By: Steven Nelms
I say this because the culture of the western church is no different. There is a distinct difference between being a part of the culture of Christianity and being a part of any other culture in the western world. Christianity carries with it its own bookstores, clothing lines, record labels, radio stations, and universities. It has its own terminology, buzz words, hot topics, and social issues. It is a culture of its own because of how much common ground is generally shared in the worldview of fellow Christians. So in our cultural Christianity, there are things that are incredibly beneficial and some things that are incredibly detrimental to our pursuit of Christ. We must remind ourselves once in a while that the purpose of our lives is not to obtain comfort and a place of belonging within a culture of Christians. Our purpose continues to be a whole hearted pursuit of Christ.
I’m not saying there is anything particularly bad about Christian culture. T-shirts that are God honoring, music that is uplifting, and wall décor that is religious are not in and of themselves bad things at all. We are provided so many opportunities and methods to truly surround ourselves with things that remind us of Jesus Christ. I think more so than any other place in the world, we are actually capable of furnishing and decorating an entire home with Christian items. Each wall could have a plethora of decorations all containing Bible verses and biblical imagery. Each coffee mug could have an uplifting quote or Scripture address. Each room could be adorned with one wall on which we neatly arrange a collage of eclectic crosses. And we can absolutely surround ourselves with reminders, everywhere we look, of our Christian faith. We can effectively decorate with Christianity. But is there anything wrong with that?
My wife and I have been talking about moving into a new apartment. Having a toddler who is having more and more fun running about and jumping heavily on the ground is not conducive to a good neighborly relationship with the man who lives below us. So we’ve found a first floor place down the street and are looking forward to decorating the new place with some new things. In our current place, we have a small section of one wall where we’ve arranged about 10 crosses to create an assortment of all different styles and colors. As we were looking at the floor plan of our future apartment and talking about where we’d like to place our wall of crosses, something unsettled my wife. She looked at me and asked, “Is having a wall of ornate and decorative crosses disrespectful?” I looked at our quaint patch of statements hanging artistically beside our television and could only say, “I don’t know.”
But the question still stands. Are we being disrespectful by using the shape of the cross, itself decorated with designs and stones and gems and made from all sorts of materials, as wall décor? Are we being irreverent when this shape merely acts as an accent or a statement piece to be displayed without intention? Have we become cavalier about what actually happened on a day in history on the hill called Calvary? It’s an honest question and one I think we who live in a culture saturated with Christianity need to ask ourselves with sincerity. Have we become desensitized to the gravity of what the cross actually means?
We hear it every year around Easter. We hear the gruesomeness of the cross and the kind of shameful death that it was for the criminals and traitors against the Roman Empire. It was the most painful form of execution being employed by the state and it was public intentionally to shame the criminal and any who were associated with him. There was no dignified death to be had on the cross. There was no heroic suffering to be witnessed. It was agony and pathetic and depraved. There was not a word to describe the pain expressed by those who hung on a cross so they had to make up a new word. “Excruciating” is the word that they came up with. It literally means “from the cross”. There is no honor in a death on a cross.
But there is victory over that death. There is glorious triumph over the grave that was won and secured by Christ. The cross does not only represent the death and pain that he suffered. It also stands as a monument to what couldn’t hold down the Son of Man. It reminds us of what could not defeat the Lamb of God. And yet, I still wonder whether this victory over death, this triumph over that pain and suffering, warrants our re-appropriation of the shape of the cross from a symbol of absolute agony to a symbol of decorative Christianity. Do we have that right? Can we claim that privilege? My wife and I have both joked about how we ought to decorate with other such symbols of execution in a likewise bejeweled manner and see how disgusted or repulsed our guests might be at our macabre insensitivity.
The cross was the Roman Empire’s favorite form of execution. Now it’s our favorite form of wall décor. I’ve always tried to not be one to restrict actions and behavior simply because of their outward demonstration. So I think it’s important to note that it is our motive and intention that matters to God. He has always been after the heart and it is our heart that he is concerned with. So if in our decorating, we enjoy creating a collection of crosses and are reminded of the unbelievable sacrifice of pain and suffering that our Lord and Savior experienced on our behalf, then praise be to God. But if in our decorating, we have become desensitized and calloused to the reality of what the cross represents, then we do need to take a step back and reevaluate our heart’s posture. Have we lost sight of what we have in Christ and have begun to focus too much on what we have in Hobby Lobby? Has the price of our sin been outdone by the price of a 50% off deal on all metal, wood, and ceramic crosses? Have we become cavalier about Calvary?
One particular area of interest to me is Apologetics. Apologetics is the discipline of preparing a defense for the gospel and a way of engagement with other religions. A religion I’ve studied up on is that of the Wiccan religion and other witchcraft practices. I was reading a source that was describing how a parent might see warning signs that their child was becoming interested in Wiccan practices and the list honestly had me laughing. This particular author included such warning signs as the child enjoying to wear more black colored clothes, or getting interested in things of the night like bats or other nocturnal creatures. He even included an interest in “dark” music as a warning sign. And lastly he said any interest or intrigue in skulls or skeletons or death is a sure sign that they are at risk of becoming engaged with witchcraft. I won’t waste time commenting on the other ridiculous items in his list of warning signs, but I thought it absolutely absurd that he included skulls, skeletons, and death as a part of his warning signs. This to me is a sign that there are some who have lost perspective on the meaning of the cross.
A skull? A skull being a symbol of death and any interest therein is a sign of too much intrigue in to the things of the occult? Are you kidding me? Have we lost that much perspective on what the cross symbolizes that we are accusing skulls of being too dark? The cross was a method of execution. It was a method of torturing a man until either his lungs collapsed, he bled out, or he passed out from a lack of oxygen to his brain and died of asphyxiation. And that is only if the criminal died in an expedient manner. If he took too long then he’d be sure to experience leg breaking, gut stabbing, or further flogging. And a skull is too dangerous to allow our children to pay any attention to. But by golly what kind of Christian parent would I be if I didn’t hang a cross in their room!
I wouldn’t want them to lack such a symbol of peace and harmony in their childhood! I will submit prayer requests to the elders if my son begins to show too much interest in death, but I will make sure that he is not without a necklace bearing a sterling silver cross. Because at the end of the day, the cross doesn’t represent death anymore. It doesn’t represent sacrifice or pain or suffering or agony. It represents Christianity. It represents membership to a community. It represents an application for indoctrination. But I return to my original thought; that it is a personal heart issue as to whether using an ornate cross as a wall decoration is disrespectful. It absolutely can be disrespectful, but as to whether you personally are being disrespectful in your decorating is contingent on your heart posture toward what it represents.
I personally think it might be an interesting exercise to take down our collage of eclectic crosses in our new apartment and, at least for a season, replace it with a collage of modern forms of execution. What might our minds be continuously reminded of and brought to bear if instead of a cross of sterling silver and turquoise stones we instead looked upon an electric chair? What if instead of a rustic wooden cross with barbed wire we looked upon a hangman’s noose? What if we looked upon a photo of a firing squad taking aim on a blindfolded criminal? Or a guillotine posed to drop on the head of a traitor? Or a murderer strapped in for lethal injection? Are these images offensive to our minds? Is the gruesome brutality of a criminal’s execution too disturbing to be found hanging on the wall in our living room?
Should we seek to soften the violence of the cross? Are we doing a disservice to our own pursuit of Christ as the Lord and Savior of the world in doing so? I don’t know what your answers to these questions should be because I don’t know the posture of your heart. But I think these questions are worth asking and partaking in an exercise to remind ourselves of the cruelty of the cross might be a worthwhile meditation. So maybe my wife and I will talk it over. Maybe we’ll rethink our wall décor. Maybe instead of a cross, to re-sensitize our hearts toward the sacrifice of Christ, we just might hang up an electric chair, a skull, and a noose.