Jan 23, 2015

Is It Safe to Wear a Crucifix?

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

I am not always brave. Sometimes I wonder if crucifix-wearing is dangerous. Today in Bible Study, we talked about living with loss and about witnessing to those who suffer. Pastor made the point that when our non-Christian friends are grieving, it is usually not our job to corner them and tell them about Jesus. If we do that, we become merely one of many voices all giving opinions about life, death, and how to “cope” with grief. Instead, it is our job to be present, to create opportunities for conversation, and to listen. It is our job to answer their questions about Jesus when they ask. Otherwise, they will not really hear what we say. “They already know you are a Christian--maybe they’ve seen your crucifix, or maybe they are aware that you go to church,” Pastor remarked.

I couldn’t help thinking about my own little crucifix necklace. I don’t wear it as often as I used to. It feels ostentatious to sport it in the grocery store (almost as bad as pasting a religious bumper sticker onto my car). If I attach a “label” to myself like that, don’t I risk giving Christians a bad name (or providing fodder to someone’s already existent anti-Christian prejudice) if I should merge too closely to another car, be too shy to smile and greet everyone I pass, or…. you name it…. even fail to wash my hands after a diaper change? What if I get ahead of them in a check-out line and they think I did it on purpose? What if I seem withdrawn or gloomy and they think I’m not a happy person? Shopping is hard enough without needing to consider the image that I am projecting.

Scripture speaks about being a witness. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15). The Law tells me to live righteously, to “shine,” to get it right. The pressure feels especially urgent and terrible because I might conceivably be a stumbling block for someone else. It is an undeniable reality that others are observing me and will undoubtedly form opinions about me and my God.

I know that I can’t keep God’s Law with the perfection it demands. I know that the old Adam in me is a terrible witness for the faith. Yet even though I know that it is Christ who fulfills the Law, Christ whose death brings me forgiveness each time I sin, it can feel as though this aspect of the Law is different. Surely this part of the Law, applying exclusively to those already Christians, depends a bit more on me and my efforts. Except of course that it doesn’t. I can let go of my delusions of grandeur and forget the idea that my old Adam will go on vacation while I still remain on earth.   

Furthermore, just as God works through us as we live out the vocations of sister, daughter, mother, wife, and myriad others, it is God who is at work when our neighbors see a witness in our words and actions. He is the God who chose witnesses like Simon Peter, thrice-denier of Christ. He spoke through Jonah (a resistant witness if there ever was one--that guy didn’t even want his audience to be saved). His Word is powerful even in the weakest of human mouths.

Furthermore, His Word is not benefited when I think too much about how I appear to my neighbor, because being a Christian isn’t something that can be done with one eye on the cross and one eye on one’s own image. When Peter walked on water in Matthew 14, he experienced the peril of taking his gaze off of Jesus. I too am in just as much danger of sinking. Besides, if I were to accomplish good deeds for the purpose of display, they wouldn’t be good deeds at all (Matthew 6:1), and my neighbors would probably see right through them.

My job, I think, is not to get too hung up on whether or not I hang a crucifix around my neck. Instead, my job as a Christian is to rejoice in the gifts which God gives me. My job is to go to church on Sunday morning--not so that I can demonstrate something to sinners, but because I am a sinner who needs to be saved. My desperate need for salvation is a true witness. Pretending to be a perfect, happy, good-deed-a-second person would be a false witness.

Of course, by the grace of God, I will also strive to serve those around me. I will explain my faith when opportunities arise. But I do these things not because I am a good witness, but because it is God who witnesses through me.

Being brave is not the answer. Instead, Christ is the answer.  


Anna writes as often as she can. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their small son (and are awaiting the arrival of baby #2, due in July). Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Title Image: "A lady holding a crucifix" by Willem van der Vliet (first half of the Seventeenth Century)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post Anna. It's a very good reminder that being a Christian isn't something we can see with our eyes. That's been a hard lesson for me to learn. It's the weak, the sick, the failures that Christ saves and makes new. We judge by what things appear to be instead of how they truly are spiritually. The successful, the beautiful, the all together, the happy, we will always struggle in believing that is what "godly" looks like rather than the pathetic reality that those who are beaten down, heavy laden, weary, sad etc are most likely the true godly ones. Theology of the Cross and all.

    My husband has commented before that he'd much rather have the church member who cusses like a sailor but calls for him to come give her Communion every week than the member who is all niceties but despises God's Word. At least one knows they are a sinner. I think Luther said something along those lines, Christ came to save sinners, so you'd better make sure you are one!

    I'm gonna go find my crucifix now.


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