What’s wrong with having statues in churches?

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By BibleAsk Team


The issue of statues, icons and images and their place in religious practice is a significant one in the Bible, particularly in the context of the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the New Testament. The Bible explicitly addresses the making and worshiping of statues and idols, categorizing such practices as idolatry. This exploration will delve into what the Bible says about statues, why it is considered a breaking of God’s commandments, and the implications of idolatry, with references from Bible.

The Commandments Against Having Statues

Exodus 20:4-5

The prohibition against making and worshiping or venerating statues is clearly articulated in the Ten Commandments:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” (Exodus 20:4-5, NKJV)

This commandment underscores several key points:

  1. Prohibition of Carved Images and statues: The commandment explicitly forbids making carved images or statues representing anything in heaven, on earth, or in the waters.
  2. Worship and Service: It also prohibits bowing down to or serving these images or statues, highlighting the distinction between mere creation of art and idolatrous worship.
  3. God’s Jealousy: God describes Himself as a “jealous God,” emphasizing His exclusive right to worship and the seriousness of idolatry.

Deuteronomy 4:15-19

Moses reiterates this commandment and expands on the reasons behind it:

“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-19, NKJV)

Moses emphasizes:

  1. No Form Seen: When God revealed Himself to Israel at Horeb, He did not appear in any physical form, preventing the Israelites from having any basis to create images or statues representing Him.
  2. Corruption of Worship: Making carved images or statues is seen as corrupting true worship, leading to the worship of created things rather than the Creator.
  3. Creation and Idolatry: There is a warning against worshiping celestial bodies and other elements of creation, which are meant to serve humanity, not be objects of worship.

The Nature and Consequences of Idolatry

Isaiah 44:9-20

The prophet Isaiah provides a vivid critique of idolatry and the making of statues:

“Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together. The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane, he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed, he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ They do not know nor understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?'” (Isaiah 44:9-20, NKJV)

Isaiah’s critique includes:

  1. Futility of Idolatry: The process of making idols or statues is depicted as futile and senseless. Despite the labor and artistry involved, the resulting image is useless and powerless.
  2. Deception and Misplaced Worship: Those who create, worship and venerate idols or statues are deceived, worshiping the work of their own hands instead of the true God.
  3. Absurdity of Idol Worship: Isaiah highlights the absurdity of using part of a tree for mundane purposes and another part for making a god, emphasizing the irrational nature of idolatry.

New Testament Teachings on Idolatry

Acts 17:29

Paul, addressing the Athenians, speaks against the creation of images or statues to represent the divine:

“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” (Acts 17:29, NKJV)

Paul’s message includes:

  1. Divine Nature: The true nature of God cannot be captured or represented by materials such as gold, silver, or stone.
  2. Rejection of Man-Made Images: Representing God through man-made images is inappropriate and diminishes the understanding of His divine nature.

Romans 1:22-25

Paul elaborates on the consequences of idolatry in his letter to the Romans:

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:22-25, NKJV)

Paul describes:

  1. Foolishness of Idolatry: Despite claiming wisdom, idolaters foolishly exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for images or statues of created beings.
  2. Consequences of Idolatry: God allows idolaters to follow their sinful desires, leading to moral and spiritual corruption.
  3. Misplaced Worship: Idolatry involves worshiping created things instead of the Creator, a fundamental distortion of true worship.

The Spiritual Implications of Idolatry

Colossians 3:5

Paul warns believers to put to death idolatrous tendencies:

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

This passage highlights:

  1. Broad Definition of Idolatry: Idolatry extends beyond the worship of physical images or statues to include covetousness and other sinful desires.
  2. Call to Holiness: Believers are called to renounce idolatrous behaviors and live in holiness, aligning their lives with God’s will.

1 Corinthians 10:14

Paul exhorts the Corinthians to flee from idolatry:

“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14, NKJV)

Paul’s exhortation includes:

  1. Urgency of Avoidance: Believers are urged to actively avoid idolatry, recognizing its dangers and the importance of remaining faithful to God.
  2. Faithfulness to God: Fleeing idolatry is part of maintaining a pure and undivided devotion to God.

The Danger of Syncretism

Exodus 32:1-6

The incident of the golden calf provides a vivid example of the dangers of syncretism, the blending of true worship with idolatrous practices:

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.’ Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:1-6, NKJV)

This account illustrates:

  1. Impatience and Unfaithfulness: The Israelites’ impatience and lack of faith in Moses’ return led them to demand an idol, a statue.
  2. Creation of the Golden Calf: Aaron’s creation of the golden calf and the proclamation of a feast to the Lord represent a blending of idolatrous practices with the worship of God.
  3. Consequences of Syncretism: This incident led to severe consequences for the Israelites, demonstrating the dangers of compromising true worship with idolatry.

Roman Catholic Teaching

The Catholic Church believes that the use of statues, icons and relics is acceptable and even necessary for worship. Catholics have been taught to believe that they do not worship idols or statues; they simply “venerate” them. The truth is that “veneration” gives honor and reverence to something and/or someone other than God; therefore, veneration is idolatry according to the Bible.

In the Catholic Catechism and in most official Catholic documents, the first and second commandments are combined and then summarized with the words: “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods beside Me.” Thus, the full second commandment that forbids the making of statues and images is deleted by the Catholic Church.

The use of physical images in worship violates the commandment of the Lord for “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NKJV). The Creator of the universe should not be represented by stone, rock, or wood.

Art and Sculpture

The second commandment does not necessarily prohibit the use of sculpture and painting in religion. The artistry and representation used in the building of the sanctuary (Exodus 25:17–22), in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:23–26), and in the “brasen serpent” (Numbers 21:8, 9; 2 Kings 18:4) clearly show that the second commandment does not forbid religious illustrative material. What is condemned is the reverence and worship, which people all over the world give to religious images, statues, icons and pictures.

Conclusion

The Bible consistently condemns the making and worshiping of statues, categorizing such practices as idolatry. The commandments against idolatry emphasize the exclusive worship of God, the futility of idols, and the spiritual dangers associated with idolatrous practices. Both the Old and New Testaments underscore the importance of true worship, rejecting the worship of created things in favor of the Creator. By adhering to these teachings, believers are called to maintain a pure and undivided devotion to God, avoiding the pitfalls of idolatry and syncretism.

In summary, the biblical perspective on statues and idolatry underscores the importance of exclusive worship of God, the futility and danger of idol worship, and the call for believers to live in holiness and faithfulness to God’s commandments.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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