Symbolism or ceremony? Galatians 5:6
For in the Messiah it doesn’t matter whether you are circumcised or not. The one thing that counts is faith working through love.
Outward signs do not matter any more. This seems to be the message. However, we need to be careful not to toss the baby with the bath water. Symbols and symbolic actions still have great benefit to humans. It’s just the way we are made.
It is also one of the ways we are made in the image of God. He is constantly providing us with symbols and doing symbolic acts. The rainbow is a good example. Jesus hanging on the cross is a fulfillment of the symbolic act of raising the serpent on a pole in the exodus. Baptism is symbolic of the death and cleansing we undergo when we believe.
However, we cannot slip into the heresy of many mainline churches by saying that baptism saves us—like magic. Baptism is well described as a sacramental act , but it brings no righteousness in itself. The same is true of communion. I have seen strong blessings in the obedience of communion. I do think we ought to do it every Sunday service. However, it is not an occultic operation of power.
What matters is our faith. Here we can go by the New Testament itself. Nowhere is it spelled out in scripture the ceremony we are to use for water baptism, holy communion, the laying on of hands, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or any religious service. The closest scripture comes to anything like this is James’ injunction to go to the elders when you are sick “and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”. (Found in James 5:14–15)
Obviously, religious liturgy and ceremonial style do not matter much to the Lord. Even in the old testament, the instructions for building the tabernacle and the furniture are quite precise—but the actual ceremony is missing. This is one of the differences between Christianity and other religions—especially the occult. In the occult, power is found by saying specific words in order in a specific ceremony which must be followed exactly. We have been set free from all of that. We are not saved by ritual exactitude.
So, symbology and ceremony can be great teaching tools and significant aids to memory. However, they have no power to save or heal or change a person. That is reserved for the Holy Spirit.
And we must remember that we are commanded by Jesus to have some sort of regular communion. It’s an act of obedience—as is baptism. The laying on of hands is also important as are prayers for the sick. You just need to be sure that you remember where the power lies and in whom we place our faith.