Why I wear a crucifix

An essay was posted in "The 1517 Society" today by a former Baptist turned Lutheran entitled "Why You Should Wear a Crucifix." I commend it to you.

It was written in response to an article  by  Tim Challies entitled "Why You Should Not Wear A Crucifix."  Mr. Challies's relies heavily on a series of theologically dubious observations by J.J. Packer. The arguments are familiar to any American Protestant. The trouble is that they don't hold water, either biblically or logically.

One of those arguments is a common one even among Lutherans heavily influenced by Reformed Evangelicalism or by Pietism: that somehow the empty cross symbolizes Christ's victory on Easter as opposed to a morbid dwelling on His suffering and death. Another is a lexically and Christologically problematic assumption that any statue must of necessity be an "idol." A third is, quite frankly, based on his bad Christology and unbiblical assumptions as to where the core of the Gospel is to be found.

In passing it should be commented that a statue that is not worshiped by definition cannot be an idol, even if it's displayed in church or used as an aid to worship. It should also be noted that the logic of the post encourages what Luther called "a theology of glory," which misses the point that Christ's victory is to be found precisely in the death by which He won that victory, and in the crosses we Christians bear by which we display His ownership of us. As Paul observed, strength is made perfect in weakness- and it's in weakness that God hides His strength, in suffering that God hides His glory, and in apparent folly that His wisdom is found. The wisdom of the Cross is folly to the world- and unfortunately, to Reformed Protestantism as well. One has to wonder how much of the ugly worship, bad theology, and outright distortion of the Gospel in American Protestantism resides precisely in an otherworldly Reformed exaltation of Christs' glory, majesty and sovereignty over the world- all of them perfectly true and valid in themselves- over the emphasis Christ Himself and Paul give to finding the strength of Jesus in His weakness, His wisdom in His apparent folly, his victory precisely in the Cross and in the fact that He graciously uses these to meet us in our own weakness and folly and hopelessness and death by His sharing and transforming them.

This idea that the empty cross somehow celebrates Jesus' victory is relatively recent and not very logical. if Jesus hadn't risen, the cross would still be empty. But it was not at the moment of Christ's resurrection, but the moment He cried out "It is finished!" that the battle was won. At that moment our salvation was secured, death had bitten off more than it could chew, and Easter, so to speak, was "in the bag." The actual, historical reason why Baptists and other Protestants outside the Lutheran tradition resist the crucifix lie elsewhere, as we'll see below.

Secondly, Jesus didn't "defeat the cross." He used the cross as a weapon with which He defeated sin, death and the devil. Paul celebrated precisely the cross not only as His means of accomplishing our salvation but as the mark of His ownership in our lives- folly, to be sure, to those who are perishing, but wisdom and salvation  and comfort to us. Jesus shares our crosses, too. And of course, in a literal sense, we aren't saved by the cross, but by the One Who hung on it. Plenty of crucifixions took place in the ancient world, but only one bought our salvation. Without the One Who hung on it, the cross would only be a piece of wood. With Him, it's the means by which God redeemed the world. So why deprive the cross of its very significance? The tree without its fruit gives life to nobody!

Zwingli, Calvin, and even the Anabaptists read the Bible through the lens of Platonic philosophy, which denies that finite, physical things can contain or convey the infinite.  Calvin's Platonism can clearly be seen in one of the quotes the blog entry shares from him, especially in his denial that the face of God can be seen on Earth.  And this is a very large problem.

In the history of the early Church, Platonism  led to the Nestorian heresy, which denied that God had actually become a human being in the Incarnation.There were two separate beings- Jesus and Christ, one human and one divine-who inhabited a single body. Since God is omnipresent, the Second Person of the Trinity also existed outside the person of Jesus! The Platonism of Zwingli, Calvin, the Anabaptists and the Baptists of today lead to a Christology which bears uncomfortable similarities to a heresy condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and to the very "separation" of the natures of Christ condemned by the Council of Chalcedon twenty years later!

So, without realizing it, do the essentially Platonic sensibilities of most Protestants today. That's why they instinctively cringe when they hear Mary referred to by her orthodox and biblical title "Mother of God." The human Child she bore IS God- which makes her the mother of God! But non-Lutheran Protestants- and even some Lutherans, especially of Scandinavian Pietist heritage- cringe at this title, and prefer the Nestorian "mother of Christ!"

Now anybody who reads the Ten Commandments analytically will realize that there are actually only nine of them- against idolatry, misuse of God's Name, misuse of sacred time, disrespect toward parents, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and coveting. But it became so common to speak of the "Ten Words" (or "Ten Commandments") that the Jews found it necessary to number them in such a way as to come up with ten. So they split the First Commandment in two. The commandment against idolatry became the First Commandment. The commentary which expanded on it in the context of ancient Israel- specifically the notion that the true God was invisible, while false gods were mostly statues- was listed as an entirely separate commandment.

But in fact, statuary as such wasn't forbidden at all by the Old Testament! God actually commanded the erection of a brazen serpent in the wilderness and two statues of cherubim to be placed on the Ark of the Covenant! When the Early Church began to teach the Ten Commandments, it realized that splitting the First Commandment in two could lead to serious problems, among them in Christology. The Jewish numbering at least potentially gave support to the Nestorian position, which amounted to a denial of the Incarnation itself! That demi-Nestorianism, by the way (although few Protestants can articulate it),  is the reason why the Reformed and Anabaptist and Baptistic churches deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper and insist on a symbolic interpretation. Human bodies cannot be in many places at once, they reason, nor can the earthly and finite contain the infinite. Ironically, God's omnipotence- a major theme in Calvinism, which emphasizes God's sovereignty so strongly- is compromised here. Because the Second Person of the Trinity never actually manages to become incarnate in their Platonic thinking- He just (partially) shares a body with a human being- they neglect the point that the Human Being in question is God, and can keep His body wherever He jolly well chooses!

That's the reason why, following the lead of the Early Church, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and most Anglican Christians choose to split the commandment against coveting rather than the commandment against idolatry into two in order to come up with the traditional number "ten." People who complain that it makes no sense to have one commandment against coveting our neighbor's house, and another against coveting his wife and everything else he has, are exactly right- except that dividing the last commandment instead of the First safeguards the very Incarnation!

In the Middle Ages, the corpus (the body of Jesus on the crucifix) symbolized specifically the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. When the Reformation happened, followers of Zwingli and Calvin and the Anabaptists, who denied the Real Presence on the ground of a questionable Christology, removed it. To this very day, Lutheran churches in Germany customarily use the crucifix. So do Lutherans in the United States who are conscious of confessional theology and the reasons for its use.

So there are other reasons for wearing a crucifix than a reminder of Christ's victory on the Cross, whereby His resurrection and ours were both assured. There are even reasons more significant even than the comfort we receive from the knowledge that it's in the bearing of our own crosses that Christ is closest to us.

To wear a crucifix is to confess the actual incarnation of Christ as a single Being Who is both truly God and truly man. And it's to confess that when Jesus said, "This is My body," and "This is My blood," He was telling the truth. There is no reason whatsoever why His words should be taken as a metaphor or any other kind of merely figurative speech.

But even more, there is nowhere on Earth that we will find in one image such a powerful reminder both of the depth and the horror of our own corruption and the depth and wonder of Almighty God's love for us than in the image of He Who created the universe willingly suffering even that to save us from ourselves and our own sin and folly.

Comments

Popular Posts