by Robert Flores
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: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.Philippians 3:18,19
For some reason I don't see a lot of crosses on church buildings anymore. Normally I would drive by a church and see a cross on it. Not so anymore. In fact, the display of the cross is going by the wayside. Why is that? Do Christians not like looking at crosses? Well, regardless of whether Christians or pastors approve of the cross, it is undeniable that it is the symbol of our redemption. There is nothing to like about the cross in and of itself. It was a disgusting, deplorable, excruciating method of execution. Let's face it: our redemption was not pretty to look at! But it is Jesus' sacrifice on that cross that makes it beautiful. As opposed to what a lot of Protestant churches are doing, the cross should be displayed on church property. So why, may I ask, is the cross so rarely displayed? If Christians lose sight of that cross, they might as well lose sight of their salvation. For it was through that cross that our salvation was made possible. How can Christians disregard it as irrelevant, outdated, or unimportant?
One of the reasons I've heard that pastors don't like the cross is because "Jesus didn't stay there". Of course He didn't stay there, but how does that equate to “don't display the cross”? Could it be that pastors are offended by the cross? Why not display an empty tomb then? Ah, but they don't do that either. Perhaps pastors just don't like symbolism. Well, whatever it is, there is something going on and that's what I'm trying to get at.
The cross is a powerful symbol. So powerful that anyone in the world can recognize the meaning of it. In 2003, there was a fire that raged here in southern California and in the newspaper there was a picture of a church with a cross on it. Behind the church was a mountain with a wall of flames racing down the side of it. When I saw that picture, I thought to myself, “What an incredible photograph. How effective would that picture been if there wasn't a cross on that church?” If it was any other kind of building, it would have been just another casualty of the fire's destruction. But the fact that I (and everyone else who read the newspaper) was able to identify that building as a church got me thinking about the importance of the symbolism of the cross. Imagine what kind of witness that is to the world: they see crosses on buildings and, without a shadow of a doubt, they know it's a church. They see those two pieces of wood and know that Jesus is worshipped there.
However, sometimes I see buildings without crosses on them. They look like churches and yet there is no cross displayed, so, it's anybody's guess as to what's inside. Have you ever been to one of those “multi-faith” buildings where different religions can worship? They are usually built on large cemetery properties for funerals and such. (They have one at Rose Hills, Whittier, CA). While no one was around, I walked around in one, and there were no identifying marks whatsoever: no crosses, no statues, no motifs, no pagan designs or anything. It freaked me out. In an attempt to equalize all religions, the equalization actually amplified paganism. It was more pagan to be neutral than if the building were openly Islamic or Buddhist! I fear that the lack of crosses on church buildings is just another proof that Protestant America is moving towards ecumenicalism.
A few years ago, I used to work at a promotional products company and next-door was a business that had no sign out in front, and no identifying labels as to what kind of business it was. However, there was indeed a thriving business there because the parking lot was a nightmare. I found out not too long after I started there that the business (if you can call it that) specialized in distributing adult pornographic paraphernalia. No wonder there was no label on the front of the building! They wanted as little publicity as possible as to what they sold! Whenever I see churches with no crosses on the property, I always wonder, “What goes on inside there?”just like how I wondered what went on in that pornographic store. Non-identifying symbolism and works of evil go hand-in-hand. If someone is going to be evil then of course he's going to be secret about it. But if one is doing good, then why would he hide that from the world? Even if it's well-intentioned neutrality, there is just something about paganism/Satanism/compromise that the church has fallen into when they do not display the cross.
Many years ago, I briefly attended a church in which the congregation had just completed the construction of a new building. A few weeks had gone by and I didn't see any crosses or anything being put up inside or outside of the building. I wondered about it, but didn't ask anyone. Apparently I wasn't the only one wondering what was going on with the lack of Christian symbolism. The pastor told us that a lady had asked him, “Why aren't there any crosses around the property? Do you have something against crosses?” He answered, “No, I don't have anything against crosses. It just takes money.” I thought that that was a reasonable answer and left it at that, waiting for the time that the congregation would succeed in getting funds to put some crosses on the property. Time went by, and I eventually left the church for other worship-oriented reasons. I drove by one day to see the progress on the property. Still no crosses. Months went by. A year went by and there were still no crosses (or any other Christian symbolism on the outside of the building). However, they did manage to find the funds to build a tall stone tower with a giant church logo on top of it. I thought to myself, “Since when has marketing your church's image taken precedence over preaching the cross of Christ?” This is a sad commentary on the modern church. Pastors say they don't mind putting up crosses if they have the funds to do so, but when they do get the funds, they put up the church logo instead.
So what is it about the cross? Do pastors or elder boards just not like the symbolism of redemption? Or maybe they dislike symbolism in general? If they do, they're in trouble, because the Bible is full of symbols (and typology) from cover to cover! It's interesting to me that these pastors who have so much against symbolism, certainly aren't taking the Chevrolet or Ford symbols off the cars they drive. Symbolism didn't stop these pastors from promoting symbolic Christian movies like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia! If these pastors really did hate symbols so much, then shouldn't they be consistent in everything? It is inconsistencies like these that make it seem that there really is a war against the cross. I mean, think about it: what better way for Satan to cloud people's minds towards salvation than by hiding the cross from people's view? What better way for Jesus' sacrifice to be forgotten than to influence Christians into thinking that symbolism (like the cross) doesn't really mean anything? We live in a visual society. People need a visual reminder of what Jesus did for them (and us)! And the most appropriate visual reminder is the cross!
Inevitably, someone will argue that there are dangers in using symbols. Are there dangers in using symbols like the cross? Of course. Idolatry and reliance on symbols have always been an issue (especially in Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox traditions), but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! The cross reminds me of Jesus' blood that was spilled for me. The cross has no merit in itself. It couldn't hold up the King of the Universe even if it tried. It was only by God's grace that the cross held Jesus' body there. The cross is about the Person who was on it; not about two pieces of wood stuck together. It is God's love for us in the most extreme expression and if people get a balanced understanding of it, idolatry should never have to be an issue.
As a symbol, the cross divides and unites heaven and earth. It symbolizes the epitome of lovea love that only Christians know. It represents the means by which God chose to save us. It is that cross that the world recognizes as a symbol of Christianity. And anything with that symbol on it is automatically labeled “Christian”. Let's face it, the world knows what the cross means and is offended by it. (Hence the ACLU and other groups attempting, and succeeding, in taking it down from various public places). The world understands its meaning. Why is the Church so much in denial?
There will come a day when the government will succeed in taking the cross down from private property (and from public sight). That will be the day that many will wish that they had exploited the symbolism of that cross more. It's ironic to me that in a day when any rock star or rapper can wear a cross that, at the same time, Protestant America is doing away with crosses on church buildings and properties. In the name of “progress” and “unity” and “tolerance”, churches all across America are trading their cross of redemption for their church's logo. The world already has a vendetta against the cross. Do Christians have to further their cause by ditching their artistic heritage along with the most important symbol in the history of the world?
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. Galatians 6:14