Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.
In the shipping industry, we use placards to denote when a particular trailer has hazardous materials loaded in it, and those placards are designed to indicate what type of hazardous material is in that trailer. The purpose of this is really simple. It helps emergency crews to know what to expect in the event of an accident. If the wrong type of placard, or even no placard at all, is on a trailer containing hazardous materials, then things can become complicated really quickly. Often with dangerous results.
In the Christian church, there are two signs that are used almost universally. One is the cross. The other is the crucifix. Now it may not seem like which one is used should be that big of an issue, but there is a difference, and it makes a difference. While both are universally used in the church, one of them speaks a far greater message than the other.
Historically, the common empty cross dates back to roughly 2000 B.C. This means that the cross predates the crucifixion of Christ Jesus by nearly two millenniums. Such being the case, it would appear that though the common empty cross is used by the Christian church, it has no real meaning to it. I know, there are many of you who say that your church uses the empty cross to denote that he is no longer on the cross. I know that argument all too well, and it is a lie.
What? How is that a lie?
When Christ Jesus predicted his death, he didn’t hold back. He told Nicodemus quite plainly that he was to be lifted up, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). He also made it very clear that it was by his being lifted up that all men might be drawn to himself (John 12:32). To this end, the crucifix, often rejected by non-liturgical churches as “too catholic”, really is the proper symbol of the church. However, let us not be deceived, the image on the crucifix is not really how he looked, it is merely an image of a man being crucified. To that end, we do not pray to the crucifix, lest we turn it into an idol, which can do nothing.
Oddly, the real truth of why many Christian churches reject the crucifix is simply that of it being “too catholic”. Sad. The irony of this is that, as Christians, we are expected to believe, confess, and teach one universal doctrine, and that word “catholic” literally means “universal” or “all embracing”. Modern Christianity certainly is not universal, as many churches do tend to throw out anything they don’t like, including the crucifix.
An empty cross is really just a hollow symbol from time long before Christ Jesus walked the earth, died upon a cross for our sins, and then rose again that we might have eternal life. A crucifix is a symbol of God’s power to save us from our sins, and preaches that message loudly. More loudly than an empty cross could ever convey. One says something, though without clarity. The other speaks very clearly, without confusion.
A placard must be clearly understood in order to understand the hazard involved. Using the wrong placard can give the wrong message, and get people killed. An empty cross is similar to using the wrong placard, it may warn that there is something, but it still gives the wrong message. I prefer the crucifix, it clearly communicates the message of salvation. An empty cross is just empty.