Mark Dever on Dead Icons and the Living Icon
In the book Together for the Gospel (35), Mark Dever writes:
One friend of mine particularly likes icons- images of the prophets, apostles, even Jesus Christ. He explains his devotion to icons by the same reasoning that Eastern Orthodox theologians have used for more than a thousand years- if we don't have images of Christ, they reason, that must be rooted in a flesh-denying Gnosticism, and we, in effect, are denying the incarnation.
I, for one, am not persuaded. Jesus didn't train his disciples in sketching or painting. The first image we have of Christ [the first attempted depiction of Christ the history records] was written by a pagan mocking a Christian 'worshiping his god'- and the crude little drawing has a simple figure with a donkey's head hanging on a cross.
If we had a photograph of Jesus and the twelve disciples, I don't think we could tell which one was Jesus merely by his appearance. No glow; no halos. On the other hand, if that picture were to become a moving picture, then I think we could tell the identity of Christ very quickly by noticing which one gave himself in love to those around him. The sacrifice of love- that was the purpose of his incarnation, and that is the purpose of the church. God has left a witness for himself in you and in our congregations. Our physical natures are an aspect of our social natures, enabling our ability to interact with others in love and service.Brothers and sisters, let us heed the biblical teaching above. Let us encourage one another to forsake any unbiblical practice in worship and to instead to seek purity and Gospel fellowship in God's church, which is the true, living representation of Christ in the world.
Jesus said in John 13, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (vv.34-35). God has forbidden statues to be made of him; Jesus had no icons of himself drawn or painted, but by his Spirit he fashions a representation of himself- and that is the church. In its holiness we see something of God's holiness; in its unity we see something of God's unity; in its love, we see something of God's love.