July 24, 2011 Q & A

Does praying before a cross disobey the 2nd Commandment?


I have seen people pray while kneeling before the image of the cross in church. Is this disobeying the Second Commandment?


The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is committed to what is known as the regulative principle of worship. It is summarized in the following statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 21, Section 1), to which the OPC subscribes:

The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

We believe that this is a proper interpretation of the second commandment:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:4-6).

The second commandment clearly forbids the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

Further, the Confession of Faith also states (Chapter 21, Section 6):

Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

Praying is neither tied to nor made more acceptable at the foot of the image of a cross. In fact, as summarized in the second commandment, to make worship depend on such an image is superstition and idolatry.

The death of Christ on the cross is an historical reality with deep theological and religious meaning. The Word of God teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ has saved his people from their sin by his death on the cross, wherein he bore the curse due to them that they might be blessed. Thus, the apostle Paul says the word of the cross is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24, cf. 1 Cor. 1:18); and he was determined to preach "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Further, as Christians we are commanded to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38 and 16:24), which means a life of humility and suffering service and of denying oneself in submission to the will of God.

Nevertheless, the Scriptures nowhere teach us to erect the symbol of a cross as an aid to prayer or as a help to worshiping God. Thus, we should not make a cross as an object of worship or even as a means of worship, and we certainly should not bow down to such a graven image.