Pious Use of Icons?

A question I was recently asked:

JM – do you think they (icons and images) can be helpful for the faithful to enter into more pious prayer?

My answer:

The only aspiration for the Christian should be to exalt the Gospel, the free grace of God in salvation and declare this salvation through Jesus Christ alone. This was the practice of the early church before the so-called ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy.’ To enter into ‘more pious prayer’ we need to recognize our sinfulness and hopelessness for it is here that we experience God’s forgiveness and mercy. When we understand our helplessness in all our trials and earthly trouble we find Jesus Christ sweet, altogether lovely and our prayer is most pious (devout, dutiful, etc).

The better question is why not allow the revealed word of God to direct our worship? Baptists believe the Bible should dictate how Christians are to worship. When we deviate from scripture we invite superstition and idolatry into our church practices. Sacred and profane history has taught us that man manufactures idols out of the desires of his heart all of the time. The righteous man will make an idol of his righteousness and the religionist crafts an idol of his ceremony. To be pious and devout requires us to look to Christ and Him alone for all things.

I hope that helps.

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8 thoughts on “Pious Use of Icons?

  1. Actually the opposite effect is inevitably produced by icons and images. The powerful visual impact of such things is that they become the focus in our imaginations as we pray. Due to our own sinful tendencies, as JM has indicated above, such created objects distract us from the only inspired revelation from God Himself in the written Word. We end up committing idolatry by failing to bring every thought into subjection to the obedience to Christ. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We don’t need any help by way of distractions or human creations to fall into idolatry. However, when they are present (in the form of such things as icons and images), and especially when they are focused on and their “usefulness” is seen as justified, they make it far harder, indeed all but impossible, to avoid the abominable sin of idolatry.

    C. S. Lewis addressed this inevitable tendency due to our sinful susceptibility to idolatry in his unique classic “The Screwtape Letters” at the end of the fourth letter:

    “But of course the Enemy will not meantime be idle. Wherever there is prayer, there is danger of His own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of His position, and ours, as pure spirits, and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon. The humans do not start from that direct perception of Him which we, unhappily, cannot avoid. They have never known that ghastly luminosity, that stabbing and searing glare which makes the background of permanent pain to our lives. If you look into your patient’s mind when he is praying, you will not find that. If you examine the object to which he is attending, you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer—perhaps quite savage and puerile—images associated with the other two Persons. There will even be some of his own reverence (and of bodily sensations accompanying it) objectified and attributed to the object revered. I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located—up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be”, our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it—why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation—this real nakedness of the soul in prayer—you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There’s such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!
    Your affectionate uncle
    SCREWTAPE”

    John T. “Jack” Jeffery
    Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
    Greentown, PA

  2. Rather odd quoting C.S. Lewis, an Anglican, and one that believed in the doctrine of purgatory, to some degree. (The quote is good, but also shows Lewis’s own inconsistency, if we press it competely outside of creation). Also I am sure Lewis, as Luther.. btw, used the visible Crucifix, in their worship. So the answer is the proper spiritual use of the creation, and sacramental objects.. within the Incarnation and redemption of Christ. Btw, I am not advocating icons here, but we must see Christ as the Victor of the whole Creation, i.e. The New Creation! And note I am an Anglican Reformed and myself Historical Pre-Mill. GOD will fully redeem His creation ‘In Christ’!

  3. If you need the help of an image to see Christ by the eye of faith it is doubtful that you have ever seen Him by the eye of faith.

    • This is just a poor statement, and lacks the whole reality that faith in God is not anti-visible, as in fact the Holy Scripture itself uses the invisible reality of the spiritual! (Hebrews 12:1-2). And btw, the Book or Letter to the Hebrews is certainly Platonic in background, i.e. idealistic and visionary! (Heb. 11: 1-3 ; 13-14-16)

  4. Pingback: Thursday Re-blog « My Studies

  5. Pingback: the Controversy Over Images | Feileadh Mor

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