Friday, May 26, 2017

A crossless Christ for sinfree people. . .

The state of liberal Christianity was once characterized as “a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”  Though some may have complained that H. Richard Niebuhr was exaggerating when he first wrote those words, the perspective we see today knows just how prescient he was in his characterization of a Christianity consumed with happy talk instead of truth.

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. . .


Anonymous said...

No one is allowed to offend anyone anymore. We are even competing over who is the most offended! Of all the silly things by which we are offended, the Cross, on the other hand is truly offensive. How do we get people past the imaginary and petty offenses to see the real offense of the Cross? To understand this offense was necessary? Only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes to see we are the offenders, the perpetrators who caused this ugly killing of the Christ. Lord, have mercy on we sinners who can't see past our frivolous self-centerdness. Mea culpa.

Thanks be, He is risen indeed!

Anonymous said...

The so called "Christus Rex" crucifix is an attempt to have a crucifix that is not ugly and frightening. Among other things, it never shows the wounded side and the blood streaming from it. Yet, if we read the OT, it is said repeatedly that the shedding of blood is required to take away sin.

Perhaps it is revealing that we find the very act that takes away our sin to be offensive and frightening. Perhaps we really don't want to be made clean; it would impose a new standard on our lives. Too many of us are entirely too happy with our present lives, and we see heaven as no improvement.


Joanne said...

Among Protestants, a Lutheran distinctive is the presence of a crucifix on the altar. In Württemberg in southwest Germany, the altarpieces seem to have disappeared. Today, they are replaced by very large crucifixes directly behind the altar. These crucifixes are most often from the late Gothic period which were conserved by the Lutheran congregations during the Reformation. In American Lutheran churches built at or before 1900, that now have a bare cross on their altar, you may ask them when did they remove their original crucifix, and then, do they still have it (perhaps in the back of a closet or in an attic somewhere). The American removal of the crucifixes might be correlated to the spread of open communion, if any researcher would care to count it.

Anonymous said...

Open communion in the Lutheran Church spread when the Creed and doctrine fell out of favor in Western Protestantism. Many Lutherans became infatuated with John Wesley and Charles Finney and began to downplay the art and architecture of the church along with the liturgy. These were considered baggage from a forgotten era.

We have high-gravity beer. Now we need a "high-gravity" church. Christianity lite just doesn't cut it, nor is it Biblical.