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Why We Don’t Do Crosses

Peter L. Meney | Added: Jul 04, 2024 | Category: Theology


Let me be as emphatic as I can be. The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely central and foremost in my esteem. Paul tells the Corinthians ‘the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God’. I agree with that. He says to the Galatians, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. I agree with that. I hold both of these assertions by the apostle to be true. May it never be said that I am not amongst the foremost advocates for preaching the cross.

That said, I am suspicious of the physical emblem or symbol of the cross being used in worship either with or without the figure of Christ attached to it. Here are ten reasons why.

1. We do not require a physical cross in our worship to understand the suffering of Christ.

2. The Lord Himself supplied the only two symbols we may use in worship which is the bread that speaks of His broken body and the cup that speaks of His shed blood. No other symbol is authorised to be used in worship.

3. There is no scriptural injunction and no example of the apostles or anyone in the New Testament churches ever employing a cross as an artefact or accessory in worship.

4. We should not replace one symbol with another. The symbolism of the Old Testament with its altars, candlesticks, lavers and general mystique was all done away with when the Lord Jesus came and fulfilled all the types. We see this graphically demonstrated in the rending of the veil in the temple from the top to the bottom when the Saviour died. There is no need for symbols now that the reality has come but there is every danger of the symbol displacing the reality, if even in some small way. 

5. An Old Testament parallel is the brass serpent on the pole Moses erected in the camp of Israel. Later in Israel’s history the people made an idol of the serpent and, because it is what people bereft of faith do, began to worship it. It had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). 

6. Many churches employ a cross in worship while totally denying the efficacy of the work of Christ on the cross. The symbol has no value without a proper understanding of the reality. At the same time, arriving at a proper knowledge of the truth to which the sign points dispenses with the need of the signpost. 

7. There is a narrow line in the minds of many people between a cross and a crucifix yet theologically the chasm between the two is huge. The Roman Catholic church, for example, maintains a teaching of Christ’s continuous suffering both in the use of the crucifix and the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine during the mass. This we thoroughly reject and deny because the death of the Saviour is a finished work, a once and for all-time work and not an act to be repeated or renewed. Christ did indeed suffer and die but He rose again and both the cross and the tomb, being empty, are redundant.

8. Idolatrous people have venerated the cross and collected relics for centuries – from the holy grail, to the nails from the crucifixion and even pieces of the physical wood. I’m not accusing those who employ a cross today of teaching there is some inherent sacred value or spiritual power in the physical material but I do wonder what is the true spiritual usefulness in the symbol.

9. The writer to the Hebrews tells us faith is ‘the evidence of things not seen’. I take the historical Protestant position that any unauthorised or unnecessary symbol in worship be it scents, pictures, candles, icons, or crosses will only prove a distraction to true spiritual worship and therefore are to be dispensed with. If you ever visit a traditional non-conformist meeting house you will be struck by how bare and stark it is. That is intentional. 

10. The symbol of the cross has been much abused in the history of Christianity – from adorning Crusader shields to exorcising demons. I accept that wrong use would not jeopardise right use if employing a cross in worship was authorised by the Lord or required by the scriptures. However, as it is not authorised or required it seems an unnecessary intrusion into our time of worship.

These are our reasons for not employing a tangible, symbolic cross in worship. When Paul speaks of ‘the offence of the cross’ it is not a reference to being offended by the symbol. He means being offended by the gospel message concerning the work of Christ on the cross and His substitutionary atonement. In this latter sense I am not at all offended by the cross of Jesus Christ.