In a Ukrainian Orthodox Church
I was recently (1991) in the Ukraine and, for the first time, attended an Orthodox Church service as well as being shown around many Ukrainian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. Coming as I do from Protestant countries (England and Norway) where in most churches symbols are far and few between, I was overwhelmed by the shere number and variety of symbols in these buildings. When asked by an orthodox minister in a Greek Catholic church if NCAY used icons, I naturally replied in the negative. He seemed puzzled...shocked, even, that our meeting places were almost free of ornamentation. "These paintings," he pointed out to me, "allow people to meditate on the life of Christ while they sit in the church. How, then, do you keep your people focused on spiritual things?" he asked.
Idolatry vs. Spiritual Instruction
The question highlights an important question in the relevance of physical objects in worship. The Protestant Reformation arose, in part, as a reaction to adoration of images and the excessive use of precious metals in the making of crosses and other religious objects. Puritanism, perhaps the most extreme of Protestant movements, virtually cleared the churches of religious artefacts altogether. Such artefacts, they declared, became objects of idolatrous adoration and worship in contravention of the first commandment. By removing all such objects and symbols, they believed, they could expirpate the sin of idolatry. They even forbade children owning dolls!
But removing external objects does not abolish idolatry which is at its core an inner condition. The veneration of crosses and other objects is almost as dangerous as treating them as objects to be avoided at all costs. Some Christian and most Messianic groups treat crosses and other physical objects as though they were the devil themselves and end up creating as many spiritual and psychological problems for themselves as those who do the very opposite. In both instances they ascribe a life or quality to dead material things that simply isn't there. Objects are objects, dead and lifeless. It is the love or hate that you invest in them which makes them dangerous to human spirituality.
The Meaning of Symbols
I once belonged to a religion that regarded crosses as unacceptable. After a while I began to see people wearing crosses as having something fundamentally wrong with their spiritual life even though I had no idea the way they looked upon these objects. Symbols are as meaningful or meaningless as what an individual sees in them.
Once upon a time the swastika was a respectable Buddhist symbol until the nazis hijacked it and made it a symbol to be loathed. However, in some countries of the world which have had little or no contact or experience with nazism, the swastika is still respected as a positive symbol of the wheel of life. I can still remember attending a Hindu wedding in Malaysia when I was a boy where red swastikas featured prominently.
I suspect the reason why the Christian cross provokes such a mixture of reactions in people is for the very same reason. Those who see evil in it react to the churches who abused it in the Name of Christ. For some it represents the atonement and deliverance of Messiah -- for others the bloodthirsty and cruel Inquisition.
Symbols, morever, change their meaning with time. In the West young people wear crosses who have no interest or belief in Christianity whatsoever -- it is simply a decoration. By contrast in Eastern Europe the cross is still a symbol of freedom from oppression, the symbol of Christians who stood up against communism, and before that against the long and murderous Islamic Ottoman Turk occupation. It is therefore highly respected. In the Ukraine I would say that over half the population wore them, especially the women.
In the light of these observations, what ought the reaction of Messianic Evangelicals be to symbols and their use? What is, after all, the point of symbols anyway?
The Language of Symbols
Symbols are a kind of language, a type of writing. Until the latter part of the twentieth century they were very important. In our pop culture where almost everything has been degraded into utter meaninglessness, there is a question as to the usefulness of symbols in the Christian/Messianic life.
Why do we wear symbols on our clothing anyway? Is it just to attarct people's attention? Or do we use it as a witnessing device? Do the symbols we wear have any meaning for anyone other than for the person wearing it? Today, I would argue, in our western culture at least, symbols have become trivial if almost meaningless. Should we therefore shun them? Some would argue that we should.
I believe that valuable symbols are worth recovering and fighting for for the very same reason that accurate language is important to preserve. If we cannot communicate to one another, then how can we live and thrive effectively?
Modern Communication Problems
As a minister of the Besorah (Gospel) I am constantly faced with communication problems in a world where the languages of words and symbols have become increasingly diluted and robbed of their meaning. Every culture uses its own particular set of words and symbols. One symbol, the so-called 'peace cross' used by the Peace Movement, has become an almost global symbol for peace. Yet its origin is witchcraft and it is still used by satanists as an anti-Christian sign. For most people, though, it is a harmless sign; for Christians, however, it ought to be the opposite.
Consider if in two or three hundred years time the swastika became the symbol of a Peace Movement somewhere. It is already the sign of one of the Japanese martial arts schools. Should we forget its associated history with nazism? I think that depend on who introduced it, why, and the spiritual power that symbols can evoke.
The peace logo was introduced by the English philosopher Bertrand Russel who was a vehement anti-Christian. He knew fully well what this symbol represented and all about its history. Only a matter of 10 or 20 years before it had been used by the nazis as a logo for one of their panzer divisions.
Connecting the Inner World
Symbols in and of themselves are lifeless but like words, music, art, and other things that impinge upon our senses, can awaken deep feelings and spiritual forces and can become a power by association. Satanists, for example, fear the cross not because of its shape but because of what it represents to Christians, namely the atoning power of the Eternal Elohim (God) by which their demons were defeated. The more intelligent ones, who understand spiritual and psychological processes, know that a cross can be a meeting point between a believer's emunah (faith) and the infinite power of the Elohim (God) of Israel. And it is that power they fear.
Look at the examples of healing that took place in the apostles' day. People were healed simply by touching one of Paul's handkerchiefs. And some were healed simply by falling across his shadow! Did the handkerchiefs and shadows heal them? Of course not! These, whether tangible like a handkerchief, or intangible like a shadow (an absence of light), simply became points where emunah (faith) could be released. And if this is the only way a person's emunah (faith) can be released in a positive and saving way, do we, or anyone else professing Christian/Messianic ministry, have the right to interfere with it?
My answer would be a conditional 'no'. Depending on any kind of external form for healing, for example, is clearly inferior to exercising pure emunah (faith) without external mediums. Every individual must be met on his or her own level of awareness, understanding and emunah (faith). It is when these external media become indispensable to the believer (that is, they become addicted to, or dependent on, them) that real harm can be done and such people must be taught to dispense with these crutches. Whether it is a cross, the power believed by many to issue forth through the hands of an ordained minister, an icon, or whatever, these things must be understood, and taught as, symbols only.
Messianic Evangelicals believe that symbols are a very important language that can be harnessed to teaching and living the Besorah (Gospel) but that they should never becomes the objects of veneration or worship themselves. I think the Ukrainian Greek Catholic minister was correct when he said that paintings of the life of Christ had an important place for a congregation but wrong in supposing they were indispensable. The cross is, I believe, a most potent symbol, but should not be worn around the neck as a talisman or a sign for warding off evil.
Wearing Religious Symbols
I myself have not, until recently, worn religious symbols on my clothing. When in the Ukraine, I was given a tiny silver cross by a Russian prisoner which he attached to my lapel. I suspect it was the most prized possession he had and I fully understood the ahavah (love) behind his gesture. I wear it sometimes to remind me to the ahavah (love) that the cross of Messiah moves people to show.
I also used to wear the symbol of a Christian fish on my jacket lapel quite a bit as a means of witnessing. I half hope that people will ask me what it is so that I will have the opportunity to witness, but also so that other Christians/Messianics can recognise me, and I them. It is one the oldest of Christian symbols even though, as I subsequently learned, it has pagan association. I have not used it since. Many of our people will probably soon start wearing small lapel pins of the NCAY logo, a white shield with a red cross and a black-white-and-blue tricolour. Since this is more unfamiliar, people may well be curious ask and ask for an explanation which will provide an opportunity to witness.
Pagan Origins of Christian Symbols?
How, then, do we meet the charge that such symbols as crosses and fishes are pagan symbols and should therefore be avoided at all costs? This certainly would be the reaction of most Jehovah's Witnesses and many ultra-Messianics. It is true that the pagans used Tau crosses but there doesn't necessarily have to be any direct link between the Christian Crux Immissa and the Tau. It is also true that the Christian fish logo was anciently the symbol of the ancient sea-goddess Atargatis. (Who has heard of Atargatis anyway?) But is this any reason for shunning the symbol as though it bore some sort of spiritual plague? Personally, I don't use it any more (as I mentioned above) but I would not condemn a Christian for using it because in their minds it represents an acronymn for a declaration of emunah (faith) in Greek, namely, 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour'. That sounds to me to be a good witness.
You will find that almost every shape and object that man has ever devised has been used in pagan religious ritual in some form or another. The biblical Menorah certainly is. Is that a reason for shunning them? Taken to an extreme, it can get quite ridiculous, even laughable.
Some people have been shocked by the fact that Messianic Evangelicals have used some communist and national socialist tunes and written Christian songs of praise to them. Our attitude is essentially that of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, who said: "Why should Satan have all the best music?" We have deliberately gone out of our way to reclaim for Messiah that which has been lost to the devil. Why should we concede anything that can potentially aid to the enemy? (There are of course limits).
When Satan Hijacks Yahweh's Symbols
One Christian minister objected to the use of the Star of David by some groups on the grounds saying that it is used by occultists and satanists as well. Should we be surprised, therefore, to find the nazis using the V-sign (the sign of victory) in their propaganda in imitation of the Allies? Satan's intent is to destroy, spoil, or steal that which is good and beautiful. It's an old propaganda trick that Christians should remember.
Now I am not saying that every symbol is recoverable or even that we should try to recover all of them. I, for one, would vigorously oppose the use of the so-called 'peace-cross' for Christian/Messianic use. The symbol in its very nature is anti-Christian, consisting of an upturned cross (as used by the satanists) with the arms of the cross being broken to represent the breaking of Christianity. Every Christian/Messianic who becomes a Satanist is required to symbolically upturn a cross a break its arms. Finally, the upturned, broken cross is surrounded by a circle which represents a vagina, or to the occultists, the dominance of matriarchy over patriarchy (the opposite of Yahweh's order). The symbol was constructed to be anti-Christian -- it never had a pre-Christian history and its use can only ever be satannic. I therefore make a special point of informing all who use this symbol what it is and then leave their keeping or discarding it as a matter of their personal conscience.
It is the intention of anti-Christian forces of robbing every Christian symbol there is. Thus the feminist occultist Barbara G. Walker in her book on woman's symbols and sacred objects goes especially out of her way to make it look as though paganism furnished Christianity with all her symbols and that paganism really has the greater intellectual and creative authority. She even has the audacity to claim that the image of Messiah, the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb, is no more than the Greek god Hermes carrying the infant Osiris. And in one final twist to discredit and blaspheme Christianity the satanists have created the symbol of the serpent giving birth to the lamb. Yah have mercy on them!
Important Biblical Symbols
Whatever our opinions on symbols and their use may be, it is clear that the Yahweh-Elohim of Heaven instituted symbols both in the Torah (Mosaic Law) and subsequently in the Christian/Messianic sacraments. For example, the 'Jewish' Menorah, or seven-armed candlarbre, figures strongly not only as a literary symbol in the Bible (in both New and Old Testaments) but as part of the required objects of the Temple. This is one symbol the occultists have not been able to pervert and there is no record (that I know of) of it being used in any other religious tradition save that of the occultistic kabbalistic Jews.
Attempts to Destroy Symbols
It is interesting that two branches of Christianity that have tried to all but eliminate traditional Christian symbols from religious worship and meditation, namely the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, have only created substitutes. In Mormonism the two most often (and almost ubiquitously) used symbols are the Salt Lake Temple and the false angel Moroni blowing a trumpet on top of a globe. Every Mormon temple has a gold-plated Moroni on it as also does (or once did) on the blue cover of every Book of Mormon. The Jehovah's Witnesses, who may be said to be the ultra-puritans as far as symbols are concerned, still use a logo of their Brooklyn, New York, Headquarters and several buildings where Watchtowers and other publications are printed. They are (or used to be) on the inside cover of every publication!!
The Language of Dreams
You can't avoid symbols. We dream in symbols -- it is a part of one level of our subconscious which people like the Jehovah's Witnesses have alomst entirely suppressed. It is little wonder they do not receive visions, prophetic dreams, and other revelations (which they would reject as satannic anyway). Symbols have been given to us as a constructive means to communicating with each other and with higher principles, for good or evil. It is what we fill these symbols with -- our thoughts, feelings, and motivations -- which turns them into good or bad things.
Like language, which is now no longer one but thousands as a result of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, symbols too have become 'confused'. Messianic Evangelicals believe that the restoration and use of a pure symbolic language is as important as a restoration and use of a pure spoken language. The fact that the words and symbols Christians/Messianics use are sometimes identical with those used by anti-Christians should not provoke Christians/Messianics to retreat from them but to recover them for Messiah whenever possible and desirable. It is our responsibility as Christians/Messianics to provoke people to stop and think about the symbols they so indiscriminately use on Tshirts, as jewellry, and so on, and to make them aware what they are communicating to people either consciously or subconsciously, and that perhaps they are unwittingly become the channel for manipulation by unseen, malevolent powers.
Grace vs. Puritanism
Think about it. Let's say a young, unbelieving girl, out of the purity and innocence of her heart, has been wearing a 'peace' logo to demonstrate her solidarily with those who are opposed to war and want world peace, but doesn't know what it actually means. Then let's take a young Christian who knows what this symbol actually means, as you, the reader, now know. Let's put them together in a situation where they find themselves in a witch's coven and are confronted with this pagan sign. Which of the two do you think is going to be the more vunerable to deception and hostile influence?
Our subconscious works, as I have said, at a symbolic level, where it records and categories symbols as either 'positive', 'negative' or 'neutral'. Present a 'peace'-logo and you'll 99 per cent of the time get a positive reaction. Present a swastika and you'll almost always get a violently negative one. Present a hollow square and it will probably be meaningless to most. Our whole thinking and feeling is affected by symbols which is exploited by propagandists and behavioural psychologists in general.
There was a time when I thought the 'peace'-logo was positive and it appeared in a vision once alongside other symbols. Because I thought it was good I misunderstood the vision. Now I know better.
The Bible as Guide
If you are not sure what symbols are good or bad, why not take the Bible as your guide? Look for those symbols which are given by Elohim (God) to be used by His people, such as the Menorah, for example, or a picture of the Lamb of Elohim (God), or the Cross. These are good, powerful, potent, uplifting symbols that connect us with the sacred and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) which bequeathed them to the Scriptures. Seeking an understanding of these symbols is, in any case, necessary if the Bible is to be fully understood, not least our inner selves.
Be slow in judging others' use of symbols but rather see how they use them. Get to the root of all matters. Be sensitive to people's assocations -- a nude painting might be seen by one Christian as a form to be admired, glorifying the handiwork of the Creator, and by another as a symbol of lust and degredation because of some some unpleasant sexual experience or the nature of their upbringing. Don't, as Paul said, put stumbling blocks in other Christians' or Messianics' paths, but show sensitivity and maturity. Try to educate people as to the meaning of symbols. The devil thrives best on ignorance because he can manipulate uninformed people. Be a sensitive and caring teacher at all times.
Symbols in NCAY
Messianic Evangelicals do not use many symbols. Some of our people like to wear crosses and fishes, some the motif of the lion and the lamb lying down together. We encourage our people not to put on displays but to be reserved, circumspect, and wise. The Bible symbols mentioned are used quite often, particularly the Menorah and the Lamb motifs. We also use banners with these on. Pictures showing the life of Messiah frequently hang on the walls of our homes and meeting places to create an atmosphere of holy (set-apart) reverence and beauty. We shun ostentation and try to keep things simple. For we seek to draw people's attention not to religious artefacts but to the Light of Messiah within the soul, the personality saved and sanctified by the blood of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus the Messiah). For us, symbols are dispensible in the long term -- in the short term, they are used to beautify and to reflect divine grace and ahavah (love).
Also see Apostolic Interviews 20. A Question of Symbols and Magick