Back in the comment boxes, Jock, Bosco, myself and Servis Fidelis have been playing what I have called a game of ‘whack-a-mole’. I’ll let those unfamiliar with it look it up, but in this context it means that a lot of familiar arguments come up, get knocked down, then come up again – hours of endless fun for all the family. Well, it would be, if the arguments being deployed had not had such hideous effects across centuries of religious sectarianism.
I’ve no problem with anyone reading the Bible as prohibiting the worship of images, as I know no Christian who does that. The problem comes when those doing the criticism insist that any use of images in worship is equivalent to worshipping an image. One can interpret the Bible as forbidding all use of images, most Christians, including the earliest, have not done that. They have assumed that what was meant was a prohibition of worshipping any God other than the one True God. Both lines of thought are there in the Christian tradition. It is when either side insists that they, and they alone, are right, and not only that, but that their opponents are in some way not true Christians, that the trouble comes.
Now, as a Baptist, I’m one for a plain style of worship. Our chapel is a plain stone building with sets of pews on the inside, and the one decoration on the wall being a cross to remind us of the price paid for our salvation by the King of Glory. That’s it. I’m not one for statues, or even icons, and I don’t want prayer cards or any fripperies with pictures of saints or anyone else on them. I don’t find it helpful to me, and the only time we use pictures is with the children at kids’ club and Sunday School, and they are in books or, nowadays on Powerpoint.
I have, probably bread into the bone, a deep distrust and indeed dislike of statues, altars and incense – indeed, just about any fancy stuff. But I know enough history and I’ve seen enough other cultures to know that this fancy of mine is culturally-conditioned. Some folk are a wee bit more excitable and like to let rip – and whilst I’d stay away from such places, I’d not be inclined to judge by appearances and think that a lady kneeling in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary thought that Mary was in the statue, or that she though Mary was the equal of Jesus. I knew enough Catholics when I was young, to know that there were some Catholics who did seem to give what I thought was an excessive devotion to Mary, but I also know what the Catholic Church teaches about Mary, and so know that it does not place her in the same place as Jesus. To those who cite individual behaviour, well what’s to say other than that you should never judge what a church teaches by its worst exemplars.
Do I think there is a danger that some folk invest too much in images, yes. But then I think there’s a danger that some folk come close to making an idol of the Bible.
Our job, if we profess to follow Jesus, is to try, however hard it may be, to understand our fellow Christians. It may be we come to the conclusion that they are not Christians at all – but as I hope to show in a later post – that one needs approaching with caution.