The Cross-Centered Church
I grew up Roman Catholic in very Catholic French Canada and obeyed the Gospel when I was 30 years old. Catholic Quebec in the 50's/60's was a place where 90% of the people shared a homogenous faith. It was the only religion and it was practiced in the same way everywhere. Mass was in Latin and the service was exactly the same no matter where you lived or which church you attended. There were three key figures in the church around whom our interest and devotion centered.
- Was Christ (as a child in the manger of Christmas, as a corpse on the cross at Easter)
- Was Mary who governed our emotional attraction (you prayed to Mary as your intercessor to Jesus).
- Was the Pope who was the leader and hero of the church — the chief teacher and interpreter of morals and religious ideas.
My spiritual journey away from Catholicism took me through several ideological marking points. Most of these insights revolved around the church and its nature. (Every major insight had to do with the church.)
The first insight was the one that led me away from the religion of my youth. The church comes from the Bible, the Bible does not come from the church.
Growing up as a Roman Catholic conditioned me to believe that the Bible was a product of the Roman Catholic church. Since only the priests worked with it, only the Pope understood it, only the church leaders used it in liturgy (ceremony) it must have been the invention of the church. Ironically enough, it was a Pentecostal group called "The Cleansing Church of Christ" that first introduced me to the notion contained in II Timothy 3: 16. For most, the scripture argues for the divine inspiration of the Bible, for me however, this passage opened the door to religious exploration. For me this said:
- The church is a creation of the Bible and not vice versa.
- God is the one who inspired the Bible, not the church.
For me, this was a mandate to examine every church according to the Bible, even the Roman Catholic one and when I did, it was found wanting and so I left without fear or hesitation.
The next insight was more complex, and took longer to come into view. It was the answer to the question, "Why am I a member of the Church of Christ?" (I knew why I was a member of the body, but was my association with the Church of Christ the same thing?)
I was baptized in a small congregation in Montreal after having studied with a local preacher. I was the typical 30 year old who had messed up his life and finally turned to God for help and found salvation. The first few questions of my Christian walk centered on questions of personal holiness and discipleship and training to preach and teach, but as I traveled and became aware of "Christianity" in a larger context than the church in Montreal, this was a question that became paramount in my mind.
The statement that "Church of Christ" is the only true church, the only church following the Bible, the only ones who want to be disciples might be sincere and true, but I realized we weren't the only ones making the statement. Others promoted the idea that their church was based on the Bible too and they were the true biblical churches, so where does this leave me? Two options:
- Conclude everyone was a liar or insincere or mistaken. Problem is that I can't make this judgement because I can't read the heart and it is sinful for me to do so.
- There exists a great variety of expressions of the body of Christ (church) who don't know each other but who know God and God knows them (very comforting position).
The idea of ecumenism is based on this position and strives to introduce everybody to everybody else in the "Christian" family. The problem with this conclusion is twofold:
It doesn't match the figurative language used to describe the church as a body in Ephesians 4:15-16.
15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
The biblical body knows itself, supports itself, corrects and nurtures itself, etc. This business of ecumenism where there are many bodies and they don't know each other doesn't match this description.
This position doesn't allow me to work towards the unity prayed for by Christ in John 17:11b.
Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
If separate bodies are O.K., then why the prayer for unity?
I realized that ecumenism was not the answer to my question. Upon further study, I realized that the reason I am a member of the Church of Christ and not continuing my search elsewhere, is because of the idea of restorationism at work in the body.
I began to understand that the uniqueness of our movement was based not on the fact that we said we were a Bible-based movement (many do that), but rather our serious commitment to restoring the church according to the Bible. That's what makes a unique. In other words, the major tenet of our movement is the restoration of the church as it is described in the New Testament.
This objective, this key idea I began to see, works like a gyrocompass (a gyrocompass always points to true north no matter what position you are in) to guide us towards not only a faithful life in Christ and ultimate salvation, but it is also the mechanism that can produce the unity that the New Testament says we must have. It's our spiritual gyrocompass.
A lot of churches throughout history have begun with the good intention of being Bible based, but without the gyrocompass of the Restoration idea, when they begin to wander away from the truth (the one faith of Ephesians) then there is nothing in their theological system to bring them back.
The principle of restorationism is not a human idea imposed on the Bible, it is a Bible revealed as far back as Genesis where the cycle of falling away and being restored began and was repeatedly demonstrated throughout the Old Testament period in the history of the Jews.
It is also reinforced in the New Testament when Jesus admonishes the Apostles to teach the disciples to obey all that He taught (Matthew 28) and the Apostles were continually urging the church to either maintain this standard (Jude 3) or return to it ([Galatians 1:1-ff]]).
Who do you think Jude was talking to — us? No, he was talking to his contemporaries who were moving away from the established pattern of faith and practice. He was restoring them to proper understanding and conduct.
The point of all of this is to say the following:
- Restoration is a necessary biblical principle, as necessary as "baptism for the remission of sin" is a necessary biblical principle.
- Many churches are based on various biblical principles and are sincerely trying to follow Jesus, but only the Church of Christ has re-discovered and implemented the restoration principle in order to actually become the New Testament church…in the modern era. If not the only ones, it is surely the most visible and successful with 10's of thousands of congregations worldwide.
And so, even if there are heretics and hypocrites in the Church of Christ, I remain because the church consciously tries to obey all of what Jesus commands, and, because of the mechanism of Restorationism, is able to avoid the complete apostasy that other groups have fallen victim to because they didn't follow this biblical principle.
Not only do I remain, but I encourage my children to follow as well because I know that because we espouse these principles, their souls and their children's souls will be safe.
A third insight completed my education: Restoring the cross to the center of church life is very important.
This understanding about Restoration led me to this insight and the one that is directly related to the substance of this lesson. I realized that the main objective of restorationism is to continually restore the cross of Christ as the central point in the life of the church. I've come to understand that just discovering the mechanism of Restoration as a biblical principle doesn't guarantee the restoration of the New Testament church anymore than discovering the principle of electricity guarantees light. You have to learn how to apply the principle in order to produce the effect. The proper application of the restoration mechanism is in making sure that the cross of Christ remains at the center of the church. In doing so, the church will remain true to the New Testament and thus perpetrate itself in every culture and every age. What we've concentrated on however is to only restore New Testament forms to worship and baptism and neglected to restore the cross to the center of Christian life.
The question that arises from this conclusion was the most difficult, "How do you restore the cross to the center?" I believe that the Bible teaches us this in the following ways.
Restoring the Cross to the Center. The true work of Restorationism begins by:
1. Restoring Cross Centered Preaching – Romans 1:16
If the cross is to be at the center of the church then the cross must be at the center of the preaching of the church. An example of this type of preaching is Peter's first sermon (Acts 2) where he proclaimed Christ as the divine Messiah; his death, burial and resurrection as a fact; and repentance and baptism as the only response to the offer of forgiveness from God (Acts 2:38).
This message needs to be proclaimed over and over again using every method of communication at our disposal. This is the message that the masses need to hear in order to be saved. It's the one we need to make in order to lay claim to the name "Church of Christ."
We invest our energy and millions of dollars in building auditoriums so we can preach this message to the saved but would never dream of spending 1 million dollars to preach the message to the lost, and we wonder why the church doesn't grow! Why do we spend to preach to foreign countries but we won't spend it here in town?
It is becoming popular to substitute this message with one based on the history of the church or the Bible as a self-help book or remedies for social ills taken from psychologists, but the power of God unto salvation is the gospel and the power of the gospel is the cross and that's what our evangelism efforts should be about.
Without the cross-centered preaching to the lost, we lose sight of the shoreline and quickly become discouraged, discontent and disobedient.
True restorationism requires that we…
2. Restore Cross Centered Teaching – Acts 2:42
Once people are brought to salvation through cross-centered preaching, they need to be grounded by being taught a cross-centered faith. A good example of this is Philip and Eunuch. Acts 8:34-35 What he taught him was the relationship between the prophecy of Isaiah and the cross, and this naturally led to his salvation. We teach many things:
- We teach about issues.
- We teach about the individual events and people in the Bible.
- We teach about how to use the Bible as a self-help device to feel better but in order to restore the cross to the center and thus restore the New Testament church, we need to make sure that the church is being taught how all the parts fit into the center.
The teaching of the Bible is like a spoked wheel with all the information coming down to a center point which is the cross. Everything looks to or emanates from the cross of Christ and without this conscious awareness and purposed teaching, the church drifts away from the center. Review Acts and the epistles and see if this is not the overall objective of Peter and Paul in their sermons and writings. (I think Raymond Kelsey had this in mind when he wrote his book "Christ-Centered Sermons.")
You see, the cross is at the center and the New Testament church is around it and in order to maintain this position, we must demonstrate and teach repeatedly how all things relate to the cross.
Finally, true restoration requires that we…
3. Restore Cross Centered Living – Romans 8:13
Preachers preach the cross, teachers teach the cross and we as the church must live the cross for the restoration to be complete and dynamic. Publicly we live it through baptism and communion (the outward expressions of cross centered lives). Privately we live it by dealing with sin on a day-to-day basis.
…for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to the death the deeds of the body you will live.
- Romans 8:13
We can be known by others as the New Testament church by our preaching and teaching and public proclamation of that cross through baptism and communion. We can look like the cross centered New Testament church in front of the world but unless we enter the arena and struggle with the lust of our eyes and flesh and battle the pride in our own lives, God will not know us as the cross centered church.
21"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"
- Matthew 7:21-23
If He refuses to recognize those who do miracles, etc., without holy living, do you think He will recognize us only because we have figured out the proper mode of baptism and done away with instruments of music but have not dealt with the sin in our lives?
In the end, man will not decide who the true church is (although he spends a lot of time debating it). God will decide which is the true church of Christ.
When He comes, He won't be fooled by crosses on buildings or people wearing crosses as jewelry. He will come for those who have hung themselves on the cross with His Son Jesus Christ. This is what cross centered living is all about.
11This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. 12If we endure,we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him,He also will deny us.
- II Timothy 2:11-12a
My exhortation to you is biblical, simple and familiar:
- Let us continue to restore the New Testament church by keeping the cross at the center of our spiritual experience. Keep cross-centered preaching as our main message to the world. Promote cross centered teaching to build true New Testament churches. Perseverance in cross centered living that we might be found faithful when He comes.
- Let us continue to uphold the restoration principle as a key element in our teaching and not neglect to pass it on "intact" to the next generation. Let's not be remembered in history as the ones who failed to stand firm in this area when under attack. This is our watch. Let's make sure that the perimeter is secure when the guard changes.