Using the cross

I got into an argument with someone about the second commandment. I’m not sure if WELS has the commandments in a different arrangement as other denominations, but the commandment was “You shall not make any graven image.” He was using his interpretation of this commandment to showcase that he doesn’t believe in wearing crucifixes because people are trying to formulate an image of God above, and that’s wrong (as he claims the commandment says). There’s a lot to contest what he’s saying such as, the context in which the commandment is given, the translation, etc., but in the KJV and NIV translations there’s enough slack for him to continue to believe what he believes and have a decent argument. I don’t have enough concrete support to back up the idea that the verse is only in the context of idol worshiping, and it doesn’t mean you can’t make an image of God, religious art, or wear a crucifix as an indication of your belief. Can you please help? As much support as possible would help affirm me in this idea.

The “Ten Commandments” of Exodus 34:28 are literally “Ten Words.” God spoke ten “words” that constituted his commandments, but he did not indicate which was the “first word” or the “tenth word.” As a result, there have been three different numbering systems of the commandments throughout the years (the Jewish system, the Roman Catholic and Lutheran system, and the Reformed and Greek Orthodox system).

Since God did not specifically state which is the “second commandment” or which is the “ninth commandment,” it makes little difference if people attach a different number to a commandment or “word.” The content is not changed.

Your question addresses content that is associated with either the first commandment or the second commandment, depending on how people divide the “Ten Words.” Your question addresses Exodus 20:4-6: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” God emphasized that command later in the chapter: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold’” (Exodus 20:22-23).

With those words, God is forbidding the making of an image for the purpose of worshiping it. What God forbids is exactly what the people of Israel did when they built a golden calf and worshiped it (Exodus 32).

When Christians beautify their worship spaces with crosses or wear them as jewelry, they are not worshiping those objects. The cross is a symbol of God’s justice and love. On the cross of Calvary, God spared sinners and punished his own Son in their place. The cross is a reminder of the depth of God’s love.

The Bible itself points to the significance of the cross: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). “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” (Galatians 6:14). Colossians 1:20; 2:14-15 and 1 Peter 2:24 also underscore the importance of the cross.

Christians use more than the cross as a reminder of God’s love and mercy. Think of some other items of Christian art you can find in churches: a scallop shell to call to mind the blessings of Baptism, a chalice and wafer to underscore the blessings of the Lord’s Supper, a dove to recall the work of the Holy Spirit, a manger to remember the lowly manner of Jesus’ birth, and an empty tomb to reinforce the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Christians are not worshiping these images. These images keep the truths of God’s word before our eyes; they are visual reminders of God’s love and mercy.

As God has neither commanded nor forbidden the use of Christian art, using a cross lies in the area of Christian freedom. I hope this information will be helpful for you.