‘When is an Idol not an Idol?’

The altar of Kongsvinger Lutheran Church in Minnesoto

The various polytheistic world religions – many older than Christianity – seem to have one trait in common:  they create statues of their deities to delight in their presence. We see statues of Buddha in just about every Chinese restaurant we patronize. If you google ‘Krishna statues’ you get over 600,000 hits that display offers to purchase Vishnu and Shakti gods of marble and cement. Only the monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have injunctions by their founders denouncing the making of idols.

When you read the New Testament — the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and the Book of Revelation – the only place where idols are found is among the pagans or as in the last book, foreseeing the image of the beast that is made to talk.

The Apostle Paul used the idol of the “unknown god” as a conversation starter to present the true and living God to those at Mars Hill. He pointed out to them that God is not “worshiped with men’s hands…  seeing He giveth to all life, and breath” (Acts 17:25). In verse 22, he tells them “I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” Some bibles translate ‘superstitious’ to ‘religious.’ Either word sends the same message.

The town rioted against Paul’s companions in the amphitheater in Ephesus for speaking out against their goddess. Remember what was believed about her image?

“And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshiper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?”

No statues or idols were used by Christians for worshiping “in spirit and in truth” in the first century. That only occurred when false brethren, (of whom Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20), rose up in the time of Emperor Constantine, merged paganism with Christianity in an effort to unify the Roman empire. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church even has their own version of their goddess whose image miraculously appeared on the tunic of a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego – resulting in the worship of “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Ritualistic Churchianity

We’ve come to just expect this sort of idolatry in the Roman Catholic Church and also the Eastern Orthodox expression of the same mutated faith. But when it is seen in a Protestant church, especially one named after the Reformer Martin Luther, it boggles the mind. (Use Google image search, type in ‘Lutheran church altar’ and look at the photos – unbelievable – crucifixes with lit candles under them and all.)

I raised a stir the other day on Facebook when I challenged Lutheran Pastor Chris Rosebrough for having a bigger than life-sized statue of ‘Jesus’ on his church altar – high and lifted up. I came upon a public photo of him conducting a ritual of a Confirmation service. Seeing him in his clerical robes that are indistinguishable from those worn by Catholic priests also struck me as un-Protestant-like.

Pastor Rosebrough took issue with me immediately – even becoming rather hostile. If any of you listen to his radio program, Fighting for the Faith, you know how intimidating he can be. After all, his symbol is a a pirate and he is adept at swashbuckling against those in Christian media with whom he disagrees. He gave me a link to a study he conducted on the topic and I just knew off the bat that he would use the same empty rationalizations for idols as Roman Catholic apologists use – and upon investigation, I was correct. [http://www.kongsvingerchurch.org/bible-teaching/2017/3/8/graven-images ]

But I was in for one big surprise – In this audio, he revealed that Lutherans use the very same list of the Ten Commandments as the RCC does – eliminating the commandment to make no graven images. Very convenient, don’t ya think? And just as Roman Catholics do, Lutherans put their Christianized statues in positions of visibility upon their altars – the stage upon which their black-robed clergy operate and the congregations face.

Altar: “A usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship.” (Webster Dictionary)

Second meaning from same dictionary: “A table on which the eucharistic elements are consecrated or which serves as a center of worship or ritual.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/altar ]

So why is this hold-over from Catholicism still in use in gazillions of ‘Protestant’ churches around the world? Perhaps the proverbial apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

The Roman Catholic Church, by use of their priestcraft, claims to change the ‘host’ (a flat unbroken wafer in the shape of the sun, stored later in a monstrance which resembles rays of sunlight emanating from the contained host) into the “body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.”

Above every Catholic altar is a crucifix, a cross with a dead ‘Jesus’ upon it. It is placed over the ‘altar’ for the people to have a point of focus during the mass. As a former Catholic, I can testify to how powerful a force that gives to an idol – especially as a child when I was so vulnerable. Nobody had to tell me that it was merely a symbol or art work and not to be literally worshiped. The way it was presented there on the ‘altar’ gave it a supernatural mystique in my innocent mind.

As pictured above in a Lutheran Church, placing a statue of a living, resurrected ‘Christ’ in that prominent position upon what the Lutherans call ‘an altar’ would no doubt have the same impact on the children – and even some adults – as prayers and hymns resound beneath it.

Asking the mainline denominations to remove the stumbling blocks of fake Jesuses on fake altars is tantamount to pulling the rug out from under their facade of religious piety. The statues are merely props that go along with their clerical robes, incense, and candles. They create this fantasy place that appears to be closer to God than one’s own private prayer closet. If children and new believers are impressionable enough to think God is in all those trappings and thereby worshiping idols, that’s just an occupational hazard to these religious ones.

“The current exaltation of imagery above language and the promotion of visualization of Jesus and God is but one more indication that Christians are following the secular world’s revolt against reason and reality. It smacks of the teenager’s superficial love affairs with the photos pasted on his or her bedroom walls. Christians have something infinitely more real – an intimate, personal relationship with God Himself through the indwelling Holy Spirit.” Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction: A Return to Biblical Christianity,(Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1987), 221.

Both Catholics and religious Protestants use the same justifications and unbiblical wranglings to defend their pompous display of idols and statues.  Below is a comparison of a Catholic source and Lutheran pastor and radio host Chris Rosebrough in their apologetic for their tradition that makes void the Word of God:

Roman Catholic Source

·         “The protestants’ list forbids any graven images whatsoever, which is an extra commandment when compared to the Catholic listing.”

·         God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. “It also wasn’t adhered to by God, who told the Israelites to put graven images of 2 angels on top of the ark of the covenant.”

·         “No Catholics actually believe that a plaster and paint statue of Jesus or Mary is a god and worship it; they only believe in what it represents, like when you look at a picture of your kids in your wallet. “

·         “Gothic architecture in the old cathedrals is awe-inspiring. . .  The beauty of the sun streaming into the windows … make the Mass come alive. In medieval times, few people could read, so the church used artwork and stained glass to portray bible stories.”

Pastor Chris Rosebrough

·          “Make for yourself no graven image” is missing from the ten commandments listed in Luther’s Small Catechism.  “It is a subset of the first commandment.”

·         God ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent – He wouldn’t ask Moses to sin, now would he? “Is a Seraphim one of the creatures of the earth? Yeah!” (Referring to the angels on the Ark of the Covenant)

·         No one is actually worshiping statues in the church – it’s merely art work. “What Scripture does forbid is the creation of an image for the purpose of bowing down and worshipping it as if it were God.”

·         “We see that art work, depictions of saints, whatever – that these can be good gifts used for the purpose of discipleship, instruction, embellishing and helping to teach the faith.”

Both Catholics and Lutherans omit the commandment to make no graven image in their official list of the Ten Commandments. They came up with a method so as not to reduce the commandments down to nine– they split the one on coveting into two – duplicating the command not to covet thy neighbor’s wife which is one and the same sin as the command, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’

In that same teaching on Graven Images cited above, Pastor Rosebrough humorously stated:

“So the question is, there we have Norwegian Jesus up there with his light feathery hair – I mean he’d really look good in puka shells and some surf boards shorts but — anyway, I grew up in Southern California and he really looks like he blends. But there’s Norwegian Jesus. Are we sinning by having liturgical art in the depiction of Christ in our church? If we were to have a cross with the actual body of Christ on it, it goes from being a cross to being a crucifix – is that sinful? No! It’s not.”

This is an irreverent and disrespectful remark to our Lord and Savior – going against the commandment Thou shalt not use the name of the Lord our God in vain. No different than the blasphemous images of Christ shape-shifting into every race and sexual orientation we see in today’s mocking works of ‘art.’ God made in man’s image. Bottom line: they’re all false representations. And that is not how we are to remember Him. Placing a bigger-than-life statue of ‘Jesus’ upon an ‘altar’ – which becomes the focus of the congregation’s worship – surpasses having a piece of art work in the foyer.

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” – 2 Cor 5:16

Rarely do you see Him depicted as He truly is today:

“In the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” – Rev 1:13-17a

And even if you tried to follow that description – do you dare? Or would you have to fear being struck down by a stroke of lightning? Where is the fear of God these days?

The False vs. the True Christ

In the early history of film making, directors who depicted Jesus showed their respect for him by hiding his face. In an article, “Reverence, realism and the biblically epic: Jesus Christ on film,” by Paul Byrnes, the film critic, recalling the Jesus scene in the movie Ben Hur, writes:

“In neither scene do we see the face of Jesus. This is a frequent convention in movies about Him, a mark of respect that is not based on the Bible or mainstream Christian doctrine.”

Modern movies like The Passion of the Christ or Jesus Christ Superstar have lost that awe and respect. They present an equally false image of Jesus that unlearned believers visualize as their Messiah – believing a lie.

If “Faith is the evidence of things not seen,” (Heb 11:1) how is trying to turn the object of our faith into something our eyes can see and our hands can touch glorifying to our Savior Jesus Christ? We have His Word and His Spirit who guides us into all truth and gives us understanding of things spiritual. Our faith is living. While idols, icons, statues and stone altars are dead – as dead as the faith of those who find comfort in them.

Any religious institution that adds man’s wisdom to the tenets of “the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3 – done deal) is saying that God’s Word is not enough.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” –  2 Tim 3:16-17

So to answer my question, ‘When is an Idol is not an Idol?’ When it is not used in the commission of religious devotion. When Jesus said, “if I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself,” he sure wasn’t talking about a crucifix containing ‘another Jesus’ or a painted piece of cement from Norway.  We as Bible believers look forward to seeing Him face-to-face – only then will we see the true Jesus. Maranatha!!

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmYVCSu0mSY my blogcast on the same topic