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The Cross, the Cross Symbol, and Christianity

From Biblical teaching concerning the cross in Christianity, at least three conclusions can be made.
  1. The Bible teaches that the substitutionary death of Christ Jesus on a cross is fundamental to Christianity.
  2. The Bible does not teach that a cross symbol is necessary or helpful.
  3. Physical object-shapes cannot improve spirituality.

The Death of Jesus Christ on a Cross is Fundamental to Christianity

According to the New Testament, the cross-event (Jesus' crucifixion), along with the resurrection, is one of the bases of the good news of Jesus Christ. The message of the cross is God's power for salvation.
  • "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:17-18
  • "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2

The Use of the Cross Symbol is not Necessary to Christianity

On the other hand, while recognizing the importance of the cross-event, and trusting in Christ's death as the payment for sins, we must distinguish the "cross" from a " cross symbol." When the New Testament uses the term "cross," the term does not refer to a cross symbol. Rather, it refers (A) to the specific historical event (the actual death of Jesus Christ on a cross), (B) to the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified, or (C) to the sufferings involved in following Jesus.
  1. "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross . . ." Colossians 1:20
  2. "And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth The King of the Jews."John 19:19
  3. "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Matthew 16:24
Though the significance of Christ's death on a cross pervades the New Testament, the Bible does not instruct the use of a cross symbol. This absence, along with the truth that the Scriptures contain all that is needed for serving the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:16-17), means that a cross symbol is unnecessary and does not add to believers' lives (or to Christianity).
  • "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Under the Mosaic Covenant, many activities and objects symbolized the sacrificial death of Jesus. In the Old Testament, activities pertaining to temple sacrifice were symbols and signs of the "Real" that was coming. However, the New Covenant contains no physical object-shapes as symbols. Now that the Lord Jesus Christ has come, lived, and died as the Sacrificial Lamb by His atoning and substitutionary death on the cross, the former symbols are no longer needed. When Jesus instituted the New Covenant in His blood at His death on the cross, the New Covenant fulfilled and replaced the Mosaic Covenant. As a result, except for the Lord's Supper and believer's baptism, the New Covenant does not include symbols. Because the " Real," who is Jesus Christ, has already come and provided a means of forgiveness, shapes are no longer needed as symbols to show the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

The Use of Object-shapes Does not Help a Person to Worship Jesus Christ

Concerning this, some people claim that the cross symbol is a remainder of what Jesus Christ has done for us. However, in the New Testament, God has already provided a remainder of what Jesus Christ did for us. This reminder is observance of the Lord's Supper in which bread is used as a symbol of Christ's body and a cup is used as a symbol of Christ's blood. Jesus Christ commanded that believers eat bread and drink from a cup as a reminder of His sacrificial death that was given as the payment for sins.
Similar to the above is the claim made by some people that the cross symbol adds to worship. Certainly, a person who worships God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) must praise God for the sacrificial and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on a cross. On the other hand, true worship is not augmented by two pieces of wood that are joined at ninety degrees to each other. Likewise, true worship is not diminished when such pieces of wood are not used.
  • "But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." John 4:23-24
How is saying that using the symbol of a cross helps worship, not the same as attributing spiritual power to the cross symbol and saying that the symbol of a cross is a talisman (an object with religious power)? To say that an object-shape contributes to Christianity is to attribute religious power to the object. Believing that religious objects have spiritual power is false worship and false dependence on a physical object. (Historically and currently, Roman Catholicism has incorrectly claimed that the symbol of a cross has supernatural power.)


In the New Covenant, true believers worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) without religious object-shapes. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is basic to Biblical Christianity, and believers remember Jesus Christ's sacrificial death when they participate in the Lord's Supper. Religious symbols, such as the cross, have no spiritual power, and such symbols are neither needed nor appropriate as aids to the worship of God. To serve Christ Jesus and to worship Him, all that believers need is the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and each other.

L.D. Hammons © 2007 This article may be freely copied and distributed without charge if it is copied in its entirety (without editing) along with this copyright notice.

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