The Christian Cross
The following charges have been levied against Christianity's use of the cross as a primary symbol:
The Christian is forbidden to worship all created things, including the cross. For, God is the lone object of right worship and any worship offered to objects other than God amounts to mere idolatry. However, the Christian is not forbidden against using symbols in his life to reflect upon and call into remembrance God, as there is a vast difference between offering worship and praise to a cross and using it in a symbolic fashion to commemorate the greatness of God. In fact, some symbols are explicitly established by revelation of God throughout the Bible. For example, symbols were divinely prescribed in the design of the ark of the covenant (where the cherubim represent God's presence: Ex. 25:18-19), the institution of holy ordinances (the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper: Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20), and as signs of God's covenants (the rainbow of the Noahic covenant: Gen 9:12-16). Just as one would not have been permitted to bow down to the cherubim of the ark of the covenant, the bread of the sacrament, or a rainbow in the sky, worship of the cross is also not permitted. Yet worship of the cross is not taught by any of the major and credible biblical denominations and churches of Christianity. The cross only serves as a supreme symbol of Christ's gospel to the Christian. The charge, therefore, that Christians worship the cross is a false one. It is a strawman erected in ignorance, which need not be contested further.
More Than Death
So, what does the cross represent? Does it simply call into remembrance the cruel death of a perfect and good man, Jesus of Nazareth? No! The cross symbolizes far more than that to the Christian. It was Jesus Himself, who declared that the cross had meaning beyond death: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt 16:24; cf. Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). The cross, although it represents sacrifice, is symbolic of eternal life in Christ (see the following verses in Matt 16:25-27; Mark 8:35-38; Luke 9:24-26). It is not negative, but affirmative and positive as it is about following Jesus (Matt 10:38; Mark 10:21). It is about obedience, as Christ Himself bore in obedience His own cross and carried it to Golgotha (John 19:17).
Paul equated the cross with the very gospel of Christ and power of God: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:17-18; cf. Gal. 5:11, where the false gospel of the Galatians is equated to reducing the offense of the cross). It is far from error for the Christian to reverently but proudly behold the cross as the center of the gospel; in fact, to boast in anything else would be shameful: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
To the Christian, the cross is the center of salvation and reconciliation with God (Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:7-8). It was on the cross that Christ's blood was shed for us, "having made peace through the blood of His cross... you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (Col 1:20-22; cf. 2:13-14). It was on the cross that Christ took upon him the sins of mankind to fully bear the curse of God for His people (2 Cor. 5:20-21; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). It is the cross, therefore, that Christians look upon and see something wonderful. Yes, foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 1:17-18), but a glorious thing, indeed, to the Christian.
It should be noted that the resurrection is the reason the cross is so wonderful a joy to behold. For without the resurrection, the work of Christ on the cross would have been for naught. However, the same Christ that fully bore our sins was a powerful enough Savior to be victorious over all the penalties of sin, even death. Were Christ to have crumbled under God's wrath, he would have proved little more than the animal sacrifices offered long before Him (which were of no profit, Heb. 10:1-10). Yet, Christ arose and now stands at the right hand of God. The resurrection is the flip side of the same coin also containing the cross. How beautiful it is to look upon an empty cross and know that Christ not only conquered all things, but that he even now intercedes in heaven for His People. The cross is victory for God, victory for the believer.
As discussed in the article "What Does the Christian Fish Represent?," the fact that two different organizations have the same symbol does not mean that the originating motivation is alike among the two groups. As explained in that article, the Christian cross for example has nothing to do with a hammer of the God Thor, moon deities, fertility, or other pagan representations. And, while the cross was not original to Christianity, the unique meaning it represents to a Christian is shared by no other religious people in the world. The Christian cross, therefore, is entirely separate from any "pagan" crosses.
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