7/27/2011 11:33:00 pm

The Centrality of the Cross: Part One - Church

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Light Cross

I started writing this in February last year. It wasn't meant to be huge. Then it evolved into a monster and I didn't touch it for over a year. Still I didn't want all that typing to go to waste, and I still agree with myself. So I've touched it up a bit and here is part one of my two part series on the centrality of the cross.

When I made my Hillsong post a while ago I mentioned that I thought that it was important that the Cross is mentioned in every church service. In the comments, not one person agreed with me. While this sent me into an apoplectic rage in which I blocked the IP addresses of everyone who disagreed with me and then sent letter bombs to their houses, it also got me thinking about whether or not I was just being a superstitious legalist, as if saying a particular formula of words will make a church service orthodox and pleasing to God. I went to church the next Sunday watching to see if we mentioned the cross. Happily we sung about it, and the Pastor talked about it in his sermon.

But what if it hadn't been mentioned? Would I need to start wondering if my church was a church of heresy? Would I need to sit down with my Pastor and ask him to make sure the church was preaching Jesus?

After thinking about it for a while, I'm still of the view that the cross needs to be talked about and that it should be talked about every week.

I think perhaps what I said about needing to mention the cross in every service in the Hillsong post, needs elaboration. I reckon I need to elaborate for myself, if nothing else.

For starters I want to make clear that when I say the Cross, I mean the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's short hand for the historical event where Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is God incarnate, was put to death through crucifixion on a Roman cross, only to be physically resurrected on the third day after his death.

This event was a universe shifting occurrence. It's through of this momentous act of God that he makes peace between humanity and himself, by taking the punishment for sin upon himself. And it is out of this act that God draws his children to himself, Christ wins a bride for himself, and the Church is born.

The question is, why do I feel like this needs to be mentioned in church every time we meet together? Is this a requirement of a good church, or just an ideal to be aimed for?

To put it as simply as possible, I think it is out of the Cross that the church finds its identity, and so it needs to be regularly talked about.

But, you might say, I find my identity in where I was born, who my family is, what has happened to me, who my friends are, what job I do, what hobbies I have, what pain I have had to endure, and more. It’s not like I have to mention this every day to remain being who I am. Why should the church have to talk about its defining event every time it meets to retain its identity? Whether you mention defining events or not, they are part of you, nothing will change that.

I guess the difference is between mere history and fact and what you actually value. For instance, the fact that I was once robbed in the street when I was younger, for years had an affect on how I felt in public, and it probably still, to some degree, has an affect on how I respond in situations where I feel threatened. It is an event that is part of who I am. But that said, it’s not an event that I feel particularly attached to, and it not one that I hold on to so it can keep forming who I am.

On the other hand, when I was 18 God called me into full time ministry to young people. This too is a defining event, it has changed the course of my life. Unlike being robbed however, I want this to keep defining who I am. As soon as I forget that call, I forget why I do what I do. When I doubt why I am where I am, and if I really should be living the life I am, I go back to that event and am reminded that “Yes” this is what God called me to. It’s an event I need to keep central because it is important to my identity.

Similarly the cross is a defining event for the church. We need to keep going back to it because it informs who we are and where we’ve come from. For individuals it is important to remain vigilant in telling ourselves the stories that we want to form and inform our identity. For the church it must be doing the same thing. But more so, because a person is only one person only they, the individual, has to decide what events to draw life from, the church is made up of many individuals and all of them have the chance to speak into what should define the church. Deliberately talking about the cross regularly will help everyone in the church remember what is central to who we are. It is our story of value and identity.

Some people will ask, however, why always talk about the cross? There is more to Jesus than the cross. Similarly there is more to the church than the cross. The church needs to be focusing on Jesus rather than just the cross.

My response would be, as I think I responded in the comments, while there is certainly more to Jesus than the cross, there is never less to Jesus than the cross.

Jesus’ teaching is vital for the Christian to know how to live. His miracles point us to the marvellous kingdom that is breaking into this world. His practical love for all people gives us the example we need to go and practically love just like him.

However, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that sets him apart from all other holy men and wise teachers who have walked the earth. It is the death and resurrection of Christ that sets God apart from the pantheon of gods who are worshiped every day all over the world.

If Jesus did not die and rise again, then his claims of divinity were misguided, and foolish. If he didn’t die and rise again, his assertion that he is the judge of the whole earth is positively foolish. If Jesus didn’t die and rise again, then the life that he calls us to becomes an impossible burden. It is only through the power of the cross that we can live as followers of Christ.

If Jesus didn’t die and rise again, then God has not come to be with us in human form, he has not fully suffered as one of us, and he has not beaten death on our behalf. If Jesus didn’t die and rise again, then God has not graciously taken our sins upon himself, and he is still holding our sins against us, storing up his wrath. He is not a loving and gracious God but an angry or unconcerned God.

There is more to Jesus than the cross, but there is never less to Jesus than the cross. Take out the cross and you have no Christ.

It’s the reason the writers of the New Testament keep coming back to the cross. It’s why Paul says: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2

It’s why Peter says: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21

It’s why the writer to the Hebrews says: “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant… he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:15, 26-28

The cross is central, it defines our faith, it defines us. It puts us in our rightful place and God in his. It shows us the depths our sin and the greatness of his love. The writers of the New Testament kept coming back to the cross because they understood that there is nothing greater and nothing that helps us see who God is more clearly.

With this in mind we see that the cross is the central point in the defining narrative of the church. Out of the cross the church gains it's existence and identity. Just as any intentional community needs to remember it's defining stories, and reasons for existence, whenever it meets the church needs to be pointing itself back to its point of definition – the cross of Christ.

If we want to teach Jesus clearly, if we want to preach him faithfully, if we want churches that are centred on Jesus, then we need to always centre ourselves on the event that the Bible is centred on and on which Jesus centred himself on; his world changing, life bringing, glory radiating, sacrificial death and resurrection.

In part two I’ll look at how you keep the cross central to your teaching, using the examples of teaching on evil, dealing with other faiths, and care for the poor.

Photo by djking