Answer: Sadly, our Catholic friends and family members have been indoctrinated to believe that the use of statues, relics, and other articles is acceptable and even necessary for worship. They have been taught by the Roman Catholic Church that the images and icons used in the church are not actually “worshiped” but are simply “visual aids” to worship.
The Catholic Church long ago began making allowances for the idolatrous use of images by the way they reference the Ten Commandments. In the Catholic catechism and in most official Catholic documents, the first and second commandments are combined and then summarized with “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods beside Me.” Suspiciously absent is what comprises the second commandment in the Protestant numbering of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make any graven images.”
While it is understandable for “you shall not make any graven images” to be considered an aspect of “you shall not have other gods beside me,” based on the history of idolatry involving graven images throughout biblical and extra-biblical history, it seems unwise to not include “you shall not make any graven images” in every listing of the Ten Commandments. The omission seems especially suspicious in light of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has long been accused of the idolatrous use of graven images.
There are good reasons for not using images in worship. First of all, the use of physical images to “aid” worship violates the command to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Also, no one knows what God looks like, and John 1:18 is clear concerning this truth: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” And, because God is Spirit (John 4:24a), it is irreverent to delineate Him as an iconic representation. No one alive knows what Jesus Christ looked like in the flesh, and, since there were no cameras when He walked the earth, the only description of His appearance is found in Isaiah 53:2-3, which says that He had “no stately form or majesty.”
The lack of a physical description of Christ has not stopped the Catholic Church from depicting Him. Throughout Catholic churches, institutions, convents, monasteries, and every other Catholic-affiliated building and shrine, there are paintings of God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, Joseph, and a myriad of canonized saints. There are statues in abundance; there are relics, such as bone fragments, said to have belonged to certain saints. Some shrines even contain pieces of wood purported to be part of Jesus’ cross. All of these things are held to be sacred objects worthy of high regard. The idolatry is rampant and fairly obvious to non-Catholics, yet Catholics do not believe they are committing idolatry. They have been cleverly taught to believe that they do not worship these idols; they simply “venerate” them. The problem is that “veneration” still gives honor and reverence to something and/or someone other than God; therefore, veneration is idolatry.
Yes, Catholics do practice a form of idolatry, in violation of God’s command. The best way to reach our Catholic friends with the gospel of grace is to pray that the Holy Spirit will draw them and that they will respond to the Spirit’s leading. Their eyes and hearts are blinded by the false teaching they are continually hearing, and, until they begin to seek the truth, we must leave it in God’s capable hands. As we pray, we must keep loving them and trust that God will prepare the soil of their hearts (Luke 8:11-15). Never give up hope; the Holy Spirit does miracles every day.
Recommended Resource: Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics by Ron Rhodes.