by Matt Slick
Symbols are often used to help focus a person's attention on spiritual matters. Unfortunately, they can also become objects that lead to idolatry. Consider the incident where Moses was ordered by God in Numbers 21:8-9 to construct a fiery serpent and set it on a stand so that all who would look upon it would be healed of snakebites that were the result of the curse of God. Later in 2 Kings 18:4, Hezekiah destroyed that same fiery serpent image due to idolatry.
- "He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan," (2 Kings 18:4).
This is the danger of using symbols. They can become objects to which people bow and offer various forms of sacrifices. That is why we are ordered not to make images before which we bow down.
- "You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God," (Leviticus 26:1).
What about a cross or a fish?
Christians frequently use a cross or a fish to symbolize their faith. In the Protestant tradition, such symbols are nothing more than reminders and are not used in worship ceremonies. No one bows before them. No one lifts up a cross or a fish symbol and walks behind it to an altar. No one places it in a specific location and then bows down before it. However, in the Roman Catholic tradition not only do they have symbols, but they also have icons and statues which are utilized in worship services and are often objects before which people bow down and light candles. This is idolatrous and should be avoided.
So, a symbol can be used if it in no way is part of a worship ceremony where it is elevated or focused on. Also, it should not be any object upon which our hearts and minds focus in our worship to God. After all, our tendency as sinners is to put our eyes upon objects and put faith in them instead of Christ himself. This is dangerous and should be avoided. Worship God without objects and without the assistance of images and forms of any kind.