Lutherans and the Crucifix
Pastor Wesley Kan in Florida sent me the following article on the Crucifix that he prepared and has used to help people understand the use of the Crucifix in the Lutheran Church. I thought you might like a chance to read it and use it as you deem appropriate.
Lutherans and the Crucifix
Protestants of all denominations seem to have one thing in common.
They all love to make fun of Lutherans. One of my cousins, a Covenantal
Calvinist, calls me "Catholic-light." Some of my friends call
Lutherans, "the nuts that did not roll very far from the Roman tree."
How odd that the very same Protestants do not hesitate to claim Martin
Luther as their own by ignoring the embarrassing historical fact that
their spiritual forefathers abandoned the Reformation to go off on
their own and that the Luther they claim detested many of the heterodox
beliefs they hold dear. The very term "Protestant Reformation" is
oxymoronic, a result of historic revisionism. The truth is that there
was "The Reformation" reluctantly led by Martin Luther and soon
thereafter certain individuals abandoned and renounced the Reformation,
thereby causing "the Protestant Schism." So successful has been the
centuries old campaign waged in Saxony (Germany), Britain and the
United States to blur the historical fact that the Anabaptists and
Reformed left the Reformation, some while Luther was still alive, that
most American Lutherans have been duped into believing they are
"Protestant." Since most who claim to be Lutheran have departed from
the Lutheran Confessions, Concordia
of 1580, most of them are functionally Protestant. Their error is in
continuing to call themselves "Lutheran" which they can no more
truthfully assert than a gelding can claim to be a stallion.
So, are there any real Lutherans left, or have they gone the way of
the paddlewheel steamer and nickel cigar. No, there are a few gnesio
(Greek for genuine) orthodox, confessional Lutherans around just as
there still are paddlewheel steamers on the Mississippi River (though I
have yet to find a nickel cigar, and probably would not smoke it out of
fear). What truly distinguishes gnesio-Lutherans are the doctrines of
Christ that they believe, teach and confess in their fullness. However,
the rest of the world finds it easier to point to external trappings as
gnesio-Lutheranism’s distinguishing hallmarks rather than to its dogma
that must be scrupulously studied and understood before they may be
The one practice in which gnesio-Lutherans engage that drives
Protestants up the wall is displaying the crucifix, the cross bearing
the image of the dead or dying Christ. Most Protestants firmly (though
erroneously) believe that displaying the crucifix is at worst a heresy
that is at best a heterodox Roman Catholic superstition that every
right minded born-again Christian ought to assiduously avoid. Below is
a list of objections to crucifixes that I have heard. After each
objection is the Reformation response to that objection.
Objection 1: Displaying the crucifix is a heretical Roman Catholic practice.
The crucifix is not a heresy. It depicts the greatest Christian
truth: Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins. Neither is
displaying the crucifix something exclusively Roman Catholic. They also
appear in Eastern Orthodox liturgical art. Crucifixes predate the
"Great Schism" that split the Church into the Western (Roman) and
Eastern (Constantinopolitan-Byzantine) traditions about a thousand
years ago. Crucifixes appeared in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox,
Coptic Orthodox and Lutheran churches and homes for nine hundred years
of the Christian Church’s existence without opposition, resistance or
objection. During that period the crucifix was in the truest sense
"catholic," that is, "universal" in that the whole Christian church on
earth accepted it. Opposition to the crucifix started only in the 16th
century with the birth of Protestantism when individuals like Ulrich
Zwingli and John Calvin broke with Lutherans. They were the first true
iconoclasts ("image breakers," those who deliberately destroy images
and physical symbols).
There is nothing heretical or heterodox about the crucifix. If one
acknowledges the fact of Christ’s crucifixion, how can one object to
the depiction of that event?
Objection 2: Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, He is risen!
Objecting to the crucifixion because Christ is no longer on the
cross implies that those of us who use crucifixes are idiots who do not
possess this knowledge. The objectors know Roman Catholic, Eastern
Orthodox, Coptic and Lutheran Christians celebrate the Lord’s
resurrection on Easter and we can be certain that they deny that they
ever intended to imply such an absurdity about us. Nevertheless,
asserting such an argument without qualification or limitation makes
the implication unavoidable.
The fact that the Redeemer is no longer nailed to the Cross does not
make crucifixes wrong. If critics were to apply this reasoning behind
this objection universally, it would be wrong to portray a Nativity
scene, since Jesus is not a baby anymore. It would also be wrong to
artistically depict the Lord teaching, healing, performing miracles, or
to portray any Gospel event in His earthly life, since He is no longer
doing these things in the flesh. Yet the very ones objecting to
crucifixes because Christ is no longer hanging there have no problem
with artistic portrayals of the life of Christ in art, Bibles, Sunday
School classrooms, and Christmas cards. If those objecting on this
basis were consistent they could not take or keep photographs or any
depictions or pictorial representations whatsoever because photographs
and all forms of graphic art depict persons, places and things as they
no longer are. But this is the very reason we take photographs: to
record how things were and no longer are. This is one of the reasons
for displaying the Crucifix: to depict how Christ sacrificed Himself
for fallen mankind.
Objection 3: The Early Church never used crucifixes.
This is true. The Church did not begin depicting Christ crucified
until the sixth century. Crucifixion was the most shameful, painful and
humiliating form of execution utilized by the Roman government.
Although the early Christians reverenced the Cross as a symbol of
Christ, they were reluctant to artistically portray the Lord’s death.
Crucifixion appeared in Church art only after it ceased to be a
prevalent form of execution. Coincidentally, crucifixes began to appear
at about the time the church was engaged in battling the Monophysite.
These heretics, like the Eutychians who preceded them, denied the human
nature of Christ. Depicting Christ Crucified appears to have been one
way in which the Church strove to defend the orthodox doctrine
concerning Christ Incarnate. Crucifixes therefore served an apologetic
function: physical depictions affirming that God came in human flesh to
die and save us.
It is ironic that those who reject crucifixes for the reason that
the Ancient Church did not use them tend to be the very ones who
completely ignore the traditions and practices of the ancient
(historic) church as irrelevant because they are "not Scriptural." They
seem to argue this point only because those who cherish the crucifix
also respect and generally practice the church’s traditions.
No Christian can argue against the use of crucifixes on the ground
that the Ancient Church did not use them without engaging in hypocrisy
and academic dishonesty unless his or her own church practices follow
those of the Ancient Church. This means one’s church service must be
based on a Latin or Byzantine Greek or other ancient tradition, must be
chanted and led by a pastor (males only) dressed in an alb or a
cassock. This would also mean no electronic keyboards, drums,
amplifiers or video monitors.. Many of those who argue against
crucifixes because the Early Church did not use them are the very ones
who have embraced innovations that were totally unknown to the church
until the 19th century. One example is the altar call that
is so central to decision theology evangelists such as Billy Graham.
This practice did not exist prior to 1800. In answering their criticism
that the Early Church did not use crucifixes, one may ask them to point
out where in the Bible the Lord ever made or authorized an "altar
call." As an aside, I have always wondered how they can be an "altar"
calls when they have abandoned the use of the altar.
Objection 4: An empty cross represents the Resurrection.
Many objectors prefer to display the empty cross (cross, no corpus)
in their churches. They argue that a naked cross is better than a
crucifix because it symbolizes the Resurrection. This is a specious
assertion. Calvary’s cross was empty with the Deposition (the moment
the Lord’s lifeless body was taken down). At that moment, and for the
next thirty or so hours, our Lord was physically dead. The symbol of
the Resurrection is empty tomb, not the empty cross. The empty cross is
ambiguous because it more immediately and logically represents Christ
Objection 5: A crucifix that bears the Lord’s image is idol worship.
The sentiment expressed in this argument betrays a gross
misunderstanding of the commandment (singular, not plural) prohibiting
idol worship (Exodus 20:4-6). Many Protestant denominations divide up
the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) so that "Thou shalt not make unto thee
any graven image," and "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor
serve them" was split into two commandments. Early Protestants altered
the Commandments to advance their iconoclastic agenda. Until then all
Christians and Jews considered "making" and "bowing down" as part of
the same commandment. For three thousand years, from Moses until the
Protestant iconoclasts’ scriptural revisionism, making and bowing down
to graven images constituted one commandment. Iconoclasm required the
Reformed to change the meaning of Holy Scripture as reflected in the
Reformed Church’s Westminster Larger Catechism of 1647. The answer to Question 109 therein includes the following among the
things forbidden in the second commandment: "the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind,
or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature
whatsoever; all worship of it." (Emphasis added.) The emphasized
portion that does not have any basis in Holy Scripture clearly shows an
anti-corporeal tendency running through Reformed theology. Prohibiting
meditation on the mental image of Christ dying on Calvary’s cross is
almost indistinguishable from outright heretical Gnosticism. Such an
extreme position can not be justified unless the Commandment itself was
altered to become two prohibitions that would cause it to appear as if
God prohibited the making of graven images.
In attempting to alter Divine Law to say what they wished it to say
instead of what God actually said, the Protestants did an incomplete
job. They ignore the Lord’s command that the Israelites adorn the
Tabernacle and Temple with liturgical furnishings laden with carvings
(graven images) of created beings. The most sacred Ark of the Testimony
(Covenant) had two sculpted gold cherubim on its cover (Exodus 25:10).
The Temple’s water basin rested upon the statues of twelve bulls (1
Kings 7:25). The movable stands for the portable water basins were
covered with bronze friezes of lions, bulls and cherubim (1 Kings
7:29).. The 6th chapter of 1 Kings discloses that the Holy
of Holies in the Solomonic Temple contained a pair of identical fifteen
feet tall gold covered cherubim statues. Hebrews 9:5 in the New
Testament confirms this. Additionally, more cherubim relief carvings
decorated the inner and outer rooms and the Temple’s doors.
Cherubim are created angelic beings and bulls and lions are created
earthly beasts whose graven images adorned the Tabernacle and Temple in
obedience to God’s command as attested to by God’s Holy Scripture. The
statues and friezes of created beings were not themselves worshiped or
adored. The existence of so many graven images of created beings in the
Temple does not at all contradict the three thousand five hundred year
traditional and historic (Jewish-Eastern Orthodox-Roman
Catholic-Lutheran) reading of the Decalogue. However, according to
Protestant theology the Temple images should not have even existed. If
a graven image is sinful per se as Protestant theology insists,
the necessary and inescapable conclusion is that God must be
schizophrenic, prohibiting the making of graven images in the Ten
Commandments and then ordering the Israelites in Exodus and 1 Kings to
make graven images for the most sacred premises, the Tabernacle and
Temple. Clearly, God is not psychotic but speaks with one consistent
message. Don’t worship
the graven images you make. The conclusion to which God’s sanity points
is that Protestant iconoclasm and Scripture twisting are erroneous.
Besides which the proof text the Reformed theologians cite,
Deuteronomy 4:15–19, prohibits the act of worshiping idols that have
been made, and not merely making idols. Additionally, the rationale
upon which their prohibition is based is that they, "… saw no form on
the day that the Lord spoke to [them] at Horeb out of the midst of the
fire." This is no longer the case. We have now seen God the Son. "And
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His
glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and
truth." (John 1:14, emphasis added.) Because Moses (under divine
inspiration) stated the image prohibition in Deuteronomy was based on
not seeing God, that prohibition no longer applies because we have
beheld God incarnate. To continue the prohibition after the
scripturally stated rational has been negated would amount to nothing
short of pharisaic pietism. It should never be forgotten that Christ
condemned the imposition of law where God requires none.
Objection 6: A crucifix is morbid, the empty cross is life affirming.
This objection is human sentimentality, not theology. Everyone
agrees that Christ’s crucifixion deals with innocent death
intentionally inflicted and is morbid, but that is unavoidable. The
focus of the whole Bible, and therefore of Christian doctrine, is the
crucifixion.. This is best reflected in the Lutheran Confessions.
Christianity’s cardinal doctrine is justification, which is salvation
by grace (alone) through faith (alone) in Christ’s atoning death on
Calvary’s cross, the Crucifixion. The depiction of that event is nothing less than the crucifix itself.
As important as the Resurrection is to Christianity, it is secondary
to the event which precipitated, preceded and caused it, namely,
Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins. Those who focus on the
Resurrection to the exclusion or diminution of the Crucifixion miss the
whole point of Christianity. The Resurrection does not save us; only the Crucifixion saves.
Let us not misunderstand: Christ’s resurrection is necessary for
salvation, but it does not save us. Had our Lord’s fail to rise from
the grave no sinner could be saved. It would have meant His sacrifice
was not acceptable to the Father to atone for our sins and we would
continue to be mired in sin without hope of forgiveness. Again, the
Resurrection is necessary for our salvation but only the Crucifixion
actually saves us.
Scripture itself emphasizes Christ’s death rather than His
resurrection. St. Paul wrote, "For I am determined to know nothing
among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2). The Apostle DID NOT WRITE, "…Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen." He also wrote, "Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified
to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6:14). Here also St. Paul mentioned or
referred to the Crucifixion, twice, not only once, and both times he
omitted any mention of the Resurrection. The blessed Apostle was simply
expressing the absolute indispensability of the Crucifixion to the
Gospel message, as he repeats in I Cor 1:23-24. "But we preach Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are
called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of
Two millennia after it occurred, "Christ crucified" is still a
stumbling block for skeptics. Unfortunately, the Lord’s crucifixion has
also become a profound embarrassment to estaurophobic (crucifix
fearing) Christians. These doctrinally handicapped persons are easily
identified by the extraordinary efforts they exert to avoid speaking
about the Lord’s gruesome death. When they must mention Christ’s death,
their language becomes particularly euphemistic. They shun words like
"blood" and "death," always emphasizing God’s "love" for us by His
"sacrifice of love." In avoiding the crucifixion these particular
Christians run the risk dodging salvation altogether. God has always
loved us, but if His love had not moved God the Son to die for us, God
would be no less loving but we would be doomed to eternal damnation.
The very love God possessed compelled Him to pay the horrifying price
for our sake. Speaking of God’s love is not wrong but it is vague, and
vagueness leaves enough wiggle room so someone can wiggle right out of
The Greek grammar the Holy Spirit through St. John used to write
Revelation clearly admonishes Christians to overcome their
squeamishness over Christ’s excruciating death and mangled body.
Revelation 5:12 most dramatic indicates that Christ’s crucifixion is
the subject of the angelic song in heaven and shall be our song
throughout eternity. The NIV, ESV, NKJV and many other English
translations all have the hundred million plus angels singing, "Worthy
is the Lamb who was slain…" These translations render the Greek
perfect passive participle as a past tense verb, "was slain." The Greek
¦σφαγμένον St. John wrote could mean "the one who was slain." However, σφάζω, the root of ¦σφαγμένον
also means "slaughter" and "butchered." What the angels actually sing
to Christ in Revelation 5:12 is closer to "Worthy is the Lamb, the
Slaughtered [or Butchered] One." Any who claim to be "Bible believing"
Christians ought to consider the context of the song. It is being sung
in heaven, by the sinless and perfect Four Living Creatures, Elders,
hundred million (or more) angels to Christ who is in their midst and
who does not correct them. This song was revealed to St. John to be
recorded so that you, one claiming to belong to Christ, may join in the
angelic song while you yet remain on earth.
At the very least what avoiding Christ’s crucifixion does is to
obscure and compromise the Gospel message. For example, many Christians
quote John 3:16 as if that verse by itself will insure salvation. That
verse does not give the reason how or why God gave His
Son and so it cannot by itself serve as a self-sufficient basis for
salvation. In contrast, there is nothing vague about a crucifix. First,
everyone knows what it is. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims may detest the
crucifix, they may deny the Atonement purchased by it but they know
exactly who is depicted, and what happened (Christ died). The crucifix
is unambiguous and uncompromising in showing saved and unsaved alike
exactly what God’s love looks like.