Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Cross" or "The Christ"?

by Michele Rayburn

 "Every horrible thing and every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God.  And that's a problem.  But the center of the solution to the problem is a choice you have to make about the cross...When you contemplate believing in a totally sovereign God, you will center it right on the cross, because you'll go crazy otherwise." -John Piper (from the video, "Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, including sin?")

"The Cross" or "The Crucifixion"?

It has been said that "The cross is both God's greatest righteousness and man's greatest wickedness."

The Church often uses interchangeably the terms "the cross" and "Christ".

It has been said that the cross is the most sacred, holy, and righteous thing.  Does Scripture ever refer to the cross as the most sacred, holy, and righteous thing?

By the same token, does the Scripture ever refer to the cross as the most wicked thing?

Of course, it is obvious that the cross is a method of punishment by crucifixion.  But trying to cite Scripture to prove its wickedness is beside the point.

Likewise, trying to cite Scripture to prove that the cross is "sacred, holy and righteous" is also beside the point.

The reason is that there is a confusion in terms when we refer to "the cross", instead of "the crucifixion".

And there is further confusion when we refer to "the cross" instead of referring to Christ.

Yes, the *act* of the crucifixion was "the most wicked thing that ever happened; the crucifixion of our Saviour." (John Piper)

And we can agree that the *crucifixion*, not "the cross" per se, is both God's greatest [act of] righteousness and man's greatest [act of] wickedness.

The cross, which is a large piece of wood, an instrument designed for crucifixions, was not the most sacred, holy, righteous thing, and the cross was not the most wicked.  But "the crucifixion" was.

The act of the crucifixion predetermined by God before the creation of the world, and in His perfect time fulfilled, was a sacred and holy event, and a righteous act of God.

And the act of the crucifixion of our Savior by sinful men was the most wicked.

The *act* of the crucifixion was, therefore, both "God's greatest righteousness and man's greatest wickedness".

The Scriptures may not refer to "the cross" as righteous or wicked, but the Scriptures, of course, do refer to "the crucifixion" as both a righteous act predetermined by God, and a wicked act by sinful men upon our Savior.

"The Cross" or "The Christ"?

The Church often gives undue reverence to a piece of wood, an instrument of punishment.  The cross should not be the focus of our attention and our reverence, but Jesus Christ Himself should be.

How do we confuse the two?  By the traditions of men, who have articulated their reverence by referencing the cross instead of the Christ.

I think it matters which one we focus on.

"Then," you may ask, "what do we do with these Scriptures?":

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with the wisdom of words, lest *the cross of Christ* should be made of no effect. 1 Cor.1:17

For *the message of the cross* is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor.1:18

But God forbid that I should *glory except in the cross* of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal.6:14

Gal.6:14 is followed by Gal.6:15 which says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation."  Here, Paul makes evident his focus, "For in Christ Jesus..."

In Gal. 6:14, after saying, "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross...", Paul not only adds "...of our Lord Jesus Christ", but also makes clear that it is Christ Jesus "*by whom* the world has been crucified to me...", not "the cross".

1 Cor.1:18 speaks of "the message of the cross".  And what is "the message of the cross"?  It is Christ, and Him crucified for His people. And that He rose again for their justification and their salvation.

The phrase "the cross" is used figuratively, as a metaphor.

When 1 Cor. 1:17 says, "lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect", does Paul mean to say that the cross may lose it's power?

Or is he speaking metaphorically, using a figure of speech to make his point?

He is speaking metaphorically, figuratively.  The point being that if he does not preach the gospel, all that Christ did will not be known, and then no one can be saved if they have not heard.

It always goes back to Christ.  

It's important to get the foundation right and then everything else will fall into place.

It's important to use biblical terminology carefully.  It's important that Jesus Christ be at the forefront of our thinking, and at the center of our message of salvation.

To center on "the cross" as the focus of our worship or reverence does indeed weaken and dilute the gospel message, and distract us from Christ Himself.

"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 3:11


Ron said...

enjoyed the 'post'... the emphasis on the cross goes back to the Catholic hey-days 400+ years ago.. just been brought along... You're so right.. He was RESURRECTED.. and He ascended and now He comes to live His Life IN us.. our hope of glory! It's His resurrected life in me that saves me from myself every day....

Michele Rayburn said...

Thank you, Ron. I appreciated your comment.

So much of what Christians do in Evangelical Churches today is similar to that of the Catholic Church...the focus on the cross, the preoccupation with sin, the legalistic works mentality that comes through in their teachings while they claim to believe in salvation by grace through faith, all the while "saying" they hate legalism.

And then there are the rituals, traditions, and the formal style of worship that has actually descended from Constantine.

We've wandered far from the Book of Acts Church which worshiped Christ in simplicity and truth.

Thanks again Ron.