Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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The Cross as Symbol

The Cross is the most recognizable symbol on this planet. More than any other logo, icon, or sign it is recognized all over as the visual indicator of Christianity. As a figure, it is simplicity itself. One horizontal line and one vertical line meeting at right angles. What could be easier? Because of its simplicity, it can be elaborated upon in an almost infinite number of styles.

But the cross was not Christianity’s first choice of symbols. In the earliest visual representations from the Church we see practically no crosses. Fish were common, as were peacocks, doves, and palm branches. Shepherds, as well as images from Old Testament stories, were often used. Among all of these, you would be hard pressed to find a cross.

By the second century, though, the cross had come to prominence. Tertullian (one of my favorite church Fathers) wrote this in about 200 A.D:

“At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes or shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross.”

Of all the images from the life of Jesus--manger, boat, water, bread, cup, tomb, stone--why the cross? I do not believe it is any accident that the use of the cross as the symbol of our faith increased along with persecution. The more our ancestors in the faith were attacked, marginalized, assaulted and killed, the more they asserted the cross as the center of their community.

John Stott in his masterful “the Cross of Christ” refers to the great Anglican theologian Richard Hooker in this phrase: “Hooker applauded the fact that the early church Fathers, in spite of heathen scorn at the sufferings of Christ, ‘chose rather the sign of the cross than any other outward mark, whereby the world might most easily discern always what they were.’ ”

It is through the Cross the the world will discern what we are. That says it all. Not simply (or at all) in jewelry, church architecture, or bumper stickers of course. But in whether or not we place the Cross prominently in our faith, our life, and our hope.