Monday, January 28, 2008

Should We Be Cross Centered?

There's an interesting discussion going on over at Dan's blog (Life on Wings), where Peter Day has posted a great piece called "Overturning the Tables of Legalism" about how much we should focus on the cross as believers. The argument on the cross-centered side seems to be that Paul was cross-centered and seemed to use 'the cross' as short-hand for the gospel message as a whole. There's also a quote saying we shouldn't move on from the Cross, however my thoughts on that are that since there is no Scripture saying the same, it doesn't have much authority. On the other side, some are arguing that the throne or empty tomb would be a better symbol for Christianity.

I was sitting playing a mindless computer game when a thought popped into my head. Maybe from God? I think so but you can judge for yourself. What popped into my head was the story of the Israelites in the wilderness with Moses, the time they all got bitten and poisened by serpents and God instructed Moses to raise up a bronze snake on a pole so the people could come and look at it and be healed. (Numbers 21:4-9) What did they do with this bronze snake on a pole afterward? Turns out they decided to worship it, turning it into an idol instead of worshipping the God who saved them... (see 2 Kings 18:4) And there's connection between this pole and Jesus in John 3 v. 14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

Now to be sure, Paul did sometimes refer to the cross as a kind of short-hand for the work of Christ, and so can we. But I think there can be a danger of turning 'the Cross' into some kind of entity, we can do exactly what the Israelites did with their snake pole--we can end up putting our focus on the means of salvation rather than the person who saved us. I talked about this in my previous post as well, " Not Clinging to the Cross". Yes, we should always remember the death of Jesus, as we do every time we break bread together, there's a right time and and right way to remember the work of Jesus on the cross. But we remember the cross in a way that is life-giving, partaking of the body and blood of Jesus, being renewed and healed by taking his eternal resurrection life into our bodies. The breaking of bread NEVER ministers shame, guilt, condemnation, death, fear, etc...but ALWAYS the life-giving power of God's loving grace.

Another argument is that we need to center our lives around the cross in order to remain humble, but this argument is rooted in the idea that the cross is a reminder of our sin. I'm very sorry to say this (and I've said it over and over) but IF THE CROSS REMINDS YOU OF YOUR SIN THEN YOU ARE DENYING THE VERY POWER OF THE FINISHED WORK OF JESUS, THE WORK OF THE CROSS. Once again, take a look at Hebrews 10 (which I also wrote about a while back in my post called "Knowing God Under the New Covenant" The work of Jesus on the cross totally washes all our sin away forever and we are no longer even conscious of it! That's right, if God has forgotten it, so should we. To the extent we live aware of and focused on our sin, to that extent are we living in unbelief, not trusting that the sacrifice of Jesus was enough to put us in right standing before our Father.

And out of curiosity, I went to Bible Gateway and did a few searches (not including the Gospels) just to give a basic idea of what the New Testament church might be centered on. I only found 13 references to 'the cross'. I found 89 references for "gospel", 470 references for "Christ", 345 references for "Jesus" (there is probably some overlap for "Christ" and "Jesus"), and 66 references for "Spirit" (with a capital 's'). In a general way, I think this leads me to believe that we should live Jesus centered lives, not cross centered lives. I think that by over using the phrase 'the cross' without clarying and teaching what we mean by it (we do the same thing with many many other words such as 'gospel', 'grace', etc...), we are not helping people to understand these doctrines well but are deceiving them into thinking that knowing the right terminology means they have adequate understanding and are well-taught.

[ I think it would be good for me to say, not necessarily in relation to this topic in particular, that I also think women need to be looking into these things and are not only qualified as well as men to do this, but are encouraged by their Father in the Spirit to do it! I am publicly, for my sake and for the sake of any and all daughters of the Kingdom of Heaven, renouncing the doctrines of demons in the church today that are trying to suppress, control, manipulate, and destroy women(just as their leader did in the garden many many years ago) and I'm specifically referring to the idea that women are not able to discern and study Scripture and doctrine for themselves by the Spirit, without any man. And we are released from the curse of Genesis 3 sisters! So be free!!!]


Dan Bowen said...

"this argument is rooted in the idea that the cross is a reminder of our sin. I'm very sorry to say this (and I've said it over and over) but IF THE CROSS REMINDS YOU OF YOUR SIN THEN YOU ARE DENYING THE VERY POWER OF THE FINISHED WORK OF JESUS, THE WORK OF THE CROSS".

I found that very helpful - thinking of these aspects of the Gospel as "Reminders". Yes God is truly wise in choosing types and pictures to remind us. But remind us of what? Do we choose the Cross to remember so that our sin and the price that was paid is ever before us? I don't think that remembering the price that was paid is such a bad thing, but if we forget that love constrained the Son of God to go to Calvary - love FOR us, then we are going to become consumed by guilt that we nailed Him to that Cross.

That truth must be balanced by the grace and passionate love of God for us. Balance - balance in all things! We may have been guilty of forgetting the Cross and what it did for us and C J Mahaney has been a useful prophetic figure (in the Old Testament sense) for reminding us of something that was lost.

But let's not go to extreme and focus on the Cross to the exclusion of the wonder of remembering the empty tomb. Jesus is alive!! Let's not go to the extreme and focus on the Cross to the exclusion of the Throne and the ruling King of Kings! Jesus rules the universe today! Let's not go to the extreme and focus on the Cross to the exclusion of the outpoured Holy Spirit - Jesus has poured out His Spirit on all who are thirsty and God Himself has made us His temple!

Oooh ... I just felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

What a day!

lydia joy said...

Julie, this was a clap your hands and squeal loudly post for me! I love this part,
"The work of Jesus on the cross totally washes all our sin away forever and we are no longer even conscious of it! That's right, if God has forgotten it, so should we. To the extent we live aware of and focused on our sin, to that extent are we living in unbelief, not trusting that the sacrifice of Jesus was enough to put us in right standing before our Father"
I wish all Christians, especially SGers would get revelation of this truth, God doesn't even see our sin, He only sees the perfect righteousness of far as the east is from the west he remembers our sins NO MORE!
I think it's helpful to remember from where we have come absolutely, it only makes what He has done all the more glorious - however that is more of a reflection not a constant dredging up of sin daily!
Oh and I love your last paragraph as well!!

Joel Brueseke said...

I think this post is a great, well-balanced view of the issue. I understand that there can be more than one view on this and I think the most important thing is what you said, that when we use words such as "cross," "gospel," "grace," etc, we clarify what we mean. Obviously we can't clarify the words every single time we use them, but yeah, it's good when our hearers understand what we mean.

I fully agree that when we remember the cross it must not be a remembrance of sins! I do think that keeping the cross of Jesus in mind can be used for the purpose of remaining humble, but again, as you say, not having anything to do with our sins.

Philippians 2 speaks of this. Paul talks about how Jesus - who is GOD! - humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation, coming in our likeness. Verse 8, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Paul's point here, beginning in verse 5 is "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..." As we relate to each other and to sinners, the cross of Christ - His humbling of Himself by emptying Himself and coming in the likeness of man and being obedient to the point of death on the cross - keeps us humble and enables us to not think of our own high places and reputations, but to empty ourselves and give ourselves to others.

The cross is a wonderful reminder of God's love. Father used a stunning 'image' of a cross (stunning to me, anyway) several years ago in a confirmation of His love for me. It was a beautiful experience. It's been in my heart to share this experience on my blog and I think I'm going to do that today.

This is truly a great subject to be talking about and I've enjoyed this post as well as the one you linked to.

Don said...

amen amen amen

dogimo said...

Very well-argued and well-illustrated!

We can't keep heaping burdens back onto ourselves that have already been removed by the Lord! Truly Christ's victory over the cross has made the cross that each of us must bear a light one.

Dan Bowen said...

Pete Day and I have been talking much this David Prior quote that C J and SGM adapted; "Never move beyond the Cross". What disturbed me mostly is that terminology IS important because symbols create images in our minds.

To speak always of "Cross" rather than "Jesus Christ" surely is to replace a Living Person with a dead icon of pain and torture that is long obsolete (I hope).

Isn't it creating in our minds a wrong and out-of-date image whenever we hear the word "Cross" of Jesus hanging broken and bleeding on it?

But Jesus ISN'T hanging broken and bleeding on it!! Jesus is seated gloriously exalted risen and reigning in heaven and He is over-seeing the Great Commission to make all His enemies His footstool and covering the earth so that from sea to sea, the glory of His Father is spread!!

I've thought about this and changed my mind quite a bit - but I think the symbol that we talk of REALLY matters.

jared said...

Great post Julie. I'm not disagreeing with you - just adding some thoughts.
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." 1 Cor 1:17

"and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." Eph. 2:16

Clearly according the Paul the cross of Jesus - left to itself - has power. The message of the cross is an "offensive" one because it leaves no room for legalism or self justification. We can only exalt God and His work and never our own.
The second point that Paul seems to make by referencing the cross is that of reconciliation. He speaks several times of reconciliation being made through the cross. Remember the old evangelism tool that uses the cross as "The Bridge"? Not such a bad picture I say.

I'm rather a feminist myself. ;) Tell me, how do you take 1 Cor 14:35? I'd be interested to hear your view on that in relationship to women studying scripture. As one married (and as a woman :) you probably have a better perspective on it than I.

Peter Day said...

Hi Julie. When you first posted this, I started a comment that I said was a few random thoughts, but after a paragraph or so, I felt prompted to read CJ Mahaney on the Cross Centred Life.

I found much of what was said very helpful. The chapters about breaking free from legalism, condemnation and not being controlled by feelings, were all very good.

But again and again, I found myself reading "cross" and yet in my heart I was saying "Christ". Dan mentions the replacement of the person with the emblem in his earlier comment. And that is exactly what seems to have happened. There is so much good in what CJ is trying to say (although I do feel his chapter on how to have a cross-centred life is a recipe for legalism as some will try and perform through emulating his list). But having said that, there is much good, if only the focus of the book was Christ Himself. The living Christ, who is alive and reigning NOW!

Let me illustrate with this from page 23:

"What's of first importance to you?

Now my first answer was "Jesus".

CJ continues: "Whatever it is, you've probably been thinking about it as you've read."

My answer: "yes I have. Jesus is the best."

Then CJ says: "If it's something other than the gospel, are you willing to repent to God and reorder your life?"

I read that several times. Is he really saying that I need to repent of having Jesus at the centre of my life and replace it with the "gospel" (whatever he means by that)? He can't mean that, surely???

On page 20, he tells us what the gospel is, quoting from 1 Cor 15v3 ("Christ died for our sins") neglecting to quote the rest of Paul's gospel from 1 Cor 15v4, "was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures."

So the risen, glorified, reigning Son of God is replaced by an emblem. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not denying the importance of the cross. If there was no cross, there would be no salvation. It was through the cross that I became the righteousness of God in Him. But, now, saved and delivered, the centre of the believer's life should be the Living Christ - surely.

Surely I cannot be expected to repent of having Christ at the centre?

Shash said...

I just want to answer Jared's question.

You have to take everything in context first of all and understand the times. In my opinion, as I know it, women of this day were more along the lines of property and not people. They weren't educated either but they were coming into new freedoms for the first time in their life.

Often times that was taken too far and it became an interruption rather than a help. So Paul encouraged them to hold certain questions for when they got home, not making a broad statement that women were never allowed to preach in a church, but saying that there were appropriate places and times for certain things. You have to know Paul and understand his heart. He was the biggest woman's rights leader of his day.

I think The Message's version puts together the best explanation, vs 34-35, "Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God's Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking."

There is a time and a place for everything...

sgm pastors wife said...

Good point Peter. Yes replace "Cross" with "Christ". The Cross was something HE did. Christ is WHO He is. I see that.

jul said...

Thanks everyone for weighing in. I realize I'm getting rather lazy in responding to comments lol! I really really appreciate all your input and wisdom, I learn so much from this interaction.

And Jared, you asked me a question about women studying Scripture, to which I can say I'm thoroughly confused on the whole man/woman thing at this point in time. I'm living in confidence of God's love and acceptance of me as his precious child (actually son!) and though I'm impatient I know in time he'll reveal the Scriptural understanding I need to move ahead in this area. There is a little truth I know now, but will not speak/write until I have the corresponding revelation from Bible. I know that is a scary statement for some, but for me it often takes my brain quite some time to catch up to my spirit, but if God's Spirit is speaking to me and teaching me, he also shows me clearly in Scripture at some point. It's then that I consider a revelation of truth solidified in my mind, and I'm able to share it dynamically with others. Well, that's just off the top of my head, a long way to say, "I don't know yet" haha. thanks for commenting Jared, I look forward to more interaction!

jared said...


Wow, I just found your reply to my comment! I've been on the road for quite some time and am just now getting back to the world of blogging, etc.

There is a time when I probably would have struggled with your reply - today I'm much more able to accept it. I trust that His Holy Spirit can guide us in truth.

It would be good to chat again soon. Much has happened in my life.