Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. Chuck Muether
94. What does God require in the first commandment?
That, on peril of my soul’s salvation, I avoid and flee all idolatry, sorcery, enchantments, invocation of saints or of other creatures; and that I rightly acknowledge the only true God, trust in Him alone, with all humility and patience expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honor Him with my whole heart; so as rather to renounce all creatures than to do the least thing against His will.
95. What is idolatry?
Idolatry is to conceive or have something else in which to place our trust instead of, or besides, the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.
96. What does God require in the second commandment?
That we in no way make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.
97. What does God require in the second commandment?
God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.
98. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?
No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols, but by the lively preaching of His Word.
One of the debatable matters that seems to hit the churches every time a Jesus-depicting-blockbuster hits the silver screen is the portrayal of the Messiah. Historically some churchmen have defended the use of Jesus illustrations, and others have found such imaging idolatrous.
When I was attending a church of a Dutch Reformed denomination many years ago, I found the church building strikingly Lutheran with medieval motifs all around the so-called sanctuary. Above the pulpit was a stained glass window arching toward the cathedral ceiling depicting Jesus with his hands extended. The window suggested that Jesus was welcoming those who have assembled into His Father’s house, but as congregants have explained it to me, it could also be interpreted as “hear my servant below preach the gospel that I have brought.”
So the question that I would repeatedly ask is, “What is missing from the preaching of God’s Word that we would need an ornate impression of Jesus to bring the message home to our hearts?”
The answers given were generally not that the preaching was lacking per se, but the stained glass Jesus just added that little something extra to the background. Okay, now we are getting someplace. Does the gospel need something extra to win souls? Do the undershepherds today need multimedia platforms because it is not enough for some guy to stand behind a pulpit and expound the Word?
These days, church architects are not designing throwbacks to the basilica, but are either drawing up simple metal-like pole barn buildings or converting old warehouses into flexible worship spaces. Gone is the stained glass, and in are trusses supporting amazing state-of- the-art theatrical lighting effects. The gospel is now presented through worship arts as IMAX meets church.
Dear friend, anything added to the worship of God is idolatry when the argument is that the preaching of God’s Word alone is not sufficient. As Paul puts it, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14).
The danger in adding man’s imagination to the worship is that man is not lead by the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, but by his pursuit of the object. We are not to worship our worship, but we are to worship Him.