Christianity without a Cross?

Broken cross

Philippians 3:18 “As I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

No symbol has been more central to the Christian faith than the cross. It represents the quintessential demonstration of God’s love. But not everyone believes this should be so.

Biblical scholar Dr. Robert Funk once suggested, “Salt might replace the cross as a central symbol because followers of the historical Jesus typically don’t believe that Jesus died for humanity’s sins and was physically resurrected.” “Typically” may well be an exaggeration (we hope). It is true, however, that some who consider themselves followers of Jesus aren’t enthusiastic about the cross.

A church near my former home told the local newspaper that it avoids traditional Christian symbols in its ministry. They feared that those they are trying to reach might resist them. In defense of avoiding crosses, the pastor quoted one member of his group, “The name Jesus gives me the shivers.”

This is not limited to ministries scattered around the fringes of Christianity. A large, prominent, respected evangelical congregation near Chicago left the cross out of its sanctuary “because its presence might intimidate newcomers not raised in a church setting.”

It’s no surprise that those outside the church react strongly against the cross. Participants in a joint meeting between Jews and Christians in Nashville, TN, were asked, “How do you feel when you see a cross on somebody’s neck? Or a cross on a hillside?” One participant responded, “I’m outraged.”

Are we shocked by the reactions? They are really nothing new. The apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth thousands of years ago, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and again, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

But the Apostle goes on to put Christ and his cross at the center of the faith, “…but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). So it is that Paul can say, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). And in his letter to the Galatians Paul again summarizes his faith in the message of the cross: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

Christianity may involve more than the cross and what it stands for, but it certainly is not less. At the cross we find forgiveness, salvation, peace, hope, and heaven. Without it, none of these things exist. Our world needs more of the message of the cross today, not a retreat from its promise, not a new gospel or a different gospel to take its place.

May we always glory in the cross and its message sublime!

“Drawn to the cross, which you have blessed
With healing gifts for souls distressed,
To find in you my life, my rest,
Christ crucified, I come.”

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