Blog - Can Christians Wear Crosses?

  • By Pastor Chad Wagner
  • on Monday, December 14, 2015
In our society, we see crosses everywhere -- on church buildings, on the walls of homes, hanging around necks, and imprinted on rings, just to name a few. Most Christians just take it for granted that the cross is a Christian symbol which is used to symbolize Christianity and to identify the followers of Christ. But is that really the case, or should that be the case? Sure, the Bible refers to the cross often: Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mat 16:24); and the apostle Paul even said, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal 6:14). Was Jesus enjoining his disciples to lug around trees or beams of wood with them everywhere they went like Simon the Cyrenian who bore Jesus' cross for him (Mar 15:21)? Of course not, for we never read of a disciple of Christ doing such a thing. Was Jesus exhorting his disciples to wear crosses around their necks when he told them to "take up his cross"? Again, obviously not; Jesus was clearly speaking figuratively of what the cross represented (A trial or affliction viewed in its Christian aspect, to be borne for Christ's sake with Christian patience; often in phr. to bear, take one's cross, with reference to Matt. x. 38, xvi. 24, etc. - OED). Taking up the cross is living a life of trial and affliction with patience for Christ, not wearing a necklace. Was Paul encouraging Christians to wear crosses and glory in them? Of course not; Paul was not glorying in a piece of Jesus' cross that he carried around with him, nor in a necklace with a cross hanging from it, but in the work of salvation and redemption that was secured for God's elect by Christ when He hung on the cross for their sins (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). If you search the scriptures, you will not find any commandment to wear a cross or display one in your home, nor will you find even one example of an apostle or another Christian doing so in the Bible. So if wearing crosses doesn't come from the Bible, then from where does it come? The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that the cross as a religious symbol predates Christianity: "Cross forms were used as symbols, religious or otherwise, long before the Christian era in almost every part of the world" (Cross, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 6, p.812). So Christians borrowed the symbol of the cross from the ancient religions -- what could be wrong with that? Plenty: borrowing religious symbols from pagan religions and incorporating them into God's religion is forbidden by God (Deu 12:29-32). Furthermore, the Bible forbids the making of graven images for religious use. The second of the ten commandments states, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:" (Exo 20:4). Christians, therefore, should only glory in the cross of Christ as Paul did, that is, in the work of redemption that the Lord Jesus Christ did for His elect on that cross, but to copy the pagans and display a graven image of a cross on their bodies, in their homes, or in their church buildings as a religious symbol representing God, Jesus, or Christianity, they must not do. But, what if a Christian understands that the cross was used in ancient pagan religions, and that it is wrong to use one as a Christian symbol, but he simply thinks a gold or silver "t" looks appealing and he wants to wear it as a piece of jewelry with no religious connotation whatsoever? Can he do so since he is not violating God's commandment which prohibits the use of graven images in worship, nor God's commandment that forbids incorporating pagan practices or customs into God's religion? The answer is "no" for the following reason. As Christians, we know that an idol is nothing, whether it be a cross, or a statue of Jupiter, as the apostle Paul said in 1Co 8:4, "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one." All things are lawful for a Christian, including wearing a "t" on a necklace, but all things are not edifying to others (1Co 10:23), and we have to be aware of the construction others will put on our actions. Paul goes on to say in 1Co 10:25-27 that a Christian can eat whatever is sold in the shambles (meat market), asking no questions. And if a person invites him to a feast, he can go and ask no questions. But, if the person that invited him says that the meat was sacrificed to idols, then the Christian must decline for the sake of the conscience of the person who invited him (1Co 10:28-29), and for the sake of another's conscience who might see him eating food sacrificed to idols and be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols, as food sacrificed to idols, and not just as food, and thereby wound and defile his weak conscience (1Co 8:7-13). In Paul's example, for a Christian with knowledge, eating meat sacrificed to idols would be no different than eating any other meat, but for the sake of the construction that others would put on his actions, he must abstain from such so that others would not think that he is eating it as food sacrificed to idols, and thereby be emboldened to do likewise. Now let's plug in wearing a cross to the principle that we just learned from 1Co 8:4-13 and 1Co 10:23-33. To a Christian with knowledge, a cross is nothing but a piece of jewelry in the shape of a "t", and to wear one would be fine. But, in a society where nearly everyone who sees him wearing a cross would assume that he is wearing it as a religious symbol which represents God, Jesus, or Christianity (a forbidden religious graven image), he must abstain from wearing it for their sakes because of the construction they put on it. A young Christian, without the mature Christian's knowledge, who thinks that the cross is a Christian symbol which represents Jesus and Christianity could see the mature Christian wearing a cross and assume that since he is doing it, then it must be okay for him to do it also. By wearing it as a Christian symbol he would wound his weak conscience by doing something that he knows that God forbids (using a graven image in worship). It is for these reasons that all Christians, both mature and young in the faith, should abstain from wearing crosses.
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