Mar 2, 2009

The Sign or the Signified?

Christians are "saved" by the "cross" of Christ. But do we mean the literal wooden pole upon which the body of Christ hung? Or, is the word "cross" used for what it represents or stands for? The "cross" is a term used to represent the death of Christ and his work of atonement and redemption.

So, when Christians say that they trust in the "cross" of Christ, they are not saying that they are trusting in a wooded pole, but to the thing the word has come, by a trope, metonymy, or synecdoche, to signify or represent.

A "metonymy," from the Greek, meaning "change of name," is "a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated (such as "crown" for "royalty")."

Metonymy is also "the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it, such as describing someone's clothing to characterize the individual."

Thus, "metonyms" are "words that name an object from a single characteristic of it or of a closely related object," like a "synecdoche," Greek meaning "shared understanding."

Thus, by these literary devices and language customs, something can be ascribed to a symbol that is not true of the symbol, but of the thing signified by the symbol.

Thus, when we say, as Christians, that we are saved by the "cross" of Christ, we do not mean the sign but the thing signified by the sign.

Thus, when the scriptures speak of sinners being washed with "water," the word cannot refer to literal water, but to what water represents. Sinners are not actually washed in heart, soul, and mind by literal water, but to what water represents to them.

The question is, what does "water" represent? Surely in scripture it is used to represent that which cleanses the soul and mind, either the Holy Spirit, or the scriptures, the blood of Christ, or to the whole cleansing work of God.

We are saved, said Christ, by "eating" his flesh and body, that which he calls the "manna of life," and by "drinking" his "blood." How and when is this done?

Surely these metaphors are used to describe the mystical experience of Christ entering or incorporating himself, spiritually, into the very core of the heart, soul, or mind, the place where the ego resides and the will is directed, or of the sinner "receiving" Christ. It speaks of that experience wherein the gospel is believed and received, where Christ is embraced and accepted, and recognized as the Messiah, Son of God, God's appointed prophet, priest, and king.

Surely Christ did not have reference to his future institution of the Lord's Supper, Communion, or Eucharist. Surely he was not referring to this ceremony. The logical consequences, the reductio ad absurdum, of the idea, renders it wholly untenable and unscriptural.

Are sinners not saved till they partake of the rite of Communion? Though they have received Christ and the gospel, have they not yet eaten the "bread of life" or had Christ incorporated into them? Truly they fulfill the command of Christ to eat him, as the Bread of Life, and drink him, as the Water of Life, when they come to enlightenment and faith. The later partaking of the Communion Supper is but a commemoration and representation of what he has experienced inwardly, in the spirit, and by faith.

We receive Christ in the Lord's Supper, but only in a figure. It represents the reception, mystically and in heart and spirit, of Christ's spiritual presence and word, but is not the reception itself.

Likewise, we enter Christ in water baptism, but only in a figure. It represents entrance, mystically and in heart and spirit, into Christ and his cleansing blood. We are ceremonially "washed" in water baptism, but not literally, only figuratively and formally, and by way of commemoration and dedication.

We say we fight for the "flag" of our country. But, do we mean we fight for the literal flag, or for what it represents? When we say we enter Christ by baptism, and are washed in baptism, etc., are we referring to the sign itself, or to the thing signified by the sign? When we say that Christ enters us in the Lord's Supper, do we mean literally or symbolically? When we say the Communion "bread" is the body of Christ, do we mean it, in itself, or what it represents or signifies?

We are thus saved by both baptism and the Lord's Supper, but only ceremonially or symbolically, not actually.

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