WHAT IS THE PLACE OF THE CROSS IN CHRISTIANITY?
Neither Jesus Christ nor his apostles attached importance to the literal cross. When ever they employed the word ‘cross’ for the edification of the believers it was in the figurative sense according to the Scriptures.
There is no one who has a good knowledge of the Bible that will not have a feeling of disgust at the superstitions and unnecessary ceremonies with which the cross has been associated.
In the Roman calendar there are two feasts in respect of the cross. The Finding of the Cross by Helena, mother of Constantine, is a feast kept on May 3, and The Exaltation of the Cross is another feast celebrated on September 14, in memory of the so-called vision of Constantine in A.D. 312. These inventions which are of no scriptural significance are still observed up till today by certain people.
Apart from the Latin cross which is erroneously believed to be the traditional lone on which Christ is said to have died, a variety of crosses have been introduced. According to the Catholic encyclopedic Dictionary, there are (1) Altar Cross bearing the image of Christ which must be on every altar during mass between and in line with the candlesticks. (2) Patriarchal Cross with two cross-bars. (3) Papal Cross with three cross-bars that is carried before the pope. (4) Processional Cross which has the figure of Jesus mounted on a shaft of metal or wood and which is carried aloft at the head of all processions with the figure turned forward, and accompanied on either hand by a priest’s assistant with a candle. At the burial of an infant the figure is detached from the shaft and carried so.
Others are Archiepiscopal Cross which is similar to a processional cross and is borne before an archbishop; Hand Cross used by some bishops in giving blessing; and the Pectorial cross containing relics, suspended round the neck by a chain or cord. And as a part of their religious habit the cross is worn by nuns.
Can anybody show from the Holy Bible the need for these ceremonies and rites associated with a variety of crosses? Of what relevance are they to Christian worship and salvation as taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ and his apostles?
There is also a system of devotion known as “The Station of the Cross” or “The Way of the Cross”. It consists of prayers and meditations on 14 occurrences so-called experienced by Christ on his way to the crucifixion. For The Stations there must be 14 crosses. The devotion is conducted either by the worshipper personally, making the way from one cross to another and saying prayers, or by having the officiating priest move from cross to cross while the worshippers make the responses. Did Jesus Christ command his disciples to perform the ceremony of “The way of the Cross”? Did any of his apostles do it? Or was there a prophecy that it should be done at later date after the death of the apostles of Christ? The correct answer to all these are certainly in the negative.
One of the well-known learned defenders of the Roman Catholic Faith is John A O’Brien. With regard to “The Way of the Cross”, he, in his work The Faith of Millions,stands: “Some of the scenes depicted in the stations are contained in the Gospels; there are others which are not mentioned in the Scripture but which have come down to us through an oral tradition from the first century. Thus there is no scriptural authority for the three falls of Christ under the Cross, nor for the touching story of Veronical wiping the face of Jesus.” – Page 475 (Emphasis ours)
But the point is why should these additions of the false stories of the fall of Jesus and of Veronica be made at all when there is no scriptural authority for them? In Proverbs 30:5-6 it is written: “Every word of God is pure… Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” See also Revelation 22:18, 19
The attitude of holding to the traditions of men contrary to the Scriptures is of the Scribes and Pharisees. And Christ told them: “…Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:6-9) No one, however privileged he may be, has the right to teach what is contrary to the Bible. Said St. Paul: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed…” – Galatians 1:8, 9
Long before the advent of Jesus Christ the cross had been in use among ancient pagans as an instrument for the punishment of criminals. And so at the time of Christ the use of the word “cross” in a figure of speech to mean self-denial or suffering had come into vogue. Thus Jesus Christ, long before his crucifixion, said to his disciples: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:37-38
Some people have cited this text to bolster up their reason for wearing a cross around their necks and so on. But the text does not authorize anyone to bear or wear the “cross” of Christ. The disciple is asked to take his own cross. Not that of Christ. And if anyone wishes to bear the cross of Christ let him carry a heavy beam or piece of wood like Simon and sweat himself so that he may show how faithful he is to Christ. Not when he is well dressed only to wear a fashionable cross of gold or silver as an ornament.
However, the word “cross” in the text was used figuratively by Jesus Christ. He meant that whoever would be a worthy disciple should be prepared to deny himself in order to meet his demands. He further said: “…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 See also Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) Similarly, St. Paul used the word “cross” to mean the suffering of Jesus Christ. He said: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17
It was also with reference to the suffering of Christ St. Paul said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” – Galatians 6:14
The instrument used by the enemies of truth and righteousness for the crucifixion of Christ was not of any importance to his disciples. What is of vital significance to Christians is his suffering and death by which he showed an example of faithfulness and loyalty to the Heavenly father and taught the lesson of sacrifice inspired by love for the salvation of mankind. Said St. Peter: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” – 1 Peter 2:21-24
True Christians are concerned with the cross of Christ, not as an instrumental ornament to be displayed or carried about, but in the sense that it is rewarding, edifying to suffer for Christ’s sake. (Acts 5:32-42, Philippians 1:28-29) A spiritual understanding of this builds up faith and other virtues in a true Christian by which he through God’s grace and power, is able to stand against satan’s temptations and share in the sufferings of Christ without regret.
St. Peter admonished: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” – 1 Peter 4:12, 13
The truth of the matter has been made clear enough from the Scriptures in the interest of all lovers of truth and righteousness. It is only when men abide in the doctrines of Christ according to the Bible, they can claim to be the children of light; otherwise they, like the Scribes and Pharisees, who hold to traditions instead of the facts and truth of scripture worship in vain as Jesus Christ clearly stated in the Bible. – Matthew 15:1-14