"Why Don't Churches Of Christ Display A Cross?"

This is an excellent question. As one examines the various religious groups in our nation, one quickly realizes that there are many differences -- some rather significant, others less so. Organization, methods of worship, charitable practices, community involvement, theology, and even ways of expressing one's devotion to God are all somewhat different depending on one's religious heritage.

One area in which there is a difference of practice is in the display of religious symbols. In the Catholic Church this is a tradition which has been followed for centuries. Following the Reformation, however, many began to break away from various traditions which had long been cherished. This was in part a protest against the Catholic Church, but also an attempt to move beyond the *externals* of religion (the outward display) and focus on the *internals* -- the deeper spiritual realities of religion. It was felt by many reformers that there was too much emphasis on the symbols themselves (the cross, for example) and too little appreciation for the reality behind the symbol. Thus, it was believed that by minimizing the significance of the symbol -- or by doing away with it altogether -- the reality would return to the forefront and become more spiritually significant.

Various passages of Scripture were employed to justify this belief. In the Ten Commandments the Lord God said, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them" (Exodus 20:4-5). God further commanded, "You shall not ... set up for yourselves an image ... to bow down before it" (Leviticus 26:1). Many felt this command had been violated by the erection of various sacred images (such as statues and crosses) before which people bowed. It was viewed as the veneration of an object, something which the Lord had specifically forbidden. Thus, crosses, as well as other religious objects, were removed from many churches.

Reference is also made to the bronze serpent formed by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-9). It wasn't long before the Jews had turned this into an object of veneration. Many years later King Hezekiah, when instituting his religious reforms in Israel, "broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it" (II Kings 18:4). In fact, they had even given it a name -- "Nehushtan."

There is a very real danger in the elevation of such physical objects to positions of religious significance -- the danger is that the object itself will in time become *sacred,* and will be bowed before and venerated. No physical object, not even the actual cross itself, is worthy of worship. Only He who died upon the cross is worthy of our veneration. When the apostle Paul said that he gloried or boasted "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14), it was not the wood itself, or the shape of the cross, in which he gloried. In fact, Paul condemned those who "exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image..." (Romans 1:23). Rather, Paul gloried in the fact that God's beloved Son shed His blood on that old rugged cross for our redemption. It was what happened at the cross, and the One who was placed on the cross, that was spiritually significant ... not the wood itself, or the design into which the wood had been fashioned.

By removing crosses from church buildings many reformers down through the years have sought to refocus people's hearts and minds! --- to place the significance once again upon the WHO, the WHAT, and the WHY of the cross, rather than upon the object itself. History has shown that when an object is elevated to a position of religious significance, it is only a matter of time before people have lost sight of what it truly signified, and began venerating the object itself. The *removal* of the object was perceived to be a safeguard against this abuse.

Having said all of this, it should also be pointed out that there is really nothing sinful, in and of itself, in having a cross. It is not a sin to display a cross in a building, nor is it a sin to wear a cross (as a necklace, tie tack, ring, etc.). Such objects can indeed be very effective *reminders* of the reality which the object symbolizes. As long as a person, within their heart and mind, understands the difference between the symbol and the substance which the symbol represents, there is no problem with having a cross displayed. The danger, of course, and this is amply displayed throughout history, is that people have a tendency to confuse the two, and thus to misplace their veneration. Thus, the *safer* route, if one is inclined to follow such (and I don't believe one is necessarily obligated to), is simply not to display it, and it is for this reason that many have followed this voluntary course.

The Lord God has given His people many physical symbols by which they can remember various spiritual realities. There is nothing wrong with such symbols. Even the elements of the Lord's Supper (the bread and the wine) are symbols --- the former of the body of Christ, the latter of His shed blood of the covenant. It is not the bread & the wine we honor, however, but the realities ... the substance ... which they represent. There is nothing sacred or special about bread and wine, but there is *much* which is sacred and special about that which they represent.

In my opinion, we should not "throw out the baby with the bathwater," but rather educate ourselves to know the difference between the two! In other words, let's not be too hasty to simply condemn all physical symbols as sinful (as some extremists have done). Rather, let's educate ourselves to discern the difference between the symbol and the substance which that symbol represents; and let's make sure we venerate the latter rather than the former, if indeed veneration is called for at all! I personally would have no problem with a person wearing a cross (my wife has some cross jewelry), or even with a cross displayed in a church building (indeed, some Churches of Christ do display crosses in their buildings). We just need to be careful that we don't place undo spiritual significance upon the object itself, and in so doing make the same mistake the Jews did, and other religious groups since.

In the final analysis, it is up to each individual .... and each individual congregation .... to follow their conscience in this matter. In the Churches of Christ each congregation is autonomous, which means each one determines for themselves what is or is not appropriate to display in their building. Many have followed the philosophy that it is safer *not* to display something that may cause some people to place more spiritual significance upon it than is warranted. This, however, is purely a matter of personal preference, and such a preference is not to be elevated to the status of universal church doctrine, nor is it to be made a test of fellowship or a condition of one's eternal salvation.

I hope this has been helpful in answering your question. If you still have further questions, however, I would be more than happy to discuss this further, or to address any additional concerns. (By Al Maxey of Almagordo, NM)

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