2. The Value of a Symbol It is easy to overlook the part played by symbolism in the life of an ordinary man or woman. Yet there is not a single one of us who does not treasure a ring or a lock of hair, a book or a particular kind of flower, not because of its own intrinsic value or beauty, but because of its sentimental value as a reminder of bygone days or faces seen no more. And were I here to suggest that all this is mere emotionalism, it would be a safe assumption that the deepest feelings of the majority of my readers would be sorely outraged. If symbolism plays so strong a part in the ordinary affairs of life, how much more important must it be in our relationship to God! Of this fact we are, as a community, deeply conscious - and this in spite of the singular absence of ritual from our religious practices. In fact, it can almost be said that we have no ritual at all apart from the rites appointed by our Lord himself. Sacraments and Symbols Of the value of Baptism and the Breaking of Bread as symbols there can be no question. Their fitness and appropriateness in every detail are immediately evident. Of these we cannot not speak particularly. But there are associated ideas to which occasionally some thought might be given. For instance, since baptism is a burial, which is more appropriate in the act of baptism? – a sudden plunging under the water or a gentle lowering of the body until it be quite covered? At a funeral, which is more seemly? – to throw the body into the grave, or to deposit it gently and reverently? Again, it is customary in many ecclesias, perhaps in most, to cover the table at the Breaking of Bread with a cloth of white linen and to take the bread and wine from a plate and cup of silver. But why white linen, why silver? If, indeed, these are used among us simply because they are used in this way by others, then we have the feeblest of all possible reasons for so doing, and there can be only divine displeasure for such thoughtless imitations. But if, on the other hand, we see a highly appropriate Biblical significance in all such details, the are we the more blessed in our partaking. By it those participation can be the better reminded of the One Body, to be broken as an act of fellowship but not as an act of disfellowship. For instance, how much better off the ecclesias would be if all had a decided prejudice in favour of having a small complete cake or loaf of bread prepared for out rite of fellowship. Certainly, there is more fitness about such an arrangement that there is in the sharing of a slice of bread, specially cut and squared merely for convenience’ sake. I still remember, too, with lively appreciation, the practice of one old brother who at the table was not content to break off for himself a tiny fragment such as others commonly took, but who habitually tore off quite an appreciable piece, as who should say, “This opportunity comes my way only once a week: I must have as much of Christ as possible”. The trivial may be symbolic For the same kind of reason, I have often found impressive the practice adopted in some ecclesias of allowing the exhorting brother to have a seat in the congregation until the moment arrives for his ministration. That the exhortation should be spoken by one who comes literally from among his brethren serves to emphasize that he is a soldier of Christ exhorting fellow-soldiers: a pilgrim encouraging fellow-pilgrims. There is thus a quiet reminder to all that his discourse is no lecture or censure from one who is righteous to those who are sinners, but rather that in exhorting his brethren, he is also exhorting himself. How you handle Bible and hymnbook at a meeting is a thing of no consequence. Yet, to me it is. Usually one volume is laid down on top of the other. But for I have carefully avoided superimposing hymnbook on Bible – simply to emphasize in my own mind their relative importance. Much as those hymns are cherished, can they have priority over the Holy Writings? This matter of the importance of a symbol can be expected to weigh fairly considerably with those who take seriously the practical duties their life in Christ. Consider, them, its application to cremation which, nowadays, is fashionable enough. The word is used advisedly, Whilst it is perfectly true that Scripture nowhere enjoins a particular mode of disposing of the dead, and whilst it is even more certain that God can and will just as easily re-create the body whether in the last day it be part of mother earth in a cemetery or whether it be dust sprinkled in a Garden of Memory or preserved in an urn on the mantelpiece, nevertheless, if a symbol has any value at all, there can be little question what brethren and sisters in Christ will desire for themselves. Let the phrases be pondered, “… till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. “Buried with him by baptism into death.” What becomes of baptism as a symbol if burial is done away with? Then on the other hand, should we or should we not be impressed by the fact that in Scripture men invariably associate the burning of the body with the worship of “horrid Moloch” or apart from Scripture, equally horrid Hindu “suttee”. And is it nothing to us who pass by to the grave, that our Lord time and again used cremation as a symbol of everlasting destruction? These words are written only for those who wish to heed them. Almost all the foregoing ideas reckon among things of lesser importance. Nought is explicitly commanded. But a symbol does have value nevertheless.
I hope all's well. I was looking up a password in my very large and disorderly list of web sites and passwords, and saw "Kay McGrath's http://cbmresources.org/" which I must admit I'd forgotten. It was a good idea - I don't know why it didn't take off.
I'm still working on https://bibsci.sutherlandchristadelphians.org but it's a disappointment in that I can't find anyone who is willing to make a scriptural case against evolution, would you believe. All I can say is that it's an environment where they are likely to be challenged, politely I hope, so they chicken out. To me it's a reason to despair of the ecclesia in general worldwide. A high barrier against membership without good justification is a bad look.
God bless and LITL, may he come soon!