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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Image of the Invisible God

"It has become very common of late days to have images or pictures of the human form of Christ incorporated in our Bibles as though human artist could give the image or likeness of the invisible God. It is nothing short of a desecration of most holy sacred things for any man to attempt to palm off such pictures and paintings as the picture or likeness of Christ Jesus--who is the 'brightness of his Father’s glory and the express image of his person' Heb. 1:3." -- From "The Image of the Invisible God", by W. M. Mitchell in The Gospel Messenger --January 1881

10 comments:

Pete Mathewson said...

This argument raged and ultimately was one of the major dividing points [iconography] between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman churches. But then the RCs have made an industry of statuary - The Christ, Mary and all the saints. Seems like you really have to work to get politics out of religion

Mark Osgatharp said...

Pete,

The argument between Catholics and the Orthodox was not pictures versus no pictures. It was pictures (icons) versus statuary. The Orthodox have made an industry of icons (as have the peddlers of modern American "holy hardware") as surly as the Catholics have of statuary.

The quote posted here is about pictures versus no pictures. It is about the fact that people paint pictures presuming to convey something about Christ when, in reality, they convey nothing other than a distorted image of Christ.

Christ was the image of the invisible God. Our knowledge of Him is based entirely on His word and our response in faith to it.

Any attempt to create a visual image of Christ serves only to misrepresent Him and thus misrepresent the invisible God who He manifested in His words and deeds.

Mark Osgatharp
Wynne, Arkansas

R. L. Vaughn said...

One thing that struck me is that when Mitchell wrote in 1881, the majority of Baptists were probably in agreement with him. But by the time I came along, probably at least somewhat through the influence of "pictures of the human form of Christ incorporated in our Bibles", Baptist homes and Baptist churches commonly had "pictures of Jesus" displayed in them.

Whatever motivation behind the pictures and their display, ultimately they will, as Mark notes, misrepresent our Lord.

Pete Mathewson said...

Hmmm...everything man does in comparison to God is flawed [is mortal]. Do our words and the "picture" they present in the singing of Sacred Harp misrepresent God and/or man's relation to Him ??

I, like Robert, grew up with pictures of the Christ in my home and formed an impression of his love for me [man] from those representations. Images of warmth, love and sacrifice are not misrepresentations of the Christ and the Father we see thru Him. They most certainly are not a complete or perhaps even an accurate image of Him, but they are a partial glimpse "thru a glass darkly" if you will - A "useful" image none the less. I favor those to Michelangelo's represntation of God the Father giving life to Adam. Even tho I believe this happened, I have never felt it to be a particularly instructive image of God.

Pete

Mark Osgatharp said...

Pete,

"Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more."

And,

"And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength."

In light of these passages, I conclude that whatever conceptions of Christ were instilled in you by observing bogus pictures were false conceptions.

Mark Osgatharp
Wynne, Arkansas

Pete Mathewson said...

Gee, Mark, sorry you feel that way. It took the warmth right out of you.

Pete

R. L. Vaughn said...

Pete, your second post caused me to dive into my memories a little deeper. I wrote that when I was young Baptist homes and Baptist churches commonly had pictures (or paintings) of Jesus displayed in them.

That was a general statement. On further reflection, I can't remember a particular Baptist home that stands out as having had a picture. I'm sure some did, but none grab my memory. The two most memorable in-home pictures were in that of my maternal grandparents. One was an illustration of a guardian angel protecting two children crossing a rickety bridge. The other was a lady in a bonnet feeding chickens. Not sure why these stand out. They just do.

The "pictures of Jesus" were usually seen in rural old-time missionary Baptist churches. I think the "up-town" Missionary Baptists were too formal to have such on their walls, and the Primitive Baptists probably didn't believe in it. A lot of times in the rural churches they were there because someone donated them and the church didn't want to offend the donor. One popular one was of Jesus praying in Garden of Gethsemane and another was Jesus on the cross.

Pete Mathewson said...

Robert - I may or may not have said earlier that I am of German Lutheran stock originally and grew up in rural Pennsylvania where it was about equally divided between us, the Methodists and the RCs. I guess Jesus in the Garden was the most common among us and the Sacred Heart image the most common with the RCs. We did not use crucifixes within our churches. My association with the Baptist tradition/faith has come late in my life courtesy of Sacred Harp and then only from the Primitive direction which I have found enlightening, reassuring and most supportive of my love of SH even tho I am still not a serious student of the bible or a member of an Old Baptist congregation.

Pete

Jim1927 said...

I don't have any problems with paintings so long as we all realize they are just artistic conceptions and not intended for worship.

We had plenty of religious painting in the Anglican churches I grew up in, but never saw one in a Baptist church. The most common artistic impression was that of praying hands.

I think a valid question is asked when comparing some songs about God and the impressions that are left in relation to such pictures and paintings. Do we get a false image from some hymns. The Beautiful Garden of Somewhere!!!!!

Cheers,

Jim

R. L. Vaughn said...

I finally got back to this. I hope some of you will still see this. I think it is correct that we can also get false impressions of God from hymns and even sermons. There are at least two things that come to mind when I think about this.

First, the fact that we get false impressions from these other sources is not support for false impressions from pictures/paintings, but rather reason we should try to improve those other sources. Second, our Heavenly Father is good and gracious -- often teaching, comforting, and edifying us in spite of the imperfection of the source(s).