Innocent Statues or Idolatry?
by Mike Thomas
Consider the following quote by Bob Stanley (home.inreach.com), written in response to the claim that Catholics practice idolatry when honoring statues and images in religion:
That is what some say that Catholics do. Why do they say that? What is their reference? Where is their documented proof? Show me the genuine Catholic documents which "prove" this false charge? I have yet to see any Catholic document that says Catholics are to worship idols...Do you have a photograph of a loved one? Do you worship it? I doubt it. Maybe you only use the picture to remind yourself of that person. Isn't that right? What about the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial? Do you or anyone else worship it or any other statue? Of course not. Then why is the statue there? It is to remind us of what a great man he was and in an image to which we can relate. It is the same situation in the Catholic Church. The statues in the Catholic Church are there to remind us of our founder, Jesus Christ, His mother, and the great saints of the Church.
Disturbing isn’t it? He equates the memorials we have in everyday life (of soldiers, battles, family) with the images found in Catholicism. Perhaps he expects the average reader to be gullible enough to believe that the thoughts of a spectator at the Lincoln Memorial are no different than worshippers praying to a statue of Mary for guidance. Do you actually think that is the same thing as placing an image of a “patron saint” on the dashboard of my car to give me safe travel, or to bury one in my backyard to help me sell my house? I was born on a Tuesday, but it wasn’t last week! There is a great difference between veneration and admiration. I may admire Lincoln for his leadership while observing the images of his life, but I’m not about to pray to his statue for help in life. That would be veneration, which is exactly what Catholics do with their images and statues. These symbols are more than metal, clay and paint; they are powerful icons with a sacred presence to them. To defile these is as sinful as crucifying Jesus, which is vastly different than the perception of the statues in Washington D.C.
Stanley apparently feels justified in saying, “Catholics, when praying before a statue are not petitioning to the statue, but to the person of whom it represents.” But in reality, neither practice is found in the Bible, especially that of praying to another human for help. There is One Mediator between man and God — and His name is Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2:5). It is insulting and blasphemous, to say the least, to place anyone else in that position, no matter how godly they were in life. The apostle Peter, with all the good he did in preaching the gospel and healing the sick, would not permit Cornelius to bow to him in praise (Acts 10:25). “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’" (v. 26). Does that sound like the attitude of one who was going to be a mediator between man and God? Is that the mentality of one who believed he was someone special, worthy of veneration and praise from man? God forbid! The apostle Peter knew he was no more sacred or special than any other Christian, from Mary to Paul to Timothy. Notice his response when people were amazed at his power to heal the lame: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:11-12) Again, he did not want people to honor him with their praise and faith, but to keep their attention and emphasis on God. He knew that God alone was worthy of praise, and not some weak, useless, imperfect human.
Consider also Paul’s response to people who wanted to sacrifice animals to him,
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them'
How could Paul say this to people when he would eventually be a “saint” in heaven who intercedes on behalf of men? Why would he not let people burn animals to him when one day people would burn candles to his statue? I guess he didn’t have the same attitude toward human veneration that Catholics have today. Read carefully verse 15. What was Paul’s attitude toward the practice of sacred objects?
The ultimate flaws in religious icons are in elevating humans to the status of praise (“saints”) and in depending on these artificial images to give us special guidance in life. There is no more power in that cross around a person’s neck than in the chain used to hold it. It’s just a chunk of metal that has been fashioned in such a way to satisfy human superstition, which in the first century was called idolatry (I Corinthians 10:14). The faces on the statues may have changed, but the sinful motive in praying to these images remains the same.
I close with a quote from Charles Berry in the book Far from Rome, Near to God: Testimonies of 50 converted Roman Catholic Priests (by Richard Bennet):
When I met in Cuba a genuine pagan who worshiped idols (a religion transplanted from Africa by his ancestors), I asked how he could believe that a plaster idol could help him. He replied that the idol was not expected to help him; it only represented the power in heaven which could. What horrified me about his reply was that it was almost word for word the explanation Roman Catholics give for rendering honor to the statues of the saints." (p. 59)
I guess I’m not the only one who sees the idolatrous nature of religious images.