14: The Cross

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Galatians 6:14

In his history of Christianity Church historian Philip Schaff describes the cross and the Lord’s Prayer as the greatest martyrs of Christianity because of the way both have been superstitiously abused. This has produced a counter response from reformed Protestants rejecting both the use of the Lord’s Prayer in public worship and the use of the cross as a symbol.

While superstitious abuse is to be rejected we should appreciate what the symbol of the empty cross meant to our early Christian brothers and sisters. In the first four centuries they refused images or even paintings of Christ (apart from a plain representation of a shepherd); the crucifix was never a feature of their art but the simple cross was one of their earliest and best loved visual testimonies of faith. Sometimes the cross appeared on its own, sometimes with an alpha and an omega, sometimes with an anchor of hope or the palm of peace.

The use of the cross as a symbol identified Christians in a very public way with Jesus Christ. The Romans hated the cross; it represented shame and suffering and perhaps reminded them of their crimes against humanity. Therefore, it was no easy thing for early Christians in a Roman world to adopt this sign as a simple symbol of their faith. They were misunderstood but they clung to it tenaciously because the Saviour had turned the curse into hope by absorbing the curse for us.

Their use of the cross indicates that the atonement provided by the suffering Saviour, who was buried and rose again, was central to their faith as it is to ours. It is evident from our reading of the New Testament that the cross of Christ was the focal point of faith, not merely the symbol but what was accomplished when the Lamb of God shed His blood for the remission of sin. Today we frequently allude to the cross in our praying, preaching and praising. While reformed Protestants are shy about employing the empty cross as a symbol because of the understandable dangers of superstition we should appreciate the real and valid reasons that led the early Christians to employ this symbol as a sign of testimony and faith.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
the shadow of a mighty Rock
within a weary land;
a home within the wilderness,
a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat
and the burden of the day.

Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane

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