What is 2C-Compliant?
Out of sincere efforts to honor the second commandment, some Christians avoid the use of visible images to portray or represent God or any of the persons in the Trinity. “2C” is shorthand for the second commandment in the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments whereby God declared:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.Exodus 20:4-6 (ESV)
Growing up as an Evangelical believer, this teaching appeared passé and impractical when I first learned about it. I often wondered, What about visual aids and story Bibles? What about the children? In fact, one of my earliest exposures was from a caveat included in some children’s book descriptions that are made available at the Westminster Bookstore: “This book contains cartoon or artistic images of Jesus. There are many people in our constituency who, in a sincere effort to honor the second commandment, refrain from the use of any kind of drawings or pictures of Jesus, even if not intended for a worship context. Out of respect for those who take this position, we have sought to add a note to books in our children’s category which have drawings or depictions of Jesus so that they can factor that into their buying decisions, as they would if they could inspect the books physically.”
Honoring the Second Commandment
I use the term “2C-compliant” to describe a practice of careful compliance to the second commandment. Others use “2CV” to mean second commandment violation. Historically, Reformed-Presbyterian Christians have steered clear from using images or portrayal of any of the three persons in the Godhead. The Westminster Larger Catechism teaches:
Q109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?—Westminster Larger Catechism
A: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
In the same way, the Heidelberg Catechism also explains why we are not to make any images of God:
Q97. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.
Q98. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity”?—Heidelberg Catechism
A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word.
Why are we not to use images of Christ in Story Bibles?
Some pastors and theologians like Rev. Neil Stewart, a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, in the video has explained far better than I will ever will why we are not use images of Christ even outside of worship. So I will not attempt to tackle this difficult topic but merely point you to the proper resources for you to prayerfully consider. Rev. Stewart quotes John Murray, who wrote that: “What is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit.”
Dr. David VanDrunen has also written extensively on this subject. See his latest contribution to the Confessional Presbyterian Journal (2019) on the “Pictures of Jesus and the Sovereignty of Divine Revelation: Recent Literature and a Defense of the Confessional Reformed View” [PDF]. He has also provided helpful and approachable explanations in New Horizons (2006) where he notes, “One point that Reformed theologians have made is that creating images of Christ, however innocent that may seem in itself, tends to lead down a path toward full-fledged idolatry. Images created simply to stir memory or to instruct children or unlearned people can easily become the thing worshiped. Sinful human beings desire to substitute the product of their imaginations for what God has revealed in Scripture, and creating images of Christ can easily become an outlet for this sinful tendency.” Dr. VanDrunen then rightly ends with this assurance, “It is not wrong for Christians to want to see Christ—not at all. But for now we wait patiently, receiving with gratitude the invisible presence of Christ by his Word and Spirit and his gracious visible presence in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. We resist the temptation to make Christ visible in ways that he has not ordained and look eagerly for that day when we will see him face-to-face.”
While God has not chosen for Christians to use images to represent Him or other ways of worship that seem more attractive to the modern man, we can expectantly hope in that which He has rightfully chosen to ordain—the ordinary means of Word and Sacrament through which His person and work are to be shown:
In the preached Word, the Gospel is proclaimed. In the Sacraments, the Gospel is displayed.
Although ordinary, these are the means through which God has chosen to use and bless His people.
In Part 2 of this series, I have provided recommendations for 2C-compliant Story Bibles.