Do Methodists Wear Crosses?

Christians have worn symbols of their faith since the time of Christ. For example, the cross has served as a vivid reminder of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin for all people. Because various Christian traditions use and view symbols differently, some have wondered if Methodists wear crosses.

Many Methodists wear crosses as an expression of their Christian faith. However, Methodists generally don’t wear crucifixes, which include Jesus’ body on the cross. Instead, some Methodists wear a cross design with two flames of fire because that is the historic symbol of the United Methodist Church.

Do Methodists ever make the sign of the cross like Catholics do? What meaning lies behind the cross and fire symbol, and how is it different from a crucifix? Continue reading to learn answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Methodist vs. Foursquare: What’s the Difference? to learn more.

Cross pendant
What does the Methodist cross symbol mean? See below

Do Methodists Make the Sign of the Cross?

Methodists make the sign of the cross, but typically only for baptism. Even in the case of baptism, the United Methodist Church (UMC) doesn’t require it in its liturgy but offers it as an option. However, there are a minority of Methodists who use it during their worship services or private prayer.

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, who was originally an Anglican priest, only made the sign of the cross in the baptism of infants. The sign accompanied a prayer, which used language that anticipated the future faith of the infants being baptized. (Also see Why Do Methodists Sprinkle In Baptism?)

For this reason, Methodist clergy didn’t use the sign of the cross for believing adults. However, by the start of the twentieth century, Methodist preachers mostly stopped using the sign of the cross altogether until the UMC reinstated its use in recent years. [1]

For many, using the sign of the cross is not only a demonstration of the Christian faith (or, in the case of infants, future Christian faith), it is also a connection to the traditions of the early church and other church traditions, such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. (Also see Do Methodists Celebrate Lent?)

This practice is especially pertinent for Methodism because the denomination began as an offshoot of Anglicanism, which frequently uses the sign of the cross in its liturgy.

It predates the Protestant Reformation. Nevertheless, it is present in the writings of Christian theologians during the early stages of church history. Often the minister will utter these words: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Also see Do Methodists Believe in the Trinity?)

The hand motion stays the same: top to bottom and left to right. However, the exact fingers vary by tradition. Often the middle finger is paired with the index finger. This position is to indicate the two natures of Jesus Christ. Other times, the thumb is next to the other two fingers. This position reflects the three persons of the Trinity.

Although priests, ministers, and pastors will often make the sign of the cross during baptism, some traditions practice it during the benediction, on Ash Wednesday, or at the time of someone’s death. In Anglicanism, it is an integral part of the holy mass. [2] (Also see Do Methodists Pray the Rosary?)

Cross necklace
Why don’t Methodists wear crucifixes? See below.

What Does the Methodist Cross Symbol Mean?

The Methodist cross symbol is one of the most recognizable images of the Methodist tradition. Created after the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church formed the United Methodist Church, this logo includes a thin, minimalist black cross with two red tongues of fire framing the left side. (Also see 5 Facts about the Methodist Symbol)

The cross (without Jesus hanging on it) identifies the symbol with Christianity and Protestantism. The flames of fire refer to the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two, during which tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the witnesses. The two tongues of fire represent the two church bodies that joined to form the UMC. (Also see Do Methodists Speak In Tongues?)

More specifically, the fire references the Holy Spirit and John Wesley’s life-changing experience with God, prompting him to form the Methodist Church. At a Moravian meeting on May 24, 1738, Wesley was listening to the reading of Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on the book of Romans.

While contemplating the reading, Wesley felt his heart become strangely warmed as he reflected on the sure salvation of his soul. [3] (Also see Do Methodists Believe in Predestination?)

Since 1968, the cross-and-flame symbol has become a recognizable symbol of Methodism. The creators of the logo desired that it be both clearly Christian and distinctively Wesleyan. They also made sure that it would work well, both in color and in black and white.

In recent years, the logo has faced criticism because the cross and flame could be associated with the cross burnings utilized by hate groups.

For example, during the first part of the last century, the Klu Klux Klan held public cross-burnings to intimidate African Americans. Despite this, the symbol is still used within the UMC, and no official change has occurred. (Also see What Do Methodists Believe About Death?)

Cross necklace
What is a crucifix? See below

Why Don’t Methodists Wear Crucifixes?

Methodists typically do not wear crucifixes because of the theological differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. However, some Methodists, and other Protestants with them, argue that using pictures or symbols of Christ still on the cross misses what God accomplished. (Also see Do Methodist Churches Have Female Pastors?)

The essence of the gospel, so goes this line of reasoning, is that Jesus did not stay dead. Instead, he conquered sin by doing what no one had before rising from the dead.

This is one reason some wear an empty cross rather than a crucifix. In response, some Catholics have pointed out that if Protestants wished to represent the resurrection, they would use an empty tomb rather than an empty cross since it doesn’t necessarily imply the resurrection. (Also see Do Methodists Wear Crosses?)

There are also historical reasons Methodists and other Protestants choose not to wear a crucifix. During the Reformation and in the years following, Protestants became concerned that some Christians were worshiping symbols and pictures rather than God himself.

Because of this, some denominations removed images of all types, both crucifixes, empty crosses, and various other symbols.

To this day, Protestant churches use a minimal number of symbols and pictures in their sanctuaries. In contrast, the opposite is true in the Roman Catholic Church and related traditions. (Also see Methodist vs. Catholic: What’s the Difference?)

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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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