Protestant Iconography

Growing up as I did in a mixture of contemporary Independent/Southern Baptist churches and attending a private Christian school run by a Fundamentalist Baptist church, I did not have much encounter with the more sophisticated arguments from our Eastern Orthodox and even Roman Catholic friends regarding the use of icons in worship.  I just knew from what I had been told that obviously they were at best confused, or at worst, intentionally worshipping graven images rather than the one True God, possibly also sacrificing cats to them in secret.

Coming back to the issue years later, I still have some serious (though much better informed) reservations regarding the issues of icons, especially related to veneration of saints, etc., though I am a little more charitable towards those who do such than my upbringing may have been.  But I look around at things happening in the contemporary church, and I wonder whether or not many Protestant churches have moved into a de facto system of iconography, even if they haven’t embraced a doctrinal one.

Some possible examples:

-The use of banners in worship, many of which contain images.

-Powerpoint during worship songs, especially those that contained pictorial or artistic representations of Jesus.


What do you think?  Is this a form of iconography?  Is it helpful?  Merely distracting?  I’d love some feedback on this!


5 Responses

  1. I totally think that the contemporary Protestant church has embraced iconography, not to mention a whole plethora of other attitudes that were once rejected by the Reformers (i.e., the ontological difference between clergy and laity). Really, I credit these things to a rigid traditionalism. Whenever the church becomes convinced that one expression of thought, doctrine, or practice is elevated as the singular expression of the gospel, then rigid institutionalism is not far behind. Music is fought about; blood is spilt over preferred translations; the way it’s always been takes precedence over the message of the gospel.

    As to whether or not it’s helpful or distracting, I couldn’t say. I suppose it would depend on the context and condition of the people who are using it.


  2. Hi Matt! I’ve been discovered. I was sort of hiding out as long as possible on here until maybe my writing started being good. So like 30 more years of hiding I guess!

    Quick clarification for your comment,
    when you say, “I credit these things…”, do you mean the attitudes being embraced by contemporary Protestantism or those from the Reformers now being rejected by many?

  3. Hello Josh,
    I would say yes to the iconography being used in the contemporary churches and I would assert that the image being promoted is the one that is found in a mirror. Too many churches, I believe, are catering to the personal desire of the people to get them in the door and to keep them coming back for more. “You can worship in the style you prefer”, is the marketing of one such church in my area as listed on their bulletin. Such churches are rating success by the volume of people attending instead of the maturity of those who truly come to worship. I think we must proceed with a Godly fear when making choices of what to use when that is absorbed through the eye-gate.
    Gen 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
    Are we wanting to see too much, touch too much, taste too much? I agree with G.K. Beale that the garden was a first type of temple. If this is true, then Adam and Eve rebelled, looking too long at what was forbidden and not at God while in the temple of God. With a fallen nature, we are more prone to idolizing an icon. The tree in the garden, in itself was the icon, the physical representation of the knowledge of good and evil. Rebellion was what caused them to sin. We should be asking, ‘Does this please God?’ And ultimately, we fail even in our prayers, so everything we do must be covered in the blood. I hope I wasn’t too winded.
    Thanks for your blog!
    Brandon Phillips

  4. hey thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. are you a student at mbts?

    on this post i think you’re on to something, but i would point out one major difference. i had a greek orthodox classmate at brite for a while, and the way he explained iconography was helpful. he explained that the icons provide a sort of mystical access to the divine, sort of like vehicles of “communion” with God. i don’t think he used the word mystical, but it’s fair to say that’s what he was getting at. there’s apparently something supernatural in the pious interaction between christians and the icons.

    if what he described to me was accurate (and he got his th.m in theology so i suppose he was at least capable of describing his faith tradition), i would probably say no, power-points and other protestant aesthetics are not the same. symbol and icon seem to be different in the eastern orthodox tradition. i don’t know, however, if that’s what the reformers were railing against. were the icons in the catholic church supposed to be supernatural and imparting grace or something? it would be interesting to find out.

    good post, good questions

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