Question and Answer

Should the cross be displayed in a church sanctuary?

Question:

Some say that the cross like the flag, is only symbolic. While the flag is not in the Bible, the cross is. Albeit a method of traditional Roman execution at the time of Christ on earth, without the cross there is no Calvary, no crucifiction and therefore no Christ, who died and shed his blood for us on the cross. Should the cross be displayed in an OP church sanctuary? Does the OPC Book of Church Order and the reformed tradition discourage its display? Is it "optional"? It is difficult for me to accept its not being present in the church sanctuary. My pastor tap dances around this issue when it's addressed to him. Would I be allowed to join an OP church given my belief and my desire to voice this?

Answer:

Thank you for your question to OPC.ORG. I can tell this issue is important to you and that you have positively benefited from the presence of a cross in your prior church experiences. The interesting thing about your question is that use of a cross in church architecture is not explicitly mentioned in either the Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith and Catechisms) nor the OPC Book of Church Order (BCO). So there is a very real sense in which your question is hard to answer. Still, there are some things that I can share that may at least shed a little light on the subject and give you something to think about that I hope will be helpful.

There are OPCs with crosses in them and some that intentionally do not have them. The reality is that each local church session is free to determine on this matter what they believe will be most honoring to God and edifying to the church. That this is a matter of liberty (to be determined by each session) is affirmed in another Q&A (here), and is also the implication of the BCO. So why do some churches have them and others not? To be honest, I hesitate to answer, as each church should be free to answer this for itself. It appears that you have already discussed this with your elders or pastor. If you were to look at our Directory for Public Worship, or the Westminster Larger catechism on the second commandment (questions 108 and 109), you will not see crosses mentioned. You will, however, be told that we are to refrain from including things that are considered irreverent or distracting, or even superstitious. At the same time, we are told to worship biblically, reverently, and joyfully. In many respects, the issue of whether or not to include the cross is a value judgment each session must make. In other words, does the value of having it outweigh the potential negatives of having it? I certainly respect your perspective, as many sessions would, that a cross could be considered an aid to the faith. But I can also appreciate the posture of a session that determines not to have one. So where does this leave you?

Let me make an observation by way of question: when did churches begin to include crosses in their architecture? Now I grant that the question is virtually un-answerable. But it makes a valid point. It was without question a long time before the New Testament churches had their own buildings, and arguably a longer time before they began to fix crosses on the walls. Was their worship hindered by not having them? The answer has to be "no." Whatever value you might say that a cross adds, you cannot say that the worship of the early disciples was hindered because they did not have crosses (let alone buildings). My point is that not only is a cross un-essential for a church, it is also un-essential for worship. Thus you do not need it even though you may prefer it. While you are free to prefer it, and to truly wish they had one, it should not be made a point of contention. You suggest your pastor "tap dances around this issue when it's addressed to him." This concerns me a bit. It sounds like you are angry or bordering on accusing him of a form of legalism. Please remember that while your leaders cannot require you to do things the Bible does not teach, we also cannot fault them for not doing things the Bible does not teach. In other words, they are just as free to prefer not to have crosses as you are free to prefer them. But God has called them to serve the church by doing the things they believe are the most edifying. I hope that you can be gracious to them, and submit to them (even if you do not agree), recognizing that they will have to give account to God for the ministry to you (Hebrews 13:17). I am sure they take that very seriously.

The last thing I will address is your question about church membership. I would be very surprised if you were not allowed to join the church because you prefer to have a cross inside. But I could also really wonder what you mean when you refer to your desire to "voice this." That could be taken a lot of ways. I am sure this is something you can talk about with your elders. The peace and unity of a church is always a frail thing. Everyone (including the pastor, no doubt) has things he might prefer to see done differently in the church. Our consciences are bound to Scripture only, but Scripture does command us to strive for peace, and not to disunite over things that are clearly matters of liberty (John 17, Ephesians 4, Romans 14). Thus, I hope you can all work this out in a way that keeps Christ's cross at the center of your worship and fellowship, even if it is not in the center of your sanctuary.


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