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There are many symbols in Christianity that were, well, borrowed from paganism. Over the last 200 years the history is rich with the reappropriation of pagan symbols to have Christian meanings and purposes. The most obvious are the various Saints of the Catholic church. Whether intentional or not it is clear that quite a few saints have gained the duties of and fully replaced the pagan counterparts. Mary, for example, being a virgin in Christian theology, easily inherited the symbolism that was once Aphrodite's, Isis's and quite a few others. Consequently, she readily acquired then pagan followers too.

There is also the issue of more relevant symbolism, like the cross. Whether Jesus hung on a cross or something else, it is no secret that the cross becoming the symbol of Christianity helped poach many pagan followers from their pagan gods.

All of these symbols being reappropriated has led to many (probably millions) turning to Christianity. And now, more than ever, these symbols are Christian/Catholic through and through. Their pagan counterparts have been all but blotted from the history books.

So in light of the good that it has done, and also in light of the fact that these symbols are a far cry from paganism today, why are so many protestants hesitant of just accepting the now complete reappropriation of these symbols? Is there a somewhat universal Protestant doctrine that sheds light on this? Are there verses that are commonly quoted concerning this issue?


This question was inspired by the attitude that JW's have concerning the symbol of the Cross that is illustrated well here.

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They haven't read Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. –  Ryan Frame Jun 28 '13 at 20:04
    
This might be off topic a bit for your question, but the movie 'The Mists of Avalon' had an interesting take on this idea. –  IndigoGirl Jun 28 '13 at 20:08
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I think this question would be better if it were more focused with a specific example. Perhaps by selecting a specific symbol and/or specific protestant denomination/group which disapproves of its reappropriation. –  Flimzy Jun 30 '13 at 5:37
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Perhaps this could be better understood by looking at the most popular holiday of the world, specifically Christmas. Christmas is supposedly, or commonly celebrated or a celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus. Now, let’s find in the Scriptures where God instructs us to celebrate the birth of His Son. There is not one place in either the Old or New Testament telling us to honor our Savior’s birth each year. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself tells us to remember, His death (Luke 21:14-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26)! Undoubtedly, it is important that He was born, but the fact that He died and how and why He died has farther-reaching and more eternal consequences!

What most people do not fully realize is that Satan has deceived this whole world (Revelation 12:9). Many of the comfortable, familiar customs and traditions of this world have, indeed, been imitated from utter paganism and have nothing to do with proper Christianity. God tells us to prove all things (I Thessalonians 5:21). Before we accept any ritual, we should always inquire into its origins. We must assure ourselves that it does not transgress any of God's laws and that it follows the traditions and practices of the early New Testament church. So, is the sign of the cross really an emblem of true Christianity or is it something far different? Therefore, Christians saying they are saved by the power of the cross is also symbolic of the Power of the Blood of Christ in its inherent purity as it was shed on the cross. As to the shape of, or whether or not the cross had a crossbeam, or was just a stake for torture, is actually irrelevant.

SYNCRETISM // In Romans 1:18-20, Paul declares that things inclusive of God's existence, power, and nature are clearly seen, but men tend to squelch the truth. What God wants man to know; man freely ignores and squelches through the adding of beliefs, customs and traditions that cloak the truth. The truth is still there, hidden behind a screen of falsehoods that most never attempt to remove.

Theologians call this method syncretism. According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, syncretism is "the combination of different forms of belief or practice." Syncretism might perchance term in other arenas, like philosophy, but scholars use it most singularly in religious contexts. Syncretize, the verb form of the word, is very illuminating. It means "to attempt to unite and harmonize especially without critical examination or logical unity." In other words, those who syncretize will often attach one belief or tradition to their religion without trying to determine whether it is correct to do so.

Hope this is of help towards answering the question of why some Protestants hesitate to be accepting of symbols or symbolism when it comes or relates to Godly things. Otherwise outside of the bible I am not aware of any universal Protestant doctrine.

I have no degree, however I did two plus years of biblical studies at Toccoa Falls Bible College in North East Georgia, and I have been born again since March 1985. My answer is from those, and my own studies of scripture and many other text and many websites where I researched. I have tried to be as fluent as I could. I am somewhat novice to putting my words out as such.

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Seems upon entry this post has lost its format structure. Please forgive the lack of spacing and subsections. –  John Mark Jul 29 '13 at 2:04
    
This site supports markdown. –  fredsbend Jul 29 '13 at 5:24
    
Thank you for your answer. Could we sum it up as "fear of syncretism that perverts holiness"? I had another question that you might be interested in. Which is more important to the Roman Catholic Church today: Church unity or the actual text of scripture? –  fredsbend Jul 31 '13 at 18:59
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Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

We call most of the things which you refer to in your question graven images and we as Bible Literal Protestants refuse to partake in anything including or centered around them.

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I suppose I should have addressed this. I realized that the first thing people would think of is exactly this, however, I just think that there has to be more to it. Is unity not worth anything to most Protestants? –  fredsbend Jun 28 '13 at 23:57
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@fredsbend no being in unity with something which you know to be wrong is a sin –  caseyr547 Jun 29 '13 at 0:38
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