Why Do Covenanters Reject the Representation of the Symbol of the Cross?

By Michael Daniels

August 31, 2015

It always seems to come as a surprise to many Christians including those of other Reformed and Presbyterian background that Covenanters (Reformed Presbyterians) are against not only all images of the Triune God as much as inside the Worship as outside the Worship of the Yahovah that we are also against images of the Cross. Not just a Crucifixes with Christ up on the Cross but also plain Crosses as well. It baffles other Christians as for the reason behind this prohibition. How on Earth can we justify this prohibition and why would be want to? The following is a small summary of our reasons.

For one, It is not commanded. As Reformed Christians we believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship. The Regulative Principle teaches that we are not permitted to worship Yahovah in any other way then He commands us. Silence is as very much a prohibition as an explicit forbidding.

Quod Scriptura Non Iubet Vetat (What Scripture does not command, it forbids)

Nowhere in scripture are we commanded to make images or symbols either for worship or for any religious purposes. I think it’s obvious that having images of Crosses and other religious symbols not authorized by scripture would unavoidably lead to iconography.

This principle applies not just for corporate worship but also private acts of worship. Is it lawful to setup an idol at home to worship the one true God? I hope the obvious answer is no. We are not permitted to set up an idol at home. I object to the setting up any image of symbol for a “holy” purpose in any situation, place or sphere.

Any commandment which applies corporately also applies for families and for individuals. The second commandment (the regulative principle of worship) applies to any time that we answer the call of God to come into His presence and offer Him praise, homage and oblation.

We are forbidden to ever make an image nor even a symbol for veneration and how many people revere the symbol of the cross.

‘The cross has been also abused to superstition and idolatry, to drive away devils, to expel diseases, to break the force of witchcraft, &c. It is one of the images to which the papists give religious adoration. The water in the baptism has no spiritual virtue in it without the cross, nor is any one rightly baptized (according to the papists) without it.’ Lincolnshire ministers apology, December 1, 1604, Taken from Daniel Neal, “History of the Puritans” (Vol. 1, pp. 245-246)

Augustine of Hippo said,

“But they consider themselves to have excused their religion who say: ‘I neither worship an image nor an intermediary spirit, but I admire a physical image and likeness of the very thing which I ought to worship.’ Accordingly they expound images in the same way as others who say that the earth is signified by temples dedicated to Tellus; others the sea, in like manner, by the image of Neptune; others the heavens by Juno, others fire by Vulcan, others the mornings star by Venus, others assign the same name to the sun and the moon by the image of Tellus, others the former or her star, either her or her offspring: nor, indeed, are we able to enumerate the entire list. Of which matters in turn they have begun to be stirred up, because they worship corporal things, and especially the earth, the sea, the heavens and fire, which we are always ready to enjoy (for with regard to the heavenly bodies, seeing by our selfsame body to handle and to hold, except we are able by the rays of our eyes not thus they are ashamed), they venture to answer we do not worship the corporal thing, but those ruling gods which preside over them. Accordingly one passage from the Apostle testifies of their punishment and condemnation: ‘Who exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever,’ (Romans 1:25).”

” I must tell you that we neither adore crosses nor desire them. You it is, ye Pagans, who worship wooden gods, who are the most likely people to adore wooden crosses, as being part of the same substance with your deities. For what else are your ensigns, flags, and standards, but crosses, gilt and beautiful. ” -(Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapter XXIX). 197 A.D.

John Calvin (16th c.), Treatise on Relics

“As soon as anyone has devised an image of God, they have instituted false worship. The object of Moses is to restrain the rashness of men, lest they should travesty God’s glory by their imaginations.”

When most people look at a cross they automatically picture and image Christ on that Cross whether He is made on the cross or not..

Council of Elibertine of 366 A.D., “Pictures ought not to be in churches, nor any object of adoration or praise be painted on the walls.”

Quinisext Council of 692 addressed controversies in this area: prohibition of the representation of the cross on church pavements (Canon 73).

But it also always seems to get asked, “In what way is an empty cross an image of God?”

The symbol that represents Christ’s crucifixion was invented by the Roman Catholic Church. It is not just an “empty cross”. It is a design that is meant to depict the cross of Christ’s sacrifice. Question 109 of the WLC puts it this way on what are the sins forbidden in the second commandment, “…the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever, all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it,…”

Jesus Christ is God. He is the second Person of the Trinity. To make a design which represents His crucifixion is making an image that represents Him and the great work that He accomplished.

And finally, If and I stretch it to be a BIG if, if at some point the Cross was okay to be symbolized, once it became abused towards idolatry (i.e. Roman Catholics), it is to be destroyed and never ever to be taken up again, as Westminster divine George Gillespie write about the Brazen Serpent in the OT,

“Further, we have the example of Jehu, who is commended for the destroying of Baal out of Israel, with his image, his house, and his very vestments, 2 Kings x. 22-28. And what example more considerable than that of Hezekiah, who not only abolished such monuments of idolatry as at their first institution were but men’s invention, but break down also the brazen serpent (though originally set up at God’s own command), when once he saw it abused to idolatry? 2 Kings xvii. 4. This deed of Hezekiah Pope Steven doth greatly praise, and professeth that it is set before us for our imitation, that when our predecessors have wrought some things which might have been without fault in their time, and afterward they are converted into error and superstition, they may be quickly destroyed by us who come after them. Farellus saith, that princes and magistrates should learn by this example of Hezekiah what they should do with those significant rites of men’s devising which have turned to superstition. Yea, the Bishop of Winchester acknowledgeth, that whatsoever is taken up at the injunction of men, when it is drawn to superstition, cometh under the compass of the brazen serpent, and is to be abolished; and he excepteth nothing from this example but only things of God’s own prescribing. Moreover, we have example of good Josiah, 2 Kings xxiii., for he did not only destroy the houses, and the high places of Baal, but his vessels also, and his grove, and his altars; yeaj, the horses and chariots which had been given o the sun. The example also of penitent Manasseh, who not only overthrew the strange gods, but their altars too, 2 Chron. Xxxiii. 15. And of Moses, the man of God, who was not content to execute vengeance on the idolatrous Israelites, except he should also utterly destroy the monuments of their idolatry, Exod. Xxxii. 17-20. ” Disputation Against the English Popish Ceremonies, George Gillespie

“And since, (to come near to our present purpose,) Crosses in market-places, and not in churches, are, (as by good proof we find,) great stumbling stones, not only to the simple, but also to such as will seem to be wiser; impossible me-think it is, a Cross to be erected in place of God’s service, and Him that hanged on the Cross to be honoured as He ought. For the mind is rapt from heavenly consideration to the earthly creature; from the soul to the substance; from the heart to the eye. Cause we can assign none other but, as the same Lactantius doth say: Esse aliquam per-versam potestatem, quce veritatis sit semper inimica : quce humanis erroribus gaudeat : cui unicum [al. unum] ac perpetuum sit opus offundere tenebras, et hominum coecare mentes, ne lucem videant; ne denique in coelum aspiciant, ac naturam corporis sui servent: “There a certain perverse which taketh is enemy unto the is truth: which taketh pleasure in man’s error” whose only and continual work it is to overcast clouds and mist of darkness, to blind the minds of men that they see not the light; that they look not up into heaven, and keep the nature of their own body.” -James Calfhill, Treatise of the Cross, 1565

“For, as Hieremy saith : Eruditio vanitatum lignum: “The stock is a doctrine of vanity;” and Abakuk: “An Image is the teacher of lies.” Shall we then discredit the counsel of our God, saying” Scrutamini Scripturas: “Search ye the Scriptures;” and follow the device of the Devil, teaching” Contemplamini Picturas: Look upon Pictures?” -James Calfhill, Treatise of the Cross, 1565

Another point to consider is why would we want a Roman torture and death device to represent Christianity? The Early Church clearly did not want to be associated with a Roman torture and death device. The Cross was not found in the first three centuries of Christianity. The Cross only started to appear around the 400s. And why use this Roman torture and death depiction? Our Savior and Messiah did not remain in the grave. He arose and is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father. The Cross is death but Christ is life and life eternal.

So in Conclusion I will end with what the great divine of the early Church Lactantius did say that whereby it comes to pass, “Ut Religio nulla sit, ubi Simulachrum est: “That no Religion is there, where an Image is.”


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