The absence of a symbol is yet another evidence that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints is a restoration of true.
Christian beginnings. That statement is something that the rest of Christianity isn’t going to embrace. Hello, Saints. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Jeff. I’m a Christian pastor, exploring everything I can about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. One of the very first videos I made on this channel was a trip that I took to Nauvoo, Illinois, where there’s a ton of Latterday Saint history. One of the things that I noticed was there was an absence of crosses. When I released that videos, I had a ton of Latterday Saints trying to help me understand why Latterday Saints have historically not focused very much on the iconography of the cross. Then in the fall of 2022, Elder Holland at General Conference actually spoke on this very topic. I’ve had a lot of people requesting that I react to this video. I’m going to watch it. I’m going to give you my reaction. I’m going to talk about where we might be similar or different in views on the cross. Then I’ll share my perspective as a Protestant pastor. Let’s dive in.
Years ago, following a graduate school discussion on American religious history, a fellow student asked me, Why have the Latterday Saints not adopted the cross that other Christians use as a symbol of their faith? In as much as such questions about the cross are often really a question about our commitment to Christ. I immediately told him that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints considers the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be the central fact, the crucial foundation, the chief doctrine, and the ultimate expression of divine love in God’s grand plan for the salvation of His children.
Okay, so what he’s saying right here is something that is a misperception for people outside of the Latterday Saint Church. I had the perception that Latterday Saints, though Jesus Christ is in the name of the Church, took the emphasis off the cross, especially when I had a lot of Latterday Saints telling me that they put the focus on the atonement taking place in the garden. I will say that I’ve even heard a little bit of variation within the Church of people who still put the focus on Gethsemane, but a lot of Latterday Saints who really do focus on the cross, and they actually love what the cross represents. This is relatively consistent with a lot of conversations I’ve had with Latterday Saints recently. Let’s keep going.
I quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith who said, All things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to the atonement of Jesus Christ. Then I read him what Nephi had written 600 years before Jesus’ birth. And the angel spake unto me saying, Look, and I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, who was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world. To the Nephites in the New World, the Resurrected Christ said, My father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me. And for this cause, I have been lifted up.
Okay, so this brings out another thing that I’m learning. These references to Joseph Smith making statements about the cross and references to Nephi, making references to the significance of the Savior dying on the cross is something that I do see in the Book of Mormon.
Now, as I attempt to explain why we generally do not use the iconography of the cross, I wish to make abundantly clear our deep respect and profound admiration for the faith filled motives and the devoted lives of those who do.
Okay, so there I really do appreciate what he’s saying, and that is that just because Latterday Saints might not put a focus on the cross, it’s okay if people who follow Jesus do put a focus on the cross. Even within mainstream Christianity, there are debates about the cross, whether we should use crucifixes, which is where Jesus is still hanging on the cross, or have the cross empty because Jesus is no longer hanging on the cross. Either way, let’s maybe not get hung up on this issue and focus on the essential things that are represented about the cross, which I’m wondering if that’s where Elder Holland is going next.
One reason we do not emphasize the cross as a symbol stems from our biblical roots. Because crucifixion was one of the Roman Empire’s most agonizing forms of execution, many early followers of Jesus chose not to highlight that brutal instrument of suffering. The meaning of Christ’s death was certainly central to their faith, but for some 300 years, they typically sought to convey their gospel identity through other means. By the fourth and fifth centuries, a cross was being introduced as a symbol of generalized Christianity.
From what I understand, historically, this seems about right. We don’t know 100 % for sure when they started using crosses, but I think it is widely accepted that it was around the third, fourth, fifth century. A gain, there’s some debate over that that it might have been used earlier, but when he says that there were other means of ways of representing who you were as a Christian, I think historically, for the most part, this is making sense as to when the cross started to be used.
But ours is not a generalized Christianity. Being neither Catholic nor Protestant, we are rather a restored Church, the restored New Testament Church. Thus, our origins and our authority go back before the time of councils and creeds and iconography. In this sense, the absence of a symbol that was late coming into common use is yet another evidence that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints is a restoration of true Christian beginnings.
Okay, so naturally that statement that the restored Church is pointing to the true origins of Christianity is something that the rest of Christianity isn’t going to embrace. Because even in that statement, he’s tying the use of creeds to the early Roman Catholic influence of the early Church Fathers, and that the Latterday Saint Church doesn’t embrace iconography. But one thing I would say in response to that is that I’ve seen a lot of iconography used within the Latterday Saint Church. Just Moroni on top of the temple s alone is a very strong icon that really stuck out to me as a non Latterday Saint whenever I first saw a temple. And also whenever I was in Nauvoo, I saw all of the stars and various representations of the sun and other things that I actually don’t have a ton of definition around where I am recognizing there’s actually a lot of iconography. Even on the garments that people wear, I know that there are certain symbols embroidery into it to act as reminders of certain aspects of faith. So I’m not exactly sure what he’s referring to to say that lighterly Saints don’t embrace iconography. But maybe, again, he’s just trying to tie this within the context to the cross.
Let’s keep going. Another reason for not using iconized crosses is the emphasis on the complete miracle of Christ’s mission, his glorious resurrection, as well as his sacrificial suffering and death. In underscoring that relationship, I note two pieces of art that serve as backdrops for the first presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their sacred weekly temple meetings each Thursday in Salt Lake City. These portrayals serve as constant reminders to us of the price that was paid and the victory that was won by Him whose servants we are.
And to that, I would say Amen. Having those two paintings next to each other, I would agree with is the complete picture. It is incredibly important to understand the significance of what was accomplished on the cross and also the significance of what was accomplished through the resurrection. So we believe that Christ’s mission wasn’t one or the other, but it was both that he defeated sin on the cross and satisfied God’s wrath and reconciled us to Him. While resurrection was not victory over sin, but it was victory over death, which is why we have a hope of our own resurrection at a future time. So I agree that both of those pictures represent the full picture of Christ’s amazing mission on earth. But again, I really do think that it’s important to respond to statements like this. Another comment that I’ve seen recently, the reason Latterday Saints don’t use a cross as a symbol, because we don’t want to remember Christ for his death. We remember him for his resurrection. This is why our logo is a picture of Jesus walking out of the tomb. This is also why we don’t wear crosses around our necks.
Again, I want to point to the fact that the resurrection is just as important as a cross to protestant evangelicales. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a Latterday Saint saying, We don’t want to remember Christ for his death. If you are a Latterday Saint, I would just ask you to take this in good faith from a pastor who would encourage you to move away from that line of thinking of saying, We don’t want to remember Christ for his death. Because every time you go to sacrament meeting, you are going there to remember Christ’s death. In fact, Jesus commanded us to remember his death every time we partake in the sacraments. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 11, when he says the Lord Jesus, on the night that he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Pointing to the fact that his body was about to be beaten and he was about to suffer death on the cross. In the same way after supper, he took the cup saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me. I understand that Latterday Saints say that he shed blood in Gethsemane, but we believe that the atonement took place on the cross. Why do we believe that the blood of the new covenant is on the cross? Well, if you keep reading here, for whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. I don’t know how that line of thinking has gotten into the explanations of Latterday Saints to say we don’t want to remember his death because this really is a very direct command from Jesus. And something from what I understand, Latterday Saints practice doing this in remembrance of me, the body which was broken on the cross, the blood of the New Covenant which was spilled on the cross. And again, I would just point to another reason why that’s iconography in a certain sense. It’s symbolism between the blood and the juice or the wine or the water. That if that symbolism is okay to remind us of what Jesus did on the cross, that there can also be a powerful reminder that takes place in that iconography of crosses.
Lastly, we remind ourselves that President Gordon B. Hinkley once taught, The lives of our people must be the symbol of our faith. These considerations, especially the latter, bring me to what may be the most important of all scriptural references to the cross. It has nothing to do with pendant or or jewelry, or with stables or signposts. It has to do, rather, with the rock ribbed integrity and the stiff moral backbone that Christians should bring to the call Jesus has given to every one of his disciples. In every land and age, he has said to us all, If any man or woman will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Okay, again, this is something that I would agree with, that aside from iconography, whether you agree with it or not or whether you use it or not, the most important reality of the cross is the incarnation of the cross in the lives of those who have been transformed by the cross. I appreciate the passage that he quotes right here because we within protestant Christianity, we communicate the same truth from the Bible that says that Jesus called us to be people who took up our cross and following the footsteps of the one who, through his love and through his sacrifice, served us by enduring hardship so that there could be life, so that God’s love could be on display. And that really is the call to anybody who is a follower of Jesus. So that Incarnational representation of the cross is something that I would agree with and I would actually teach.
This speaks of the crosses we bear rather than the ones we wear. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, one must sometimes carry a burden, your own or someone else’s, and go where sacrifice is required and suffering is inevitable. A true Christian cannot follow the Master only in those matters with which he or she agrees. No, we follow Him everywhere, including, if necessary, into arenas filled with tears and trouble where sometimes we may stand very much alone.
Now here again is something that I would agree with, and that is, especially within American Christianity, there is this misunderstanding that though Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly, and he accomplished so much for us on the cross that when we put our faith in him and follow him, that that means life is going to get easier, or that we’re going to have more success, or life is going to go better for us. And that’s just simply not the case. Jesus himself said that, If you follow me, you will endure suffering on earth. And that’s because from a protestant standpoint, we believe that this is a fallen world and the world is filled with darkness. So when we step into the light, as it says in John 3, the darkness hates the light and runs from So then we exist in this dichotomous tension of being children of the light, yet living in a world that is still lost in darkness. And as a result of that, there can be, and there usually is, a lot of suffering for those who remain faithful to this savior, but he promises us that he will be with us even until the end of the age.
So for that reason, we can endure that suffering, which is very much what it sounds like Elder Holland is referring to here.
These are just a few of so many trying circumstances we may face in life, solemn reminders that there is a cost to discipleship.
So if you’ve seen this original talk, you might notice that I actually just jumped past a few examples that he gave of the type of suffering that does exist in this world. And I’m not trying to hide anything or try to sidestep anything. I’m just for time’s sake wanting to make sure that I’m able to keep this video from getting too long. In fact, I put a link in the description to this talk so you can watch the entire thing for yourself. But I just want to be sensitive to time as we move on here, and I provide my full reaction.
It is one of the most powerful paradoxes of the crucifixion that the arms of the Savior were stretched wide open and then nailed there, unwittingly but accurately portraying that every man, woman, and child in the entire human family is not only welcome but invited into his redeeming, exalting embrace.
I love what he’s saying here, and I would agree with it. In fact, I’ve used that imagery before of Jesus’s arm being stretched out on the cross, that there’s something powerful about that. That there is something inviting about that. It’s the full display of his suffering, yes, but it’s also the full display of the invitation to all of mankind to come unto the Father and be reconciled. Now, I know that that’s applied differently when it gets into the nitty gritty of Latterday Saint belief when it comes to the pre existence and the reason why Jesus died. I’m going to get into that a little bit more in just a second. But that statement right there is something that I would agree with. I think it’s a really important and powerful image.
As the glorious resurrection followed the agonizing cruc, so blessings of every kind are poured out on those who are willing, as the Book of Mormon Prophet Jacob says, to believe in Christ and view his death and suffer his cross. Sometimes these blessings come soon. Sometimes they come later. But the marvelous conclusion to our personal via Dolorosa is the promise from the Master himself that they do and will come. To obtain such blessings, may we follow Him, unfailing, never faltering nor fleeing, never flinching at the task, not when our crosses may be heavy and not when, for a time, the path may grow dark.
Again, I think this is really good stuff that he’s saying here. And listen, I know that there are doctrine underpinnings to the context of what he’s teaching. And a lot of my evangelical friends might be saying, Well, hold on. He’s making reference to these things, but it’s also tied to the human family and how salvation has applied to all of humanity. I get all of that. When it comes to what he’s saying, though, that Jesus himself invites us to endure because he was willing to endure, I’m saying that this is similar to what I teach because I really do believe this is what the Bible teaches. That Hebrews 12 is a perfect example that we can keep our eyes set on the path before us because Jesus is the one that blazed the trail through his suffering and through his resurrection. And because of that, we can endure, we can persevere and keep running. No matter what sin we’re entangled with or no matter what trial that we’re walking through, that Jesus’s endurance can and should and will transfer to our endurance. So I’m on the same page with him when it comes to the truisms, at the very least, that Elder Holland is pointing to here.
For your strength and your loyalty and your love, I give deep, personal thanks this day. I bear Apostolic witness of him who was lifted up, and to the eternal blessings he bestows, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen. Okay, so I can see why this video was passed on to me because he does speak directly to the issue of the use of crosses versus not the use of crosses. I understand that he’s making the point that Latterday Saints don’t focus on iconography of the cross because they’d rather put the focus on the incarnational living of the cross and the endurance that that brings to those of us who are suffering in this world. But I don’t know if I really understand the point as to why it can’t be both. Because again, Latterday Saints use a lot of iconography of various things as reminders of certain aspects of their faith and their covenants and some of these other things. And that shouldn’t take the place of the Incarnational reality of those things. In the same way, I don’t know if I really understand why it has to be one or the other in this case, that I think that one can live out the reality of the cross in our daily lives as we walk through suffering, as we bear our own crosses while also using the iconography of the cross as a reminder of what Jesus did as maybe even an extra motivation.
In fact, Paul himself was perfectly fine with putting the cross on display in his life when he said, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that Paul himself is demonstrating that it is actually okay to boast of the cross, that we don’t need to sidestep it. At the end of the day, though, I think that it’s okay. I appreciate Elder Holland’s focus on the Incarnational reality of the cross and the lives of those who have put their faith in Jesus. That’s actually a departure from other people that I’ve talked to. In fact, a lot of Latterday Saints who make reference to the fact that Latterday Saints don’t focus on the iconography of the cross because it’s a torture device and we don’t want to focus on the cross. We’d rather focus on the resurrection. In fact, one comment I read recently said this, If my brother was killed with a gun, I don’t think I would hang a gun on the wall to remember my brother. This is just one example of someone who’s saying, We don’t really want to remember the cross or put the focus on the cross because it is such a violent and difficult aspect of the reality of the history of Christianity.
To that point, I’m feeling a little preachy if I’m going to be honest with you. I’m sorry, but preachers be preaching. I actually stopped recording this video for a second after I watched it. It was a secret magic of editing. You didn’t see it. But I wanted to put together a few points to explain to Latterday Saints why protestants are comfortable putting such a focus on the cross, remembering the significance of the cross, and why even the use of crosses is a really powerful reminder to us. The first reason is because we believe that the cross demonstrates the justice of God. We serve a God who is just because he is holy. When sin entered the world and we were all of a sudden in disparity of holiness because we had sin in our lives, God sent Jesus on the cross to right those scales so that the sin that separated us from his presence would no longer be counted against us so that we could be brought back into his presence. Another reason why crosses are important to us is because God’s wrath is demonstrated on the cross. God is a wrath God. He deals with sin seriously. And we believe that the wages of sin is death and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And had it not been for God’s intervention with the cross where he satisfied his wrath, or another word for that is called propitiation, then we would be hopelessly lost forever. God’s wrath being satisfied, maybe you can put this in the terms that a child might understand, he’s not angry with us anymore. Not that sin doesn’t anger him, that sin doesn’t disturb or grieve him, but that wrath has been satisfied on the cross, which is another reason why we believe the cross is a really powerful reminder to us. And of course, that’s tied to the fact that he’s no longer angry with us and his wrath has been satisfied. That shows his love for us. I mean, this is John 3 16, right? He loved the world so much that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. So the cross naturally is a really powerful reminder of not just the wrath of God being poured out on Jesus who took on God’s wrath, but also in doing so demonstrated the love of God on the cross. And that love leads to the will of God as to why he sent Jesus to die on the cross.
And it’s something that I referred to a second ago. It’s where sin separates from him. The cross satisfied God’s wrath, demonstrated his love so that we could be reconciled to him, so that we could be brought back into relationship with him. God’s desire to be reconciled to us is demonstrated on the cross, which is exactly what Colossians 1 says, starting in verse 19, for God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross. Jump down to verse 22, he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation. This is why a lot of protestant Christians are going to push against the idea that the atonement really happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because a verse like this in Colossians 1 specifically ties Christ’s physical death to reconciled relationship through atonement, which is another reason why crosses are really important to us because it’s a reminder of that reconciliation. Last but not least, God’s victory over evil is demonstrated on the cross.
Colossians 2.15, Having disarm the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them by triumphing over them by the cross. Where evil was running rampant in the world until the Son of God came, he had victory over evil where? On the cross. These are all reasons why crosses are such powerful reminders to us and why we lean away from any teaching regarding Gethsemane and put the focus on the cross and why we have crosses on our stables and we hang them in our houses and we wear them around our necks because it isn’t just a torture device to us. It is a representation of the multifaceted power of God’s justice and wrath and love and reconciliation and victory over evil. It’s so much more than a torture device. It really is God’s will for mankind on display, defeating the one thing that has separated us since sin entered the world. Now, here’s the deal. I’m not saying that Latterday Saints disagree with these points. In fact, I’ve talked to a lot of Latterday Saints who would probably agree with a lot of these points. Aside from the focus on Gethsemane, I’m also not saying that we must use cross iconography.
One of the best explanations I’ve heard from Latterday Saints as to why there isn’t a focus on cross iconography is more historic. It’s because at the time that the Latterday Saint Church was being established in the middle 19th century, there were a lot of churches, mainline churches that were building buildings and they weren’t really using crosses. They weren’t putting them on their staples or even putting them in their stained glass windows. So that historic explanation actually makes sense to me. Now, the one question that’s lingering in my mind, which I’m not going to cover in this video because this video is already longer than I was expecting it to be is whether or not mainstream Christians and Latterday Saints believe the same thing as to the reason Jesus died on the cross and the significance of why he needed to die on the cross. Because in initial conversations, I’ve heard Latterday Saints tie the cross more to exaltation and progression as opposed to mainstream Christians who put the focus on reconciled relationship with God and a lot of the points that I made earlier. But I’m not going to get into that right now, which is why if you like this video and you subscribe, you can watch the future video I make on that topic.
So do that. And maybe if you’re a Latterday Saint, you can leave a comment explaining to me why you believe the cross is important. And I’ll take some of that information that I learned from you and I’ll apply it to my understanding that I put in the video that I released on that topic. So to be continued, and until then, I’ll see you later, Saints.