In the April 2005 issue of the official LDS magazine Ensign, President Gordon Hinckley told the story of a question he received from a Protestant minister who was invited to attend the open house of the newly renovated Mesa (AZ) temple.
“I’ve been all though this building, this temple which carries on its face the name of Jesus Christ,” the minister said, “but nowhere have I seen any representation of the cross, the symbol of Christianity. I have noted your building elsewhere and likewise find an absence of the cross. Why is this when you say you believe in Jesus Christ?”
Hinckley’s answer was not at all unlike answers I have heard from Mormons for years.
“For us,” Hinckley responded, “the cross is a symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.”
I find Hinckley’s comment problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, the comparison he draws makes it seem as if Christians who see a great deal of significance in the cross fail, in some degree, to grasp the significance of Christ’s resurrection.
The resurrection is indeed a very important aspect of the Christian faith for it validates Christ’s role as Messiah. As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15:14, if Christ is not raised, our faith is worthless.
Nowhere do we find any implication in the New Testament that the cross should somehow be minimized because Christ rose from the dead. There is certainly room to remember the importance of both. The fact is, these two events go hand in hand since there can’t be a resurrection without a death. Why Mormons such as Hinckley hold that the memory of the cross must be given a back seat in order to draw attention to the resurrection is puzzling since the evidence clearly shows how the cross was a major theme in the New Testament.
In his article, Hinckley states that “the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and the symbol of our worship.” Does Hinckley imply that having the cross as our symbol somehow takes away from a Christian’s desire to live a life that strives to reflect the holiness of Christ? If so, I must once again strongly object.
Reading this article, one might draw the conclusion that Mormons have no symbols unique to their faith. This, of course, is far from the truth. Anybody who has visited Salt Lake City will quickly notice that Mormon symbols are found throughout the downtown area. Probably its best known symbol is the angel Moroni. Ironically, this trumpet-blowing effigy stands in the same place a Christian cross would probably stand if LDS temples were Christian churches.
Beehives, moonstones, sunstones, the all-seeing eye, and Masonic “grips” are in abundance on the temple in Salt Lake City, and while Mormons are quick to distance themselves from the cross, they have no problem defending the numerous five-pointed pentagrams used as decorations on both the Salt Lake City and Nauvoo temple.
I personally wish Mormons gave closer heed to the cross; in doing so they may discover more fully why Christians see this as an important symbol that reminds us of all that was accomplished through Christ’s suffering on behalf of the believer. It is the suffering of Christ that gives real meaning to the resurrection, for it allows us to see why the resurrection is as important as it is. But what exactly did his suffering and death on the cross accomplish? Consider these verses:
- Romans 5:9 – The shedding of His blood on the cross makes being justified before an all-holy God a present reality. No longer must we wonder if we will ever be “good enough.”
- Romans 8:34 – His death resulted in us having One who intercedes on our behalf before the Father.
- 1 Corinthians 5:7 – As the sacrificed Passover Lamb, Christ enables us to get rid of the contamination of sin of malice and wickedness and embrace sincerity and truth.
- Galatians 3:13 – Christ’s death on the cross redeemed us from the curse of the Law, a system by which no sinful human could ever be justified.
- Colossians 1:22 – Through the death of Christ’s physical body, those of us who were at one time alienated and enemies of God are now reconciled and made holy in His sight without blemish and free from accusation.
- Colossians 2:13 – Nailed to the cross was the promised cancellation of the written code with its regulations that condemned us, resulting in the forgiveness of not some but all our sins.
- Colossians 2:15 – Christ’s death on the cross triumphed over Satan and his demonic influences by depriving them of their powers and authority.
- Hebrews 2:14 – By His death Jesus frees those were once held in slavery by the fear of death. The bondage brought about by the thought of death no longer has a hold on us. Death’s sting has been removed.
- Hebrews 9:14 – Whereas the regular sacrifices of bulls and goats had no power to take away sins or clear a worshipper’s conscience, Christ’s death, offered once for all, serves dual purposes: it cleanses the conscience of the believer and takes away his sin, and it also enables him to serve the living God.
- Hebrews 10:14 – Most adherents of other religions struggle to please their particular deities. However, Christ’s sacrifice by itself allows His people to become perfect. The anxiety of striving to be “good enough” has been taken away, allowing us to rest completely in His finished completed work.
In John 15:13, Jesus pointed to His future death as His great of love for His people: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
In Galatians 6:14, the Apostle Paul certainly didn’t seem to share the same hesitancy as Gordon Hinckley: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Nowhere can we find Paul shirking from being associated with the cross.
Christians should feel no shame when they emphasize the cross for their redemption. Paul clearly reminded the believers that “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
In his tract titled Calvary, John Charles Ryle, a well-respected bishop in the Church of England during the 19th century, summed it up well when he wrote:
“Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love? Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts. The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over. Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”