Have you figured it out yet?
“Figured what?” are you asking?
Have you figured out that symbols are a more powerful medium of communication than words?
It has been said that a pictures paints a thousand words, and that actions speak louder than words. And that’s because pictures are symbols. They represent something.
If you haven’t figured it out, let me encourage you to think about it like this. People remember only 20% of what they hear, but 70% of what they see.
Now, consider the symbols in the modern church. Here’s a list of them, and I’m not claiming this is an exhaustive list. It is certainly a list of the most obvious symbols.
Start with the music. The contemporary music fad in the church does nothing except symbolize the church’s commitment to modernity. It illustrates the church’s desire to be part of the world, rather than separate from it. It indicates that the church is no longer leading culture, but being led by it instead. Why would anyone in their right mind want to sign up with such an outfit? All it offers is a little fire and life insurance.
The next obvious thing in the church is the dress styles of the leaders and members. The robe and gown have given way to open-necked shirt and, in some cases, denim pants. And how do the women in the church dress? Tight fitting bottoms and tops? That’ll tell you something, if you haven’t already guessed.
Where’s the baptismal font in the church? Is it missing? If so, what does this illustrate? It illustrates that baptism is no longer the entrance way into the faith. When the debate comes into the church about whether people should be baptized before they are permitted to the Lord’s Table, try to find out where the baptismal font is located. Is it at the doorway to the church like it still is in the older Catholic and Eastern churches? In many Protestant churches today the baptismal font cannot be seen. What does that tell you? Baptism is not important. That’s what it symbolizes.
And where is the Communion table? Is there one at all? If so, what’s on it? An open Bible, or something else?
At one time great cathedrals were built by Christians. They took decades to build. They were unique designs full of symbolism. They were positioned to make use of natural light that would display something of Faith, perhaps the sign of the cross through the stained-glass window, or whatever else had been placed in the walls to symbolize some aspect of the Faith. Then the ceilings and elsewhere were painted to display some aspect of biblical teaching.
Those cathedrals still stand today as landmarks to the Faith. They were not symbols of the culture of their time. They were unique illustrations of Christian faith, period. So unique in their culture that we often don’t know who designed them or who built them. The people behind them were unimportant. These cathedrals were not symbols of the culture of the time or of their designers or builders. They were — and remain — symbols of the faith of the Christians at that time and any other time.
And it is precisely because they are what they are, that we know they are symbols of the Christian faith then and now.
Now, have I convinced you yet of the power of symbols? If so, what are you going to do in your own situation? I really don’t know the answer to this question for myself. But I’ve got some ideas. Think about this.
What buildings would rise from the dust today to display our own understanding of the faith? Would we build unique Cathedrals, with a baptismal font at the doorway, the centrality of Christ displayed inside and outside for all to see, and a liturgy that constantly reminded people of creation, the fall, sin, and the Savior God provided to remedy the situation?
Would the acoustics in the building we design allow the individual to hear himself sing — with others — praises to God? The buildings today we call churches are designed so that the individual cannot hear himself or herself when they sing. The idea is not to build acoustically “live” church buildings. That doesn’t suit the noise that comes from the musicians. The acoustics are for the benefit of the pop musicians who have never gotten past third grade on their musical instrument, but somehow we are expected to accept their elementary efforts as acceptable standards for worship of a holy God. This also is nuts!
If our goal, on the other hand, is to get our symbols to match the words of our Faith, then what on earth are we going to do with the overhead projection unit, the drummer’s soundproofing shield, and the electric guitars?
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