Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Bare Cross or Crucifix?
Why do we in this latter group reject crucifixes?
From what I can tell, Luther was down with crucifixes but Calvin and Zwingli were not (though Calvin and Zwingli held that certain religious symbols--perhaps crucifixes, I don't know--were OK if in one's house).
Four reasons against crucifixes that I can glean are:
1. Exodus 20:4's prohibition against graven images
3. An empty cross better symbolizes Christ's resurrection
4. Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Now, Exodus 20:4, taken at face value, rings of Islam: you shall not make any images of any thing period. But Christians have long been against this extreme type of iconoclasm and have held a more nuanced view in interpreting Exodus 20:4-5 in light of the New Testament. If Exodus 20:4 rules out crucifixes, it would seem to rule out any statues of Jesus, paintings of Jesus, and the light-bulb-glowing-Christmas-baby-Jesus.
This is hard to prove. Catholics, Lutherans, etc. certainly argue that they are not worshiping crucifixes and don't treat them as idols. Perhaps in practice this does not always hold but that's definitely their view. Of course, the threat on the other side is a tendency towards Gnosticism, thinking of God as completely transcendent and forgetting the Incarnational God. There's also a tendency towards idolatry with respect to the Bible and militant, individualistic Biblicism. I don't know how many times I've heard pastors and other Christians in the last few years say that "the Bible IS TRUTH" as if Jesus is the Bible! At any rate, even if crucifixes are sometimes idolized, that's not a good argument against them in principle.
The Biblical symbol of the Resurrection is not the cross but the empty tomb. An empty cross is no better symbol of the Resurrection than a crucifix since the cross was empty before the crucifixion.
We should probably take "cross" as a metaphor for the crucifixion or a synecdoche for Christ on the cross. A cross without Christ is pointless, just as His death without the resurrection is pointless (as Paul was well aware).
Now for some Biblical passages that might be taken to favor crucifixes:
1 Cor. 1 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Cor. 2 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Gal. 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
Col. 1 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Hebrews 1 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
John 20 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. [Gross! Gross?] Stop doubting and believe.”
Rev. 5:6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
Obviously there's no knock down argument here for displaying or wearing crucifixes, but if we're going to allow some physical representations or symbols of Jesus (beyond symbols in a natural language like "Jesus"), it's hard to see why a three dimensional representation of Jesus dying on the cross is particularly problematic. We're not Muslims after all!
One last argument (I'm sure there are others) against crucifixes is that the crucifix for Catholics might also be symbolic of Christ's perpetual sacrifice in the Eucharist (which some Protestants reject appealing to Hebrews 10:10 as a proof text among other things). I don't know if that's true of Catholics, but there's nothing inherent in a crucifix suggestive of a perpetual sacrifice, just as there's nothing inherent in the baby Jesus in a manger scene suggesting that Jesus is perpetually a baby.
Unfortunately, there seems to me a general lack of theological reflection on art in Evangelical circles more generally (and an ignorant rejection of all things Roman Catholic as well). Here is a great place to start. Here is a very introductory work on iconography (which Evangelicals should find appealing; I know my brother-the-pastor found it helpful as did I).
As always, thoughts and objections are welcome.