“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
How is the cross to be displayed in the gathering of the Church? In most congregations, it is part of the architecture, furniture, art, music, jewelry, etc.
There are two ways God uses to display the cross of His Son in the Scripture.
First, the cross is to be displayed in the preaching of the Gospel.
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; cf. Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39; 13:29).
Second, the cross is to be displayed in fellowship of the Lord’s Supper.
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
We should ask whether the large wooden crosses, dramatic re-enactments, and cross-songs are distractions from the means God has described in His Word for the portrayal of the cross. While it is true that He does not forbid other presentations of the cross apart from the Word and Table, it seems that in the modern Church we have placed our emphasis on these other non-scriptural means to the detriment of those means explicitly given in the Scripture. I myself have found myself in Church auditoriums disappointed to find there is no large cross prominently displayed. A friend of mine thought that “The Passion of the Christ” (2004, Newmarket Films) was going to spark a world-wide revival. Neither furniture nor film, however, should supplant the God-given means of showing forth the cross: the Word and the Table. In the hymnal of my denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) there are many, many more songs about the cross than the resurrection (sadly, there aren’t enough good resurrection-meditating songs in any Christian tradition). As wonderful as these cross-songs – old and new – are, music is not the means of cross-telling explicitly described in Scripture. Few Churches regularly observe the Lord’s Supper, but no congregation goes without music for a meeting. Which was given by Christ? Similarly, most congregants would quickly choose 40 minutes of music to 40 minutes of cross-centered Bible exposition from the pulpit.
Paul even goes so far as to say that he refuses to “preach the gospel...in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Would dramatic re-enactments, emotional music, or inspiring architecture/furniture be the equivalent to “cleverness of speech”? Perhaps we, like Paul, should consider preaching the Word without manipulation, trusting God’s power in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18) rather than our abilities to make it powerful on our own.
Let’s prayerfully consider how the Bible tells us the cross is primarily portrayed: the Word and Table. I’m not arguing that we strip our meeting-places of crosses or quit singing songs about the cross (especially since some Bible scholars suggest Philippians 2:5-11 is actually an early Church hymn!). I would, however, suggest that we repent of minimizing and even choosing against the God-given means of displaying the cross of Jesus Christ.
Pray for a passion and dedication to the Word and Table, the simple, yet God-empowered, means of displaying the cross. May all the other things we do frame and serve these central elements rather than compete with them or even replace them!