Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why I Don't Make the Sign of the Cross

Many Protestants have grown comfortable with making the sign of cross as a part of their piety. Whilst I do not wish to doubt their genuineness, nor their conscience in doing so, I wanted to outline briefly the reasons for which I do not make the sign of cross, either in public or private worship. The reasons for not doing so are three in number and broadly relate to three types of concerns: 1) theological; 2) liturgical; 3) practical.

Briefly, a distinction must be made between two forms of the sign of the cross. The first is a liturgical action in the sacrament of Baptism, performed by the priest, to mark the sign of regeneration to the infant. This is a different sort of symbol and not to be discarded (for more information and an explanation of its value, see Canon 30 of the Canons of 1604). The other is the form that most think of when hearing the words "sign of the cross", made by the hand touching the forehead and crossing over from shoulder to shoulder. This latter practice is the subject of this post.

The sign of the Cross is associated with the Roman Catholic idea of sacramentals, which is implicitly tied to their understanding of works salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it." In other words, the sacramentals are an invitation to cooperate with God's grace, implying the power of our wills to do good independent of God's grace (only needing His help, not utter dependence upon Him). The Catechism specifically mentions the sign of the Cross, "Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father “with every spiritual blessing.”177 This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ." The Sign of the Cross is more explicitly linked to works righteousness in another manner. In the 1968, Enchiridion of Indulgences, the Roman Church grants, "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The system of indulgences is a fictitious system whereby the works of one believer can be applied to another to decrease the amount of time spent in Purgatory, the whole of this system is rightly called "repugnant" to Scripture by our Formularies and should be avoided at all costs.

The second reason I do not make the sign of the Cross is what I call a liturgical objection. The point of Anglican worship is to be simple and easy to follow. The nature of the sign of the Cross is not simple or easy to follow. One would think that it would be but once the works righteousness is attached to an action, it acquires a life of its own and multiplies in use, because it is viewed as a means of salvation. For this reason, the sign of the cross multiplies in occurrences in the divine service. It can occur many times in the Episcopal liturgy, at the invocation of the Trinity, at the Gospel, at the Creed, before and after the Sermon, at the mention of the "prayers for the dead (which is another issue entirely), at the consecration, before and after receiving, at the end of the service. This is mind-boggling and impossible for the simple person to follow. It complicates the service and adds a layer of superstition and distraction to the worshipper.

Thirdly, I do not make the sign of the Cross for practical reasons. The sign of the Cross is popularly associated with Roman Catholicism. Now, this is not reason enough to reject something but it is enough to allow it for consideration. It is not only associated with Roman Catholicism in general but folk Catholicism in particular. By this I mean it is associated with nominal Catholicism or those who are not particularly practicing but wish to maintain some sense of "Catholic identity". I can speak from personal experience when friends of mine who are not particularly devout will make the sign to convey some vague sense of spirituality. It is associated in the nominal mind with works righteousness and "balancing the books" with God. For this reason, it points to man as the source of salvation and not to God in Christ and for me, this is reason enough to not practice it.

A note must be added at the end as to how the sign of the Cross even became an issue for Anglican Protestants. It was rejected at the Reformation (except for its inclusion in the Baptismal service). It was only revived when a certain group of priests and churchmen began to re-introduce it illegally and consequently breaking their ordination vows. In England, it was both illegal by ecclesiastical and secular law, and punishable by the courts. In the United States it was not allowed by ecclesiastical law, yet in both cases, these priests disobeyed both the civil authorities and the Church in reintroducing this custom.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it." In other words, the sacramentals are an invitation to cooperate with God's grace, implying the power of our wills to do good independent of God's grace (only needing His help, not utter dependence upon Him"

So if God invites me to shake hands with him it implies that I can shake his hand without actually doing so?

The great gift that God gave us was the power to choose to do his will or to not do his will. You know, he gave us the power to act independently of him.

May I suggest you continue studying the Catechism.

Anonymous said...

"the sacramentals are an invitation to cooperate with God's grace, implying the power of our wills to do good independent of God's grace (only needing His help, not utter dependence upon Him"

So basically you're saying:

- We have the option to cooperate with God's grace
- Therefore, we're able to do good independent of His grace.

That simply does not follow logically.

You and I both know we are totally dependent on God and his graces. All the good we do is by God's grace. Of course, we have the option of not cooperating, but then all we would be capable of is sin.

Our faith MUST be fruitful i.e. we need to bear fruit. If we are united to Christ the true vine, we will bear much fruit but none of we remain apart from Him.

Our faith is measured by our fruits. How do these fruits manifest? They manifest in our good works born of faith and being united with the one true vine.