Thursday, April 9, 2009

Glorying "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Of all people, Latter-day Saints should be striving more to "talk of Christ", "rejoice in Christ", and "preach of Christ" (2nd Nephi 25:26). Thus, it was with great satisfaction that I listened to Elder Holland's "instant classic" conference address this past Sunday--"None Were With Him".

Two days later, there was an interesting write-up of the conference talk at another blog in which some of the ensuing comments brought to light that there are Latter-day Saints who don't understand the integral role of the cross in the Atonement. Some are under the impression that the Atonement of Jesus Christ took place ONLY in Gethsemane, but not ALSO on the cross. That some don't realize that the Atonement was worked out BOTH places made me wonder if there was any connection to the absence of the cross as a visual symbol of our faith.

I don't know exactly how, when, or even why we began to separate ourselves from the Traditional Christian world in terms of how we use (or don't use) the cross, but I do think there may have been an over-reaction in our attempt to be "different". I suspect we have a lot of LDS who have less than desirable feelings towards the image of the cross simply because they don't want to be mistakenly grouped with other churches, or perhaps because it just hasn't traditionally been a part of their worship experience. I understand those who have valid reasons why they wouldn't want to emphasize the cross. If I had a relative die in a car accident, I probably wouldn't want to wear a symbol of a car around my neck, either. But for me, the cross is different.

There is a statement on which says that
the cross is used in many Christian churches as a symbol of the Savior's death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also remember with reverence the suffering of the Savior. But because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith.

We may not use it as a symbol of our faith institutionally, but I've become much more open to it as a symbol of my personal faith in Christ. Paul says we are to glory "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

When I think of the cross, I "glory" in it not because it makes me focus on his death, but because it boldly proclaims that Christ has overcome death. It is a symbol of His magnificent Atonement--the greatest act of love ever shown. Like the sacrament, the cross is also an emblem of Christ's suffering, and "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude" as well as our submission to Him (see "The Root of Christian Doctrine").

Jesus suffered for all of our sins, pains, and infirmities. Gethsemane literally means "olive press", and in that garden, appropriately, the Savior was crushed by the weight of all the world's sins (and everything else effected by the Fall), as an olive on the wine press. But then all of that was repeated AGAIN while on the cross, while suffering a most painful death so that we too could overcome spiritual and physical death. What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha.

While I personally do not wear a cross, I would hope any stigma associated with it might be diminished. I personally have no problem whatsoever with those in or out of the Church who choose to wear a cross, not for show, but as a deeply personal demonstration of faith. Our next-door neighbors gave me and my wife a gift last year of a cross with a scripture engraved in it. I felt that was such a heart felt gift and I deeply appreciate it. It's small, but I have it sitting on my book shelf because of what it represents to me.
It has been said that our lives are to be the symbol of our faith, and I couldn't agree more. We are to "receive His image in [our] countenances" when we are "born of God" (Alma 5:14), not merely surround ourselves with symbols of our religion. Thus, perhaps institutionally we won't change much on this, and we probably shouldn't. The world would only view it as an attempt to be recognized as part of "mainstream" Christianity, anyway. For me, it's not about that at all--it's personal. Between me and my Savior, I deeply appreciate that symbol of salvation--and I glory in it.


NM said...

Admitedly, I do find Christians who wear a symbol of the cross a little strange. It would be similar to a person wearing a gun, or an electric chair, or a lethal injection around their necks...

Saying that, I can't help but feel overwhelmingly humbled by the cross. The cross of Jesus is where wrath and mercy meet; the full wrath of God, meant for me, was instead placed on Him...

If I may share, this is a wonderful modern hymn that many Christians sing world-wide, entitled, "Oh to see the dawn".

Great post Clean Cut!

Clean Cut said...

Thanks NM--well said.

Papa D said...

Frankly, the analogy of someone wearing a weapon bothers me greatly. It subtly mocks what is deeply sacred to others, even when that is not intended. Someone wears a cross where it is visible; I wear the symbols of the Priesthood where they are not visible. I can't complain about someone mocking or misrepresenting my garments if I turn around and mock or misrepresent their cross.

This is a wonderful post, CC, and I will quibble only with one sentence - being the parser I am with my own view of the Atonement. Since I believe the Atonement began in the pre-mortal Council in Heaven and still is on-going, I disagree with the following:

"What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha."

I would say:

"What began here on earth in Nazareth when Gabriel appeared to Mary (or three months earlier when he appeared to Elizabeth) reached its earthly climax in Gethsemane, at Golgotha and from Joseph of Arimathaea's tomb."

Cynthia L. said...

Clean Cut, I think it speaks very highly of you that your neighbor thought that would be a good gift for you.

I don't really feel a need to wear a cross. But I think this is the kind of thing where we should be especially sensitive to converts--heaven forbid we tell a convert who finds wearing a cross important to them that there is something wrong with that.

Thomas Parkin said...

Clean Cut,

I appreciate everything you've said. I find nothing particularly wrong with using a cross as a symbol. Symbols can be like doorways into an area of otherwise hidden truth - the cross certainly can be that. In one sense, all communication is symbolic, words are not the thing itself. The use of the most powerful symbols often puts the most strain on communication, since unlike words which have a fluid but limited meaning, potent symbols have very few limits on their meaning because of the massive area of truth they can point to.

I do wonder what you mean when you say 'I glory in it.'

Also, earlier this evening I made a response on BCC is which I said I prefer the Sun as a symbol of Christ. In addition to the reasons I gave there, I would add that it is a more apt representation of Christ's present reality and our potential reality than the cross - which, while its power remains central presently, it will finally be a matter of history. For a while, I wore a representation of the carved sun stones from the original Nauvoo Temple on a chain. What do you think of this:


Bruce said...

You have me wondering just when did we diverge away from using a cross. Now I'll have to find out.

Clean Cut said...

"I believe the Atonement began in the pre-mortal Council in Heaven and still is on-going, I disagree with the following: 'What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha.'"

Papa D, I'm only referring to the Lord's Passion, that suffering and death which took place in a finite moment in time. Naturally, the Atonement as a moment in history didn't end on Golgotha either, since his glorious resurrection would also be integral to the Atonement. Apart from that, I understand and I completely agree with you that the Atonement is ongoing, especially in terms of how we accept it/receive it personally.

Cynthia, thank you for your words. I couldn't agree more that we need to be very sensitive to converts--new or old. (My ward librarian, a Catholic convert of many years, still wears a cross some Sundays to church. She's a very good, strong Latter-day Saint.)

Thomas, thank you. What I meant when I said "I glory in it" is that I glory in SALVATION--of which the cross is only a symbol. (Thanks for prompting the clarification.)

As for the sun--I have no problem with that either.

Bruce--let me know when you find out! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Clean Cut. I really loved your line: "What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha."

I was recently given a small wooden cross as a gift from some Methodist friends who got it while on a trip to Jerusalem. The appropriate thing seemed to hang it from the rearview mirror in my pickup. So, there it hangs (right next to a hanging football helmet). It's a wonderful reminder to me and I see nothing "strange" about this reminder of God's love.


I am the Clay said...

Hello, Clean Cut. As I mentioned before to you -- you will be a great assest in your ward and in the LDS church by helping LDS to realize the importance of the Cross and Calvary.
As I read thru the notes shared here, I got the impression that for most LDS they would not choose to wear a cross - for whatever reasons. It definately is not a biblical mandate. Christians like myself, wear one because it is 1. a witnesing tool 2. it is a reminder to me of "who" I am... a disciple of Christ. The cross it says in 1 Cor. 1:17 is SALVATION to them that are saved, and foolishness to them that perish.

I also love the passage you quoted from galations -- the NCV version says " I have nothing to brag of, but the cross of Christ".... Amen to that!

For by His stripes we are healed and by the blood of His Cross , He has made peace. Col. 1:20

May truly enjoy a lovely & blessed Easter,


Matt W. said...

I think we need to be sensitive with new members about the Cross, but we also need to be honest with them about it. We can't pretend we aren't the church without the cross. That would be foolish, and we need to understand why we do not typically use the cross. A quick google of gives plenty of examples of tactful ways to approach the topic.

Oh and 1 Corinthian 1:17 actually says:
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.

The next vs 18, says the "preaching of the cross" or in the NRSV

"For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

It is the message of the cross, not the cross itself, and it is not salvation, but the power of God to those who are in the process of being saved. (not those who are saved)

The Message of the cross is Christs Death and then Resurrection, by the way.

/end exegetical rant

Jettboy said...

I posted my own comments about the cross a while ago and came to the conclusion Mormonism is neutral as to using the cross as a physical object to represent our faith in Christ. On the other hand I also wrote that Mormons have other physical reminders that take the place of the cross; particularly the Temple.

mikenstephy said...

OUR VERY ABILITY TO LOVE DEPENDS ON THE CROSS I have a thought you and I stand in the place of Barabbas, we must rejoice that we are set free ... saying to ourselves happily... Jesus went "TO THE CROSS" in the place of me.

I was preparing for my Sunday School Lesson, and realized for the first time, that Barabbas stands as a symbol of each of us ... we are the guilty who are free by Jesus taking our place ON THE CROSS. I have listened as some complain that it is unjust that wicked Barabbas was set free while Jesus went TO THE CROSS. Others have spoke darkly about my friends, the Jewish people.

That Barabbas did not go to THE CROSS is unjust ... but unjust by a Divine design. In the NY Times, Rabbi Koen, writes he was pleased to hear some Christians express that "God's plan has always been" that Jesus would take up the CROSS for everyone. It should be no surprise to any Believer that the Jewish people are NOT "responsible" for Jesus death ON THE CROSS!!! We should know this in our own hearts.

Proper theology places our God as ... omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent ... an inexcapable conclusion then is that the design of our universe, from the beginning, included the suffering, death and resurection of Jesus on the CROSS. A few moments of quiet reflection with the Holy Spirit, and we realize that this is the way a voluntary will is created for mankind, Symbolically, throught THE CROSS. Man is created, who will choose error, learn, and then love God, and then others ... once he understands God's love, THROUGH THE CROSS, and the Spirit creates "a new man" through a change of the heart, BY THE CROSS. By design from the beginning, man is thus designed, if a "humble, grateful, and love-filled" type of "Barabbas," then he will enter into a love relationship with God, as our voluntary act. We understand that a love cannot be of compulsion, by defination, but must be voluntary.

For the Believer, THE CROSS is a symbol, as a word is a symbol, that conveys ideas associated there with.

God Bless. Happy Pascha! The Lord is Risen ... He is Risen Indeed!

I am the Clay said...

Wonderful, and thoughtful comments by mikenstephy. I never thought about that with Barrabas.... so true.. we are the "barabbas" .. we have been set free, while our lord took the penalty...
For the wages of sin is death, but because of what Jesus did we live.
Praise His HOLY, HOLY Name!

NM said...

The choosing of Barabas over Jesus, was a travesty; the innocent chosen as a substitute, so the guilty walks away, free.

On this wonderful Easter day: praise God! He is not here; he has risen, just as he said! (Mat 28)


mikenstephy said...

NM ... I was not sure about the "travesty" so I searched the word in dictionaries. I don't think it fits. As a noun, parody, dramatic comedy, and other ill-fitting definations were listed. Its etymology is from the Burlesque theater with cross-dressing for its comedy in parody. I am certain such has nothing to do with your sentiments.

Did you actually mean tragety? Of course not. The guilty really do go free, and for Jesus, this obviously was neither travesty nor tragety, since it was his Divine, and sovereign will.

The universe proceed exactly in accord with God's sovereign will and design. For anything to happen in spite of God's will would infer a limit on God's power. Such ideas are opposed to a sovereign God.

Jesus, the last pass-over lamb, his sacrafice on the Cross, was our victory over death, and the final defeat of Satin.

I believe that God's sovereign nature forbids chance. There will be no surprizes for God and all will end exactly as he planned.

Handguns, and electric chairs were mentioned in either a conference talk or other LDS teaching material in the 1980s. I believe these are not parallel symbols to the Cross.

As we grow to better understand God's grace (unmerited favor)we will be gracious and merciful, especially to those who most need it, not deserve it. Those who understand their unworthyness for God's grace, that it is not by our merit but by his love for us, ... begin to have an ability love others. Love as defined as giving without any expectation or merit on the part of the receiver.

The Cross is God's gift. A gift is not forced, but must be received. To claim to be entitled is to reject the gift. To reject such a generous offer, as afforded by the Cross, is a tragety.

I guess I am writing in a heavy way, but I was suprised by NM's comment. I believe he meant no harm. I wanted, however, to clarify what I hold true.

May we all obtain the mercy offered by our Lord. Blessing to everyone. Thanks.

Clean Cut said...

Better late than never. Mormons and the Cross, by Peggy Fletcher Stack, was published today in the Salt Lake Tribune. Interesting...

Clean Cut said...

Still more on the use of the cross in Mormonism.

Clean Cut said...

Mormonism and the Cross: Looking at the History

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your feelings about the cross although I do not share them. For most of my youth I wore a cross or crucifix around my neck whichI revered as a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord. Then I read in the Catholic Encyclopedia that early Christians would have been horrified to reproduce this symbol of Roman barbarity. Remeber that the early Church came out of Jewish roots. Statues, crosses and images would have been abhorrent. The earliest symbol for Christianity was a fish because the words in Greek stood for something like Jesus Christ Son of God. Christians would make this symbol with their sandals in the dirt and thus discreetly identify themselves as followers of this persecuted sect. The greatest symbol Latter-day Saints can use is to imitate Christ by the life that they lead. The world is full of symbols which mean nothing because those who use them betray the very principles they claim to espouse. Let us honor the Savior by taking up His cross and reflecting His life by imitating him.