The Sign of the Cross

You might have noticed some Christians praying in Church using the sign of the cross. Whether you choose to use this prayer help or not, it is good for you to understand the use of this sign as well as its history. After reading this brief article, you too might desire to use the sign of the cross as a prayer help. If not, at least you will have a better understanding why some of us do. It needs to be said that many devout Christians choose not to make the sign of the cross in prayer.

According to an article published on the web site of the Sacred Heart Church1 in Seattle, WA, whenever we use the sign of the cross we are reminded of the sufferings and death of our Savior, and thereby we are filled with fervent love, profound gratitude, and earnest contrition.

“The sign of the cross is the symbol of our deliverance and the emblem of the mercy of God giving redemption to sinful man.”

“The form of words which we use in making this sign, together with the action performed, manifests our belief in the principal truths of our religion. We say: ‘In the name’ – not ‘names’ – and thereby express our faith in the unity of God. We mention the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and thus show our belief in the Adorable Trinity. The cross itself, made with the hand, manifests our faith in the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Blessed Savior, and shows that we regard Him not only as God but as man – for that He might be able to die on the cross it was necessary that He should possess a human nature. Thus we have in this brief formula a summary of the most important articles of our faith.”

“The making of the sign of the cross is a very ancient practice. It probably goes back to Apostolic times, and was in common use in the second century. Among the early Christians it was usually made very small, by a slight movement of the finger or thumb, on the forehead or breast. … The triple sign of the cross was employed very commonly in the early centuries of the Church and in the Middle Ages. … It is made by marking the forehead, the lips and the breast with a small cross, using the thumb, and is intended to remind us that our intellect must be attentive to the Word of God, our lips ready to announce His truths, and our hearts filled with love toward Him.”

“The ordinary method of making the sign of the cross is … the putting of the right hand to the forehead, to the breast and to the left and the right shoulder, with the words: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’ “

This holy symbol of our salvation, then, can in good conscience be frequently used by us and is used in several worship services, such as at Baptism, the Anointing of the Sick, and sometimes at the Benediction. In making the sign of the cross, we become partakers in the wonderful history of our faith, and companions of the glorious saints of the Church.

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1.  http://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves

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Victory

A crown of thorns we placed upon His head.
They pricked Him, cut His skin. He bled.
We beat Him, tormented Him, spit on Him, reviled Him.
We rejected him, cursed Him, accused Him, whipped Him.
Yet He did not condemn us. And He said,
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

He carried His cross, a burden, up the hill.
We hung Him. His feet and hands we nailed.
We laughed at Him, chanted at Him, stripped Him, pierced Him.
We rejected Him, tormented Him, hurt Him, murdered Him.
Yet He still loves us. And He said,
“It is finished.” He bowed His head.

We broke the legs of the thieves on each side,
But we didn’t break Jesus, we pierced His side.
His blood with water was spilled on the ground,
And He died the king, with a thorny crown.

Joseph took Jesus from the cross;
Nicodemus covered Him with spices and cloth.
We carried Him to His grave in the garden;
There we laid Him so dead and lost.

Three days later God raised Jesus.
And because He lives, through Christ, God saves us.
And with great joy I wish to proclaim
That Jesus Christ is risen and reigns!

Oh! How I love God! Glory be to God!
Blessed be the Lord God! All praise to God!

Benefits of Liturgical Worship

Some Christians think that liturgical worship is insincere, mechanical, non-Protestant, and therefore vain worship. Although liturgical worship can become mechanical and vain, so can any form of worship. Vain repetition takes place when we “amen” a prayer to which we have paid little or no attention. It happens when we mindlessly sing a hymn without concentrating on the actual words. However, when we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually involved in what we are saying and singing, even if the prayers and hymns are pre-composed, there is nothing mechanical or vain about our worship.

If you were to ask most church-goers when they feel the most involved in worship, most would say they feel the most active and involved when singing well known hymns and scripture songs together with other members of the body of Christ. Few of us could write our own meaningful hymns from week to week, and it would surely be difficult for us to praise God together unless we had a pre-composed hymn of praise in hand.

Pre-composed hymns and scripture songs give opportunity for all in attendance to worship both corporately and intelligently before the throne of God. Although most of these hymns were written by others long before any of us were born, as long as we sincerely mean what we are singing, then singing these hymns is certainly appropriate when it comes to corporate praise. Why then do so many consider it inappropriate to take this same approach to corporate prayer?

Liturgical worship in the form of pre-composed prayers, orthodox creeds, canticles of praise, and antiphonal responses take up where hymns and scripture songs leave off. They provide the opportunity for all in attendance to fulfill their priestly function of praise and prayer before the throne of God. Worshipers use the liturgy as a tool to fully participate in all aspects of the worship service. And while it is most certainly true that the liturgy can never and should never replace the sermon, neither can the sermon nor any other activity performed by one or more persons ever adequately substitute for the congregation’s call to pray in agreement and in unison as a priesthood of believers.

A liturgical format serves to maintain a certain level of integrity in worship by providing rich Biblical content along with a logical structure. Like hymns, the liturgy provides a theological grid and context by which to better understand and interpret the scriptures. As long as the Church remains committed to the inerrancy and authority of the scriptures, the liturgy will serve to guide and instruct participants in Biblical truth while they are in the very act of worship. Children in particular benefit from the continual use of liturgical prayer. The liturgy serves to reinforce the basic truths taught at home and in Church. By becoming familiar with the liturgy, they also learn a great deal about the nature and substance of prayer which will eventually help in the formation of their own personal and individual prayers.

On one side are Christians who stress liturgy and sacrament and written prayer. On the other side are Christians who stress intimacy, informality, and spontaneous prayer. In the words of Richard J. Foster, “It is here that we need the holy conjunction ‘and.’ We need not be forced to choose one over another. Both are inspired by the same Spirit. We can be lifted into high, holy reverence by the richness and depth of a well-crafted liturgy. We can also be drawn into breathless wonder through the warmth and intimacy of spontaneous worship. Ours is a spirituality that can embrace both.”

The Doctrines of Grace

by Robert Himes+ © 1990

(as published in America at the Millennium: the Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century ISBN 1-58235-510-X)

Promiscuous immorality;
Vile, bestial depravity;
Continuous, malevolent, obscene wickedness –
Man is an animal. Man is immoral. Only evil emerges.
Man is full of sin.

Abounding mercy;
Compassionate, forgiving grace;
Unconditional, loving, divine election –
He is God. God is merciful. He loves and saves sinful men.
He is full of grace.

Total submission;
Painful, horrible crucifixion;
Substitutionary, impeccable, blood atonement –
He is the Lord. Jesus died for His sheep. Crucified on Calvery,
He died in our place.

Irresistible grace;
Powerful, drawing personality;
Revealing, comforting, nourishing breath –
He is the Spirit. Spirit draws men to God. He cannot be resisted.
He reveals the Son.

Priestly kingdom;
Chosen, trusting people;
Persevering, submissive, worshipping Israel –
We are the elect. We believe and trust. His love and grace overflows.
We will persevere.

The Mark of Maturity

Probably at some time in your life you have known someone who was a living example of Christian maturity.  God worked mightily in them and through them.  Perhaps you know someone like that right now.  What makes them different?  What makes them a mature Christian?

In Hebrews 5:14 God reveals to us one of the marks of a mature Christian, which is the ability to discern both good and evil.  In Genesis 2:9b, 3:5, and 3:22, the word “knowledge” comes from the same Hebrew root, yada.

“The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the  tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Gen. 2:9

“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Gen. 3:5

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.”  Gen. 3:22

In these verses, the word “knowledge” would more accurately be understood as “determine.” Thus, the sin of man, from the time of the garden, and ever since, has been the act of determining for ourselves what is good and evil. Man desires to establish his own laws and not obey the laws of God.

When Adam took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was, as Calvin wrote, “trusting to his own understanding” and establishing himself as “an arbiter and judge of good and evil.”1

Sutton agreed with Calvin when he wrote,

“[Satan] offered Adam divine authority.  He told man that he would                become like God, ‘knowing (determining) good and evil’ (Gen. 3:3), if            he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . But the way            to manifest God was not by ‘knowing’ (determining) good and evil;                rather, it was by ruling as a delegated authority.”2

Adam’s sin was not simply in coming to know the difference between good and evil, but in determining for himself what was good and evil. Adam’s sin, and even Satan’s rebellion, stemmed from a desire to decide for himself what is good and evil.

Christian maturity is just the opposite.  Mature Christians are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul reveals that Christians can experience different levels of spirituality and carnality.  In Hebrews 5:14, the instruction from God is that a mature Christian is one who can discern God’s Law and apply it to everyday situations.  The difference is between determining and discerning. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14).

To “discern” both good and evil is to distinguish between what God considers good and evil. W.E. Vine defines “discern” as, “a distinguishing, a clear discrimination. . . . In Heb. 5:14 . . . of those who are capable of discriminating between good and evil.”3  Robertson adds, “To discern . . . ‘For deciding between’ . . . (between good and evil).”4

So, we must conclude that, if we aspire to maturity, we must study God’s Law and learn to apply it to our lives.  For me, this means I must not only know and understand the Ten Commandments, but also the case law of the Old Testament – Exodus 21-23 where the Ten Commandments are applied to specific cases5 – as well as the Sermon on the Mount and the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Maturity demands diligent study of the Word of God and discerning application of the Law of God.

Think about it!

NOTES

  1. Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 1, John Calvin, translated by the Rev. John King, M.A., Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979, p. 118.

2.  That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas, 1987, p. 44.

3.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary, W.E. Vine, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Fleming Revel Co,, Old Tappan, NJ, 1981, p. 315.

4.  Word Pictures in the Old Testament – Vol. 5, Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1932, p. 372.

5.  Tools of Dominion, Dr. Gary North, Institute for Christian Economics,    Tyler, Texas, 1987.