Images of Christ: Indifferent Imaginations?
By Christopher Coldwell

The Case Against Images at Meetings of North Texas Presbytery (PCA)
Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

This paper deals with the presence of representations of Christ at meetings of church courts in a denomination where the unlawfulness of such images is a doctrine presently left open to exception. The Westminster Standards condemn such representations as unlawful, yet in the PCA ministers are ordained who take exception to that teaching. Yet, those who think such images are unlawful and offensive to God, are not without scriptural recourse even when the majority believe such representations are lawful in their nature. The North Texas Presbytery of the PCA was petitioned last April by a ruling elder at FPCR, to cover any images that would be present at meetings of presbytery. This article was written to support that petition. While that was the particular occasion of this paper, the arguments herein are scriptural principles which can be applied to many other situations, within the limitations set forth. The session of FPCR felt this article would be useful and interesting to the readership of The Blue Banner, and it is reproduced with slight changes in this edition, at their urging. Other materials relating to the unlawfulness of such representations follow this piece.

It is certainly a shame to say the least that a little bit of colored glass or paint should be deemed more worthy of respect than even the least of one of the Lord's redeemed. However, for some people this is the case. On July 23rd, North Texas Presbytery essentially refused Elder Seekamp's [Text of Petition] petition by sending it back to die in committee.


Many in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) see nothing wrong with 'representations' of our Lord Jesus, and believe that it is a matter of indifference whether one has them or not. David Seekamp (RE, First Presbyterian Rowlett) holds to the position of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, which has not been deleted or modified in the PCA's standards. They teach that purported images of Christ or any of the persons of the Trinity are unlawful, and that the making of them is not an indifferent matter. However, given the current state of this question in the PCA, he is not seeking for a determination that they are unlawful in their nature, but he is seeking for a restriction of their use. Elder Seekamp is simply entreating that his conscience be respected, and that a church hosting presbytery meetings cover or take down any images present for the duration of the presbytery meeting, and where that is impractical, that the meeting be held elsewhere.


Theologians divide actions into categories. Note2 Actions are lawful when they may be done. Some lawful actions are necessary in that they may not be left undone. Actions which may be either left undone, or done, are called indifferent. Some indifferent actions are expedient in that they may be done profitably – others which due to circumstances are unprofitable have become inexpedient and are not to be done. These might be diagrammed as follows:

As Protestants it is hoped that no one in the PCA would contend that 'representations' of the Godhead are necessary. The disagreement in the church is presumably between those who with the standards contend that they are unlawful at all times, and those who contend that some 'representations' are a matter of indifference. However, just because something is indifferent and may be done, does not mean it is expedient and may be done profitably. If one side says something is indifferent, and the other that it is unlawful, then the conscience of the latter should be respected. The following is an attempt to show that those who believe images are in their nature indifferent must respect the consciences of those who believe them to be unlawful.


Something may be indifferent in its nature (or we might say 'in theory'), but not in its use. Note3 The use of things indifferent is subject to the circumstances surrounding it: Who, What, Where, By what aid, Why, How, and When. These circumstances can change the situation surrounding an action which might be indifferent otherwise, so that it is no longer. If a practice is truly indifferent (which for the sake of argument we are allowing in this case), then we must follow what the Scriptures say about indifferent things.


One of our Scottish Presbyterian fathers has said, "Every thing which is indifferent in the nature of it, is not by and by indifferent in the use of it. But the use of a thing indifferent ought evermore to be either chosen or refused, followed or forsaken, according to these three rules delivered to us in God's word: 1. The rule of piety; 2. The rule of charity; 3. The rule of purity." Note4


All things are to be done to the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31. "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Rom. 14:7-8. "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord." Col. 3:17. "And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." As Gillespie says: "Our whole life, and by consequence, all the particular actions of it, ought to be referred to God's glory, and ordered according to his will." Westminster Shorter Catechism #1 says, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever." Dr. Davenant says, "Even those actions which are indifferent by their own nature, ought nevertheless to be done by Christians in the name of Christ, that is, according to the will of Christ, and to Christ's glory." Note5

What this means is that just because some thing or some action is indifferent in its nature, we cannot use that thing or perform that action any way we please. It is governed by the will of God, and with an eye to his glory. A general precept of Christ is that we are to "Love our neighbor as ourself." Things indifferent are forborne out of love toward our neighbor, even more out of love for brothers in the Lord. It does not glorify Christ to choose the use of an indifferent thing over the well-being of any of his people.


This rule teaches us that we should not use anything indifferent when offense will occur when we do. Rom. 14:21. "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Rom. 14:19. "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another." Rom. 15:2. "Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." 1 Cor. 10:23. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." As one commentator says, "In meat, drink, and the whole kind of things indifferent, it is not enough to look whether they be lawful, but that, further, we are to look whether (to do or omit) the same be expedient, and may edify." Note6

The Rule of Charity in essence is the avoiding of offending our Christian brethren. James Durham defines offense (the old word was scandal) this way: "For if charity and love are the end of the law, and men ought not only to seek their own things, but the things one of another, and love their neighbor as themselves, then ought they to seek their neighbor's edification as their own, and to eschew the prejudging [prejudicing] of them. Hence, scandal is opposite that charity and love, and also to that respect which we ought to carry to our brother (Rom. 14:10, 15). Yea, it is a scandal and offense as it is opposite to, and inconsistent with, love to his spiritual well-being. And so in a word, that which may impede and hinder his spiritual growth and advancement therein, is an offense and scandal (Rom. 14:21)." It "hurts his spiritual condition, either by wronging his liveliness, or activity, or comfort, etc." Note7 1 John 3:18. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."


This rule "respects our peace and certainty of conscience, without which anything is unclean to us, though it is clean and lawful in its own nature." Rom. 14:14. "To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Rom 14:23. "He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Calvin says, "It is utterly wrong to come near in any respect to what you think displeases the Lord, yes indeed, even to what you are not convinced is pleasing to him." Note8

The Rule of Purity involves the doctrine of Liberty of Conscience. "God alone is lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men." WCF 20:II. True liberty of conscience is certainly not the liberty to break God's law in neglecting duty or in committing sin. But it is also not the liberty to do anything-else we please. As rule one teaches us, we are to do everything to the glory of God, and if there is no peace of conscience in a matter, then we are to avoid it. Liberty of conscience is violated when by authority or example we lead someone to violate his conscience in a matter he is in doubt about, or thinks unlawful. There is no true church authority that can violate this conscience by imposing doctrines of men, and we should avoid all bad example which would have an ill bearing on a brother's case of conscience. Note9


Gillespie concludes discussing these three rules by saying: "Now if a thing indifferent is used according to these three rules, the use of it is not only lawful but expedient also; but if it is not used according to these rules, the use of it is altogether unlawful. And since a thing indifferent in the nature of it can never be lawfully used, except according to these rules, hence it follows, that the use of a thing indifferent is never lawful to us when we have no other warrant for using the same beside our own will and pleasure." Note10

Elder Seekamp's certainty that it is unlawful to make 'representations' of any person of the Godhead clearly means rule three, the Rule of Purity, cannot be meet in this case. Rule two, the Rule of Charity, shows that those who do not agree that they are unlawful, must prefer the offended brother over the thing they believe to be indifferent. Regarding rule one, if Elder Seekamp is correct, then the images can never be used to God's glory, because it is in accordance with his will they not be made. If on the other hand, they are truly indifferent, they cannot glorify God in this case because they offend some brethren who do not see their indifference, and we can only glorify the Lord by obeying his rules regarding the use of indifferent things (rules two and three). So, in following these biblical rules, it is clear in the present case Elder Seekamp's request that such things not be present at presbytery meetings must be granted.


1. Any objection that is offered which prefers having the images present, over the objections of conscience, changes the nature of the debate. At that point, the images have ceased being simply viewed as indifferent, and are now viewed as necessary; so necessary, that they are more important than our brother's liberty of conscience. This necessity cannot be proved from Scripture; but it must be proved to override and instruct consciences. Note11 So, lest there be confusion here, it should be clear that those who believe something is indifferent cannot argue as though they were the weaker brother, and plead for the use of things indifferent. The offense from indifferent things comes in their use, not their non-use. When the use of something is insisted upon, it is no longer indifferent, but it has become necessary, and must have scriptural warrant.

To reiterate again, the position Elder Seekamp holds in conscience (that such images are unlawful) is the historic Reformed view, and the one taken by the Westminster Standards. Since there is divided practice on this issue in the PCA, and a difference of opinion in practice allowed, then the rules of things indifferent should be followed to keep peace in the church. It shows preference and love toward brethren when we show esteem toward their consciences more than things. This also works to build peace in the church.

2. Objections might be given limiting the impact of the Apostle Paul's teachings on the weak and strong in this particular case. How could they be limited?

(1) It might be objected, 'These teachings of Paul don't apply to this case.' If these 'pictures' are really indifferent (there are no other choices if they are not necessary, nor unlawful) then Paul's teachings apply to determine their expediency. Romans 14:15, etc. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." It is clear by 'anything' Paul is talking about all things indifferent.

(2) The strong might say, 'Surely, we are not to put up with this inconvenience forever' (limiting the duration). Yet Paul's teaching is clear (1 Cor. 8:13), "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." As long as the possibility of offense exists, the rule stands: forbear doing whatever it is that might offend.

(3) Someone might object that so and so is a trouble maker, or he is only one person, and of little consequence (limiting to whom the Scriptures apply). Yet again Paul's teaching is clear (1 Cor. 10:32): "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." This encompasses all types of persons; even everybody on earth (inside or outside the church).

(4) A limitation of Paul's rule might be imposed because of the perception that the effect on the weak is not serious enough to warrant the bother of accommodating them. 'There is a certain inconvenience in removing these "representations," and the small discomfort it causes others is not a strong enough reason to cause us to undergo them. It's not like these "pictures" are causing you to sin. After all, you're claiming they're unlawful; you certainly aren't going to misuse them. And others may be offended if we remove them.'

(a) Paul says we are to take care lest we stumble, offend or make weak. James Durham correctly understands this verse, as we quoted above, when he says: "And so in a word, that which may impede and hinder his spiritual growth and advancement therein, is an offense and scandal (Rom. 14:21)." It "hurts his spiritual condition, either by wronging his liveliness, or activity, or comfort, etc." Note12 Is there really any mere inconvenience which would check us in our care of our brother's spiritual condition?

(b) The bottom line is not whether or not it is actually causing brothers to sin. Paul does not limit it to this, and Durham clearly draws out the implications from Rom. 14:21. As far as whether or not it is a cause of sin, how can any determine what is in another's mind or heart, and so be assured these 'representations' are not a cause of sin? They certainly have that potential; but the danger is even greater for those who think they are lawful. Could some be attaching too much sentiment to them; could they be attaching a superstitious religious significance to them? It is not just those like David Seekamp one needs to be concerned about stumbling, offending, or making weak; but those also who may be over-valuing these 'pictures.'

(c) Why would others be offended by ceding to Elder Seekamp's petition. This petition is only seeking a temporary removal or covering of the images for the time in which presbytery meets, for the sake of the consciences of those who think them unlawful. If any group must be chosen not to offend, then it must be those who believe that these 'representations' are unlawful. Additionally, there is much more potential evil in not removing them (fostering superstition, etc.). Note13

Whether it is the least of our brethren that we may offend, or in the least extent, or in the least thing, the law of the Apostle stands: "For meat destroy not the work of God."

3. It has been suggested that Elder Seekamp remove himself during the worship services at presbytery as a way to alleviate his conscience. However, Mr. Seekamp finds the bare existence of images unlawful. It is not his understanding that images are lawful as long as they are not worshipped. Presently, both positions are held in the PCA. This present petition is not over which position is correct. If images are indifferent in nature, then they cannot be forced on someone's conscience. Besides, the mere suggestion that he absent himself from the worship services shows an inappropriate preference toward these supposed indifferent things, rather than a desire borne of love to bear with a brother in a case of conscience. We should be able to worship together, and desire to do so. It should not be (and cannot be) so important for one to impose an unnecessary practice or belief on everyone that we banish people from the worship of God.

4. There might be an objection over allowing the 'weak brother' to set the agenda for the church, and 'raining on the parade of the strong.' However, first, Elder Seekamp is only taking the position of the 'weaker brother' because he is viewed in that capacity by those who view themselves to be the strong brethren. Point in fact, as has been said before, the confessional position supports Elder Seekamp, while the other view and practice is permitted and tolerated. Be this as it may, that the truly weak brother should not 'set the agenda for the church,' it is important to note that one soul is worth more than any practice or thing which we can live without. The parade the weak may 'rain upon' may not be worth making much of a fuss over. For a while at least (Paul says forever), we can live without the thing that is indifferent. Paul certainly places the burden on 'not doing,' when he says, "I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Cor. 8:13). The strong's parade is not worth the stumbling of a brother. Besides, we shouldn't view the commands of God which say to be careful lest we stumble the weak, as their having a 'trump card' over the church's agenda. Things indifferent are not the church's agenda. The gospel is not indifferent, nor are God's ordinances of government and worship. The weak have no claim to change these, the church's true agenda.

5. An objection might be raised against the whole drift of this argumentation. 'Elder Seekamp, after all, believes these 'pictures' are unlawful. We're claiming they're indifferent. Argue fairly!'

There is nothing unfair in arguing this way. It is precisely biblical and logical. Just because the concession is made that the 'lawfulness' question is impractical to press at the present time, does not mean David Seekamp has abandoned any rights he may lawfully press from Scripture. Since those who disagree with him claim these 'pictures' are indifferent, he asks that he be treated biblically according to that position (which consistency and integrity requires). One cannot both claim something is indifferent, and abandon the protections accorded by Scripture to those who think that thing unlawful.

6. The objection might be raised: 'Indeed, Paul's teachings on things indifferent do apply, for he writes (Rom. 14:1): "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." This is a doubtful disputation, so it should not be discussed further.'

It is hoped that no one would actually pose this objection, and that all would cringe who hear it, no matter what their position on the subject. Mr. Seekamp's position is not a doubtful disputation. It is the majority report of the Reformed Faith. The view has precise and biblical arguments supporting it. The Westminster Standards teach this judgment as doctrine from Scripture, nor does it hold a minor place among the many doctrines taught therein. It is held by the majority of the Reformed theologians before and since the production of these standards.

Besides, what does the Apostle mean here in Romans 14:1? He surely can't mean every time there is a difference of opinion, it is a doubtful disputation, and it should not be discussed. And if it is a doubtful disputation, what is Paul's remedy? This is not an escape clause to end debate and disregard the views of the weak. Debate should end (if it is a doubtful disputation), but the strong are to rest quiet in their faith, and are not to offend the weak. James Durham's understanding of this passage is helpful (see footnote). Note14


7. A final objection might be raised, and indeed it has been by implication, in the RPCES report on the use of 'pictures' of Christ. Note15 It is contended that these images are not just indifferent in nature, but they are (1) profitable (expedient) and even (2) necessary to be used. Following the conclusions of the report, one could object to protests against images along these two lines.

(1) The report does not just argue for the lawfulness of 'representations' of Christ, but seriously contends for their use despite potential abuses. The report says, "Recognizing that caution in the making of portraits of Christ is indicated, what are we to say about the use of pictures? While permissible, are pictures of Christ to be encouraged? Yes. For one thing God's Word itself encourages the picturing of events. The description of Christ entering Jerusalem on 'Palm Sunday' is but one of the great events in the life of our Lord on earth which call forth mental pictures. For another thing, pedagogy, particularly with children, calls for depicting of events in the life of our Lord – if art has any place in the life of a Christian, should it not find expression in the sphere of that which is of great importance to the believer – the events of Jesus' life and death and resurrection?" Note16

Note that these two reasons, (a) that because the Scriptures can call forth mental images, we should make actual images, and (b) pedagogy, are merely assertions. They are not proved from Scripture.

(a) Just because Scripture may encourage something, does not mean we can ignore its clear teaching on other subjects, namely the laws of the use of things indifferent. However, is it really true that because the Scriptures are vivid, or descriptive, or written in a way that impresses the various truths home, that this is an encouragement in and of itself to draw pictures of those events? Where is the logic here to indicate this conclusion? What about Adam and Eve naked in the garden? The slaughter of the Canaanites? David's adultery with Bathsheba? Onan's sin? Each of these events can impress the imagination with images, but does not the imagining, let alone the actual representing of such events, present occasions to sin, if indeed they are not sin by their very creation? These events are just as much the Word of God as the events of Christ's life. Two of these events cited are not sinful in any way (Adam and Eve were naked in the garden before the Fall; the slaying of the Canaanites was a righteous act commanded by God). The other two events are sinful acts. Yet all the events if dwelt upon in the mind, or drawn, present certain temptations to the senses: The lust of the flesh, and the lust for violence. Even if such events are lawful to depict, are they not still subject to the laws of things indifferent? It is admitted by the report that there is a real temptation to misuse these 'representations' of Christ, so how can they be expedient? Surely this 'encouragement' from Scripture does not exist; clearly there is no argument from expediency for producing images of Christ.

To be encouraged and even called desirable in their use, these images must be profitable and expedient according to the three rules previously laid down. However, due to offense, Note17 these 'pictures' cannot be profitable, therefore how can they be encouraged? Again, just because something may be lawful in the nature of it, does not mean it is lawful in its use. Not everyone will be persuaded by the arguments presented in that report for the lawfulness of such images. Those like Elder Seekamp are persuaded that the understanding of Scripture had by the majority of our Presbyterian faith fathers (from Calvin and Knox through Dabney and Thornwell, to Prof. John Murray), is correct and compelling on this issue of the unlawfulness of 'picturing' Christ.

(b) The RPCES paper says pedagogy 'calls for' the use of images. If by 'calls for' they simply mean it is a good idea, then the expediency of the images is still determinable by the laws of indifferent things already discussed, and it does not matter what pedagogy 'calls for.' The report admits that 'representations' of Christ present a danger of idolatry: how can they be desirable or profitable and expedient for instructing adults, let alone our children, with such an inherent danger? If we are to avoid even the appearance of evil, we should avoid anything which has such a propensity not only for apparent evil, but real stumbling and idolatry.

If by 'calls for' they mean images are necessary, then, again, it doesn't matter if pedagogy requires it – if Scripture doesn't show a necessity it cannot be required. The report never even attempts to show from God's Word how the use of 'pictures' is required in religious instruction, which is absolutely necessary to press their use on the whole church.

Even if these two arguments showed the lawfulness of using 'representations' of Christ, yet they are still inexpedient because of the reasons formerly set down. These arguments cannot justify having these images present at presbytery meetings when they may cause offense. It is certainly hard to see the expediency of the elders of the church having to be instructed by images. And while it may be argued that these are lawful as an expression of art; yet this doesn't remove the objection due to offense. There is no reason for that art to remain anywhere it may cause offense.

(2) An attempt is made in this RPCES report to present 'picturing' Christ as necessary to avoid error. "Moreover, since the Biblical teaching on the incarnation insists upon taking seriously the full humanity of Christ, pictures of the episodes of Christ's life are not only permissible but desirable. To fail to represent Christ while representing the disciples would present only a Docetic view of Christ, a denial of His true humanity. To fail to represent disciples and Christ in pictorial form would tend to convey the notion that the incarnation wasn't important enough to picture, or that non-verbal representation of the gospel and gospel history is not valid. But to take this position would require us to re-examine our use of such non-verbal symbols as the cross as we make use of them in our sanctuaries and homes." Note18

Here is a strange dilemma. We are cautioned about images of Christ because of the tendency toward idolatry they present, Note19 yet we are told we must have 'pictures' of Christ to avoid having erroneous doctrinal views!?! No Scripture is cited to show that these implications necessarily flow from not having 'representations' of Christ. And we certainly don't want to be placed in a position of having to reexamine our other notions of symbols by calling them into question! This is sarcastic, but it is strange that the committee was willing to reexamine Larger Catechism #109 and recommend changing it, while it was unwilling to submit this area to examination. Not everyone believes in using crosses in their churches and homes. Note20 Also, usually it is contended that it is lawful to 'picture' Christ's humanity, yet this committee calls for representing Christ's incarnation! How did they figure on representing Christ's deity – with a halo such as depicted in the 'artwork' provided with their report? Note21 One would have thought that the two differing sides on this question would have at least agreed that 'picturing' Christ's deity is breaking the second commandment.

Early in this paper it was hoped no one would seriously press for these 'pictures' as necessary, yet we find this argument in a paper prepared and received by the highest court of a denomination (now part of the PCA). And if this is necessary nothing is; for they say failing "to represent Christ while representing the disciples would present only a Docetic view of Christ, a denial of His true humanity." Since it is always necessary to avoid error, it therefore is necessary to have these images of Christ! This means that the medieval church was less likely to be in error on the humanity of Christ, than the Reformed Churches of the Reformation, and that all our Presbyterian Reformers sinned because they condemned images of Christ, which were necessary to prevent falling into error regarding the nature of Christ! One has to wonder what the authors of the RPCES report were thinking, or if they simply had their end in view and didn't take too careful of a route getting there.

There are no arguments that would prove that these images must remain present at presbytery meetings despite offense. Again, what needs to be proved to disregard the offense, is that they are necessary to be present by Scripture precept. These arguments from art, pedagogy and the incarnation, are speculative at best, and, as far as proving any necessity, not very convincing, if not in fact ludicrous.


1. Consider the reasonableness of Elder Seekamp's petition, and the unreasonableness of refusing it. All he is asking, is that when he comes among his fellow presbyters to carry out the duties Christ has laid upon him as a ruling elder in His church, these things which are offensive to him be removed from sight or covered. When he is not present, those to whom these 'pictures' belong may do as they wish. If these images are indifferent to those who believe them to be lawful, they should be no more important than a chalk board or a piece of furniture. How unreasonable it would be not to remove something so unimportant, if it were the cause of an offense!

2. Consider the great and necessary biblical duties commanded us, and the utter insignificance these supposed indifferent 'pictures' stand in comparison to these injunctions of Christ. Romans 14:15-15:3. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died For meat destroy not the work of God. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. … Let everyone of us please his neighbour for his good to edification." 1 Cor. 8:9, 13. "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." 1 Cor. 6:7,12. "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? … All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient." 1 Cor. 10:32. "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." 1 John 2:9-10. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him."

3. Consider the danger of neglecting these clear commands and teachings of our Lord Jesus. Matthew 18:6-8. "For whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee …"

4. Consider, once again, that Elder Seekamp's position that such images are unlawful, is the position of the Westminster Standards, the statement of faith of Presbyterianism for nearly the last 350 years – standards he has vowed to uphold. The view of subscription the PCA holds or will hold is immaterial to this paper's position. A strict 'no exceptions' view is subsumed in any looser view. Surely no one is going to suggest one must take exceptions to the standards a church adopts! And the clauses on this question have not been excised out of the PCA's edition of these documents. While past judicial decisions may have been made that make disagreement allowable on this subject, future decisions may come to the opposite conclusion. In the meantime, just because disagreement has been allowed does not mean the Scriptures concerning indifferent things can be disregarded. Note22

5. Consider Mr. Seekamp's conscience, and not merely one's own clearness of conscience in this matter. It is unwarrantable to cause him to be grieved in the performance of his duty to Christ, while the avoiding thereof is so easy to accommodate. It will be no commendation at the last day that one used these 'pictures' in full persuasion of their lawfulness, if at the same time one stumbled the least of one's brethren while using them (Rom. 14:10-13).


This paper began by dividing actions and things into categories of lawful and unlawful. Those that are lawful are either necessary or indifferent, and those that are indifferent in nature are either profitable or unprofitable (expedient or inexpedient) in their use. Those actions or things that are unprofitable in their use (in accordance with time, place, etc.) are as forbidden as those that are unlawful in their nature.

For the sake of argument, the debate over the nature of 'representations' of Christ was waived, although their indifference is not establishable. It was also assumed that no one would be so bold as to argue for their necessity (at least in this situation of meetings of presbytery). Clearly it has been shown, even if these images are indifferent in nature, that their use is inexpedient, because they do not meet the three rules of expedient indifferent things. Therefore, they are as unallowable in the given situation as though they were unlawful in their very nature.


The implications of not removing these images for the sake of a brother's conscience are grave. God's clear commands not to stumble brethren would be broken. It would be a refusal to remove an offense and does not show love to brethren in the Lord, which again is a violation of God's will. In viewing the images as more important than a brother's conscience, they cease being viewed as simply indifferent (if indeed they are), and have become somehow necessary. Viewing these 'representations' as necessary entangles us in superstition and will-worship. In effect and in summary, the refusal to hear and grant this petition would violate solemn oaths to uphold and promote the peace and purity of Christ's church.


While Elder Seekamp and those who agree with him, hold that such images are sinful in and of themselves, they recognize that this is not something on which all are in agreement. Granted for the sake of argument, that those are correct who hold that such things are indifferent, the pressing of these 'representations' on the consciences of those who believe them to be unlawful is sinful and should not be done. It is therefore necessary to have them removed at presbytery meetings, for the sake of the consciences of those who find them unlawful, and for the sake of those who think them indifferent, lest by forcing consciences in this matter they sin against their brethren.


James Durham, Concerning Scandal (Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1990).

Documents of the Synod: Study Papers and actions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod – 1965-1982.

George Gillespie, English Popish Ceremonies, (Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1993).

Thomas MCrie, The Unity of the Church (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989)

Westminster Confession of Faith, 20:II; 21:I

Westminster Larger Catechism #109.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #51.


Peter Barnes, Seeing Jesus, The Case Against Pictures of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Banner of Truth, 1990)

James Fisher, The Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism Explained, by way of question and answer (Many editions), Q. #51

J. Marcellus Kik, "Pictures of Christ" (np)

John K. La Shell, "Imagination and Idol: A Puritan Tension," Westminster Theological Journal, Fall 1987. The author does not take a complete unlawful position regarding 'pictures' of Christ, but presents a useful discussion of the topic.

John Murray, "Pictures of Christ," The Presbyterian Reformed Magazine, Winter 1993, pp. 186-188. Rpt. from Reformed Herald, vol. XVI, no. 9, February 1961.

Petition To N. Texas Presbytery

To: North Texas Presbytery Sessions

and Bills and Overtures Committee

Date: April 11, 1994

Dear Fellow Presbyters:

As you may well know FPCR strictly adheres to the Westminster Standards in the firm belief the positions taken therein are correct and a true understanding of the Scriptures. I realize that in the PCA there are great differences on the nature of confessionalism (system vs. strict), but I am not writing to try and convince anyone about the position to be taken on this. My present concern is a matter of conscience and this is the reason for this letter.

I firmly believe as the Westminster standards teach, that it is a sin to make representations of any person of the Godhead (LC 109). I know in the PCA it is by no means uncommon to have "pictures of Christ" in churches. I know this is the case in North Texas Presbytery. I would gladly defend the position of the standards if asked, yet as I indicated above I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion with this letter. I believe that attending presbytery meetings is a duty to be taken seriously. Yet sometimes in fulfilling this duty, I find myself in churches which have these idols (in my opinion) in plan sight. I wish to and indeed must fulfill my duties as a ruling elder in Christ's church, yet I'm grieved to the heart when I must do so with such images about. My request, indeed my plea, is that when your church is to hold meetings where elders must attend, that such images would be hidden so as not to place an offense before those of us who object to them. In cases where such things are so prominent that they cannot be hidden, another site should be chosen for meeting.

My purpose by this letter is not to irritate or stir up any resentment among brethren who have such things in their church buildings. Rather, please look upon this as an occasion to show love and charity toward an offended brother. As you may recall, at the meeting in Gainesville there were images in stained glass. Due to this, I felt conscience bound to leave the assembly. I have since the meeting in Gainesville talked with Fred Guthrie by phone. He encouraged me to bring this concern before the Presbytery.

My duty to attend presbytery, as it is now, implies a potential requirement to break God's law (as I understand it). Since there is no command to use these, on a ground of their indifference, could they be removed (or draped) for a season (or another place be chosen in which to convene presbytery), so as not to offend? If it would be the mind of presbytery to formulate such a policy, it would [be] a great relief of concern and encouragement to me (and others) in the performance of duties to the presbytery.

RE David Seekamp
First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett [Back]


1 The author provided this article to Elder Seekamp in support of his petition to N. Texas Presbytery. The text of this petition follows this paper.[Back]

2 George Gillespie, English Popish Ceremonies (EPC), (Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1993), p. il.[Back]

3 "That which is lawful in the nature of it is never lawful in the use of it, except only when it is expedient for edification, as teaches the Apostle (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23)." EPC, p. 68. [Back]

4 EPC, pp. 413-415.[Back]

5 EPC, Ibid.[Back]

6 EPC, Ibid.[Back]

7 James Durham, Concerning Scandal (Scandal), (Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1990), p. 12.[Back]

8 EPC, Ibid.[Back]

9 When church powers merely give their will for their reason (that is they answer with naked authority because they cannot or will not articulate any Scriptural reason to go along with their decisions – EPC, p. 22), they have become tyrants over the conscience. The church does not legislate, but adjudicates from Scripture. Giving a bare answer, such as 'What part of No do you not understand,' is an abuse of church power. In fact, such tyranny is one of the lawful reasons given by Thomas M'Crie to separate from the communion of a church. The Unity of the Church (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989), p. 98. Gillespie says, "Should any synod of any church take more upon them than the synod of the apostles did, who enjoined nothing at their own pleasure but only what they show to be necessary, because of the law of charity (Acts 15:28)?" See EPC, pp. 27-30.[Back]

10 EPC, p. 415.[Back]

11 James Durham says, "It is a great mistake in religion, to think that in indifferent circumstantial things, the weak should follow the strong, and upon that ground to undervalue the offending of them. It is quite contrary to Scripture. The strong are to carry to the weak as men do to brittle and weak vessels, using tenderness to them lest they be crushed." Scandal, p. 40.[Back]

12 Scandal, p. 12.[Back]

13 Durham is the authority on understanding offense. His Concerning Scandal is a real masterpiece in this area of practical theology. His numerous distinctions are very helpful. In this case (in keeping with the objection), covering these images merely displeases the one group, while not covering them will actually offend those who believe them unlawful. His rule is that we should always "look [at] what is most expedient as to edification." Scandal, pp. 28-31.[Back]

14 "It is the Apostle's first direction (Romans 14:1), Him that is weak receive, but not to doubtful disputations, for such breed strife, and often waken carnalness in the contenders rather than pure zeal. And in this case it is better for some to possess clearness in their own judgment, and to condescend in their practice to others, than by venting their judgment unseasonably, to confound others. That is the meaning of the word (Rom. 14:22), Hast thou faith? that is, clearness in such a particular, have it to thyself; that is, make your own private use of it without troubling others with the same." Scandal, p. 35.[Back]

15 Documents of the Synod: Study Papers and actions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod – 1965-1982, pp. 332-350. This report does not use the language of things indifferent, let alone seek to accommodate those who believe images of Christ are unlawful and are offended by them; yet some of its arguments can be clearly understood to be reasoning from their expediency or their necessity.[Back]

16 Ibid, p. 347.[Back]

17 It is a serious flaw in the RPCES report that they neglect to deal with the offense these images cause those who think they are unlawful. If something is truly indifferent, it is impossible to press for its expedience when it is at the same time a cause of offense.[Back]

18 Ibid, p. 346.[Back]

19 Ibid, p. 345.[Back]

20 The Reformed understanding of symbols is that we have a very rich heritage in the two sacraments of Christian Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Attempting to expand this list of symbols very much puts one on the road to instituting more sacraments; which is of course the path the Catholics have taken.[Back]

21 Ibid, p. 346-348.[Back]

22 The only decision that comes to mind which might be thought to have a bearing is the Report of the Special Committee of Synod on Pictures of Christ, by the RPCES (159th GS Minutes, May 22, 1981, pp. 189-107), previously referenced. The PCA and RPCES joined in 1982, and this document has no judicial standing as to precedent (Preface, Documents of the Synod: Study Papers and actions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod – 1965-1982, edited by Paul R. Gilchrist). It concludes images of Christ are lawful to make, but it is a seriously flawed paper. It not only is flawed, but is wicked in the way it treats those who would disagree with its conclusion. While it shows pastoral concern toward those who might misuse or place an undue importance on these images, it gives no direction on how to be sensitive and show love toward the brethren who believe the 'pictures' are unlawful in and of themselves. And to make this disregard and contempt of these brethren's consciences obvious, an actual image is appended as part of the report! It is certainly interesting to say the least that this report makes the very error it advises against, in placing too much importance in these 'representations' in comparison to their very brethren in the Lord. Regardless of other flaws, the report clearly disregards Scripture's teaching on the use of things indifferent and avoiding offense.