How many of you have attended a church service or been a part of a religion class at school where the person leading it put a makeshift cross up front and then asked each and every one of you in attendance to come forward and "put your sins" or "put your prayers" on that cross after writing them on little sheets of paper (or maybe you were asked to hammer just nails into it as "a reminder that it was our sins that crucified Jesus")?
Here, it looks a little something like this...
At first glance, we might think there's nothing wrong with this.
Personally, there was a time when I absolutely loved this sort of visual cue that reminded us that we were sinners "that led" Jesus to die a horrible death on the cross in my place.
Ah, but therein lies the problem so common to Christianity today!
See, I had allowed myself to get swept up by my emotions of that particular experience and failed to allow God's Word and Sacraments to inform my heart and mind as they always should.
Please understand that I'm not for a single second suggesting that we Christians are to be emotionless robots, but I am trying to get you to simply see the spiritual dangers inherent in "emotionalizing" our faith all the time and constantly making it all about Me, Myself, And I like this practice so often does.
I think at this point it's probably best to share what some other Christians (including some well-respected Pastors) had to say about all of this, because it's clearly not Biblical and it's certainly not Lutheran either.
Pastor Joshua Scheer: We cannot go back to the cross...to think so is to listen to a different and unholy spirit.
Timothy Sheridan: There's nothing more depressing than a cross without a corpus.
Michael Rogowski: See, I don't think that gets the point across right. John 10:17-18 "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." Our sin doesn't put any obligation on God to save us, it is solely by His own gracious nature by which He volunteers to do so for our sake. Our sin has no power over Him.
Michael Rogowski: They may say that they don't believe that our sin has any power of Christ, but I don't see how that is properly reconciled with someone trying to point to a image of a corpus on a cross and tell me I did that, personally, to Him when Jesus explicitly states that no one takes His life from Him and He gives Himself of His own accord. I think it misses the proper emphasis and nature of Christ's atoning work and is a worthy distinction.
Pastor Jeffrey Ries: The same person would probably object to the display of a crucifix. #irony
Richard Brown: This practice is more common in mainline liberalism than it is in American Evangelicalism. Sadly, it is not unheard of in the LCMS. In response to brother Joe, my concern with it stems from the fact that our Lord Jesus has given us means to deal with our sinful baggage. Holy Communion comes to mind, as well as the rite of Confession for those who need extra help (as I do). While there isn't anything inherently wrong with using a teaching tool such as this, it has the potential to become much too serious and overshadow the Means (of Grace) to deal with these things that Christ has instituted among us. In addition, confessing your sins in this way encourages the mindset that you are all on your own with your sin. The council of a Pastor, which is present in the Confession rite, is absent in this practice.
David Turner: You're right, this isn't any means of grace, and it is not a holy institution. Growing up Mainline Modern Evangelical, when we did this, there wasn't any pointing to confession or to communion, or to our baptism. You're absolutely right. But on the other hand, it was a very strong reminder of our sins, and just what exactly it is that we do, and that Christ promised to bear them on the cross. That Christ took upon himself, our sin, and it is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Of that we can be certain. Even if a believer died soon after baptism without any other means of grace, we would know, that because of the Cross, through their holy baptism, that they are saved. And this can be a strong reminder that we are just and sinner all in one.
Pastor Jonathan Fisk: This is what happens when you don't have the means of grace: you start making up places to experience grace.
Pastor Joshua Scheer: This cannot be powerful because it has no promise from Jesus attached to it.
David Turner: Powerful from what perspective? From ours? From our emotions? I disagree. Power to save? Agreed. But you have to define power here.
Pastor Joshua Scheer: God's power is not found in this. The devil and fallen man's deceptive power are there.
David Turner: The problem I have with this, is that even with the best construction when I grew up AG, was that this was LAW! You go up there, YOU place your sins on the Cross for Him to bear. YOU, You, you. What's more, you place the sins up there as a promise to God that YOU will stop that sin. Oh the chutzpah! Seriously. The brass balls it takes for one to read their bible and then stand up there and say that it's OUR job to do this. That if we meet God half way, He will meet us. Incredulous!
Zach Lesher: Jesus bore our sins. God made Him sin who knew no sin, so we might become the righteousness of God through Him.
Pastor Jonathan Fisk: Protestants will nail anything to a cross except for Jesus.
Todd Vallier: ^Lookin' fer God in all the wrong places...
I hope you can clearly see why this is a subtly deceptive practice fueled by false doctrine.
Sure, a part of us will insist that we should keep doing this with the proper safeguards in place, but isn't that like saying we believe some visual, man-made worship activity can somehow be substituted for the Means of Grace or God's gifts to us -- that is, that it can be an adequate and suitable God-pleasing replacement for the preaching of His Word and the administering of His Sacraments?
This is why catechism must continue well beyond Confirmation in our Lutheran churches, because we should know that we never come to the cross of Christ with anything in our hands to offer Him when, in fact, the cross is His gift to give to us of His own accord (not under compulsion), delivered to all mankind in His bloody and scarred hands.
I get that those behind these sorts of activities have good intentions and they mean well, but they're actually doing more harm than they realize, and as faithful brothers and sisters, we owe it to them to raise the issue for prayerful consideration.
Pastors, remember your calling and teach your congregation why this is wrong. Layman, remember your vocation and faithfully talk to other parishioners about what we Lutherans are supposed to believe, teach, and confess in regards to this.
Hosea 6:6 (ESV) For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Seems pretty straightforward to me.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, the cross is not something to play games with (1 Corinthians 13:11).
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!