The early Christian church did not use the cross as a religious symbol.
Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as part of your gods.
The New Testament does not authorize the use of the cross as a religious symbol and, for at least the first two centuries A.D., the cross was not uses as a Christian symbol. In fact, the symbol of the cross was prominently used in pagan art long before the Christian era. The crucifix itself was a cruel instrument of death. The Romans used it to punish those whom the considered to be criminals.
Members of the restored church prefer to focus on the Savior's glorious resurrection. We recognize the good intentions of those Christians who use the cross, but we do not choose to adorn our buildings with replicas of the object that killed the Messiah.
In every verse in the New Testament where the cross is spoken of in a theological sense, it is used in reference to Christ's death or as a verbal image of self-sacrifice and self denial. Hebrews 12:2 and Luke 14:27 speak of the cross as something to be endured.
Hebrews 12: 2 - "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame..."
Luke 14:27 - "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
Any interpretation of the New Testament's statements about the cross should be in harmony with the fact that for at least the first two centuries of the Christian era the ancient saints did not use the cross as a religious symbol. One of the most authoritative studies on ancient Christian symbolism ever published is Graydon Snyder's 1985 book Ante-Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine. Therein Snyder observes that the cross did not begin to appear in Christian art until after the time of Constantine, which was well into the fourth century. Snyder notes the "striking lack of cross in early Christian remains." In fact, prior to the fifth century, the ancient Christians even refrained from drawing scenes of the crucifixion.
When the cross finally began to make its way into Christian symbolism, it first appeared in the Constantinian sign of "chi-rho." This was a pagan symbol. Long before and well into the Christian era, the cross was used in pagan art and iconography in many parts of the Old World. In Chaldea the Babylonians used the two beamed cross as a symbol of the God Tammuz. The Egyptians used the tau cross on monuments and on the walls of the temples. In Greece the temple of Serapis was surmounted by a cross, and the Greeks depicted crosses on the headband of their god corresponding to the Babylonian deity Tammuz. According to some early Christian writers, wooden crosses were among "the military emblems of the third-century pagan army."
Not surprisingly, the earliest of the church fathers were not particularly fond of the cross. Ignatius listed the cross as one of the objects that could be used to mistreat Christians. At one point, he placed it in the same category with fire, packs of wild beasts, cuttings, crushing of bones, and the "wicked torture of the devil." An identical view of the cross is expressed in the Shepherd of Hermas, where it is mentioned in company with whips, prisons, great persecutions, and wild beasts.
Minucius Felix (A.D. 170-236), an early Christian apologist, said the following in response to a pagan critic who accused Christ of being criminal:
For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander from the truth. Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as part of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners, what else are they but crosses gilded and adorned? (Roberts and Donaldson 4:191)
Other noteworthy verses in the bible to read:
- Matthew 27:32
- Matthew 27:39-42
- Mark 15:32
- Philippians 2:8