How often do visual representations distort what we think the Bible says!
Without the Law, we cannot see our sinfulness and our need for a Savior; thus, the Law drives us to Christ (Gal. 3:23-25). It is our guide for obedient life as Christians (Matt. 5:17-18). Thus, Christians are still prohibited from making any image of the deity-even in a movie or in art. Just as the Word and the visible signs of circumcision and Passover were sufficient in the Old Testament, so also are the Word and the visible signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper sufficient for the New Testament Church.
Movies have influenced our image of Jesus as a tall, handsome, white man with long hair. Wouldn’t there be a howl of protest if, instead of James Caviezel, Gibson chose Danny DeVito to portray Jesus? In the 50s and 60s, liberal theologians portrayed Jesus as an angry man with long, unkempt hair, dirty, and carrying an M-16 rifle to entice young revolutionaries! How did people come about thinking that Adam and Eve ate an apple in the Garden of Eden? Where did people get the idea that the shepherds and the wise men were all together on the night of Jesus’ birth?
Millions of people, willingly or unwillingly (myself included), will bring the image of James Caviezel’s suffering every time they go to church. Even Billy Graham attests to the lasting effect of powerful images on our minds, “Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind.” 14
What a true saying! But at the same time, what a dangerous thing to say! Because all visual representations of Jesus in pictures or movies are unavoidably false, the images from this powerful movie will invoke false images of Jesus in our minds. This is because the physical description of Jesus is totally absent from Scriptures, and the one description is not very complimentary: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:2, 3).
Only after the first four centuries of Christianity did the use of images in the church start. Emperor Leo III and his son, Constantine V, opposed this practice. The latter called the Synod of Constantinople in 753 A.D. which formally condemned the practice of using icons of Jesus, Mary, and various apostles and “saints.” A portion of the synod’s statement says:
Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians. The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the Holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation.
D. reversed this decision, saying, “For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them
Unfortunately, only 34 years later, the Council of Nicea in 787 A.” Don’t these words sound familiar in the current discussion?
Like the Synod of Constantinople, the Reformers affirmed with St. Augustine that the Lord’s Supper is the “visible Word,” “a visible form of an invisible grace.” The Roman Catholic doctrine insists on the real physical presence of Christ in the Holy Communion. The Reformers, on the other hand, affirmed what the Bible says: that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper, not physically, but by his Holy Spirit. John Calvin says that in the Holy Communion, we not only remember Christ, but we actually partake in the body and blood of Christ by faith, to nourish our souls (1 Cor. -17). Instead of relying on visual icons, the Reformers emphasized the singing, reading, teaching, and preaching of the Scriptures.