Have you ever wondered why, unlike some churches, Grace doesn’t prominently display a cross on the sanctuary? In the lobby? On the outside of the building? After all, the cross is the symbol of our religion, right?
I recently intercepted a great response that pastor Rex sent to someone who was asking a similar question:
I was tempted to thank you for your kind words, and just send a quick note saying “No. We’re definitely not ashamed of the cross. But thanks for asking.” But I thought it might be better to give a more extended response to offer, what I hope will be, some helpful input on the subject of the cross. You did indicate you would like to hear from me on this most important matter.
I like the three or four messages I’ve heard from Mr. Yousef. But if it is true that Michael Yousef and others are making statements about churches setting aside the cross because they do not want to offend anyone, those statements sound a bit naïve to me, and overly simplistic. At the very least, they do not resonate with my experience.
The churches I would be more concerned about are those that keep crosses prominently displayed but no longer believe in the efficacy or power of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. They are perpetuating a symbol but no longer believe in the substance behind the symbol. That sort of duplicity is what I feel we should warn people about. Those are the churches that are trying not to offend anyone. They are hypocritical because they still display the symbol but no longer believe in what the symbol is supposed to represent.
I’ve preached and taught in hundreds (no exaggeration, literally hundreds) of evangelical churches over the past 37 years (especially during my college, Seminary, and the Billy Graham years), and I’ve not seen any evangelical church without a cross that is ashamed of what happened at the cross. Usually, if the symbol of a cross is not prominently displayed in the church facility, it is because the leaders are concerned about people being in love with the symbol of the cross but not in love with the Savior who died on a cross. So, the leaders courageously challenge tradition. They challenge the fact that many people see the cross as a magic talisman or a lucky rabbit’s foot that will make life go better and ward off evil. That is mostly what I’m concerned about. I’ve discovered that the more enamored people are with the symbol, generally speaking, the less they have a profound understanding of the substance behind the symbol. They get so upset when a symbol is removed because a symbol is all they have. They have little or no substance. So, if in challenging a shallow understanding of the cross and encouraging people to think more deeply, I end up offending some people, so be it. I think Jesus wants people to understand what He accomplished at the cross, not just see the cross as a comforting symbol.
I realize that most of us grew up, whether Protestant or Catholic, with crucifixes and/or crosses in our church facilities. As with most traditions, we never stopped to ask, “Where did this practice start?” and “Is this a ‘biblical thing’ or a ‘tradition thing’”? In other words, are we commanded in the Bible to do this or, is this simply something we started doing in Church history but we really have no biblical reason for it?
I’m suggesting that whether a local church chooses to put a cross on top of their building or in their building or all over their building is not an inherently good or bad decision. I applaud those churches that display crosses and do their best to teach people the true meaning of the cross. I have no issue with that. Nor do I have an issue with churches who choose to de-emphasize the symbol a bit, yet still aggressively and boldly teach the meaning and message behind the cross.
If you are familiar with my “three circles” talk, whether one hangs a cross or not would be in the third circle called “preferences”. Those are issues where, not only do we not have a command in Scripture to do it, Scripture does not say anything about hanging crosses up in our church buildings. For that matter, Scripture doesn’t say anything about church buildings. ? Temples and synagogues … yes … but not Christian Church buildings.
Let me quickly add that what Jesus accomplished at the cross and empty tomb is of supreme importance. Obviously without His atoning death and blood sacrifice on the cross, we have no way to be forgiven of our sins. His once-for-all sacrifice of His own life at the cross outside of Jerusalem is definitely an essential (first circle) issue and without it one no longer has historical, biblical Christianity. If any person claiming to be a Christ-follower or any local church claiming to be orthodox is ashamed of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, by definition, it would be difficult to call that person a Christian or that church a Christian church. Grace Fellowship is not ashamed of what Jesus did for us at the cross, and that is why I proclaim it boldly on a regular basis. If people are offended by that, again, so be it. We will never be ashamed of the message of the cross.
So, if hanging crosses in our church facilities or from our necks is not a right or wrong issue, then why not do it? My guess is that in the various Grace Fellowship Campuses some will have crosses prominently displayed and some may not. But hopefully we will always remember that putting up crosses is simply a tradition from church history, not a biblical command.
In short, I want people to ask questions like you have asked, so that wholesome and healthy dialogue follows. I want real Christ-followers, like you, to think through just about everything they are doing and ask “why”? “Is this biblical or is this tradition?” This does not mean that we can’t do things in the twenty-first century unless they were practiced by the first century church, or unless they are commanded in Scripture (that would be very limiting indeed). But I do believe we ought to learn how to discern what is important, what is really important, and what is not so important.
So, let me quickly wrap up. The cross, as a symbol, doesn’t save anybody. Our faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross (and the empty tomb, etc.) is what God honors to save us. The finished work of Christ is the basis of our salvation. We are not ashamed of that and never will be. You can count on that.