Cross or Crucifix?

[17] And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Should Lutheran churches have a cross or crucifix over the altar? As Lutheran Christians, should we wear crosses or crucifixes as jewelry? Understanding why some Lutherans prefer one over the other can be beneficial to us all.  

1 Corinthians chapter 15 is one of the best chapters of Scripture to illuminate us on this debate. Lutherans who prefer a crucifix can point to verse 3, which states: 

[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…

Therefore, the crucifix is a sign of Jesus death in our place. This makes it a sign of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of hope. 

In fact, some who prefer the crucifix actually argue against a cross. They posit that crosses have become nothing more that popular jewelry, carrying no meaning for a majority of people. Others argue that some Christians wear a cross because they don’t want to be reminded that their sins put Jesus on that cross. This makes wearing a crucifix a testimony to the historic faith. 

Lutherans who prefer crosses will quote our Scripture passage, pointing out that Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of the forgiveness of sins for the world. Thus, they argue, wearing a cross professes Jesus’ resurrection and all the blessings that come with the resurrection. 

Lutherans who prefer the cross also have arguments against crucifixes. Some say crucifixes remind people of Roman Catholic teaching about grace and forgiveness, which differs from Biblical Lutheran teaching. These Lutherans also are concerned that crucifixes can serve as guilt motivation for Christians, when Christians should be motivated by the Gospel and grace.   

The bottom line is that Scripture neither commands nor prohibits crosses or crucifixes. Both a cross and a crucifix can be great means for witness about Jesus. Both can inspire and affirm the faithful. My best guidance is know why you prefer one over another and be respectful of those with different views. 

(A Second Look devotions are written for the congregations of the Ohio District-LCMS.)

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