Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Images and the Regulative Principle of Worship

Q. 51: What is forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.

Q. 52: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
Answer: The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship. (WSC)

The second commandment does not forbid the making of images in general (e.g. Ex. 26:1), as I explain in more depth in this lesson. It forbids the making of images to worship them or to worship God through them. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5). We must not direct our worship to images or bow to them. We must not make or set up images for that purpose. This prohibition applies not only to the idol worship we find in pagan religions, but also to those acts of veneration directed towards images which are promoted in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. In part, this prohibition exists because we worship a living God, who is active and who directs us, not a dead image (Ps. 135). God would have us to rise above physical objects, to direct our worship to him directly, to set our minds on things above, and to heed and respond to his word (Deut. 4:15-24, Col. 3:1-4).

Furthermore, God would have us worship him as he has appointed in his word. God decides and reveals what is pleasing to him. For us to decide this on our own is presumption. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire for offering “unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1). God rebuked those who practiced child sacrifice not only because they shed innocent blood, but also because he had not commanded or decreed it (Jer. 19:5). In Colossians 2:18-23, the apostle Paul condemns “self-made religion.” As the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes,
“the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1)
The second commandment also contains several reasons to obey it. First, God's sovereignty over us, “for I the LORD.” Only he has the authority to appoint his worship. Second, his propriety in us, that is, his right of possession of us, “thy God.” We belong to him and ought not stray from his appointed worship. Third, the zeal which he has for his own worship, “am a jealous God.” He is jealous for the devotion of his people. He is also zealous for his honor and glory and will not allow his name to be despised forever. “For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (Mal. 1:14).

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