Heidelberg Catechism Q98

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

Aš 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 is a result of the conflicts of the 15th and 16th centuries.  The Catholic Church in Europe was full of images and statues.  They were worshipped and prayed to much as they are in the Catholic and Orthodox churches of today.  The very presence of these objects caused many to fall into superstition and false worship.  But love demands that if our actions cause another to sin, we must not do them.  Read 1 Corinthians 8:13.


Some today argue that religious artwork is beneficial for adding to the décor of a church.  This may be true from an aesthetic standpoint but in every instance in the Old Testament where images were allowed into the worship space of the people, their hearts were drawn away from God.  Read 2 King 18:4 for one example.


Others may argue that visual representations of biblical scenes are wonderful teaching tools for children and others who have never read the Bible.  Unfortunately, pictures are not self-interpreting. As contemporary art criticism so aptly displays, 2 critics can walk away from the same picture with vastly different and even contradictory meanings.  The same is true with religious works, but God wants his people to come to faith in his son and that requires the preaching of the cross and resurrection.  Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-10.


Why is God so insistent upon the preaching of his word?  Simply put the Bible is God’s message to humanity.  Through the preaching of the word, the Spirit can lead and direct hearts and minds.  Through the preaching of the word, the Spirit corrects misconceptions, and teaches us truth.  And Through the preaching of the word, the Spirit trains us in godliness.  Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:19.


As we read the Acts of the Apostles, we find that never did God use a picture to call forth faith in his people. On the contrary, he always used the preaching of the message and from it thousands of people responded.  For through the preached word, the heart is touched, the mind transformed and the will call into submission to God almighty.  Read Romans 10:14-17.


So let us be as Paul who determined to know nothing but Christ Crucified and through this simple presentation without eloquence or flourish, the first churches were established and built up.  Read 1 Corinthians 2:2.  The Word of God is living and active and no picture can ever claim the power that God’s word possesses.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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