Ask A Pastor: Should we display crosses in our churches?
Why are no crosses displayed in the FRC?
This question comes out of a good observation that most Christian churches have crosses, but FRC churches don’t. There are a couple of biblical principles guiding our practice of not displaying crosses.
The nature of biblical worship:
First, the nature of biblical worship guides us away from displaying crosses in our churches. Some people put a cross in their church to help or improve their worship. They believe that images of the cross help them connect better to God. However, such thinking is idolatry and goes against God’s clear instruction in the second commandment. The story of the golden calf is a sharp warning against this practice. If you read Exodus 32 closely, you will notice that the people thought they were worshiping the LORD (v.5 – “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD”). If asked, they would have said that the golden calf was just a visible aid to help them in their worship of Jehovah. We know how the story goes. God rejects their worship and the people are judged.
We must remember that God’s worship is regulated by His Word, is characterized by simplicity in the new covenant (John 4:23-24) and is primarily verbal or Word-oriented (Rom 10:17). The only symbols that have been sanctioned by Christ are bread, water and wine. For more detail on the nature of biblical worship, see the recent post by Pastor Ian McLeod (https://plantsandpillars.net/2021/01/20/should-my-church-have-an-altar/)
A biblical understanding of the human heart:
Many Protestant Christians display crosses in their church simply for décor or as a reminder of one of the central redemptive events of the faith. They know that these images don’t improve their worship and they have no intention of using them that way. In this case, it is more a matter of wisdom. If we share Calvin’s biblical understanding that the fallen human heart is an idol factory, then it is wise for us to remove temptations to idolatry in worship as much as possible. Our concern is validated by the track record of church history, where we often find a slide from including images in worship to iconography.
Furthermore, we should consider the fact that still today crosses are used all over the world in idolatrous ways, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. For the sake of our brothers and sisters converted out of that, we ought to avoid causing offense.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul writes, “All thing are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” Before erecting a cross in our church (or any image), we need to ask ourselves is this helpful and does this build up the body of Christ? I believe there is wisdom in continuing the long-standing Reformed practice of not displaying crosses in our churches.
Christ has given us His Word and sacraments as the reminder of His work. It is in the preaching of the Word that the cross is vividly portrayed before us (Galatians 3:1), and the water, bread and wine are the God-ordained visible reminders of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Let’s stick with the symbols that our Saviour has loving gifted to His church.