Editorial: The Picture of Christ, by Jacob Marcellus Kik (1947)
[as originally printed in Bible Christianity [Glencoe, Ontario], 12.8/9 (August-September 1947): 6-7.
Pictures of Christ are becoming increasingly popular in Protestant circles. Plaques of the face of Christ and framed pictures can now be seen in many homes. We noticed in a news item that on the desks of increasing numbers of business men and women in a certain city is a small plaque of the face of Christ. One woman’s reaction to having such a plaque is expressed in her words: “It sure helps me keep my redheaded temper.” And a business man stated: “No one has cursed in my office since the picture has been on my desk.”
Recently in a folder from a firm selling such pictures and plaques we were informed that these things help to create a spiritual atmosphere in the home. Such things are an aid to prayer and reflection. It is an aid to devotion and worship.
For some time slides have been used in Sunday Schools with the pictures of Christ. Scenes of the childhood of Christ, of His ministry, and of His crucifixion and resurrection have been depicted in order to instruct the young.
Now all this may seem very innocent and of benefit to the Church. However, it is time that the Church considers the question whether or not such pictures of Christ meets with the approval of God. What appeals to the popular mind may not meet the approval and blessing of God. We may have drifted into a position of using certain means of which God has already expressed disapproval.
The first thing to consider is that the Gospels of the Epistles nowhere give us a description of the physical appearance of Christ. This is most remarkable and should give food for thought. No one writing a biography of a famous person would forget to give a pen description of this person. That there is such an omission in the Gospels is startling. It is evident that God did not want a physical description of Christ.
When man seeks to supply what he thinks is a lack in teaching and worship, he sets himself above God. His ways are superior to the ways of God. He will make up for this deficiency of God and supply a picture of Christ. What God neglected to do man will supply.
Of course, since no description has been given of Christ, every picture is false. No one has any idea what Jesus actually looked like and any picture may be far from any likeness to Him. Imagine your chagrin if you were told that such was the picture of a famous man and then to find that it was not and very far from any likeness. Certainly you would not have any kind thoughts concerning the one who deceived you. No doubt, many people will be chagrined at beholding Christ in heaven and to discover that His pictures upon earth were absolutely false.
But can we not teach a great deal about Christ through pictures? That leads to another question. Can truth be taught by that which is false? Can we use false means to teach truth? The Roman Catholic Church thinks that truth can be taught through means of pictures, images, crosses, and crucifixes. Slowly but surely we are beginning to follow the example of the Roman Catholic Church.
All this is in direct transgression of the second commandment. It reads: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
It will be pointed out that Protestants do not bow down before pictures and plaques nor do they serve them. But that is not all that is forbidden. It is forbidden to make any likeness of any thing in heaven, earth, or the water. Making a likeness of Christ is in direct transgression of the second commandment.
It is a question, however, whether Protestants do not venerate pictures and plaques of Christ. They do attach a certain holiness to them when they do not swear or lose their tempers in front of a picture of Christ. When holiness is attached to a material thing it is spiritual adultery. Greater power is attached to a material object than the ever present God. That is a sin and a transgression of the second commandment.
God does not want us to fall in love with any physical likeness of Christ. He is anxious for us to love the moral and spiritual image of Christ. The beauty of Christ is seen in His virtues and in His love for God. We must love Christ for His purity, for His mercy, and for His meekness, for His truthfulness, and for His goodness. We must love Him for His unselfish devotion to God. That is the beauty which we must behold and adore.
There are those who will call it very narrow to object to any picture of Christ. But actually they are the ones who are narrow. They would narrow Christ to a picture and a false picture. How can any one receive the proper view of Christ in all His power majesty, and glory by a human artist’s conception of Christ? No human picture can possibly do justice to the Son of God. Christ is not only man but God. One cannot narrow God to a picture!