Thursday, June 23, 2011

The cross and Mr. Hiles

In doing research for my Messiah post, below, I learned about the case, now several years old, of chaplain Michael Hiles. The basic facts from 2008 don't appear to be in question: The U.S. military has a very limited number of insignias for its chaplains to wear. After examining the tenets of Messianic Judaism, the Navy decided that Hiles, as a Messianic Jewish chaplain, should wear the cross instead of the tablets of the law. Hiles refused and chose to leave the military rather than wearing the cross.

This bothers me. For the record, I do not believe that Hiles wanted to deceive anyone by wearing the rabbinic insignia. That is not where my concern lies. But there really is a problem with a person who claims to be a committed and loving follower of Our Lord Jesus Christ but who is unwilling to be identified with the cross. For these purposes I'm simply uninterested in hearing about, e.g., the evils of the Crusades.

The Apostle Paul said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ." (Galatians 6:14) Significantly, in the context Paul is specifically contrasting his glorying in the cross with his glorying in the legal observance of circumcision. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us that if we will be His disciples we must take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).

Paul called the crucifixion of Christ a "stumbling block" to the Jews (I Cor. 1:23). But he meant the unbelieving Jews. If one has accepted the claims of Jesus and believes in His resurrection, one is supposed to see the stumbling block as the chief cornerstone (Mark 12:10-11, I Peter 2:6-8).

I see part of the problem here as coming from the idea that we can define everything for ourselves. The idea appears to be that, if the cross meant something offensive or historically bothersome "to" Mr. Hiles, or if he preferred to define his own identity more closely in terms of the tablets of the law, he should be free to choose the Jewish symbol instead of the Christian one.

But reality doesn't work that way. Sometimes symbols are chosen for us. We are not simply self-created beings who get to make all our own meanings for all our own symbols. This is particularly true when we are talking about God-made and God-chosen symbols. There, if nowhere else, it behooves us to shut up and row (as my old blogging friend Zippy says in a different context). And in this case, "shut up and row" means, "Wear the cross, Chaplain Hiles. Be not ashamed."

There are not any mere symbols. If ever it were true that a symbol is not a mere symbol, it is true of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that sign of ultimate shame which God chose to make the glorious means of victory--that he who by a tree was once the vanquisher might also by a Tree be vanquished.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, let us glory in the cross.


Tony said...

Oh, well said indeed, Lydia On many fronts.

It strikes me as extremely odd that a person who presents himself as a member of the clergy, and thus ready to minister to others, should think himself a believer in the historical fact of God's having already fulfilled the promise of a Messiah, and has not come to grips with the consequences of that belief in really basic ways. One of the basic meanings of Christ being the Messiah is that Christ, sent by the Father, completes God's plan of revealing Himself to us: Christ himself informs us as to what it means to be godly people. To be godly is to conform one's self to Christ.

If there were some way of being a believer in an actual, historical Messiah who has already come, and yet believe somehow that the meaning of "Messiah" is all nebulous, metaphorical, indistinct, and open to many different (potentially opposed) meanings, that might explain it. But how could you do that? Is Miles one of those truly weird fruitcakes who think that Christ did not really know He was the Messiah, nor that He was the Son of God, and that He "developed" into being the Messiah, and thus Christ was not in control of what happened, and had the Crucifixion thrust upon Him without any say-so? Maybe that explains it: the messiah thus presented is the accidental messiah, so the cross is accidental to messiahship!

Of course, my opinion is that people who believe this tripe are really worse off than the Jews who still await God's fulfillment of the promise: they have taken away the whole point of the promise and made of its fulfillment - less than a "mere" symbol - empty of any sense at all.

If you refuse even the symbol that is the cross, will you also refuse what it stands for?

Lydia McGrew said...

My _guess_ from what I've read about Messianic Jews (who are a very varied lot) is that he believes that Jesus did have to die and did plan to die as the sacrifice for our sins, the perfect Passover lamb.

The objection to the cross appears to have something to do with an objection to organized, institutional Christianity since then, and perhaps especially to Catholicism. But Protestant chaplains wear the cross insignia anyway, so...Also, I gather there is a strong, almost a fierce, desire to assert one's Jewish identity and to show that this identity has not been somehow swamped by a Christian identity. It seems to me that this insistence has many pitfalls.

Kristor said...

The cross is in any case also a symbol of the religion of Israel, and was so long before Jesus was born. It symbolizes the Tetragrammaton. Thus the Cross is the Name.

When kings, priests and prophets were anointed in ancient Israel, they were anointed on their foreheads with the Name; the cross of the Tetragrammaton. The Christian tradition of anointing at Baptism with the sign of the Cross derives from that older tradition.

Lydia McGrew said...

Kristor, hmmm, interesting point. I"m not sure it is relevant here, because Hiles rightly judged that his wearing the cross would _not_ be taken as a symbol of Judaism but of Christianity. Whatever may be the case concerning the tetragramaton, that understanding is no longer current in our culture. So the issue for Hiles was his insistence that he _not_ wear a symbol associated with Christianity. That, of course, is the reason I disagree with him.

Kristor said...

Yes. I mention the Cross as symbol of the Tetragrammaton only because I think it is so cool, and would be glad if more people knew about it.