Credo Magazine’s new issue has recently been released: Idolatry. The following is an excerpt from Nate Pickowicz’s article. Nate Pickowicz is the pastor of Harvest Bible Church and the author of Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America and Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation.
The Origins of Idolatry
The Apostle Paul was clear in Romans 1 in identifying idolatry as an exchange of the glory of God for fallen, corrupt images, thus worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:23, 25). Idolatry promises to bring human beings closer to the divine yet fails to deliver results. According to Calvin, “God…rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them” (1.11.1). God rejects these objects because only God can bear witness to himself; no idol or image can truly represent him or ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name. The true error of idolatry, Calvin says, is the error of attempting to ascribe a visible form to the invisible God and worshiping it. An unregenerate heart does not possess the spiritual life needed to offer to God the worship he requires; it can only function as an idol-making factory. Click To Tweet
Calvin, like most Reformers, was vehemently opposed to the use of images in Christian worship. He pointed to the error of Pope Gregory’s assertion that “images are the books of the unlearned,” and employs the use of the Old Testament, noting that “the prophets utterly condemn what the papists hold to be an undoubted axiom, i.e., that images are substitutes for books.” He corrects such error, maintaining that “all human attempts to give a visible shape to God are vanity and lies” (1.11.5). In other words, idolatry goes beyond merely external images and asserts that the true origin of idolatry is found in the human heart. He writes,
“[M]an’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols… man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God” (1.11.8).
The heart of fallen man is an idol-making factory; a perpetual forge, a corruptible haven of idolatry. Further, he says, “the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God.” Out of sinful rebellion against God, fallen man creates a false god that resembles himself, and then bows down and worships it.
This is not unlike the foolish idol maker in Isaiah 44, who cuts down a tree, using part of it for fuel to cook his food, while using another part to fashion an idol to worship. “The mind,” Calvin says, “conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth.”
Why does humanity do this?
Because they are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5), completely unrighteous (Rom. 3:10-18), spiritually blinded (1 Cor. 2:6-16), hateful toward others (Titus 3:3), and haters of God (Rom. 1:30); to wit, totally depraved.
Therefore, an unregenerate heart does not possess the spiritual life needed to offer to God the worship he requires; it can only function as an idol-making factory.