“It is all about the cross!”, the preacher declared from the pulpit, sweat dripping from his brow as he thrust his finger towards the 8 foot tall crucifix that stood plastered to the back wall of the church. He closed his rant by stating, “you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!” As the audience rose to their feet in applause and to respond by singing “wonderful cross”. Why did we spend a whole two hours focusing on the cross? I literally counted over a hundred times the preacher said “the cross” and seven times he said Jesus. I sat there perplexed wondering how in the world had the evangelical church strayed this far. It certainly did not happen over night. Little by little the symbol of the cross has been allowed to become an idol in the church.
“you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!”
To be fair, the cross does hold a great amount of significance for the believer. It symbolized freedom, new life, the death of sin, forgiveness and it plays a major role in the atonements. But at the end of the day, it still is just a symbol.
Just for sake of the argument, if Jesus was hung, beheaded or electrocuted, would we be embracing the “noose” the “sword” or “electric-chair? Would we be placing such value and emphasis upon the instrument of death that took the life of our Lord? It is not all about the cross, it never was and it never should be for a true follower of Christ.
“The cross is just a symbol”
Interestingly enough, the early followers of Christ embraced the ichthus (the fish) and the dove more commonly as a symbol of their calling. For them, the calling to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and be empowered by the Holy Spirit, was the primary focus. This mentality shaped the early church into an exponentially growing movement that brought the love of Jesus to the world in the first hundred or so years. Consequently, the cross bore the painful memory of the execution of their Lord, not something they wanted to constantly remember.
It was not until Justin Martyr in the mid 150’s wrote that the symbol of the cross should be engraved on all objects of Christianity. The Emperor Constantine expanded the use of the cross eclipsing the use of the ichthus after claiming to have received a dream that commanded him to conquer in the name of the cross (if he was truly a follower of Christ, he would have recognized this dream was not from God). Constantine used the symbol of the cross to incite fear and dread in the lives of his foes. For Constantine the cross symbolized power, destruction and impending death to his foes if they resisted his expanding empire. Needless to say, the cross was not viewed in a positive way by those outside of Christianity.
In recent history, the cross has become sacred, especially to evangelicals and in subtle ways–a substitute for Jesus. There are numerous worship songs that glorify the cross, sermons are structured that focus on the cross, crosses are affixed throughout houses of worship; evangelicals have put the cross at the center of their lives…in many cases, instead of Jesus.
“The cross has been put at the center of the evangelical experience…instead of Jesus”
Evangelicals have a unhealthy obsession with the cross. The cross speaks predominantly to a certain part of the Christian life…mainly the early stages of belief. Unfortunately, at the cross is where a majority of believers stay their whole life. Battling their sins in the shadows of the cross, working on themselves to be worthy of the cross or even living in self guilt and shame, even though that is exactly what Jesus came to deliver us from. They never seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and never act on the command to be a fisher of men. When the focus is upon the cross it places more emphasis on justification, the struggle against self and sin and the personal experience.
No one focuses on the limo that brings the superstars to the red carpet.
There needs to be a balance between using symbols in the Christian experience and allowing symbols to dictate or define the Christian experience. The christian life includes the cross but is not defined by the cross, it is defined by Christ. It is always a danger to cling to symbols as it leads to idolatry. Quiet frankly the use of the cross in almost every “christian thing” (music, stationary, jewelry, statues, sculptures, buildings, prayer rooms, multi-media, carvings etc.) is becoming hard to defend as “not-idolatry”.
“The cross is the mode–something used to accomplish a greater purpose. Don’t focus on the mode, don’t obsess over the mode. Worship and focus on the greater purpose which is Jesus Christ and his love for the Father and His plan for salvation.”