Sunday, December 2, 2012

How Christians Misunderstand the Cross

     The central focus of time, eternity and the Christian faith is the Cross of Calvary. Failure to understand the Cross has brought Western Christendom to a place of impotence.
     Proper understanding will lead to revival, recovery and victory.
     For an example of this misunderstanding of the Cross, I take a passage from The Cross of Christ by Dr. John Stott. Father Stott, an ordained minister in the  Church of England and a leader of the world-wide Christian Evangelical movement, was described by Time Magazine shortly before his death in 2011, as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world.

   Here is what this respected Christian and world leader had to say about the Cross:
   “Granted this fundamental fact about all who are in Christ, namely that we have died and risen with him so that our old life of sin, guilt and shame has been terminated and an entirely new life of holiness, forgiveness and freedom has begun, what is our attitude to be? Because our new self, though redeemed, is still fallen, a double attitude will be necessary, namely self–denial and self affirmation, both illumined by the cross.”[1]

     It does not require a degree in theology to understand, and I say this with all due respect, that the plain English language meaning of this paragraph is absurd on its face. It is the promulgation of just such a confused view of the Cross that has led the Western Church to the verge of defeat.

     Let us take deeper look at this paragraph
            1. The first sentence states that the fundamental fact is that all who are in Christ are dead, “we have died” and we are risen with him.“Our old life of sin, guilt and shame has been terminated…an entirely new life of holiness, forgiveness and freedom has begun…” These declarations by Rev. Stott are a bedrock re-statement of the God’s revealed truth — the message of the New Testament, with which we heartily agree.
            2. What follows is not a logical conclusion to draw from the facts previously presented:

            a. “…what is to be the attitude to our new self?”
                 The assumption that Fr. Stott is making here is that the Christian  has a new self; but what has already been stated is that this old nature, the sinner the old self is dead.  Scripture does not support the idea that we are given a new self. The Apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with      Christ; nevertheless, I live, yet not I. Christ lives in me…” Galatians 2:20 KJV) (“…it is no longer I who live,” NKJV)
                 We have died with Christ, yet we are miraculously and marvelously alive in Him; yet we no longer live as ego, (Greek: yet not I – yet not ego - ouke'ti egoo'). This ego-less living is never perfected, but it is given to us by grace as we stand in our new position, daily reckoning ourselves      to be dead. “I die daily.” 1 Cor 15:31 KJV
            b. Dr. Stott adds, “Because our new self, though redeemed is still  fallen… 
                Now, if this is true (and many Christian leaders agree with Rev. Stott’s teaching on this) then the Christian religion is a fraud and a complete lie. For, if the work of the Christ on the Cross does not give us real redemption — real victory over sin and self, and does not save us from our         fallen   estate, then it is worthless and deserves to be rejected by all rational people.
            c. Then Dr. Stott asserts that the way we are to maintain our salvation is by “namely self-denial and self affirmation….”
               A true understanding of the work of the Cross first puts us under conviction and then brings us to repentance. There we examine ourselves and confess all sin to God and affirm that it has been nailed to the Cross; we daily reckon ourselves to be dead and affirm that we have been crucified with Christ.
            The Apostle Paul scolded the Galatians for trying to grow in grace by self effort:
                You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.                         

             Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? 3 Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? 4 Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! Galatians 3:1-4 [2]

            3.  Dr. Stott is correct in one respect. There is a doubleness that has to be considered in the sanctified life. However, it is not that we need to have a “double attitude.” We need to remember that there are not two minds at   issue here, but there are two bodies.
             So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. NKJV 1 Cor 15:42-4

    Jesus, though his regenerating word, sows in us from above a new resurrection body to replace the one that died in the garden. He replaces our self, the disembodied voice that says “I doubt, therefore I am”[3] with the voice of the Holy Spirit which now leads us into all truth. Though we remain on earth for a period of time after our conversion, our inner man — our resurrected body (spirit man) — is firmly seated in heavenly places[4], simply waiting for God to end our sojourn on earth.

     Low Church Anglicans, meeting with other denominational leaders at Keswick England starting in 1875[5], developed a teaching which emphasized the believer’s death, burial and resurrection with Jesus by focusing on the 6th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The conference was led by such great Anglican evangelicals as Rev. T.D. Harford-Battersby, Rev. Evan Hopkins, Prebendary H. Webb-Peploe, Rev. Charles Fox, Rev, Handley C.G. Moule – Presbyterians George H.C. Macgregor, and J. Elder Cumming, Dutch Reformed Minister Andrew Murray and Baptist F.B. Meyer.  The conferences were also attended by D.L. Moody and C.I. Schofield as well as missionaries J. Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael.
   These leaders who heard and carried the Keswick massage around the globe formed the foundation of American fundamentalism of the late 19th and early 20th Century.
   Jessie Penn-Lewis, a member of Evan Hopkins’ church and a student of the writings of Andrew Murray, became a fervent preacher of the message of the Cross. She was a vessel that the Lord used mightily in the first Pentecostal revival in Wales in 1904-05. Keswick teaching helped form the Pentecostal movement in the United States though the popularity of the Schofield Bible.
     Mrs. Penn-Lewis preached the message of the Cross at Keswick in 1908 and ‘changed’ a young Lutheran Pastor Frank N.D. Buchman who later went on to form the Oxford Group[6] in the 1930’s and led revivals around the world. His work led to the formation of A.A. which, at its core, was built upon the Keswick understanding of the necessity of getting rid of the self-centered life in order to have a life guided by God.
  •  ·        Simple but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. [7]

  •  ·        But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world           is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Gal 6:14  KJV

[1] The Cross of Christ, Stott, John R.W., IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, USA, 2006, p. 271
[2] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. We do not always agree with Peterson’s paraphrase, but on this one we say that he got it exactly right.
[3] Its first recorded words were, “I was naked and I hid myself.”
[4] Ephesians 2: 6
[5] So Great Salvation; Barabas, Steven; Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene OR
[6] Not to be confused with the Oxford Movement of the first half of the 19th century.
[7] Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Edition, NY, AA World Services, p. 14

1 comment:

  1. Hi George, thank you for these thoughts.

    If I had to guess, I would suppose that Dr. Stott, in his affirmation of a "new self," is using as his sources Ephesians 4:24, "and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth," as well as Colossians 3:10, "...put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." In other words, I think Dr. Stott would dispute your claim that "Scripture does not support the idea that we are given a new self." What do you make of these verses?