions; and when he is left afterwards alone with the harlot, nothing can follow but wickedness. Even so suffer images to be set in the Church and Temples, ye shall in vain bid them beware of images... (Cope 47).
Images lead to idolatry as long as man has a sinful nature. Such is the Reformed and Church of England heritage received by the Wesleys. Also this was the spiritual heritage of the Puritans, who in turn, helped establish the early spiritual climate of America.

The opposition of the Puritans to art forms in the worship services is well known, if not well understood. Puritans were influenced by the Reformed theology. For instance, the Puritan preacher Thomas Watson said, “To worship God by an image, God takes as done to the image itself” (Watson, The Ten Commandments, p. 45).

Watson, by analogy, said that it is spiritual adultery to use images to represent God. For Papists to say they make use of an image to put them in mind of God, is as if a woman should say she keeps company with another man to put her in mind of her husband. (p. 46).

Pictures to represent Christ make Christ into only “half a Christ,” said Watson. They divide and separate Christ’s two natures.
It is Christ’s Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half a Christ,—we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing that makes him to be Christ. (p. 46).
This Puritan concept of the deity of Christ helped form the early theology of the church in America, but it has long since been forgotten, it appears.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791)
Wesley stated, “There is nothing more expressly forbidden in Scripture, than the making any image or representation of God.” (Wesley: X, 109-112)

God never revealed any body shape that would reveal His nature, observed John Wesley. God did reveal his love, but serving forbidden images has a “natural tendency to hinder, if not utterly destroy, the love of God” in our minds and hearts. (Wesley, X, 155)

Wesley traced the history of image-making in the church. The Early Church did not feel it needed worship aids because it was sufficiently instructed in all the articles of faith and knew the power of God. But after the Gospel spread, and kings and princes became Christians, and temples were built for Christian worship, “then the zeal of some well-disposed Christians brought pictures into the churches, not only as ornaments, but as instructors of the ignorant.” Soon the walls of the churches were “beset with pictures, representing all the particular transactions mentioned.” But these pictures became the snare of the devil to deceive Christians into image worship. The clergy made the fatal mistake of not correcting this mistake, and this mistake by degrees gathered strength.
But so it was, that what the Priests at first winked at, they afterwards gave countenance to; and what they once countenanced, they thought themselves obliged in honour to defend; till, at last superstition came to be preached from the pulpits, and gross idolatry obtruded upon the people for true devotion. (Wesley, X, 175-177)
Wesley marveled that what had started out so simple in the beginning had degenerated into such idolatry as is scarcely to be found in the heathen world, making “the very name of Christianity (to) stink in the nostrils of the Mahometans, Jews, and Infidels.”

Two full centuries after Tyndale in England, John Wesley criticized Catholics for making and worshipping pictures and images of the Trinity. Wesley said these images are evident in every predominantly Roman Catholic region or country, and the Catholic Church encouraged its people to worship them, even if this is completely banned in the Bible.

Wesley answered Catholics who said they give a different kind of worship to the image than they give to God.
If an image be a representation of a divine person, and worship be done to the image for the sake of the person represented in it; then such as the person is, such must the worship be that is due to his image; and what is due to the person, if present, is due to the image in his absence. For to give one honour to the person, another to the image; a superior to the person, and an inferior to the image; is to terminate the worship in the image, and not pass it from thence to the person... (Works, X, 109).
Thus Catholics admitted they worshiped the images, even when they tried to justify it.

Early in his ministry (1739), Wesley wrote to a Catholic priest that “no Romanist can expect to be saved, according to the terms of (Christ’s) covenant.” (Works, I, 220-221). Later in his ministry (1768), Wesley reaffirmed this position: “ my Journal, Aug 27, 1739, I published the only letter which I ever wrote to a Popish Priest....’ No Romanist, as such, can expect to be saved, according to the terms of the Christian covenant’.” One reason Wesley gave the priest was the Catholic usage of images, usage forbidden in Scripture.

Reformed Creeds and Catechisms Against Images

Many creeds and catechisms of the reformation teach that God is not like an image, thus reflecting the theology of the leaders of this movement.

Calvin’s genius as a reformer is seen in this catechism. The Catechism of the Church of Geneva succinctly covers many large topics; our editorial headings suggest some.

Art: This Command Does Not Prohibit All Art

(Q): Does (the second commandment) entirely prohibit us from sculpturing or painting any resemblance?
(A): No, it only forbids us to make any resemblance for the sake of representing or worshipping God.

God’s Nature: God Does Not Have a Physical Form

(Q): Why is it unlawful to represent God by a visible shape?
(A): Because there is no resemblance between him who is an eternal Spirit and incomprehensible, and a corporeal, corruptible, and lifeless figure. (Dt. 4:15, Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:23) (Calvin: 58)

How to Express Love for God: To Use Images to Represent God Is to Express “Hate” for God, not “Love” for God

(Q): You think then that an insult is offered to his majesty when he is represented in this way?
(A): Such is my belief.

God’s Self-Revelation: God Does Not Present Himself To Us In Images

(Q): What kind of worship is here condemned?
(A): When we turn to a statue or image intending to pray, we prostrate ourselves before it: when we pay honour to it by the bending of our knees, or other signs, as if God were there representing himself to us.

Other Kinds of Images Lawful

(Q): We are not to understand then that simply any kind of picture or sculpture is condemned by these words. We are only prohibited from making images for the purpose of seeking or worshipping God in them, or which is the same thing, for the purpose of worshipping them in honour of God, or abusing them in any way to superstition and idolatry.
(A): True.

Worship Forms

(Q): Now to what end shall we refer this head?
(A): As under the former head he declared that he alone should be worshipped and served, so he now shows what is the correct form of worship, that he may call us off from all superstition, and other vicious and carnal fictions. (Calvin, Tracts & Treatises, II, 58).
The Second Helvetic Confession stated, “As God is a spirit, he cannot be represented by any image (Jn. 4:24; Isa. 40:18; 44:9-10; Jer. 16:9; Acts 17:29, etc.)” The confession specifically addressed the error of making pictures to represent Christ.
And although Christ assumed man’s nature, yet he did so not in order to afford a model for sculptors and painters. He instituted for the instruction of the people the preaching of the Gospel, and the sacraments, but not images. Epiphanius tore down an image of Christ and some saint in a church, because he regarded it contrary to the Scriptures. (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom)
This confession cites a precedent from ancient times. Epiphanius tore down an image of Christ and some saints in the church, because he regarded it contrary to Scripture.

This Second Helvetic Confession was the most widely adopted and therefore the most authoritative of all the Reformed confessions in Europe, except for the Heidelberg Catechism. It was used in the Swiss cantons and the Palatinate, in the Reformed Churches of Neufchatel, France, Hungary, Poland, and in Scotland, Holland, and England. It was translated into German, French, English, Dutch, Magyar, Polish, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish. This indicates how widely at that time was held the view that God is not like an image and that therefore Christ cannot be pictured.

A synod in Heidelberg approved the catechism in 1563. The synod of Dort (1618-1619) approved this catechism and it became the catechism of choice in most Reformed churches around the world to teach the main doctrines of the Christian faith. The catechism is divided into fifty-two sections so that each Sunday of the year one section of the catechism can be explained. On the thirty-fifth Sunday the questions and answers teach the meaning of the second commandment of the decalogue.
96 Q. What is God's will for us in the second commandment"

A. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word.

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

A. God can not 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.

98. Q. But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned?

A. 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. ("The Heidelberg Catechism," Psalter Hymnal; Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988; p. 906)
The Westminster Larger Catechism, under the “sins forbidden in the second commandment,” included “the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it.” (cited by Barnes, 11. Also see Schaff, 687).

Selected Bibliography and Notes

Arminius, James. The Writings of James Arminius, trans. by James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977). See Vol. l. p. 637.

Barnes, Peter. Seeing Jesus: The Case Against Pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ (P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA 17013: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990).

Calvin, John. Institutes of The Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964). Especially see Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 11 (“Impiety of Attributing a Visible Form to God.—The Setting Up of Idols A Defection From the True God”), and Chapter 12 (“God Distinguished From Idols, That He May Be the Exclusive Object of Worship”).

Calvin, John. Tracts and Treatises on the Doctrine and Worship of the Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1958). Vol. 11, pp. 33-94. See p. 58 for Geneva Catechism regarding the second commandment. Also see Vol. 1, 149-150 from Calvin’s “Supplicatory Remonstrance” presented to the Imperial Diet at Spires, 1544 A.D.). Also see Vol. 11, 406, where Calvin urges us: try to avoid letting image-users (“when they see you holding their idols in ridicule or contempt”) to think “that you are a derider and contemner of God also.” Also see Vol. III, 386-387 re. the Mass and its idolatrous use of image to represent Christ.

Cope, Gilbert. Symbolism in the Bible and the Church (London: S. C. M. Press, Ltd., 1959), p. 47 for excerpts from Church of England homily against images.

Dickinson, William Croft (ed.). John Knox’s history of he Reformation in Scotland (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950),l 1, 108-134,215,280283.

“Homily,” The Encyclopedia Americana, (1951 edition), XIV, 341, significance of Church of England homilies. Also see “Great Britain—Church of England,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, XIII, 257.

Luther, Martin. Works, ~Vol. 9), Lectures on Deuteronomy, Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), see p. 53.

Luther, Martin. “Preface to the Prophets,” Vol. VI, Work of Martin Luther (6 vols.), (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932).

Luther, Martin. “The Eight Wittenberg Sermons,” Vol. 11, Works of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1943).

Fortescue, Adrian. “Images, Veneration of,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc. 1910), p. 670.

Miller, Andrew. Miller’s Church History: From First to Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), p. 188.

Ridley, M. Nicholas. “A Treatise Concerning Images,” Treatises and Letters of Dr. Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and Martyr, 1555 (London: The Religious Tract Society, n.d.), pp. 11-20.

Schaff Philip. The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, Brothers, 1919), I. 398 and 687. Reformation statements.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1990. Also is found in Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church).

Tyndale, William. “The Exposition of the Fyrste Epistle of Seynt John,” English Reformers, Vol. XXVI. The Library of Christian Classics (Westminster, 1966), pp. 100-144.

Watson, Thomas. The Ten Commandments (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962). Puritan sermon on the second commandment.

Wesley, John. The Work of John Wesley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.). Vol. 1, 220-221. See: Journal, Aug 1739, quotes his lener to a Roman Catholic priest where he cites the second commandment as one evidence that: “... no Romanist can expect to be saved, ...” Cf. 111, 349-350 where Wesley in his Journal (for Jan 1769) refers to this letter as being his position on Roman Catholicism.

Wesley, John. The Works of John Wesley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.). Vol. VI. See: Sermon LXXV “On Schism” (especially pp. 408-409).

Wesley, John. The Works of John Wesley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.). Vol. X. See: 1. A Roman Catechism, Faithfully Drawn Out of the Allowed Writings of the Church of Rome, With A Reply Thereto,” X, 86-128 (especially 109-112). 2. “Popery Calmly Considered,” X, 140-158 (especially 148, 155); 3. “The Origin of Image-Worship Among Christians, “ X, 175-177.