Why Christians make the Sign of Cross?
By: Emmanuel Neno
The Christian cross is universally accepted as the sign or symbol of Christianity. The cross of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. Many place the symbol of the cross upon their Bibles, pulpits, steeples, Christian hospitals, graveyards and car dashboards. Yet most Protestants reject the idea of making the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross reflects biblical reality. Lord Jesus had spoken about this symbol: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
Scripture teaches us the purpose of the birth of the Son of God was to die. Jesus came to redeem us. Satan hates the cross because it sealed his doom. St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, recognized the biblical nature of the sign of the cross. He encouraged his flock, “When, therefore, you sign yourself, think of the purpose of the cross, and quench any anger and all other passions. Consider the price that has been paid for you.”
If the sign of the cross is rooted in biblical reality, I wonder why “Bible-believing” Christians reject this sign. The answer lies in the Reformation principle of sola scriptura (only the Bible). Nothing not explicitly mentioned in Scripture is to be accepted. Protestants cling fiercely to this principle even though it isn’t itself mentioned in Scripture. Catholics reject the principle and look to the Church to explain biblical truth. This same Church has taught the usefulness of the sign of the cross for centuries:
Tertullian (155 – 240 AD) who was early Christian author from Carthage, he wrote, “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313 – 386 AD) echoed Tertullian as he encouraged the Church: “Let us not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Let the cross, as our seal; be boldly made with our fingers upon our brow and on all occasions over the bread we eat, over the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings, before sleep, on lying down and rising up, when we are on the way and when we are still.”
Even Martin Luther who rejected several teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, he urged his followers to use the sign of the cross. In his Catechism of 1529 he instructed the following: “In the morning, when you rise from bed, sign yourself with the holy cross and say, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’…At night, when you go to bed, sign yourself with the holy cross and say, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Christian who rejects the sign of the cross is rebelling against his own faith. St. Paul writes: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1-Cor 1:18). The Sign of the Cross is a profession of our faith and basic symbol of our faith. When we make the sign of the cross, we profess publically our faith in the Holy Trinity that in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These are the words with which Jesus commissioned His disciples and said: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
A Catholic Christian’s life begins with the sign of the cross. At baptism, priest welcomes the child with great joy and says “I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross.” The priest then traces the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead and invites the parents and God-parents to do the same. The sign of the cross is a symbol that the child now belongs to God. Now the baptized child has received the seal of God. The sign of the cross would remind him/her that now“You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1-Corinthions 6:20).
The early Christians began making the sign of the cross as a reminder and renewal what happened to them when they were baptized. It still works in the same way for us. When we make the sign of the cross we are declaring we belong to Christ who died for us on the cross and rose from the dead. Making the sign of the cross expresses our decision to crucify the desires of the flesh and to live by the Spirit. So Catholics begin and end their prayers with the sign of the cross.