The Second Commandment, Westminster and Images of Jesus

The Second Commandment, Westminster and Images of Jesus

If you haven’t thought through this issue before, I want to encourage you to consider studying it. It shouldn’t scare us to think through the wisdom of our Confessional heritage. Rather, it should–at the very least–cause us to ponder the rationale and explanation for Westminster’s interpretation of the second commandment. Wherever you land on this issue, this much we can agree upon: We should all strive to understand the Second Commandment more faithfully, to reaffirm the sufficiency of Scripture in all of life, to avail ourselves to the ordinary means of grace and to strive for undivided worship.

No, the Westminster divines weren’t intentionally attacking The Jesus Storybook Biblebut they probably would have taken issue with the pictures of Jesus.

I serve on the Theological Examination Committee for the Presbytery in which I minister–which means, among other things, that I help examine candidates who sense a call to the ministry. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of candidates taking an “exception” to the Westminster Standards’ interpretation of the Second Commandment, mainly due to the interpretation of the use of “images” in worship.

A good place to start when considering this issue is to look at what the Second Commandment actually says? In Exodus 20, we read,

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (v. 3-6; cf. Deut. 5:8-10).

The Westminster Divines interpreted this by affirming, “The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 51). The Westminster Larger Catechism similarly teaches:

“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instated by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever, simony, sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed” (Q. 109).

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