This is a question that may be asked by a new Christian or a Christian who comes from an orthodox or Eastern orthodox Christian tradition. It is important to have an answer or an understanding of these things in order to make an informed decision about them.
- Icons — These are images, symbols, pictures or representations of objects used in religious devotions.
- Statues — These are 3D works of art made by sculpting, carving, molding or cast in metal of some kind.
- Idols — These are statue-like images representing something real or imagined/mythical, but is believed to have spiritual power, and is something that people worship or pray to.
- Pictures — These need no definition but having pictures of God or Jesus will always be the artist’s portrayal of what Jesus or God looks like.
What does the Bible say about using any of these four things?
The main verse that anyone would quote in reference to this question or these things is Exodus 20:2-5,
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image 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.”
Idolatry is forbidden
God tells us that we should not make an idol/statue or picture/image of anything to be used in the place of God. So using pictures and statues of God or Jesus and bowing down to them as if they had special powers is absolutely forbidden.
The use of icons and pictures
Icons and pictures have been used for centuries in some Christian traditions in order to help people to concentrate on God or to understand Him more. Hundreds of years ago when people were predominantly illiterate or had no Bible to read and find out about God, pictures, stained glass windows and other things were used to help people understand who God is, who Jesus is and what He did and has done for us. Some Christians like to have a candle, a picture of Jesus to remind them as they worship who He is, but there is no intention to give these symbols power or something to be worshipped.
In the past there have been artifacts that have been reported to be religious items: a bone of a saint, the Turin shroud, water from the river Jordan or a host of other such things. These have sometimes become idols just because people believe them to have special power in which case they would be unacceptable to God and forbidden for us as Christians.
Should we use visual things as icons, pictures or statues in our worship of God?
The most important thing to ask ourselves is: “do I believe these things have special power?”. If our answer is yes, then we are committing idolatry and giving glory and honour to something that is not God. The one true God wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. If we know Him as our Saviour and friend, our Master and King, we will agree that nothing that people can make can take His place.
If you find a candle or a picture or icon helpful in thinking about God, concentrating on Him and worshipping Him, then it is acceptable. But the moment that it becomes a good luck charm or something you cannot do without, it has become something that is verging on idolatry and should be discarded.