Symbol of Christianity

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I went home teaching last night and we shared April’s First Presidency Message. It is by President Hinckley and he discusses what is the symbol of our faith. He states that rather than using the cross, the symbol of our faith is the way we live our lives.

I think this is a good point. Jesus contributed more to humankind than simply dying on the cross. He taught religious/moral principles radical for His time. He performed many miracles, and showed unconditional love. He suffered for our sins (not just died for them). He was resurrected.

If we are keeping the commandments, then we are trying to live as Jesus did. We are trying to emulate is live and live His teachings. A much more appropriate symbol of what He contributed to humankind.

It left me wondering though why the cross was chosen as a symbol of Christianity. Certainly his death is significant, but the whole suffering process should not be overlooked because of the cross. As well, for the atonement to have effect in our lives, we need to have a change of heart and repent for our previous ways. The resurrection, on the other hand, is a free gift to all. That seems then to be even more significant.

So, why the cross? Why not something else?

7 thoughts on “Symbol of Christianity

  1. Any reading of church history will highlight the disdain early church leaders had for “Christians,” “Catholics” (whoremongers), and of course the diabolical minister in the temple ceremony.

    Adopting their symbols would co-opt their claims to a new restoration and exclusivity of revelation. Sects require uniqueness of truth; members were to humble themselves before Joseph, not Christ (the cross).

    “Certainly his death is significant, but the whole suffering process should not be overlooked because of the cross.” – I don’t know what this means now, but, as a former Mormon, I thought like this. We always had some bromide to explain our uniqueness when embracing these common symbols would have done no harm.

    All sorts of rationalizations are spun to maintain a separation with traditional Christianity; it begs the question as to what’s the purpose: to enlighten the individual, or, as I maintain, to bolster claims of uniqueness, exclusivity, and us vs them.

  2. “it begs the question as to what’s the purpose”

    That would be ‘raises the question’.

    http://skepdic.com/begging.html

    FWIW, I am not at all concerned with being unique, or specifically more unique than other Christians. Actually, I think our current leaders are also focusing less on what makes us unique than they used to. I think they are going out of their way to highlight similarities.

    My issue isn’t really with embracing the cross as a symbol of Christianity. I am more concerned with knowing why the cross was chosen as a symbol of Christianity when it represents such a small part of Jesus’ contributions.

  3. “beg” was used intentionally and with the right connotation.

    The answer lies in my comment as stated – any organization that spends as much time trying to justify its uniqueness (read peculiar) as the Mormon church is, by my definition, more interested in its own exclusivity than the meaning of the cross as a symbol.

    “I am more concerned with knowing why the cross was chosen as a symbol of Christianity when it represents such a small part of Jesus’ contributions.” –

    The crucifixion was not a small part of Jesus’ contributions; his suffering on the cross was the greatest gift of love that mankind has ever known.

    Billions of people have been saved through Jesus’ suffering; and many of them have chosen to express their love to Jesus by glorifying this symbol.

    But you are more interested in identifying some missed doctrine or discounting their devotion as misplaced. That’s the outlook of exclusivity I’m talking about.

  4. “The crucifixion was not a small part of Jesus’ contributions”

    Sure it was. His crucifixion took place over a six-hour period of his 30+ year life. He provided an entirely new way of life. He performed many miracles that benefited many people physically and benefit us now spiritually. He was resurrected. He created the world. He will be our final judge. The six hours He spent on the cross is definitely a small part compared to His total contributions.

    “his suffering on the cross was the greatest gift of love that mankind has ever known.”

    First, the suffering he went through consisted of more than the cross. He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, in front of Pilate twice, in front of Herod, at the hands of the Roman centurions and so forth. His suffering lasted for nearly 24 hours, the cross being only a quarter of that time.

    Second, the effect of His suffering are not a gift. Even the most unrequiring Christians admit that to receive the benefits of Christ’s suffering, one must at least accept Him as one’s Saviour. Many other Christians maintain that even that is not enough, and that ongoing repentance is still necessary to receive the effects of Jesus’ suffering. Hardly a gift.

    If anything is truly a gift, it is the resurrection: the laying down of our mortal tabernacles to be raised in glorious immortality. All without the necessity to perform anything on our part to enjoy it.

    “But you are more interested in identifying some missed doctrine or discounting their devotion as misplaced.”

    You continue to misinterpret the intentions of my post. That in which I am interested in knowing is why the crucifixion was chosen from Jesus’ many great accomplishments as the symbol of Christianity.

    I am not saying it is wrong. I am not saying some other symbol is more correct. I am not saying a single symbol is correct. I simply want to know why the cross was chosen out of all His contributions to represent the mark of Christianity.

  5. Obviously the fish was the first symbol of Christianity. Who changed it and why? My guess would be the cross was an easy representation to use and reproduce. It represented His suffering (even though 1,000s suffered crucifiction).

    If the first symbol was the fish, what did it represent, why was it chosen? If it represented Christ’s gathering in His people. If that was what was important to the early church then why change to a symbol of death and suffering. Is there a lesson here?

  6. Good point, Don.

    The fish was chosen because the Greek word for fish is ‘ichthys’ and bears remarkable similarity to an acronym that early Christians used to identify themselves while hiding themselves from persecutors. The acronym IXTHYS stood for “Iesous Christos Theou Huios Sote”, which means something like “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.

    Some have further extrapolated the fish’s meaning to includes such things as Jesus’ call to His apostles to be fisher of men.

    At least the fish acknowledged Jesus’ role as a Saviour (presumably from physical and spiritual death) and not simply his mode of death.

  7. “First, the suffering he went through consisted of more than the cross. He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane…”

    I think you’ll find other Christians don’t know he suffered to the purpose of atoning in Gethsemane. They see it as a time of preparation, and the time of offering the Great Intercessory prayer. Identifying Gethesamene with the atonement is a uniquely LDS thing from the restoration. Try Googling “gethsemane” with “atonement.” The first six links are about mormons, and the seventh is how Gethsemane was a time of preparation, and Christ’s agony is fear that Satan will prevent him from making the atonement on the cross.

    “…in front of Pilate twice, in front of Herod, at the hands of the Roman centurions and so forth. His suffering lasted for nearly 24 hours, the cross being only a quarter of that time.”

    But I don’t think any of those are mentioned in the epistles, and it is the epistles the Protestants value, even above the gospels. The epistles are earlier documents, and the epistles are where they draw their systematic theology from, and the epistles use the crucifixion to identify the person of Jesus. This statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 is representative of the attitude:

    “For I determined not to known any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

    “Second, the effect of His suffering are not a gift. Even the most unrequiring Christians admit that to receive the benefits of Christ’s suffering, one must at least accept Him as one’s Saviour.”

    but the effect is described as a gift in Romans, which is an especially loved epistle for protestant theology.

    Romans 5:18 “…by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justificaton of life”
    Romans 6:23 “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    “Many other Christians maintain that even that is not enough, and that ongoing repentance is still necessary to receive the effects of Jesus’ suffering. Hardly a gift.”

    Fewer Christians than you think require ongoing repentance. More typical is the belief Once Saved Always Saved, which even gets an acronym OSAS. Repentance and good works are highly recommended, but salvation is binary into a binary heaven-or-hell afterlife. Everything right thing you do after identifying with Christ and living by the Holy Spirit is sanctification for which you will be rewarded, not salvation. The key scripture for this seems to be 1 Cor 3:13-15

    “If anything is truly a gift, it is the resurrection” Well, I agree and see what you mean, but I’d suggest we also think of redemption as a gift: after all we can do, we cannot save ourselves.

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