OceanSide church of Christ

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RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS

Victor M. Eskew

 

            Throughout Bible history, various objects were used by God in order to accomplish His will.  One object that is well known is the tables of stone upon which the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments.  In Exodus 24:12, we read:  “And the Lord said unto Moses, come up to me in the mount, and be there:  and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written, that thou mayest teach them.”  These tables came to represent the entire Law of Moses.  They were so important that they were stored in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:5) that was placed in the most holy place in the tabernacle (Exo. 26:34; Heb. 9:3-5). 

            Another object that God used to carry out His will was a wooden cross.  Upon this cross, the Son of God shed His blood to provide the remission of sins for all mankind.  “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).  This cross was often the subject of Paul’s preaching.  It was not always received as it should have been.  “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).

            These two objects, and others like them, are well-known by most today.  When people hear of the Ten Commandments, they think of Judaism.  When they hear of the cross, they think of Christianity.  These objects have become symbols, or, material representations, of the ideologies that contain these things.  Other objects also have a connection to Christianity:  the nativity scene, the sign of the fish, steeples, and the Bible.  True Christians do not attach any special significance on the objects themselves.  They know that these things were just instruments God used to carry out His will.  However, Christians will never eliminate how these objects are viewed by others.  Thus, sometimes in our conversations, we have to speak of these things in the manner in which the world views them. 

            Dear readers, Christianity is presently under attack.  It is being attacked by atheists, Communists, secularists, and Muslims.  These individuals hate Christianity and everything that is attached to it.  Remember, that they see things such as the cross and the nativity scene as symbols of the Christian religion.  Because of this, they attack these symbols.  They want to do away with the cross, the nativity scene, and the Ten Commandments.  In their minds, ridding themselves of the symbols partially rids them of the Christian religion.  Once the symbols are gone, they will go after our Christian practices such as prayer and Bible reading and worship.  Once these have been abolished, they will come after our freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  They would rejoice to shut the mouths of all whom they believe are preaching Jesus.  They would love to see every building that is in any way associated with the name of Jesus close its doors. 

            True Christians need to understand that the world does not understand the concepts of New Testament Christianity or first century Christianity.  They just know that things like the Ten Commandments, a nativity scene, and the cross are associated with Christianity.  They despise the religion, so they attack its symbols.  Because of their understanding of these things, we often have to communicate from their perspective whether that perspective is right or wrong.  True Christians need to be concerned about these things because we will ultimately be in the crosshairs of the enemies of Christianity.  Our secular world will not allow us to continue to preach Christ just because we do not acknowledge the symbols of Christianity as holding any religious significance.  Any message of salvation, submission to Christ, sin, the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus Christ, the church, the authority of the New Testament, the Second Coming, Judgment, Heaven and Hell will be opposed.  The church will come under fire.  May God help us to understand the mindset of the world.  And, may we, as Paul be set for the defense of the gospel (Phil. 1:17).

            Before we leave the subject of religious symbols, we need to point out that the use of religious symbols as objects of worship and devotion are condemned in the Word of God.  Take, for instance, the cross.  Christians have always held the cross of Calvary to be something precious.  Paul said that he gloried in the cross.  “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).  Man’s esteem for the cross, however, has caused him to go too far and use it as something having power and protection for the believer.  By the sixth century, the “sign of the cross” was habitually made by those who claimed to follow the Christ.  It was not long after that images of the cross and of the crucified Christ was made.  Some were put in houses.  Others were placed in church buildings.  Some were formed into jewelry that could be worn at all times.  When this happened, individuals began to show honor and devotion to the objects.  They would bow before the crosses, kiss their necklaces, and say prayers through the crucifix.

            In the Bible, God condemns the use of physical things as objects of worship and devotion.  The second of the Ten Commandments declares:  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:  thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:  for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me” (Exo. 20:4-5).  Leviticus 26:1 repeats this commandment in these words:  “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it:  for I am the Lord your God.”  God does not want anything coming between Him and man.  He knows that man has a tendency to put as much, or more, significance on the material object than upon Him as God, the true object of worship.  Jesus said:  “…Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10).

            In this article, we have done three things.  First, we have seen that various objects have been used by God in order to carry out His will.  Second, we have seen that man has turned some of these objects into symbols that represent a religion.  The cross definitely represents Christianity to most.  Those who hate Christianity seek first to remove these objects from the public domain.  After removing these things, they will then come after the true substance of the Christian faith.  Third, we saw that turning the objects that God used to accomplish His will into objects of worship and devotion is condemned in God’s Word.  May all of us learn the Bible stories about these important objects.  May we also develop a concern about those who are starting to attack these objects because they see them as symbols of Christianity.  And, may we never turn material objects into objects of worship and devotion.  May all of us worship God, and Him alone.