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Are Christian Religious Symbols a form of Idolatry?

by Robert Randle  
6/26/2009 / Christian Apologetics

There is hardly a more universally recognizable sign associated with the Lord Jesus Christ than the 'Cross.' The sight of it evokes deep solemnity, reverence, guilt, and shame as believers the world over reflect on the agonizing suffering, shame, humiliation, and death by crucifixion that Jesus endured for sinful humanity. Be that as it may, is the most sacred symbol of 'Christendom' acceptable in the sight of God? The problem is, it doesn't just stop with this one symbol because dozens of icons have been created by man's imagination over the centuries to include animals, numbers, letters, and presumably inspired religious paintings and sculptures. The steeples and spires of Christian houses of worship and cathedrals are so lofty and stained-glass windows are adorned with ornate pictures of angels or a European concept of divinity, as to give witness to true holiness; but is there any Biblical guideline to such a practice, whether implied or directly stated?

Exodus 20: 22a(i), 23
Then the Lord said to Moses, "You shall not make anything to be with Me- gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.

Deuteronomy 4: 15-18
Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or any bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.

One of the drawbacks with the veneration of Christian iconography is that it may tend to draw attention away from the devotion and honor due solely to the 'Creator' by vicariously imbuing the object with a sort of "specialness" and rob God of the glory which He is due. Remember Exodus 20: 5a, where it reads: You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. Were all these emblems not associated with God in some way or another, they would not hold the value that they do and not draw our attention, interest, nor would we cherish them the way that we do.

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that God is invisible, transcendent, immortal and incorporeal, which poses difficulty for a human who is by nature physical and finite. Our mind cannot conceptualize the Divine nature ("immateriality") in any objective and tangible way and it leaves us feeling unconnected and incomplete; especially considering the Scriptural revelation that God created 'Man' in His image and likeness. Although one can be critical of the pagan religions as being superstitious but are we any more enlightened than they were? Take as an example, the people's EXHIBIT A against the ancients:

Numbers 21: 8
The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

II Kings 18: 4
He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called[a] Or He called it Nehushtan. [b] Nehushtan sounds like the Hebrew for bronze and snake and unclean thing).

The Israelites had forgotten the true purpose and meaning of the brass snake over their subsequent generations and began to worship it as a 'god.' Of course it is easy to condemn the people of old for their ignorance and traditions while at the same time Christianity today is incorporated with pagan Western European, Anglo-Saxon, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, etc. religious symbols, practices or holidays and many believers don't even realize it. If one really wants to see a symbol of God, then look in the mirror of the eyes of your neighbor and you will be able to see God very distinctly and clearly.

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