Another Reason to Have the Corpus on the Cross, by Pr. Rossow

The Processional Cross at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville

The Processional Cross at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville

We have all heard it from our protestant friends and sometimes even from our Lutheran acquaintances – “Why do you have Jesus on the cross, that is so Catholic? That is so negative. We believe in the resurrected Jesus so we have empty crosses.” That last phrase is quite profound. They do indeed have empty crosses.

I and the other two pastors here at Bethany Lutheran Church and School, Naperville, Illinois, have taken to pointing to the processional cross during the sermons when we speak of Christ crucified for our sins. In some sermons that can be as many as three or four times. Because Christ on the cross serves as a helpful homiletical illustration is another good reason to fill our crosses up with the corpus of Christ. This is a fitting matter to consider on this most holy and good day of the church year.

The main reason we have Christ on our crosses is for theological reasons. These theological reasons are both positive and negative. Here are a few positive reaons.

  1. The Bible says we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23). Therefore, good church art which is to reflect what we preach and teach has Christ on the cross being crucified for our sins.
  2. The heart and core of the faith is the forgiveness of sins and that forgiveness takes place on the cross. It is there that Jesus says “It is finished.”
  3. The resurrection from the dead is a vital teaching and cannot be separated from the crucifixion but it must always be remembered that death is a by-product of sin and sin was paid for on the cross. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:56 that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. Both sin and the law are put to death in Jesus body on the cross.

Here are a couple of negative reasons.

  1. Leaving Jesus off the cross is a theology of glory. The theology of glory is a Calvinist invention preferred by the MethoBapticostals. It takes the emphasis off the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins and puts it on the triumphal Jesus who leads us to morally upright and effective lives.
  2. Leaving Jesus off the cross diminishes the significance of the sacraments of Holy Absolution and Holy Communion because the pastor is not seen as a mouthpiece of forgiveness nor an administrator of the body and blood of Christ but as a life coach exhorting believers on to glorified resurrection living.
  3. Leaving Jesus off the cross supports the erroneous theology of “church growth.” This faulty theology is reflected in sermon series on the purpose driven life (individual purpose is not a scriptural category), money management tactics (the Bible says very little about personal money management – the parables on money are about the Gospel, not the proper use of money) and good parenting skills (the Bible says very little about proper parenting).

Following in the footsteps of St. Paul, true Confessional Christians proudly placard Jesus Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1).

We have numerous crucifixes throughout our church and school but recently I noticed that while teaching adult confirmation in our conference room I kept reaching to point to the corpus and was frustrated because we did not have a crucifix in there. We recently did the work to get one there and in all the rooms of the church and school where we teach the Gospel so that we can clearly preach Christ crucified.

May God bless your Good Friday devotion that your eyes may be fixed more securely on Christ crucified that you may know for sure that your sins are forgiven.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Another Reason to Have the Corpus on the Cross, by Pr. Rossow — 61 Comments

  1. Dave :
    Really, what is a good reason to NOT have a corpus on the cross?

    That we should not do anything Zwingli and/or Calvin has forbidden, and anything and everything the Church of Christ ever did before Zwingli and Calvin must be wrong since neither of these our true gods came up with it. Or something …

  2. And yet Jesus’ resurrected body has the nail holes and spear piercing. Why is it not ‘pristine’? Where did the wounds come from? It is absolutely legitimate to have the corpus. It wasn’t His birth, although important and necessary. It was His parables and teaching, again very necessary. Jesus came to die for us. Without that singular death and resurrection (which can only happen after a death), nothing else matters. So the crucifix would be a better (best?) representation of of the life and purpose (mission and ministry) of Christ.

  3. Elizabeth,

    The Scriptures talk about Christ on the cross. Nowhere does it mention an empty cross. You need to address the Scriptural evidence.

    I gave several examples in the post from Scripture. You give no Scripture, just your own reasoning.

    In addition I would point you to even the Old Testament which teaches the importance of the body of Christ. Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53 is filled with the body of Christ – e.g. “with his wounds we are healed.”

    Please Elizabeth, give Scriptural support for your rejection.

  4. But how can His body still bear the wounds, now that He is no longer in the process of being wounded?

    Could it be, perhaps, that He Himself, and His heavenly Father, is not really all that eager to make sure that His Christians forget about His sufferings as soon as possible, and move on?

    Could it be, perhaps, that it is actually in His sufferings He is glorified – that, in fact, His sufferings for the salvation of sinners is the most complete revelation of His glory – so that, perhaps one of His Evangelists – say, John, for example – would remember Him having talked about His own sufferings and His own exaltation in a such manner as if the two were to be seen as identical, somehow?

    Could it be that all this is not a matter of chronology, and that it is not only what is right here and now that can still be legitimately observed – so that it would be legitimate for a Christian to keep baby pictures of her children, even though they do not look like that and never will again, or her wedding pictures, even they she is not wearing that dress right now and never will again, or pictures of herself standing in front of the Grand Canyon, although her body is not there right now and might never be, and to keep her body there is to freeze reality in one particular place and time – not quite the whole story, eh?

    Could it be, perhaps, that it is not really a matter of chronology, about exactly when and where, and when and where not, but that it is rather all about a reality God always has set before Himself, and will always have set before sinners, in order that they may always know the cause and cost of their salvation, and be saved?

    Could it even be, perhaps, that His suffering sacrifice is what our heavenly High Priest presents and pleads before the Father?

  5. Elizabeth :
    But I know how many of my fellow Lutherans love them some ‘romish’ window-dressing. It is so cool and authentic and old. Some of our ‘priests’ LONG for the same wicked power the men of Rome had over the souls in their churches.

    How many is that? And how do you know that they are such bad people and poor Christians and unfaithful Pastors as to be motivated by such desires?

    Elizabeth :
    RC, Orthodox and Lutherans are the only true Christians. Every one else is a Zwinglist. Your typing errors prove it! So there.

    Do you really believe that? Or are you implying that somebody else has said so? In that case it has certainly escaped my attention; I should be grateful if you would enlighten me as to has expressed a such conviction.
    Thanking you in advance.

  6. @Jais H. Tinglund #5
    The second was a swipe at me Pastor (though I lumped the EO w/ the Zwinglians, and made no claims that either group was heretical rather than heterodox, and didn’t try to link typos to the sacramentarian heresy.) I was wrong to rise to the bait and jump into a discussion about which heterodox communion was “next best”, but Methodism for pity’s sake! Wesleyans are about as close to 180 degrees out from Lutherans as anything that’s existed for more than a decade can be. I was sorely tempted and I failed.

    I don’t think that Pr. Rossow’s argument is hurt by the fact that those opposing it are openly anti-catholic, and unapologetically Protestant (to the point of holding up Wesley as a model in one case at least!) As Luther said: When you throw a shoe out the window at a group of noisy cats at night, the one the wails the loudest is the one you hit.

    Easter Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

  7. Matt Mills :
    @Jais H. Tinglund #5
    The second was a swipe at me Pastor (though I lumped the EO w/ the Zwinglians, and made no claims that either group was heretical rather than heterodox, and didn’t try to link typos to the sacramentarian heresy.)

    I did catch myself suspecting that that or something similar might be at work.
    But then, the statement that “RC, Orthodox and Lutherans are the only true Christians. Every one else is a Zwinglist” was just too far from any attitude expressed by anyone here. So I thought that a such misrepresentation would be too gross, the indecency too obvious, for anyone to stand by, even if only by her first name.

    So I convinced myself that it could not be.

    I can be awfully naive at times. I guess it’s an ethnic thing.

    And when it comes to sarcasm I am completely clueless, culturally disadvantaged as I definitely am …

    At any rate, a blessed Easter to you a well.

  8. 1 Corinthians 1:23
    but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

    Galatians 6:14
    May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world

  9. @Matt Mills #6

    Brother, why the unfounded rebuking?

    You make very gross generalizations about people you never met and then take much liberty with simple statements to launch false accusations and unsupported assertions. If you actually took the time to READ history and study/compare confessions perhaps you would have an ability to make an honest assessment and factually based comments rather then resort to school-yard level taunts (“anti-Catholic”) and low-grade PC-type labeling and smearing.

    I never made any statement endorsing Methodism, Protestantism or anything else. You simply make that up in an attempt to smear. There are things of value in many “Protestant” writings as well as the “Catholic” ones of the historic church fathers that espouse the biblical truths of Grace Alone/Faith Alone/Word Alone/Christ Alone/Glory to God Alone. I simply referenced one possible such writer and cautioned you not to do what you are now accusing me of being: automatically “anti” or judgmental of and dismissive of people by sweeping generalizations. In fact, I stated the author made some very valid observations but also needed to more specific and factually accurate about the source of the error. Was he being “Anti-Protestant” in his pointing out the practice of the theology of glory in these church bodies and their doctrines?

    The RC doctrine of “synergy” as espoused by Thomist scholastic theology (which was declared by the pope in 1880 to be the basis for ALL RC theology and teachings) is the very epitome of works righteousness (the true theology of glory). The RC actively professes that your ultimate salvation (being with God in heaven) is as much up to you as it is Christ. You are “saved” if you will by faith AND works not by Grace Alone/Faith Alone through Christ & the Cross. Please provide some factual or historical evidence that shows otherwise or I am wrong about this. Please explain why it is “Anti Catholic” to ask for fair and clear historical and theological accounting of the theology of glory in the RC teachings and doctrines.

    I am accurately asserting based on the historical evidence and the RCs own published teachings, doctrines and theology and that you are simply wrong if you think that the “works righteous” theology of glory promoted by the RC and the papacy is anything remotely approaching the theology of the Cross taught by the scriptures and the Luther.

    It wrong in my opinion to make gross factual errors about where the theology of glory was first codified and taught as “infallible” doctrine and who is the biggest current promoter of it in the world (both historically and in terms of current membership numbers) and the visible church.

    Literally, this is a matter of eternal significance so while it correct to educate people on this false doctrine we should endeavor to do so in an honest and factual manner and be unbiased in identifying ALL of its practitioners and promoters of it not just select ones that we may take special offense too based on our personally developed biases and cultural idiosyncrasies.

  10. @RJ #9
    BA, University of Minnesota, Early Modern European (Reformation) History w/ a minor in German, so I’m not sure what you think I should read that I haven’t got a well-thumbed copy of on my bookshelves already.

    Again, if we are both Confessional Lutherans, there is only so much value in debating who’s theology and praxis is second best, but here goes: aside from Confessional Lutherans, and double-predestination Calvinists all Christian sects are “synergists.” For my money, if we’re going to “rank order” synergists, I’m going to prefer synergists like the RC who clearly give the “initium fidei” to God (through the means of grace) even if they then claim partial credit for the works which must follow the faith given by God through the means of grace, over synergists like the Methodists, who give the “initium fidei” to fallen sinners, and basically put God in the position of the fat kid at gym class hoping that we pick Him. Again, for my money, the errors of limited atonement and a rejection of sacramental grace put the non-liberal Calvinists a whisker below the RC. Luther clearly agreed w/ me when he wrote that he’d rather drink blood w/ the Papists than wine only w/ the Zwinglians, and when he refused to shake hands w/ Zwingli and Oecolampadius at Marburg, but that’s a judgment call and I know a lot of solid Lutherans that would go the other way on that.

    I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. I do consider myself “anti-Protestant” so feel free to call me that. Still, from a Confessional standpoint “because it’s catholic” is a good reason to DO something neither commanded nor forbidden (like display a crucifix), rather than a good reason to stop doing it.

    -Matt Mills

  11. Makes sense to me.

    And from having read quite a few of his postings on this site it is, frankly, a mystery to me to begin with that anybody would suggest, or even suspect, that Mr. Mills should be lacking in education and/or knowledge.

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