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This question is directed at those who subscribe to the Westminster Standards, particularly Westminster Larger Catechism 109, which reads:

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are [...] 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 (Westminster Larger Catechism, Answer 109)

This language is usually understood to forbid any artwork that attempts to represent Jesus, even simple drawings or sculptures.

But it seems as though the language of the catechism should be applied even more strictly. Couldn't the bread and wine used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper be considered a "representation of God," particularly given the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith, 29.5?

The outward elements in this sacrament [...] [represent] the body and blood of Christ. (WCF 29)

One counterargument is that the elements only represent Christ's human body, not his human-divine person. But the same could be said of a stone in a manger scene or a line drawing in a children's book, and these are seen as forbidden by WLC 109.

How do those who strictly hold to WLC 109 deal with the apparent conflict or tension with use of bread and wine in the observance of communion?


For general argumentation in defense of the principles found in WLC 109, see Why do some Christians object to images of Jesus?

  • How could you observe the memorial without using any elements ? – Nigel J Feb 14 at 16:00
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    @NigelJ I don't think you could, so there must be some other resolution to the tension. – Nathaniel Feb 14 at 16:14
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All that God has made, expresses himself. The creation of luminaries in the heavens expresses something about Light. And God is Light; and in him is no darkness at all. The creation of vegetation, the creation of animal life, expresses something about life itself. And all life is of God and from God.

I would not understand and appreciate what 'the Lion of the tribe of Judah' means, were I not aware of what a lion is, in the natural creation. Nor could I appreciate the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, had I not walked through the field beside my home and walked among the flock.

But it would be very wrong for me to take a lamb home and worship it. Or to paint a picture of a lamb and put it above my fireplace and idolise the image as some kind of representation of Jesus. In that sense my attitude is as strict as WLC 109 and the article describes my own thinking. I abhor all representations and images and have none in my own home.

However, I think there is a very big difference between appreciating the way God has expressed himself in his own creation, and idolatrously worshipping the creature rather than the Creator.

Likewise the elements. When I partake of bread and wine, it is in response and obedience to the words of Jesus himself, This do in remembrance of me. But of Christ, himself, the apostle says :

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. II Corinthians 5:16 KJV.

To see only the flesh of Jesus Christ, to remember only his historic and natural manhood, is failing of the remembrance and is close to (if not actually) idolatry. We remember He, Himself : The Son of God, come incarnate, risen and ascended. And we remember the significance of what he did in his humanity and with his humanity.

But we are given elements as an aid. We are granted a focus and an ordinance. Because we are still in the body. Because that is how our (present) humanity works.

Just as we are granted the visionary images in the Book of the Revelation, it is something we need. Spiritual things are conveyed to us in the vehicle of prophetic imagery. We need something in our mind as a vehicle to which to attach the spiritual concepts. So that we can think of them with a human brain.

We are informed of a vision of the Son of man, his eyes as a flame of fire. It is very wrong to depict that in any way. It is misguided to imagine that Jesus actually looks like that, physically. It is one flame, not two, and the concept is spiritual. The natural is for the brain to process, but the spiritual concept is for faith. Likewise the elements of bread and wine. They are visibly there, but they are there as an aid to faith, not as an aid to idolatrous worship.

I do not think anyone should be burdened or conflicted in conscience by the existence of the elements upon the table at the memorial. Nor with the act of physically participating. But we do, all and always, need to be careful of idolatry of every kind. Covetousness, itself, is a form of idolatry.

As the Apostle John tells us, in the last words of his first epistle :

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. I John 5:21 KJV.

It is a constant exercise. We are enjoined to so do. And we need to be careful. I respect the sensitivity of someone troubled by the question. But I do hope that they should be troubled no longer.

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I believe the answer is self-explanatory in the first sentence of the answer to 109: "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself..." Since the Lord's supper and the bread and wine are instituted by Christ Himself, we can conclude that these are permitted as exceptions to the prohibition to make images of God.

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    Welcome, and thanks for your answer! Please check out the tour if you haven't already. As for your answer – I suppose you could be right. But the way I read the catechism, I see each semi-colon as naming a different sin forbidden by the second commandment. If you treat them all as building on each other, then you could just get out of the "representations of God" part by saying that you aren't "worshiping it" (which appears after the next semi-colon). Do you know if any commentators have taken the approach you outline here? – Nathaniel Feb 14 at 16:20

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