Summary: Baptists have many symbols of our faith in our churches. Understanding them will enhance worship.
Symbols of Our Faith
(Read Joshua 4:1-9) The twelve memorial stones were to be a reminder of God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people. Scripture is full of examples of symbols of faith. Symbols remind us of God and they help to call us away from ourselves into worship. A symbol is a good means of communication. Oftentimes, a symbol describes more accurately than words concepts such as God, Christ, salvation, atonement, and eternity.
We have many symbols of our faith. When we think of symbols of faith, we may think of the statues of Mary and others as used by the Catholic church. And in a fear of idol worship, we may reject or think we reject, all symbols of our faith. But to reject all outward symbols of faith is to overreact to the abuses of symbols by some and it deprives us of visual, concrete reminders and expressions of faith. But we Baptists have more symbols of faith than we may think.
The most obvious symbol of our faith is the cross. The cross is a reminder of the redemptive work of God through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A crucifix is a cross which still has Jesus on it, whereas a cross is empty. Most protestants (non-Catholics) prefer the symbolism of a cross to a crucifix because the empty cross is a reminder of an act which has been completed and is symbolized in the resurrection triumph of Christ over death. So you see there are different symbolic meanings between a cross and a crucifix.
And there are other symbols in the church that may not be quite so obvious. Most Southern Baptist churches you visit are arranged very similar architecturally. There are symbolic reasons for the way that our churches are constructed. First, let’s start with the placement of the Bible.
The open Bible symbolizes the acts of God in history. It contains the written word that points to the Living Word. An open Bible should always be in view of the congregation. Some churches make a practice of displaying the open Bible on the Lord’s Supper table. Others prefer to place an open Bible on the pulpit. I think it is proper for the open Bible to placed at either place---on the pulpit or the Lord’s Supper table. In either case, it symbolizes that God’s Word is central to our beliefs and worship.
The pulpit symbolizes the centrality of the Word of God. From the pulpit the Word is proclaimed, therefore, it is appropriate for the pulpit to be in the center rather than to one side. For us, the proclamation of God’s Word is central to our belief and so the pulpit is placed in the center and higher than the congregation to symbolize that God’s Word comes down to us from heaven. The Lord’s Supper table, the pulpit with an open Bible, and the baptistry all symbolize the gospel and it is appropriate for them to be in the center of the building facing the congregation. In addition, the center aisle of the building symbolizes the free accessibility of the gospel and an open invitation for all to come to Christ.