Should Christians use symbols which are used by pagans?


Some feel that because pagans might use certain symbols, Christians are prohibited from using them. This, however, is an erroneous conclusion. For instance, some wonder whether true Christians ought to use the symbol of the heart.

In this regard, the following correct answer was given by the Letter Answering Department of the Worldwide Church of God, shortly after the death of its human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong:

“You asked whether there is any biblical prohibition against using the symbol of the heart, since it is often associated with the pagan observance of Valentine’s Day. We should remember that it is God who made the heart. Reference is made to it many times in the Bible. God uses this organ as a SYMBOL of our attitude and thoughts, for example.

“The pagans merely adopted a stylized drawing of a heart as a symbol in their worship, as for Valentine’s Day. In fact, a number of other objects in God’s creation have been treated in a similar manner. But, the misuse of an object by this or that group, even if the people are atheistic, should not prohibit a Christian from putting it to a proper use. Based on this principle, it is not wrong to use the heart shape in jewelry, pillows, or other items.”

The article warns against using it if our conscience prohibits it (compare Romans 14:23). At the same time, we must not try to convince others of “our” individual conscience and persuade them not to engage in a certain course of action which is not prohibited in Scripture. For instance, some are vegetarians or refuse to drink alcohol, even though the Bible clearly shows that it is right and proper to eat clean meat and to consume alcohol in moderation. A vegetarian or someone who rejects alcohol must NEVER try to persuade others to become vegetarians or to refuse alcoholic consumption. (Of course, someone who refuses to drink alcohol would exclude himself from proper observance of the annual Passover service and his partaking of the symbols of bread and wine).

The above-quoted comments regarding the symbol of the heart apply to many additional symbols and courses of conduct. For instance, only because “nominal” Christians and even pagans decorate fir trees around Christmas time would not compel a true Christian to cut down his fir trees in his yard. If a Christian has decorating lights in his back yard all year long, he is not compelled to take them down just because nominal Christians and pagans use them around Christmas time. A Christian is not prohibited from buying and eating eggs around Easter time only because nominal Christians and pagans eat eggs around that time of year. The same is true for so-called Christmas pastry. Of course, it should never be eaten AS Christmas pastry, associated with Christmas celebrations, but the pastry itself is not wrong (neither are eggs around Easter time). Paul explains the underlying principle that for us, there are no idols, so we can eat clean meat that was offered to idols, as long as our conscience does not condemn us for this (1 Corinthians 10:25-28).

There are certain neutral or even meaningful signs which we might use in a positive way. For instance, there is one gesture or symbol which is used in sign language, meaning, I love you. However, some Satanic groups might have misappropriated that gesture or a similar sign for their own devilish purposes. The fact that they do so does not prevent a Christian from using it for the right reasons. The same is true for other signs, meaning victory or peace.

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was at one time reluctant to use the word “gospel,” as so many “Christian” groups had misappropriated the word to give it their ungodly and unbiblical spin. But Mr. Armstrong rightly concluded and decided that it was good and proper to use this word, as the Bible uses it, and we must not be concerned about our use of it, even though others are misapplying it.

Some have raised the idea that the Star of David, in the form of a hexagram (the compound of two equilateral triangles) is of Satanic origin. But even though pagans might have misappropriated a hexagram for their own sinister purposes, this does not mean that godly people cannot use it, and that the national symbol of the state of Israel is of Satanic origin.

The website states the following regarding the flag of Israel, which incorporates the Star of David:

“Religious symbols make up the flag of the modern State of Israel. The Star of David, its center piece, both leads back to Jewry’s glorious past and points to a Messianic future…”

Others add that the six points refer to the six days of creation, with the Sabbath being represented in the middle. Others claim that it represents the relationship between God and man—the three upward points represent the fact that we look to God for help, and the three downward points show that God is giving us His help.

The website adds that the ”hexagram” has been discovered in the nation of Judah at least as early as during the time of the Second Temple.

Mr. Armstrong did not consider the Star of David as a symbol which should be avoided. When he met with Jewish representatives regarding planned excavations in Israel, he explained, by wearing and showing his Star of David cufflinks, that he was related to King David.

The same conclusion must be reached about the use of other star-shaped symbols, including a pentagram (a five-pointed star). The Wikipedia Encyclopedia states the following:

“The pentagram was used in ancient times as a Christian symbol… By the mid-19th century a… distinction had developed amongst occultists regarding the pentagram’s orientation. With a single point upwards it depicted spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially ‘good’. However, the influential writer Eliphas Levi called it evil whenever the symbol appeared the other way up. ‘A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit…’”

As we should be able to see, the fact that pagans and occultists attach a particular meaning and human interpretation to certain pre-existing symbols should not compel a Christian to refrain from using these symbols. Otherwise, Christians will soon be prevented from using ANY symbols and signs, because pagans and occultists will undoubtedly misappropriate in time EVERY symbol in existence.

When referring to the pentagram, we should realize that that particular symbol of a star has been used throughout history, including for proper purposes. The website states the following about the American flag, which depicts stars in the shape of pentagrams:

“George Washington explained the flag’s features to the people in stirring words. He said: ‘We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty.’… Several theories have been brought forward as to the origin of the stars… The story is told that in June, 1776, George Washington with two other men called on Betsy Ross, a widowed seamstress renowned for her needlework, at her upholstery shop in Philadelphia. They showed her a rough draft of the suggested flag and inquired whether she could make one. Betsy convinced her callers that it was advisable to use five-pointed stars instead of the proposed six-pointers because these could easily be made by a single clip of the scissors…

“Washington is said to have suggested that the stars should be arranged in a circle, to emphasize the full equality of the states. Actually, there was no definite rule about the arrangement of the stars at first. Earliest samples show a circle of 12 stars, with the 13th occupying the center… Originally it was intended to add a new stripe and star for each state joining the initial 13. By 1818, their number had grown to 20, and it became obvious that the method adopted was impractical. Consequently, Congress resolved to revert to the original 13 stripes, but to indicate the admission of new states by adding a star for each. That procedure has been followed ever since.”

One would be hard-pressed to conclude that Washington and others, who devised the American flag, did so with the desire of using Satanic symbols and with the ultimate ulterior motive of worshipping Satanic forces.

We must realize that God created and maintains or upholds the universe—including the stars and their constellations (Genesis 1:16; Psalm 136:9; 147:4). He used stars as symbols for Joseph’s brothers; for the entire nation of Israel; and also for angels (Genesis 37:9-10; Deuteronomy 10:22; Job 38:4-7; Revelation 1:16-20; 12:1). Both the symbol of the heart and the numerous symbols of stars have been designed to represent what God has created. That Satan and pagans may misuse them (compare Amos 5:26; Acts 7:43), and that fallen angels are also described as stars (Revelation 12:4), does not compel a Christian to avoid using the symbol of a star.

We might also note that the five-shaped star is represented in God’s nature as well, in the world of animals and plants. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the symbol of a five-shaped star is evil per se.

Some may say that Christians should then also be free to use the sign of the cross. However, a fundamental difference exists. Pagans created and used the sign of the cross in their worship ceremonies before it ever played a role in Jewish or Christian thought. In fact, Christ was apparently not even nailed to a cross, but to a stake. There is no example that Christians ever used a cross, even as a symbol, until the time of the pagan emperor Constantine who claimed to have seen a vision of a cross prior to a decisive battle. In any event, even allowing for the idea that Christ died on a T-shaped cross, why would anyone with spiritual understanding use this symbol of murder and death for the purpose of decoration or worship?

But to repeat, the fact that PROPER symbols are misappropriated by pagans and applied to non-godly concepts does not prohibit a Christian from using them for right reasons. For instance, Christ is clearly symbolized as a lion (Revelation 5:5), but so is Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Still, a Christian is free, of course, to use the symbol of a lion. The old seal of the Worldwide Church of God portrayed a lion, a lamb and a little child.

We should also realize that we are told in Numbers 2:2 that God ordered the tribes of Israel to use banners or standards, as well as emblems, to identify each tribe. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible says:

“…what they were is not easy to say … [the] ancients were used to say, that there was in the standard of Reuben the form of a man, on account of the mandrakes, Genesis 30:14; and in the standard of Judah the form of a lion, because Jacob compared him to one, Genesis 49:9; and in the standard of Ephraim the form of an ox, from the sense of those words, the firstling of his bullock, Deuteronomy 33:17…”

The Jamieson Fausset and Brown Commentary adds:

“Jewish writers say that the standards of the Hebrew tribes were symbols borrowed from the prophetic blessing of Jacob—Judah’s being a lion, Benjamin’s a wolf…” [Genesis 49:3-24].

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible writes:

“Tradition appropriates the four cherubic forms (Ezekiel 1:5-12; Revelation 4:7 ff), the lion, man, ox, and eagle, to the camps of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan respectively; and this, as to the first, has a certain support from Genesis 49:9 (compare Revelation 5:5), and as to the third, from Deuteronomy 33:17…”.

Some have suggested that the emblem of Joseph or Ephraim in particular was that of a unicorn (Deuteronomy 33:17 in the Authorized Version); and that Dan’s emblem was that of a serpent or a snake (compare Genesis 49:17).

Whatever they were, it is clear that God did not prohibit the Israelites from using banners and standards with pictures of men and animals. The fact that pagans might have misappropriated the same or similar pictures for their own false worship did not prohibit ancient Israel from using them for a right and proper purpose. The same principle applies for us today.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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