The symbol of the fish was a mark or sign employed by early Christians. These believers, especially during times of state persecution, were often hesitant to let their Christian identity be publicly known and employed a variety of methods to "reveal" themselves to fellow Christian bothers and sisters in a discreet manner. One method was the use of the "fish symbol," and it was employed in a number of ways, including as embroidery on one's clothing, a symbol painted or affixed to one's dwelling, and a mark placed so as to direct worshippers to a secret assembly place.
The choice of the fish as a Christian symbol was not without meaning. The Greek word for fish, ichthus, was used as an acrostic. Each letter from the word signified a title: the iota ("I") stood for Iesous, or "Jesus"; the chi ("Ch") stood for Christos, or "Christ"; the theta ("Th") stood for Theos, or "God"; the upsilon ("U") stood for Huios, or "Son"; and the sigma ("S") stood for Soter, or "Savior." So together, the acrostic formed a simple Creed: "Jesus Christ, God's Son and Savior."
Today the display of the "fish symbol" has lost its significance for many. It has become a decorative piece more than an icon. The fear of violent persecution is not present, at least in this country, and so men and women of faith are not as fearful to let the world know their mark--to pronounce that they bear the name of Christ. Times have changed: instead of a fish symbol discreetly sketched into the bark of a tree, we are able to erect a noticeable sign on the curb of our public property.
However, have the times really changed that much? Do many not seek to hide their Christian identity, not purposely to avoid persecution, but to purposely avoid embarrassment? How many people live their lives "for God" one or two days a week only to devote the balance of the week "for self"? Certainly, by many, the identity of Christ is hidden from co-workers, fellow students, and family members; it is tucked away so others will not laugh, be offended, or exclude one from "fun." And the Christian name is checked at the door so as to allow one to "live it up" and "let loose" without the burden of a guilty conscience.
I hope that we can sing the lyrics of Isaac Watts with the passion they are due; "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, nor to defend his cause; maintain the honors of his Word, the glory of his cross."