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Way to go Wisconsin Synod! Regarding the Crucifix

June 28th, 2007
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Crucifix
A recent Q/A on the excellent WELS FAQ page has a dynamite response to a common, though woefully misinformed, question about whether or not a crucifix is "Lutheran." I must admit that anytime I hear a comment about a crucifix being "too Catholic" it makes my skin crawl. And when I hear the ridiculously painful explanations offered for the "empty cross" such as, it is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection [no, the cross would be empty even if he remained dead!], I want to tear my hair out. So, kudos to our friends in the WELS. There are still, unfortunately, too many Lutherans who actually do think a crucifix is somehow "not really Lutheran." Oh, the humanity! Somebody, please make it stop! Thanks WELS for doing your part.Q:    Is the crucifix hanging on a church wall an idol? I think it is the Puritans who claim that since no one has ever seen God, we cannot know what He looks like. Therefore, every depiction of Christ is false and represents an idol.
A:   
A crucifix for multitudes of Christians is not an idol but a treasured reminder of the gift of forgiveness and the indescribable love that won for us forgiveness and eternal life.

While various opinions throughout history have made rules beyond Scripture concerning art in churches or homes, Lutherans operate with Christian freedom on this topic – as long as the art serves a beneficial spritual purpose and is not used superstitiously.

Note the use of a crucifix at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and another newly constructed WELS church in Antioch, IL. You can see pictures of the chapel, crucifixes, and new church at Worship the Lord. Look under issues 18 and 21.

Another newer Lutheran church, dedicated in 2000, contains a striking and large crucifix. The church’s website offers this meaningful commentary:

    The crucifix is suspended at the center of the sanctuary, acknowledging the death of the God/Man as the foundational reality of the Christian faith. Christ’s sacrificial death in our place – for the forgiveness of our sins – is the only basis for the salvation of humanity. To worship in this sanctuary is literally to gather at the foot of the cross. The placement of the crucifix over the altar and the pulpit serves to emphasize the altar as the emblem of Christ’s sacrificial death and the responsibility of the preacher to proclaim Christ and Him crucified in every sermon. The "corpus," that is, the body of Christ upon the cross, is 8 feet tall, carved in Lindenwood. The realistic nature of the figure is designed to impress upon the worshiper the grim reality of death by crucifixion, and thus the high price that God’s Son was willing to pay for our salvation. Nowhere else can the depth and the power of God’s love for us be seen more clearly than at the cross. The Savior bows His weary head, still crowned with the mocking thorns, as if to look down in love upon the congregation gathered below. The intricate detail of the carving is inspired by the Nikolaus Gerhaert crucifix in the Lutheran Church of St. George in Nördlingen, Germany. The "titulus," that is, the placard over the head of Christ bears the full inscription "Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews" in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin (cf. John 19:19-21). The 16 foot cross is carved of rough hewn oak and bowed in the traditional manner.
    (Our Savior Lutheran Church, Houston)

A misunderstanding among some Lutherans is the idea that use of a crucifix is a Roman Catholic practice. The history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the crucifix was a regular and routine feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther’s lifetime and long after during the period of Lutheran Orthdoxy. One occasionally hears a WELS rationale for why some churches have empty crosses – that we emphasize the resurrection. But this is a pious fiction, a rationale constructed after centuries of Lutheran use of crucifixes. This pious fiction may have came about because of the confluence of two factors: an architectural minimalism in the second half of the 20th century, and the false idea that only Catholics use crucifixes – even though all Lutheran churches in early Lutheran Germany would have used a crucifix, as did many early WELS churches.

St. Paul states, "We preach Christ crucified" – not resurrected (1 Co 1:23). But this hardly denies the resurrection nor the value of preaching about the resurrection. The difference is that the resurrection is the seal proclaiming the validity of what Christ accomplished at the cross. Yet in our daily lives, we need the results and blessings of the crucifixion even while we live in the confidence of the resurrection. In Christian worship the blessings of the crucifixion (and also the perfect life of Christ) are delivered to us through the gospel in absolution, preaching, and the sacraments.

See also the article But Isn’t That Catholic?There are many other comments about crucifixes on the WELS website Q&A. You can search on the term. See especially the following. Some of these address the idea that a crucifix is a "graven image." Others address the value of Lutherans using a crucifix.

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuItem_itemID=8893&cuTopic_topicID=65

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuItem_itemID=3447&cuTopic_topicID=4

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuItem_itemID=3654&cuTopic_topicID=22

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuItem_itemID=1708&cuTopic_topicID=70

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuItem_itemID=4486&cuTopic_topicID=13

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. June 28th, 2007 at 19:35 | #1

    Whenever someone tells me that Christ is no longer on the cross, I ask them if they have a creche at Christmas. If they do, I ask if baby Jesus is in the manger. :)
    McCain: Precisely! Cute, cuddly baby Jesus is nice. Bleeding, dying, dead Jesus is bad.

  2. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    June 29th, 2007 at 13:26 | #2

    Pietism is a part of the American evangelical DNA. A couple of years ago I was shopping in a Catholic Supply store in Omaha. Two ladies were there looking at the wide array of crucifixes for sale. One of the women said out loud that she didn’t like the idea of having the image of a risen Christ superimposed over the cross. Her friend agreed and opined that she would never worship at a church that had a crucifix, or a minister who wore robes. Never mind doctrine, never mind if the word of God is rightly taught and preached; do you have candles and crucifixes in your sanctuary? What a pity.
    In western Lutheran churches this same Reformed/Evangelical Catholic phobia sometimes becomes doctrine by default. This creates bizarre inconsistencies, such as congregations who have chanted the liturgy out of the Lutheran Hymnal since 1941, yet they wonder if their new pastor is a closet Catholic because he dared to chant the vesicles. You find people who have received the sign of the cross in baptism, and hundreds of times since then from their pastor yet they are repelled at the sight of someone making the sign of the cross after they’ve received communion. Processional crosses sit in chancels for decades unused because Gospel processions are viewed as too Catholic. Sanctuary lamps are given as memorials to the church, but no one has a clue as to what they’re for. Put water in the basin of your baptism font and position it in entrance of the Nave and see how many people ask you if its holy water.
    The crucifix is an appropriate symbol of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. It surely has a place on or above any Lutheran church’s altar. Yet we also have to beware of causing pangs of conscience among the members of our congregation. We as pastors can create a lot of problems for ourselves when we introduce salutary symbols and practices that our flocks are unfamiliar with, or even suspicious of. Ask, listen and teach about such things before you introduce them.
    McCain: It really is an indictment of the poor teaching of the laity that has gone on through the years.

  3. June 30th, 2007 at 15:35 | #3

    That original question posed seems to answer itself. “No one knows what God looks like, therefore every depiction of Christ is false.” CHRIST is what God looks like, and people could actually see him, touch him, even photograph him if the means had been available. So what if we don’t know the actual width of the bridge of Jesus’s nose? That crucifix may not be a photographic rendering of Jesus, but I definitely know that God doesn’t “look like” a diffused aura, either, or a blank white wall. Which is a better depiction and proclamation of the incarnate God?
    “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” -John 1:18
    “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” -John 14:9
    “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” -Colossians 1:15

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