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The Old Rugged Cross


If there's one song that inevitably brings tears to my eyes, it's "The Old Rugged Cross", especially if it's accompanied by a dobro or a steel guitar.  The song reminds me of my dad who was a country style guitar player in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  When he gave his life to Jesus in 1956 "The Old Rugged Cross" became one of his favourite songs.  Thus the reason for my tears. 


The shape of the cross has been debated among theologians for years.  Was it a small letter "t" style cross as it is known today?  Probably not.  It was most likely either an upright pole rising vertically from the ground, or a horizontal pole stretching between the branches of two trees.  Whatever the case, the small "t" cross has become the symbol of Jesus' atoning death for us today, and for that reason, I think it's important.   


In today's Evangelical church there is a move to rid the small "t" cross from church buildings.  The stated reason for this is to avoid offending any non-Christian who might enter the building.  That makes no Scriptural sense.  According to the apostle Paul, the cross is offensive. (Galatians 5:11)  That's just the way it is.  The offense of the cross didn't seem to be a matter of concern for Paul, and neither should it be for us.     


I find the trend to rid crosses from buildings belonging to church groups ironic.  I admit the small "t" cross might not be what Jesus died on.  I admit that the small "t" cross was originally a pagan symbol, dating back hundreds of years before Jesus' execution.  I also admit that the small "t" cross was probably introduced into the church early in church history by apostate Christians in Egypt who were influenced by paganism.  Eventually, the small "t" cross was institutionalized in the 4th century church to help pagans feel more comfortable in the church, which leads me to the irony of it all.  We're  now taking the cross out of the church to avoid offending non-Christians, whereas 1700 years ago we put the cross in the church to avoid offending non-Christians.  That sounds weird to me. 


I guess it's a matter of what the cross means at any given time.  Seventeen hundred plus years ago it was more of a pagan symbol than anything else.  Today it represents the sacrifice Jesus made for you and I.  So, if you take the small "t" cross out of church buildings because its origin is pagan, you might not have much of an argument from me, even though the cross doesn't portray its pagan heritage today.  However, if you take the cross out of church buildings because you don't want to offend someone, then you will have an argument from me.  Making the non-Christian feel comfortable in the church without ever exposing him to the reality of the cross is far from Biblical.  The church does not exist to appease the non-Christian.  We exist to confront him with his sin in order to lead him to Jesus, who by the way, died for him on some kind of a cross.  Sooner or later, the non-Christian must come to grips with the cross or there's no use of him entering a church building.  In the process of leading people to Jesus, someone will be offended.  That's just the way it is.     


To be historically honest, the cross was repulsive to first century Christians.  It wasn't something they wanted to adorn themselves with or hang on their walls.  No matter the shape, it was a symbol of Roman aggression; the means by which Jesus was killed.  We feel differently today.  The small "t" cross is The Old Rugged Cross for most of us; the place where our Lord Jesus gave His life on our behalf.  For this reason I emphatically say, "keep the cross"!   


All this being said, there's more to the present trend by certain so-called Evangelicals to rid the church of a symbol to avoid an offense.  It's a satanic influenced movement to remove the reality of the cross from Christian theology, from our preaching, from our lives, and even from the historical record.  If Jesus didn't die on the cross; whatever shape it was makes no difference to me; there would be no resurrection.  If there's no resurrection, there's no salvation and our faith is nonsensical.  Jesus would have been a mere man, a teacher of morality, and, if that was so, Paul was right.  We should "be pitied more than all men". (1 Corinthians 15:19)  Our lives as Christians would be a colossal waste of time and energy.


Let the cross hang where it may.  Most of all, let's keep the reality of the cross in our theology, in our preaching, and in our lives.  Our future hangs on the One who hung on the cross. 


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