The point of this discussion is not to condemn the Evangelical church for practices of veneration. Rather, it is to affirm that certain kinds of veneration exist in the Evangelical church already. To include the honoring sacred images along with the acts common to the practices of prayer, the place of the bible, the act of preaching and participation in music is not a significant leap. In fact, in post- modernity, the use of visual symbol (image) is essential for a holistic worship experience. The days when corporate worship could be primarily cerebral are past. Certainly, it would be inappropriate if worship did not have a cerebral component, but a more holistic inclusion of participatory music, prayer, reading of the scripture and use of sacred symbol is essential to the effective leadership of corporate worship today. It is apparent that this is also true of much of the worship over the past 2000 years. The iconoclastic tendencies of the western churches have been largely reactionary. It is time that the richness of various historical traditions, including those of sacred images, is included in Evangelical worship of the 21st century.
The Proper Introduction of Icon
Introducing the use of sacred image to the contemporary churches must be done in a very careful manner. The 20th century was full of the rediscovery of icons. This is largely because the technique of removing paint that had previously covered them was developed.196 There is a danger that fascination with sacred images may simply be an interest in novelty. The Orthodox are concerned that the use of sacred images and the icons themselves are not trivialized. In fact, the popularity of ancient icons in the west today is considered blasphemous, a distortion of their purpose.197 Giakalis declares “…no one apart from the believer has any right to put up icons of holy persons and the events of sacred history.” It is quite possible that he might amend this statement to exclude non-Orthodox believers. A trendy use of icons, more for art or decoration outside of true religion, is profane. Icons are not “art” or “mementos”.198
196 Lazarev, 1997, p. 11.
197 Coniaris, 1982, p. 171.
198 Giakalis, 1994, p. 62-63.
Developing and maintaining an understanding of the sacred is essential for the journey into the appropriate use of image in Evangelicalism. Ouspensky’s exhortation to avoid Images that might “arouse shameful pleasures” (prohibited by the Quinisext council) is a good start.199 However, it is extremely difficult to identify these universally. What might arouse one person (man) might not arouse another. It may even be, as is common in North American culture, that the withholding of the image arouses. Also, it may not be the fault of the image but of the viewer. Nudity in art is a potential example of this. Or dancing. Icons depicting the narrative of the Song of Songs are difficult to find. Yet this is part of life, the scripture and a healthy incarnational theology.
It seems that the dangers lie more in the potential for evangelicals to focus trivial symbols. Current examples like the WWJD apparel, the “testamint” candies and other very questionable uses of symbol are rampant. Church leaders must develop a thoughtful and discerning approach to the use of symbol in worship. This approach must be rooted in meditation on the scripture, immersion in the historical practices of the church, and personal use of sacred images in devotion. In this way, it is possible to avoid the dangers of either embracing a trivial image or trivializing those that have a rich sacred history. In accordance with Orthodox teaching, these things are not to be approached lightly. Rather, they are to be approached with prayer and submission to the will of God.