The Use of Images and Artwork in Worship


Few will agree with me on this, but hopefully my reasonings will appear rational and reasonable and using scripture appropriately.

The function of the images and colors of the Old Testament were in the use of the prefiguration of the coming Messiah – Their use was in what the writer of the letter of the Hebrews tells us: “10:1 For since the Law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Many might argue for much of the adornments, artwork, and images that are placed in our places of worship, that they draw them near to God in their worship – such are many other religions in their use of images and even idols to draw them near in their affections to the worship of idols. They argue for their presence in our places of worship from the fact that in the Old Testament, the Temple was adorned with carved images of palm trees, angels and so on. Because the people of the Old Testament used them, therefore, God accepts them and then we find people using such logic to justify using images, artwork and crosses plastered everywhere.

If I may digress, such is the state of modern american Christianity – of inundating nearly every item with a cross – our cars, our doors, our walls, our churches inside and out, our skin, any personal item we own from keys to bags, everything we own is covered in the image of the cross. But I inquiry into this: how many of those who have these images saturated on all the external possessions they have, how many have the cross submerged into their hearts, inundating every crevasse of their soul, affecting all the inward faculties and emotions, thoughts and deeds that flow out of them. The cross as it adorns anything we own means nothing, it applies no special power, God is not more pleased by the adorning of the tool used to crucify his Son by us to “speak” to the world of our dedication to him.

I say, leave your images at the store, and soak your soul in the deep mysteries of the cross revealed to us in the scriptures. The the invisible will transform your being, not the external images, which only conform you to their external regiments. If you seek glory, you will not find it in a key-chain, in a sticker or in a image in front of the stage at your church – you will find it here on earth in the unseen, invisible glory of Christ as he is given to us in the scriptures.

I return from my digression

Those Old Testament “copies” were exactly that, copies. Their function was to point to realities – namely, Jesus Christ in his Person, Divine preeminently, and Human functionally. And now, we fall into the same error that many fall into – returning to the old manner of coming to Christ, namely, through Law. Too many Christians find their acceptability before God based upon their performance and accretion of duties. This is the error that many of the Pharisees fell into, and even Peter himself, as Paul confronts so clearly in the book Galatians. In a similar manner, many Christians return themselves to images to invoke, most often, an emotional response to Christ as he is poured out. The problem is is that the emotional response to Christ is not needed through beholding some image of the cross, or through some painting that displays some sort of human concept of glory. Our emotional response is only and alone to be found in faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot look to images to provide for us some emotion, the reason for this is that 1) at its core it is idolatry, and 2) once the image is removed, the emotional response will fade soon after.

This is the sickening state that many churches are entering themselves into. I dare say that many allow themselves all sorts of “copies” and images into their worship services and have unwillingly qualified them as permissible objects to lead towards worship. Hence, i have run into many who think – “If I can use all sorts of objects and mood-setting equipment to “enhance” my worship experience, is it then not permissible to allow even the use of drugs to “enhance” my worship experience?” (I have encountered this question on multiple occasions)

The truth is that Christ in his person has satisfied all those copies – the reality has come and now dwells eternally in heaven. We live by faith here, we will live by sight in heaven. The reason we do not erect images here on earth is because the true image, Jesus Christ, has already appeared and now dwells in heaven. To set up anything now is an idolatrous work of man. If you desire to direct your physical eyes to something, then you are at a loss, we walk by faith in this life. It is in heaven that we will see our King (see my previous post). I say then, as I did earlier, soak your soul, direct your heart to the scriptures, where the glory of Christ is most magnificently displayed to those of us who live by faith. If you separate yourself from the word of God, you separate yourself from seeing the glory of Christ as it is faithfully portrayed to us by the Apostles. Do you wish to have your emotions drawn towards Christ? Set your faith upon the Divine person of Jesus, and see the glory that flows from all his magnificent works that fill the pages of the Scriptures.

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One thought on “The Use of Images and Artwork in Worship

  1. Nate,
    what do you do with the imagination. Certainly we were meant to imagine the events of the cross and resurrection as well as the other stories found in the gospels, etc… It seems to me that words as well as many other artistic forms (such as paintings, sculpture, dance, music) can function as means of drawing the heart into the worship of God. The only thing we are forbidden to do is to make an image of God Himself. We are meant to transverse the finite up and into the infinite beauty of God. I think that’s why God created the world, so that through it we would glorify Him. The problem in worship I believe is when man begins to worship the work of his own hands and not God. To me the issue is not whether or not images or artwork are used but rather how they are used. We can use them in the same way we use music as finite steps that lead us up into the infinite and eternal glory of God, or we can use them as a means to fill ourselves. Its a heart issue… at least thats what i think.

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