Last Saturday I went to a one-day training conference at a church a couple of hours away. The church has grown considerably of late, and recently built a new campus. But rather than totally moving to the new facility, they are continuing to use the old building, having dedicated large part of it to the youth ministry. A fact, of which, I am not ashamed to say I am deeply envious! The old sanctuary is still in use for some of the smaller services, however, and is still lovingly maintained with its pews and hymn-books. Displayed prominently on the exterior of this building and at the head of the sanctuary, are three large crosses arranged in a pattern I had not seen before. One is, of course, higher than the others, but (as you look at it) the one on the left is nestled under the higher cross and somewhat overlapping it, while the third cross is somewhat separated from the other two off to the right. This pattern was repeated on the exterior of the new facility, which we drove by, and in other parts of the old. The architecture of the old facility was clearly "churchy", and the new had a more modern feel to it, but was still identifiable as a church.
Contrast this with my church. Except for the raised portion which houses the "auditorium", there is absolutely no identifiable feature that would distinguish it from a small office building or semi-industrial facility. This is beside my point somewhat, but the exterior is rather drab - metal siding with minimal accents and tan paint, and straight, angular lines. There are no crosses or identifying marks. Inside, one finds a rather utilitarian lobby & cafe, though it is not without its warmth. The church's logo is featured prominently on the wall opposite the front doors, but again, no crosses or other Christian marks. Enter into the "auditorium" and one finds a rather stark, rectangular room with a large stage and rows of padded chairs. While one may see the occassional cross put on stage during a specific sermon series or at the appropriate times of year, there are no permanent crosses or other adornments - the walls are completely bare year round.
The reason for this lack of Christian marks and symbolism is a pragmatic one. We are a seeker-sensitive church and it is believed that the unchurched find such symbols off-putting if not downright offensive. In order to be unoffensive, we have removed those things that would put up an unnecessary barrier to faith. We are not exactly iconoclasts in that we don't have any objections to the cross or other symbols per se, but it is clear that this is the effect. In essence, we have repudiated Christian symbols like the cross, which ironically, takes us a few (if unintentional) steps beyond the original iconoclasts. We are pragmatic iconophobes. In the manner of the iconodules of old, I am becoming aware of the larger theological implications of such iconoclasm and do not what I see.
What does the eschewal of the cross (and other Christian symbols) say about us and what will it lead to? We are, after all, not talking about actual icons - images of people or God - to which there are some understandable objections if not placed within a correct theological understanding. No, we are talking about the primary and ancient symbol of our faith, the instrument of our salvation and the salvation of the world. If this symbol, above all others, is too offensive to display in our houses of worship, what else will we find similarly offensive and remove? Looking at the cross, and the messages bound up in it - sin, death, salvation, heaven & hell, judgment & grace - what do we lose by its removal? Clearly, sin, death, judgment and hell are not easy, comfortable topics and we are not wont to preach on them because they are offensive. Whether the symbol was removed first and then the preaching, or vice versa, it matters little - the offensive, challenging focus of the Cross of Christ is gone. Similarly, any understanding of salvation, heaven & grace that is absent a grasp of the offensive poles is incomplete and the truth of them is lost. We lose much in taking down our crosses - perhaps too much. Can we preach the message of the Cross if we don't have one? And what is the message of the Cross without one?