Have you heard the expression, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”? Maybe you’ve heard it from your parents or grandparents. In our age of mass production, things tend to be made of cheaper and flimsier parts. Whenever a toy breaks, our car breaks down, or a tool can’t stand the strain, we say, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!”
The same can be said of modern Christians. We tend to dismiss Christians from the past as superstitious or unscientific, disregarding the fact that most of them had no access to God’s Word. Those who did contemplated and communicated its truths in profound ways that put us to shame!
Thoughtful believers throughout history guarded themselves against idolatry. They resisted the temptation to grant divine status to anything man-made. This led to the practice of iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is a compound of two Greek words that mean “idol-breaking.” Iconoclasts cast down anything that becomes too important in the life and worship of God’s people.
Iconoclasm is one of our great pastimes as God’s people. It begins when Moses descends from Mt Sinai. He grinds down the golden calf made by the Israelites, scatters it on water, and forces them to drink it (Exodus 32). Gideon continues the practice during the time of the judges. He tears down his father’s altar to Baal and cuts down the Asherah pole beside it (Judges 6).
The tradition carries through the history of Israel and Judah. The people “set up for themselves high places, sacred stones, and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree” (1 Kings 14:23). Godly kings follow Gideon’s example by destroying these symbols of idolatry. Unfortunately, the people continue worshiping idols until God sends them into exile.
By Jesus’ time, idolatry exists in a different form. The Jews no longer worship statues of false gods. However, they make the temple an idol by giving it too much importance. They put their trust in it rather than God. Jesus ransacks its courts and claims His body is the true temple (John 2:13-22). He also predicts its destruction by the Romans (Matthew 24:2).
As church history progresses, Western churches incorporate art and statues into their worship. Eastern churches, however, ban the use of images in worship and destroy such icons from their churches. This issue (among others) leads to their separation from the Western Church in the Great Schism of 1054.
Almost 500 years later, Martin Luther casts down perhaps the most nefarious idol of all – the medieval Catholic Church. The pope claims to speak with divine authority; church councils are held in higher regard than Scripture; the common people put their trust in relics and indulgences. Luther breaks these idols and instead exalts the Word and grace of God.
Modern Day Iconoclasm
Our history instills in us a strong caution toward idols. Unfortunately, they don’t make Christians like they used to. Instead of imitating the diligence of those before us, we have let down our guard. We assume that since we don’t pray kneeling before a statue, we are in no danger of idolatry.
It might surprise you that you’ve likely seen and heard idols in church all your life! We must remember that an idol is not necessarily a physical object; sometimes it is an idea, an intellectual idol. Nor is an idol necessarily something we worship. As far as an iconoclast is concerned, an idol is anything elevated to a status higher than that given it by God’s Word.
We must take a thoughtful and careful approach to the beliefs we hold and the customs we practice. It’s time to cast down anything that distorts or distracts from the gospel of God’s saving grace. It’s time to bring back iconoclasm.
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