The Church Beyond the Cross


Sun & CrossIf you were to ask me what day in the Christian calendar grabs my attention the most, I would have to say Good Friday. Something about that day lays hold of my heart and gets me thinking about the things of Christ, even more so than Easter. (I suspect that is largely due to my upbringing.)

When I enter the online Christian world, one reality hits me time and again:  The top Christian blogs present solid cross-centered theology. In an age of Your Local Nondenominational Community Megachurch and its emphasis on showmanship and “what’s in it for me?” churchianity, that’s a good thing.

Yet at the risk of sounding heretical, I wonder if there’s a shortsighted lack associated with a focus on the cross alone.

Over at The Sola Panel, Gordon Cheng titles a post “Too Much Cross of Christ?” and calls on John Stott to help him with his answer, which is no. (HT: Challies)

That answer to the post title troubles me because it follows from a different question than the one Cheng actually addresses in his blog post, especially when he answers in light of a teaching and preaching emphasis. The question he is really asking is “Can the cross be too essential to the core of Christian theology?” That’s a solid no; obviously, much of our theology stems from an understanding of sin and the cross. The problem is that it is not the same question as Cheng asks in his blog post title.

We live in an age soft on sin. Despite this, many parts of the Church today are stuck on sin. Believers are constantly reminded that they are sinners in need of salvation. Reminding people of the necessity of the cross is a fine message, but is it the only one?

To me, some churches live as if it were always Good Friday and never Easter and Pentecost. As lamented by the inhabitants of Narnia, winter seems to have a perpetual grip on the land, unthawed by springtime and rebirth. Some preachers and teachers capably get people to the cross, but they can’t seem to get them to the empty tomb and to the assembling place where Holy Fire fell from heaven. In that light, the answer to whether we can have too much cross of Christ may very well be yes.

Without the resurrection, Paul writes that our faith is in vain and we are men most pitied (1 Cor. 15:1-22).

Without Pentecost, there is no Church and no empowering of the saints for service (see the entire book of Acts).

So it seems to me that while the Christian faith begins at Good Friday, it continues on and on in Pentecost.

Why then do our churches often fail so badly to venture beyond the cross? Why are so many of us still rooted in our identities as sinners and not in the new birth identity of saint?

Consider this passage:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:7-18

I am troubled by some denominations and Christian thought-groups that fail to teach believers that they are daily transitioning from sinners into saints. Such pew-dwellers repeatedly hear how they are mired in sin, but they never hear that as the redeemed they are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. In fact, in churches that never seem to venture beyond the cross, one must ask if they are even a New Testament church at all.

In some circles where the sinner mentality reigns, their pneumatology appears rooted more in the Old Testament than New. The radical reality of the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell inside the redeemed believer. Such was not the case with the Old Testament heroes of the faith. The Holy Spirit would fall on them for a time, but the permanent dwelling inside was reserved for the New Testament saint.

Some Christians have this tendency to continue to place God solely outside the believer. This is an Old Testament kind of thinking, though. It gives the individual believer no authority. All things supernatural that happen do so despite the believer, not because of the believer. It creates a worldview where the Church does not matter because God can do it all Himself.

There is no doubt that God can do it all Himself. The reality is that He chooses NOT to do it that way. Instead, He invest authority in believers by virtue of His own Spirit dwelling inside them. This is the exciting—and essential—truth of what it means to be in Christ!

The ramifications of this are astonishing: The lowliest New Testament saint is greater than the greatest Old Testament prophet (see Luke 7:27-28 and throughout the NT for corroboration).

When was the last time you got that sermon in church? How many Christian blogs discuss this reality at length?

If the answers to those questions trouble you, they should. This lack is largely due to the fact that we have an underdeveloped understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled believers. And we have that lack because we are not preaching and teaching what exists beyond the cross: the resurrection, Pentecost, the transition of the sinner into sainthood, and the authority of the redeemed believer in Christ. Instead, we continue to push a theology that keeps the believer a meaningless, individual sinner and not a saint.

Consider this passage:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
—Acts 19:11-15

How is it that the demon recognized Paul? Because Paul had authority as a saint in the Kingdom of God. Consider the depth of what that means!

When that same Paul wrote to the young churches, he greeted them as fellow saints, not as fellow sinners. He talked about how they had all once been slaves to sin but were now translated into the Kingdom of God where they were now saints entrusted with the Spirit of God.

For the Church to truly rise to the calling of Christ, we need not only the cross but the resurrection and Pentecost. We need our preachers and teachers to tell the people in the seats that “sinner” is not their final identification. We need to learn what it means to have authority in Christ because He makes His home inside us. We need to know the full breadth of our birthright because of what the cross won for us, not just for the sin Christ took away from us.

We can have no pure Christian theology without the essential of the cross! But the cross is not the sole essential. Resurrection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit spring from the cross. And if we fail to teach and live what comes beyond the cross, we will fail to be the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Three Marks of Genuine Power Evangelism


In my previous post, “Fumbling the Gospel,” I noted that many charismatic churches are using what is known as “power evangelism” to reach the lost. Power evangelism employs the Holy Spirit-given charismatic gifts to heal and speak words of knowledge and prophecy into the lives of people who do not know Jesus.

I fully support power evangelism done by genuine believers who can fully articulate the Gospel. Whether that’s the case in what passes for power evangelism in some sectors of the Church today is the question and the gist of my previous post.

Today, I feel compelled to add one more point to that post.

When you closely examine the “gospel” that many churches in America preach today, it is not the real Gospel. In too many cases, it fails to emphasize three core principles of the real thing:

1. Conviction of sin in the presence of a holy God

When the prophet Isaiah had a vision of God, notice his response:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
—Isaiah 6:1-5

In the presence of a God called “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Isaiah, though called to be a prophet of God, immediately was undone by his own sinfulness in the presence of supreme holiness. As Isaiah stared into the reflecting mirror of God’s holiness, he saw a creature of his worst nightmares staring back. And he cried out in his guilt for being a sinful man.

The Bible notes that Isaiah is not alone:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
—Romans 3:23

2. The death of self at the cross

The Apostle Paul writes of the one thing of which he must speak boldly:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
—Galatians 6:14-15

All the world’s religions, save for Christianity, are little more than rules that no one can fully abide by. Each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, no matter how many religious rules we try to keep. Only Jesus Christ perfectly kept the rules of God, and so being perfect, He took our place of punishment on the cross and served as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As one popular Christian song states, “The cross has said it all.”

Paul said earlier in that same letter to the Church in Galatia:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

If people don’t make it to the cross, then they never die to self. And if they never die to self, then they are not new creations. Because the only kind of Christian that God can fully use is the one who has died to the self that was the old man and been born again into Christ.

3. Genuine repentance

Sadly, the portrait of Jesus often sold to people today is of the weepy-eyed sort who loves infants and little lambs. Yes, that side of Jesus is real. Yet He had another side that too many churches fail to promote as part of the whole Gospel:

There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of the prophets. What was John’s message?

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
—Matthew 3:1-2

Shortly after being baptized by John, Jesus began His own public ministry. His message?

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
—Matthew 4:17

After Pentecost, when Jesus had been resurrected, had ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the disciples who had followed Jesus, they had something to tell the world. That message?

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
—Acts 2:38-39

Do you think repentance is a big deal to God?

That last verse I quoted, Acts 2:38-39, is preceded by the Holy Spirit falling in power on the followers of Jesus at Pentecost. Those indwelt by the Spirit spoke in tongues and exhibited the power of the Holy Spirit’s gifts, the charismata. That power was so stunning that 3,000 people watching the events of that day surrendered their lives to Jesus. Talk about power evangelism!

But what immediately preceded verses 38-39 is a telling response by the crowd of unbelieving onlookers to the words of Peter concerning the truth of Jesus and the power they had seen wrought in that gathering place by the Holy Spirit:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
—Acts 2:37

This is not a simple question but a desperate one, the same kind of angst-filled reply that burned in the heart of Isaiah when confronted with the holiness of God and the true nature of his state before that holy God. It’s the conviction of sin.

When the Holy Spirit touches sinful people, He ALWAYS brings conviction of sin because He is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. Prostrate before the Lord in repentanceEvery great revival of the last 300 years of recorded history has been marked by conviction of sin, people fleeing to the cross, and genuine repentance. The First and Second Great Awakenings, the Welsh Revival, the Azusa Street Revival—when Christians (especially charismatics) start talking about the Holy Spirit in revival, the results always lead to conviction, the cross, and repentance. ALWAYS.

So when I’m told about power evangelism supposedly being done in the power of the Holy Spirit, if I don’t hear about people coming to conviction, dying at the cross, and genuinely repenting of their dark sins in the light of the purity of the Holy Spirit, then I have got to wonder. Without those three essentials occurring in the lives of people touched by some sort of powerful spirit, I wonder just what spirit they received. Is it possible they are being influenced by a spirit who is not the Holy Spirit of God?

Real power evangelism done through the genuine power of the real Holy Spirit will convict people of their sins, drive them to the cross, and lead them to repentance. The Bible tells us this, and the great revivals of history add their own yes and amen.

If you are doing power evangelism and conviction of sin, dying to self at the cross, and repentance are not immediately following people’s power encounters, then stop what you are doing and ask yourself if you are truly ministering the genuine Holy Spirit to people.

We have got to stop being ignorant of the truths of God. This is simple stuff, but people are not using even basic biblical discernment to understand these truths. It’s just another example of how a lack of understanding of the words of the Bible leads to all manner of error. Better to know the Bible inside and out before one attempts anything resembling power evangelism.

Farewell, Shekinah


Around Holy Week, we reflect on the passion of Christ and read the historical record of His death and resurrection. And every year I am struck by this verse:

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
—Mark 15:38

While many note that the rending of the curtain signifies that we could now approach God wholly on our own through Jesus, I also see in that singular act a devastating indictment and warning. For with the curtain’s tearing came the departing of God’s shekinah glory from the temple.

What staggers me in that departing is that for nearly forty years afterward, until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, Elsewhere, the light is shining...the Jews continued to perform their religious duties in the temple as if nothing had changed!

Didn’t anyone notice that the glory of God no longer dwelt there? No one? Didn’t the high priest say to himself, “You know, something’s different”?

If a history book exists that details the angst the Jewish priesthood felt in the aftermath of the curtain’s tearing, I haven’t read it.

No, the shekinah glory of God departed and no one seemed to notice.

Read that again. Seriously.

We need to ask ourselves this: If the Jews of that day, who were a stringently devout people in practice, didn’t sense that the glory of God had departed, what does that imply of people who are barely spiritually aware?

Though God no longer dwells in temples made by human hands, abiding instead within each believer, a symbol of the shekinah light exists in the New Testament:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
—Revelation 2:5

Might the Lord remove His lampstand from among the unrepentant today? (Would anyone care to test Him? I certainly don’t.)

But the greater question here is, If God so removed His lampstand, would we even notice? I mean, are we that much more spiritually aware than those post-torn-curtain religious leaders of the Jewish nation circa A.D. 33?

As for me, I wouldn’t gloat by saying yes. As it is, our churches and our people today don’t seem much like the vibrant, miracle-filled, God-aware believers found in the Book of Acts.

Which leads me to wonder where that puts the American Church circa A.D. 2009. Declining attendance figures, worldliness, no love for the lost, unrepentant and divided hearts—has the lampstand already been removed? And if so, would we even know it?

Or might we simply continue performing our little religious rituals week after week, never realizing that the shekinah glory of God has moved on to a better place.