Friday, May 26, 2017
A crossless Christ for sinfree people. . .
I was once told that the reason we should not have crucifixes is because they were ugly. What can I say? They are -- except for the ones that have attempted to hide the brutality of Christ's death and somehow make attractive what was always a scandal. A month or so ago during Holy Week we read from St. Paul about how we preach Christ and Him crucified -- not with words of eloquence or lofty wisdom or to appeal to our better side but the simple, honest, cross of suffering wherein our salvation was won.
Those of us who grew up in an age when it seemed culture was friendlier to the faith certainly lament what it has become to hold to a truth found repugnant in a culture determined to make all truth relative and in a political environment in which religious freedom means the right to private worship and belief only. Yet there is no return to a time when culture and church had at least the appearance of friendship. It is a post-Christian world, as they keep reminding us.
We heard of the conversion of the popular evangelical radio personality known as "The Bible Answer Man" and president and chairman of the Christian Research Institute to Orthodoxy. Hank Hanegraaff and his wife were chrismated on Palm Sunday at Saint Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. While I might complain that he should have given Lutheranism a closer look, I understand his decision. Evangelicalism has become a shell that includes so much it no longer stands for anything specific. Mainline Protestantism has adopted the social justice menu and defined the Gospel as liberty to indulge desire. Roman Catholicism seems at war with itself as Francis stirs up things without settling much but sets apart the kinds of cardinals who seem to choose love over truth. Orthodoxy is certainly attractive but this is perhaps as much about the emptiness of the other choices in Christianity than it is about the positive attraction of Orthodoxy.
For Lutherans this should be a wake up call. We cannot survive by mirroring the culture around us. We cannot reverse our decline by embracing the newest and latest of what we see going on in the megachurches of evangelicalism. We cannot hold up hope to the world with a skeptical heart toward the Word of God. Lutheranism offers the Western mind and heart a fruitful opportunity of catholic doctrine. Now, if we as a whole, but especially in the Missouri Synod, would fully embrace the catholic practice that reflects this doctrinal truth, we would have something to offer the Hank Hanegraaffs who want truth, authenticity, and catholicity. We have it all in theory. Now it is time to put it into practice. Or someday the judgment of Niebuhr will be laid at our own feet (having chosen a cultural Christianity which no longer offends or a skeptical Christianity that no longer believes).
The crucifix is ugly because sin is ugly. It is offensive. It cannot be made attractive. It is not nice. So the preaching of Christ crucified will always offend those who believe in a happy God and happy people who just want to get along. . .