Christmass Idols

Usually I don’t try to put up Christmass stuff during Advent. Christmass is more than one day which is something that modern American culture can’t seem to fathom. So I was putting up our little creche scene in our home and it kind of struck me. Perhaps it has struck you too, but I suppose it was just so much a normal part of Americana that it never did before. Usually when you think about controversy and nativity scenes you think of some left wing legal group or some atheist with an anoying sense of moral superiority. But then it struck me that many Protestants have nativity scenes too. But why?

It is one thing if you’re Anglican or say Lutheran (maybe Anglican-lite = Methodist). They more or less have a tradition of sorts on retaining images. But why object to icons in church as idolatry if every December you put up your little Chrismass idols in your house or on your front lawn? How is it that I never hear so much as a peep about Protestant idols of the baby Jesus? Why no arguments about how Christmass idols of the baby Jesus imply a Nestorian confusion since it requires a conflating of the divine and human essence in order to depict Jesus? (This is a bad argument when used against icons of Jesus since it views the appearance or prospon as a profuct of the union, which is ironically enough Nestorian.) Why are there no howls of no graven image around Christmass time? Granted, that Protestants who are iconoclasts don’t bow to their plastic or plaster baby Jesus or kiss his feet (let alone Mary’s) but setting up the nativity scene is still a form of veneration or an expression of honor (just as tombstones are incidentally). After all, no graven image means, no graven image period, right?

I am not saying that they are bad things, but I think the Puritans in abolishing Christmass and other holy days altogether were more consistent. I suppose I am asking those who have such things and object to icons to do one or the other.


  1. A protestant reply:

    In my Church, The Free Church of Scotland it is a sin to celebrate Christmas and to do the things you described would be considered idolatry. Christmas was illegal in Scotland all the way up unitl the 1950’s. What the Americans do not want to admit is that we are the real original Protestants (Amidst a hanful of other Puritan groups)and these Americans are posers at best. I know you know this Perry, and your article is spot on; but just for your viewers.


  2. Mr. Perry:

    I need your help. R. Scott Clark, on his “Heidelblog,” Jan. 6th., critiques Theosis, calls it quirk? Could you please responde to Clark. Thank you.

  3. Perry,

    The manger scene in the church I grew up in (Calvary EUB) had a blue spotlight in the crib instead of a baby doll. When I asked why I was told Jesus was God and so we couldn’t make an image of Him. Our lesson books in Sunday school had pictures of Jesus even so.

    I don’t think any one had a clear understanding as to how Jesus was both God and Man. I remember one seminary professor saying in his sermon that Jesus left his humanity behind when He ascended into heaven. Protestantism isn’t interested in Jesus’ Person so much as His Work, what He did For Me.

    Bill Zuck

  4. Perry, I’m curious. You consistently spell the holiday ‘Christmass’ — is that to emphasise the etymology of ‘Christ Mass’ or is there some other reason?

  5. What struck me about the Protestants was that they have and distribute the most beautiful illustrated Bibles. 🙂

  6. It should be pointed out that Prots vary from Idonodules to followers of the Caroline Books to Anabaptists. Some will in fact be of the second opinion while using the arguments of the Anabaptists. I suspect that is the case in our current consideration: Prots *intend* to argue for the conclusions of the Carolingian court, but do so with gnostic argumentation.

  7. Ok, good. Glad you’ve read it Perry. I haven’t had a chance to take a close look at it, myself, even though he personally gave me a copy about three years ago. I owe it to him to do so. It just hasn’t been high on my list, I guess. I like and respect the author very much and because of that, and how well I know him, I told him my first reaction was to be quite skeptical. I have not followed up on that, though. Perhaps I’ll email you about the essay in the future.

  8. “Jonathan Edwards (in his Notebooks on Scripture and his “Blank Bible”) went berserk with those very passages, attributing all manner of allegorical meaning to them.”

    And here I thought that “if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense, lest it become nonsense.”

    -Mantra of some of the Protestants I used to be apart of-

  9. Fr. Oliver,

    I’ve read that essay and I wasn’t impressed. the author tends to collapse Palamas into Edward’s Platonism and makes some of the usual mistakes in structuring Palamas’ thought.

  10. John Mark,

    Jonathan Edwards (in his Notebooks on Scripture and his “Blank Bible”) went berserk with those very passages, attributing all manner of allegorical meaning to them. At the same time, he read Scripture as a counterpart to nature (both sacramentally mediating Being/Triune love and goodness). Thus, those things (water, palm trees, pomegranates) were specifically created in order to shine light on Scripture and to be seen in light of Scripture. In this, he was influenced by both the Cambridge Platonists (through Shaftesbury) and by Calvin himself (who had the notion of the world as “the theater of God’s glory”).

    Because of his pneumatological focus and his “objective idealism,” though, Edwards was quick to place the reality signified by such imagery only within the mind of God.

  11. Anyone have an exegesis for the Temple and Tabernacle images (cherubim, palm trees, oxen, pomegranates, etc.) in the OT..

    And around the mercy seat no less!!

  12. Anyone have an exegesis for the Temple and Tabernacle images (cherubim, palm trees, oxen, pomegranates, etc.) in the OT by a Reformed Protestant (“New” or “Old”)? I’ve never really dived into commentaries regarding those images because when I was iconophobic/iconoclastic, I didn’t even know that these passages of Scripture existed. Preferably something online, if such a thing can be found. Thanks.

  13. Darlene,

    Suppose what you say is true. This would still undercut their argument against icons since they too permit the making of graven images. The question isn’t somuch one of practice, but of theory or principle.

  14. First of all, I think that the modern day iconoclasts particularly fall into the category of “Reformed” five point Calvinists. Most other Evangelical Christians are not 100% iconoclasts. Just walk into a Methodist church, or many other evangelical churches. You will see stained-glass windows, a cross at the altar, oh yeah- an altar, pictures of Jesus on the walls of Sunday school classrooms, etc.

    However, I tend to think modern day Calvinists have strayed from the practices of their forefathers the Puritans. Just read some of the writings of the Puritans and the writings of modern day Calvinists. I think the OSAS (once saved always saved) thinking of the Arminian Baptists has crept in among many of the Calvinists.

    The Puritans took sin very seriously and often apprehended and begged for God’s mercy. Sundays were considered The Lord’s Day and no work was done – all was set aside to honor Christ. Even reading some of John Owen’s writings, such as on Mortification has led me to believe that there is such a thing as Old Calvinists and New Calvinists.

    So, if what I’m asserting is true, why wouldn’t the practices of the modern day Calvinists be different than the Calvinists of old? No big deal then to have a manger scene at home. However, not a manger scene in a church – that would still not be acceptable.

    Just my two cents for whatever it’s worth.

  15. Which one, inconsistency or consumerism? I agree, all of us can be inconsistent and consumed by material possessions, but as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “All [men] are equal, but some are more equal than others.” 😛

  16. That’s funny. To start celebrating Christmas again because secular marketing got a hold of it? I can’t help but laugh.

  17. This is why Protestants stopped celebrating Christmas for a couple hundred years until commerce got a hold of it.

  18. My father hated the nativity my mother insisted on having. She said it wasn’t religious, but historical. (Though much to his displeasure she also liked angels.)

    They liked most of the movies made about Jesus’ life as long as did he didn’t act stoned.

  19. Excellent post showing my former inconsistencies, though I’d say I was slightly more consistent than most Protestants because I objected to all pictures of Jesus. I even used to ask for forgiveness for picturing Jesus in my head. Still, I wasn’t fully iconoclastic in that I still had pictures of family and loved to draw. Good post.

    John Mark

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