One of the things that initially scared me away from Lutheran churches was the crucifix placed in the front of the sanctuary behind the preacher. Doesn't that violate the second commandment? Do Lutherans venerate icons?
This is a common apprehension Reformed Christians have about Lutheran worship. I would look to clear up a few misconceptions.
Lutherans do not venerate icons. At the second council of Nicea in 787, the issue of images was at hand. One side, called iconoclasts, were against the use of images altogether. Churches should not be adorned at all with pictures of Jesus, or the saints. The other position, represented most adequately by John of Damascus, argued that icons of Jesus, Mary, the Angels, and the Saints, should be displayed and churches and homes. One could venerate (in distinction from worship) the icons. When one venerates the icon, he is not venerating the picture, but what it represents.
While the Reformed have traditionally accepted the "iconoclast" position, Lutherans have not whole-heartily adopted the Damascene position on the issue either. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, we do not venerate the saints. The saints should be commended and remembered for their great faith and example in this life (Hebrews 11 displays this rather well). However, we do not pray, or perform any act we conceive as worship to the saints.
Second, scripture does not imply that icons are a window into the heavenly realms. Believing in sola scriptura, we simply can't hold to this view.
So what do we use images for?
We use them as tools to instruct and remind us of our faith. The crucifix is a constant reminder of the gospel. It is often placed in the sanctuary to remind both the pastor and the congregation that Christ, and his cross are the center of the church's worship life. We use images of saints to remind us of the great faith of those who have come before us, and remind us of the unity of the church in heaven and on earth.