I have been scolded for letting my kids decorate my office with a cross on my wall and letting them grow up to think that crosses are OK to own and display as symbols of our Christian faith. I plead the fifth. My wife just bought a cute cross necklace. My kids wear crosses on necklaces. I have a t-shirt with a big cross on it. All of these have been great conversation starters from time to time, letting people know something about my worldview, if nothing else.
Do I always live up to it? No, I’m human; of course I don’t. I’ll never be worthy of what Jesus did for me. Yet I don’t have a problem displaying the symbol of the cross, nor can I find any scriptural instruction against it. Can you? If so, we must have different Bibles.
Here’s the honest truth. The popular teaching against wearing crosses goes way back to a 19th century cultural antipathy toward anything Roman Catholic. Catholicism admittedly comes replete with an abundance of religious symbols, or “icons” as they are called. Many would say they have become idols; in many cases, I agree.
But does Catholic reverence for symbols and artifacts argue against Christians using them at all? Of course not. The anti-cross doctrine actually has been carried most notably by Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other mainstream but over-zealous Christian denominations.
Let’s face it. Religious symbols can become idols to the uneducated, but there is nothing worse about their idolization of religious symbols than our idolization of a car, or wealth, or anything else we humans set up on a pedestal and idolize. Anything can become an idol–anything. We don’t then argue that we should own nothing. We argue that we should make an idol of nothing.
The idea that the symbolism of the cross is bad has even worked its way into hymn choices in the church. For instance, this sect won’t sing “The Old Rugged Cross” because Merie taught that the cross was the instrument of Jesus’ murder, and therefore should not be glorified. Yet the church has no problem singing these hymns, which artfully portray the cross as the center of our faith:
- Beneath the Cross of Jesus
- At the Cross
- Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.
Galatians 6:14 – But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Philippians 3:18 – For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
If there are some who are enemies of the cross, then shouldn’t we be “friends of the cross?”
Now, of course this doesn’t mean displaying a cross has any spiritual value, necessarily. One may choose not to do so for any conscientious reason they wish, and it will not bother me in the slightest. Displaying religious symbols like the cross doesn’t make one more holy, or more righteous, or more evangelistic (although I would contend that it can open up some great conversations). Nevertheless, there is no Biblical teaching against it.
We can sing about it (except in The Old Rugged Cross), glory in the work Jesus did on it (Galatians 6:14), take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), preach it (1 Corinthians 1:18), and suffer persecution for it (Galatians 6:12), but we can’t have an artistic symbol of it on a shirt, necklace, earring, or Bible cover?
No, that’s not “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” at all.