Home > Uncategorized > The Crucifix Finally Finds a Home in The LCMS’ International Center’s Chapel

The Crucifix Finally Finds a Home in The LCMS’ International Center’s Chapel

June 23rd, 2012
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Great news from Pastor Weedon. Finally, there is a crucifix in the chapel at The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s International Center. Read about it here.

Here is a helpful Q/A to help Lutheran recover their heritage. A crucifix is NOT a “Roman Catholic thing.”

This is a Q/A that used to be on The LCMS’ Frequently Asked Question page. For some reason it was removed. Pastor Weedon, can you do anything about that??

Question:

Is the use of crucifixes a Roman Catholic practice? Doesn’t the empty cross provide a better symbol for Lutherans? How does the LCMS feel about using a crucifix in church? [Note: A crucifix is a cross with a statue of the crucified Christ on it].

Answer:

A common misunderstanding among some some Lutherans is the opinion that a crucifix, or the 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 during the period of Lutheran Orthdoxy. It was also the case among the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you were to visit most of the original congregations of the LCMS here in the United States you would find lovely crucifixes adorning their altars, and in addition, beautiful statues on the altar of Christ and the four evangelists, or other such scenes. There is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about this.  Many Lutherans and Lutheran congregations use crucifixes. Crucifixes are used in the chapels of both of our seminaries.

Lutheranism has always considered the crucifix to be a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us and our salvation, on the cross. A crucifix vividly brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s divinely inspired words, “We preach Christ and Him crucified”  (1 Cor. 1:23).

Interestingly enough, while there is certainly nothing “wrong” with an “empty” cross, the practice of using an “empty cross” on a Lutheran congregation’s altar comes more from non-Lutheran sources. At the time of the Reformation there was conflict between Lutherans and Reformed Christians over the proper place of pictures, images, statues and the like in the church. Lutherans stood with historic Christendom in realizing that such art in the church was not wrong, and was a great aid for helping to focus devotional thoughts on the truths of the Word of God, no greater truth can be found that the death of Jesus Christ our Lord for the world’s salvation.

The “empty cross” is not a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, as some say, for the fact is that the cross would have been empty regardless of whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an “empty cross” and a crucifix, symbolize the same thing: the death of Christ our Lord for the salvation of the world. Many feel that the crucifix symbolizes this truth more clearly and strikingly. That has been the traditional opinion of historic Lutheranism, until the last fifty years ago, due to the influence we will now mention.

Some Lutherans began to move away from crucifixes during the age of Lutheran Pietism, which rejected much of Lutheran doctrine and consequently many Lutheran worship practices. At the time, Lutheran Pietists, contrary to the clear postion of Luther and the earlier Lutherns, held that symbols such as the crucifix were wrong. This was never the view of historic Lutheranism.  Here in America, Lutherans have always felt a certain pressure to “fit in” with the Reformed Christianity that predominates much of the Protestant church here. Thus, for some Lutherans this meant doing away with things such as crucifixes, and vestments, and other traditional forms of Lutheran worship and piety. It is sad when some Lutherans are made to feel embarrassed about their Lutheranism by members of churches that teach the Word of God in error and who do not share Lutheanism’s clear confession and practice of the full truth of the Word of God.

Lutheranism has always recognized that the use of any symbol (even the empty cross) can become an idolatrous practice, if in any way people are led to believe there is “power in the cross” or that a picture or representation of a cross has some sort of ability, in itself, to bring us into relationship with Christ and His Gospel. Any of God’s good gifts can be turned against Him in this life and become an end in themselves.

Lutherans have never believed that banning or limiting proper artwork in the church is the way to prevent its improper use. Rather, we believe that proper teaching and right use is the best way, and the way that is in keeping with the gift of freedom we have in Christ to use all things to the glory and honor of God. Thus, many Lutherans use and enjoy the crucifix as a meaningful reminder of our Lord’s suffering and death. It might interest you to know that our Synod’s president has a beautiful crucifix adorning the wall of his office, constantly reminding him and visitors to his office of the great love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In short, and this is the most important point of all: there is nothing contrary to God’s Holy Word, or our Lutheran Confessions, about the proper use of the crucifix, just as there is nothing wrong with the proper use of an empty cross, or any other church symbol by which we are reminded of the great things God has done for us. We need to guard against quickly dismissing out of hand practices that we believe are “too Roman Catholic” before we more adequately explore their use and history in our own church.

In Christian freedom, we use either the crucifix or an empty cross and should not judge or condemn one another for using either nor not using either symbol of our Lord’s sacrifice for our sins.

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  1. Joanne
    June 23rd, 2012 at 17:22 | #1

    A cross is a symbol of crucifixion. It makes us remember the practice of crucifixion in former ages. Tens of thousands died in this horrible way for hundreds of years from Rome to Japan; it was a common way of death for malefactors, revolting slaves (think Sparticus), and any egregious offender of the public peace. The Via Appia was lined on both sides for miles and miles with crucified unfaithful slaves, because of revolt. The cross is also a symbol of revolt.

    Because Jesus was one of the tens of thousands killed by crucifixion, the early Christians (before 313) sometimes used the cross symbol to identify each other, but rarely. In those days of the constant use of crucifixion, it was more likely used by non-Christians against Christians. We’ve found Roman grafitti using the symbol of the cross to taunt the Christians for worshiping a man who was crucified like a criminal worthy of death. Lots and lots of Christians died by crucifixion, even in medieval Japan. Our enemies used the symbol against us and our Lord. When people saw crucifixions regularly, any symbolic use of a cross sign could traumatize the average person.

    But after the Roman Emperor Constantine made it legal to be a Christian (again 313 AD) and outlawed crucifixion, then the symbol of the cross was used more often by Christians. But before Constantine and before the memory of seeing the horrific death by crucifiction had died away, for many years and in many places, this symbol was too emotionally charged and too shameful a symbol of a shameful death to be used openly. Remember the malefactors crucified with Christ, remember Barabbas, these were real criminals who had committed heinous crimes worthy of the worst kind of execution, crucifixtion. The development of the cross symbol was slow and only really accepted after no one could remember any longer just how bad it had been.

    A crucifix is a symbol of Jesus’ humiliating death by crucifixion. It is a symbol that declares that Jesus came to us in real flesh and real blood (his true incarnation). It is a symbol of the true death of God. It is a symbol of “the Work of Christ” for our salvation as a true sacrifice. This is not a symbol of all the crucifixions that ever happened; it is a specific symbol of the shameful death of the Son of God. It reminds me to hold the crucifixion of Jesus between me and the rath of God. It is a symbol of the rath of God against human sin. It is a symbol of the extent to which God was willing to go to assuage his rath and forgive me. It is a symbol of the love of God.

    And if the sign of a cross made in the sand or chalked on a wall could traumatize people, imagine what seeing a crucifix could do. In fact, the Roman grafitti actually indicates a man on its cross. Our first instance of a crucifix type symbol was made by an anti-Christian in order to traumatize Christians. And it did, and anyone else too. The crucifix was a symbol that was abhorrent during the time when crucifixion was practiced, and just like the cross could not be used, it was as offensive as a swatika is today if not more so. It took centuries for people to forget the brutal reality of crucifixion, before looking at a cross or crucifix was no longer traumatizing.

    It also took the complete Hellenization of the church before images could be used, and only in the Latin West were 3 dimensional images accepted. The Greek East was still much to close to its Jewish roots and still lived among huge populations of Jews, so only 2 dimensional images were tolerated there. The Greek East could paint a flat surface depicting the crucifixion, but the Latin West could actually affix a 3 dimensional corpus to the cross. And yet the average Eastern church has hundreds more images than almost any church in the West.

    The Eastern churches actually do what Luther told us to do with our churches. He said we should paint every available surface with scenes from the Bible. This is a link to a YouTube video of “one day in the life of a Georgian monastery in Abkhazia on the Black Sea.” It was originally built by Russian nobility in the 19th? century. It’s long but if you watch it, about 2/3rds of the way through the documentors take us into the monastery chapel which is huge and covered in painting on every inch. The colors are romantically vibrant. And then think, is this the way Luther pictured our painted churches? I think yes, using western art and 3 dimentional art, and images only of true doctrinal value. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxZqfd-0smM&feature=related

  2. Dan
    June 23rd, 2012 at 17:51 | #2

    I am coming to really really appreciate the crucifix. It is one of the greatest symbols of the greatest act in history. I love our Lord and looking at a crucifix stirs my heart.

  3. June 23rd, 2012 at 18:46 | #3

    ” There is something so utterly powerful about having the great “for you” before our eyes – the Lamb of God, victorious in His sacrifice of love. Behold, O Christian, your righteousness, your life, your very salvation. ”

    http://weedon.blogspot.com/2012/06/so-when-i-got-back-to-work-this-week-i.html

  4. June 24th, 2012 at 14:13 | #4

    When I look at the crucifix, all I can think of is how much Jesus loved us to allow himself to be crucified. What was originally created to taunt christians is now a representation of total love. I will never be ashamed of the crucifix. During the Reformation, the radical reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli, railed against almost anything that reminded them of the Roman Catholic church. That is why most non-Lutheran protestants to this day have a great dislike of the crucifix and also deny the real presence of our Lord’s body in the communion wafer. Unfortunately, these followers of the radical reformation had a negative effect on many Lutherans when they moved to the USA. I know quite a few Lutheran conservative denominations that still will not allow a crucifix in their places of worship. This is a sad state of affairs when the original Lutherans had a great respect and love for the crucifix. Unless Jesus suffered and died on the “tree”, there would have been no ressurrection.

  5. Erik Maldre
    June 24th, 2012 at 21:30 | #5

    Many churches avoid crucifixes because they are afraid that it will scare children. I was raised in an LCMS church (1970s-80s) with a life-size crucifix above the altar and it was always pointed us to the Gospel message that Jesus loved us so much that he died for our sins. It’s simply a matter of letting the children hear the Gospel message and then that very crucifix point the children to Christ and his love.

    I couldn’t imagine Hope Lutheran Church in Chicago having a bare cross hanging above the altar. Seeing the pained sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross represented in crucifix form is a powerful means for both young and old to be reminded Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world.

    Certainly we must not forget how the crucifix above the altar points to Christ’s true presence in Holy Eucharist.

  6. Jonathan Trost
    June 25th, 2012 at 08:53 | #6

    As relates to the use of a crucifix on the altar, I think Pastor Weedon “paints with too broad a brush” in suggesting that Lutheran Pietism did away with it.

    I’ve been in many “Union” congregations in Germany which were strongly influenced by Pietism. To this day, virtually all of them have crucifixes on their altars. I don’t believe Pietism was about crucifixes or no.

    Among German-speaking congregations during the 1800s in the American Midwest, I believe that sociology more than theology determined the use or non-use of the crucifix. In communities where virtually all residents spoke German or were from German ancestry, use of the crucifix was retained in both orthodox and pietist congregations. But, in communities where they were a minority and surrounded by Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, et al., congregations out of both Lutheran traditions tended to give up the crucifix, all in an effort to “fit in” with their Protestant neighbors and not to appear to be “too different”. Moreover, if congregations remained comfortable with their crucifixes, they also “dared” to continue to sing their beautiful chorales. But, too often, even chorales that had been translated into English were sung less frequently and were replaced with British and American hymns that were familiar to and sung in neighboring “English” congregations.

    I’m all for Lutherans, of whatever “bent”, returning to placing a crucifix on the altar, and to singing chorales, the words to which are doctrinal gems. Happily, there isn’t a sweet-sounding “gumdrop” among them.

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