More Than Iconoclasts

Exodus 20:2-4 - "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself any idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..."

Judges 6:25-26 - That same night the Lord said to Gideon, "Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the bull as a burnt offering."

Jeremiah 1:9-10 - The Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. Today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

2 Corinthians 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

An "iconoclast" is a person who destroys religious images or icons or anything thought to be idolatrous, taking away from the true worship of God. Down through 2000 years of church history there have been many Christian iconoclasts. When you visit certain ruins of ancient Egypt, for example, some of the carvings have been defaced. Some of these "erasures" were the work of a new Egyptian dynasty removing the record of the accomplishments of a previous dynasty, but other defacings were done by iconoclasts of the early Christian era. Their goal was to remove and destroy pagan carvings or sculptures, and they did a pretty good job of destruction--to the disappointment of lovers of ancient artifacts as well as the Egyptian department of tourism! The Christian iconoclasts operating in Europe and Asia destroyed not only what were considered pagan images, but also "Christian" icons and relics that had become objects of worship. Sometimes the iconoclasts would go too far and destroy Christian paintings and other innocuous Christian items as well. During the time of Oliver Cromwell in Britain, for example, not only images, relics and icons were smashed, but cathedrals were torn down and a great number of people were killed in the name of God. Cromwell even went to the extreme of banning athletic activities lest they become "idols."

The Bottom Line

What does the Bible say about iconoclasm? Idolatry of all kinds can arise out of conformity to our environment rather than conformity to the mind of God, so recognizing and tearing down the "idols" in our lives and in our churches is important. Obviously, we are not to go to the extreme position of destoying every potential "idol," because what would be left? So iconoclasm without extremes is biblical. But the Bible's bottom line position on this subject could be summed up by our title: we are to be "more than iconoclasts." In the second commandment (Exodus 20:4), God instructed His people to have no graven images or idols of any kind--nothing that would supersede God in their hearts or lives. Every iconoclast can quote this com-mandment very well. But the Lord Jesus summed up the whole Law as follows: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). God calls us to be more than iconoclasts!

The worship of God does not result from iconoclasm alone. When the nation of Judah had turned away from the Lord and sunk to the depths of idolatry, the Lord told Jeremiah that his ministry would be "to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow,"--but also "to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). Tearing down idols in our lives and in our churches is an essential first step, but we must also place a strong positive emphasis on renewal. When idols have been deposed, a void may be left. This void must be filled with praise, adoration and celebration of the one true God and by positive activities which will strengthen and build us up as believers. God wants us to be more than iconoclasts.

Gideon's Test

The divine principle of "more than iconoclasts" is exemplified for us throughout the Old Testament. During the time of the Judges, God's people had been drawn away from the Lord by the alluring licentious worship of pagan gods, so God allowed the Midianites to overrun and oppress them for seven long years. In desperation, Israel cried out to God, and God graciously called Gideon to lead Israel against the Midianites. Before Gideon could go out to the battlefield, however, God tested him at home. Gideon's father had built an altar to Baal and had set up an Asherah pole (an image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah) on his property. These idols were an offense to God, and Gideon was commanded to destroy them. We know from archaeological excavations that some of those Canaanite altars were massive rock structures. In fact, the altar that Gideon had to destroy required the work of ten men and the strength of a bull to do the job. We might think that pulling down the pagan statue and the altar to Baal would have a been a good night's work, and enough to satisfy God's requirement. But we see that God was not satisfied with this significant act of iconoclasm alone. In place of the idolatrous images and practices, God commanded Gideon to build an altar to the Lord and offer worship to the Lord through a burnt offering. Gideon was told to do more than just tear down--he was called to be morethan an iconoclast!

Hezekiah's Revival

As we examine the history of Israel during the time of the kings, the biblical records indicate that all the great revivals were characterized by more than iconoclasm. In 2 Kings 18:4 we see that King Hezekiah was an iconoclast. He not only destroyed the idolatrous images of foreign gods that had been set up throughout the land, but he even demolished the "high places" where the improper and illegal worship of the Lord took place. In addition, he smashed the bronze serpent that Moses had fashioned and set up in the wilderness 700 years before this time! Over the years this object (which had been made at the direction of the Lord) had become a "sacred relic" and was even worshiped! Because of this serious misuse of the bronze serpent, Hezekiah decided it was better to destroy it than to keep it around as an object for improper veneration and a distraction from the complete and proper worship of the Lord. God approved Hezekiah's iconoclasm--and this should be a lesson to any Christian today who is drawn towards the use of sacred icons and relics for purposes of worship. It is also a lesson for Christians who venerate their denomination and its historical roots, or "worship" a favorite minister or Christian author.

In 2 Chronicles 29 we see that Hezekiah was more than an iconoclast. He filled the void left by the destruction of the idols and pagan rituals with the proper worship of the Lord. He cleansed the Temple which had been defiled by idolatrous images and practices--and then he reinstated worship of the Lord with sacrifices, praise and celebration. In 2 Chronicles 30 we read that Hezekiah invited all Israel to come to Jerusalem to participate in the worship and celebration of the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread. The people responded to his leadership and the result was great joy and blessing. "The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel...there was great joy in Jerusalem...The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place" (2 Chronicles 30:25-27). God greatly blessed Hezekiah by sending revival and blessing to the nation--because Hezekiah was more than an iconoclast!

Josiah's Revival

By the time Josiah became king, about 100 years after Hezekiah's revival, the people of Judah had once again deserted the Lord and become mired in idolatry. Josiah was an iconoclast. The details of his uncompromising stand are seen in 2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 34. He ordered the priests to "remove from the Temple all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem... He did away with the pagan priests... He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there... He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes which were in the temple of the Lord... Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense... He desecrated Topheth, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech." In addition, "Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites... Under his direction the altars of the Baals were torn down; he cut to pieces the incense altars...and smashed the Asherah poles, the idols and the images." Then in 2 Chronicles 35 we discover that Josiah was more than an iconoclast: "He appointed the priests to their duties and encouraged them in the service of the Lord's temple... He returned the sacred Ark to the temple of the Lord." From his own possessions, Josiah provided sheep and goats for the people who had come to celebrate the Passover, and "the entire service of the Lord was carried out for the celebration of Passover and the offering of burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord, as King Josiah had ordered." In 2 Chronicles 34:33 we read that Josiah "had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their fathers." So we see that being more than an iconoclast is a divine principle for revival.

Revival Today

Are we more than iconoclasts? Do we go beyond the tearing down and destroying process? This biblical principle for revival and blessing applies in our lives as individuals, in our family life and in our church life. Some Christians are great iconoclasts. They don't tolerate anything "unholy" in their lives. They run a very tight family ship. TV is banned and family activities are monitored with an iron fist. Their children are purged of all possible connections to the world. Often these Christian iconoclasts are right up front when it comes to church discipline or sermons denouncing the worldly idols and practices that have crept into the church or into the lives of their fellow-Christians. But these well-meaning people often fall short of being more than iconoclasts!

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." That's iconoclastic thinking, and it's good and godly. But the verse doesn't stop there! It goes on to say, "and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." That's more than iconoclastic thinking! A paraphrase of this passage says, "we are smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, and fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity." Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and building lives of obedience into maturity goes far beyond iconoclasm. After clearing our lives of every obstruction, God wants us to move ahead with positive activity--obedience leading to maturity. Is there joyful worship in my personal life? In my family life, is there loving and positive instruction that promotes a love for the Lord in the hearts of my children? Or are family devotions generally iconoclastic "thou shalt not" lectures? In my church, is Christ-like love being demonstrated? Is there compassion and care for the struggling believer? Is there an emphasis on positive obedience to God's Word and building up fellow-believers toward maturity? Or is my church characterized by a critical iconoclastic spirit which only tears down and can lead to discouragement? Our Lord Jesus calls us to be more--much more!--than iconoclasts.

If we have "destroyed every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God," and if we are "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," our renewed minds will be devoted to Christ. Our lives will be transformed, reflecting more closely the life of our Lord. A proper and godly iconoclasm will have its place in our personal lives, our families and our churches, but we will primarily be characterized by love, compassion, devotion, worship and celebration. We will be more than iconoclasts!
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