I’ve been reflecting on a passage in Romans 2 about the value, or lack of it, of circumcision. New gentile Christians in Rome were being urged by some observant Jewish Christians to have males circumcised as the necessary symbol of full membership in God’s family. Paul said it wasn’t necessary, that circumcision meant total commitment to the whole of Jewish law and tradition. Without that commitment, the symbol of circumcision had no value at all.
It raises an important question for us in our own day. What is the value, or lack of it, of the symbols we proclaim as certification of our place in God’s family? Something one proclaims as a symbol of their Christian Fatih has meaningful value only if it includes an intentional commitment to follow Jesus in the way of love.
In all walks in life, symbols proclaiming one’s membership in a group or place in society come in a variety of forms. A badge, for instance, is a symbol that one is legitimately authorized to be a part of something that others are not. A police badge is a symbol of legal authority not permitted to others. If the badge is dishonored, it can be taken away. Similar symbols accrue to professions of all kinds, clergy, and fraternal lodges. Violating the values the symbol represents can result in expulsion. The symbols are displayed as pins, rings, degrees, certificates, even colors. Each has meaning only insofar as the wearer demonstrates adherence to the meaning, purposes and rules of the group.
What are the symbols we proclaim as authenticating our Christian faith and what are their terms and conditions? Baptism is the obvious example, and, for some Christians, so is the Eucharist. There are others more frequently displayed in public. I wear an Episcopal Church lapel pin on jackets. Words can also be powerful symbols. Some claim saying they’ve accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is enough. A viral video showed a woman screaming that she was washed in the blood of Christ. She felt it was the only symbol she needed to authenticate who she was.
Heeding Paul’s warning, we can claim any symbol of Christian faith we want, but if we don’t have sincere intention to try to follow Jesus in the way of love, our claim has no value. The symbols are meaningless. Moreover, those who have never claimed any Christian symbol, but do follow in the way of Jesus, are not excluded for lack of water, bread, wine or an oath. Symbols don’t confer meaning, they only announce it.
What symbolizes the truly important in your life, something you are committed to be and do as best you are able?