Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Images and symbols in worship

I found this discussion on Images, signs and symbols here: http://www.franciscan-anglican.com/Images.htm I wanted to post it here so I could think about what is said. I have been changing my views a bit on this subject. I don't agree with everything in this article--but it gives me something to think on and search the scriptures in this area. The tabernacle was full of symbolism because it was a shadow that points to Christ and to things in the heavenly places. Can we still have things that point to our great redeemer---I now think so. Here is the article

"The use of Images, Signs, and Symbols in Anglican Worship

The concept of using images in worship finds its origins in the Old Testament. The Temple contained numerous visual images, including the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The Temple Solomon built for the Lord contained many carvings of trees, gourds, flowers, and angels (1 Kings 6). It is clear that God did not forbid images used in the Sanctuary to glorify God.

What about symbols? In reading the Bible we discover that God uses tangible signs and symbols throughout the Scriptures as a way of communicating to God’s people. Often God’s people are instructed to make use of such signs and symbols to help them understand or remember what God is teaching them. :

· God’s use of the rainbow as the sign of God’s covenant to humankind never again to destroy the earth by a flood (Gen.9:13)
· the use unleavened bread by the Israelites as a symbol of their hurried flight out of Egypt
· the use of the blood of the lambs on their doorposts during the Passover as a symbol of their faith
· the use of animals upon the altar for ritual sacrifices to symbolize their sin and atonement
· the image of the bronze serpent Moses used as a symbol of God’s healing (Num. 21:9)
· the use of oil to anoint Israel’s Kings as symbolic of God’s setting them apart
· the placement of the twelve stones in the River Jordan to remind the Israelites of the crossing God had provided for them “as a sign” and “memorial” (Joshua 4:3-7)
· the building of stone altars by the Old Testament patriarchs including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and David as a symbols and acts of worship to God
· and the numerous symbolic acts carried out by the OT prophets (such as Jeremiah burying a loin cloth to demonstrate Israel’s ruin in Jer.13:4ff).

The examples are nearly limitless. In the New Testament God uses powerful symbols such as:

· the star of Bethlehem to signify the birth of Christ
· the dove to signify the Holy Spirit’s presence at Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32)
· water to signify one’s commitment to Christ at baptism
· bread and wine to signify Jesus’ body and blood.
· And the earliest church usage of the cross and empty tomb as signs and symbols of our faith
· the enduring marks in Jesus’ hands as symbolic of his sacrifice
· the symbol of a lamb to represent Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God

In addition, the Scriptures themselves paint vivid images for us of God in Divine glory. See Isaiah 6 where God is seated on the throne with God’s robes overflowing the Temple, or Daniel 7:9ff where Daniel has a vision the Ancient One with clothes white as snow and hair like pure wool on his throne of fiery flames, or in Revelation with its numerous images and symbols of God, Jesus Christ, and his Kingdom (too many to recount here).

In addition, signs and symbols are used by all of us today to communicate important truths of significance such as wedding rings, birthday cakes, birth stones, red roses, monograms, etc. It is natural way of communicating significant meaning.

The Greatest Sign: The Incarnation

Another important point which must be mentioned is the significance of God taking human form in the person of Jesus Christ. This has powerful ramifications for our worship and the use of images. Now that God has been revealed in a tangible, physical, material way through Jesus Christ (the Word became flesh and dwelt among us), we can now image or imagine God in the form of Jesus Christ. Now that God has taken physical human form, God has given us an image of God in Jesus Christ: the God-Man. It is now possible to use symbolic pictures and images of Christ in his humanity to aid us in our devotion to God and cause us to continually recall and remember the work God has done in Jesus Christ. This is the main reason why early Christians began painting pictures of Jesus, demonstrating the different offices and attributes of Christ, in their places of worship. Soon these simple paintings became beautiful icons whose purpose was educational and devotional. Icons of Jesus and Biblical figures teach us about God and the Bible and cause us to lift our hearts in gratitude to our Creator. There is tremendous historical precedent for their use in worship and in individual devotion. The Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Church upheld the tradition of the use of images in the worship as consistent with the orthodox Christian faith in 787.

What is forbidden to us however, is to make images and symbols which become objects of worship in themselves. We are never to offer worship to anything created; worship is meant for God alone. Images and symbols are meant to aid us in our worship and understanding of God and to bring glory to God. They are merely guideposts which always point us back to the Creator. Symbols and images are good in and of themselves, especially when used to bring glory to God, but it is humans which corrupt them. One common solution to this human error is to disallow all images and symbols. This is the situation in some churches following the Reformation. But this is again a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Bible is rich and full of many symbols and imagery; it is a gift of God to aid us. If God deigned to take on human flesh in all its particularity, we no longer need to fear particular symbols. Rather, we ought to make proper use of the gifts God has given us and educate ourselves and others as to their appropriate uses.

The Gnostic philosophers of Greece believed that only the spiritual was good, and all matter (or material things) were evil. We have inherited this dangerous Gnostic tendency in our western society that causes us to be overly suspicious of the material. In our Gnostic tendencies, we feel that the physical and material are more prone to corruption. We have too often thrown out the tangible, material forms of worship, as modeled in Scripture, in place of an immaterial form of worship. But God desires that we worship God both spiritually and physically as demonstrated in the Scriptural models of worship."

I am not sure about this take on the pictures, statues of Jesus. But I need to think about it.

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