“Un-Focusing” on the Cross

“It is all about the cross!”, the preacher declared from the pulpit, sweat dripping from his brow as he thrust his finger towards the 8 foot tall crucifix that stood plastered to the back wall of the church. He closed his rant by stating, “you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!” As the audience rose to their feet in applause and to respond by singing “wonderful cross”.  Why did we spend a whole two hours focusing on the cross?  I literally counted over a hundred times the preacher said “the cross” and seven times he said Jesus. I sat there perplexed wondering how in the world had the evangelical church strayed this far. It certainly did not happen over night. Little by little the symbol of the cross has been allowed to become an idol in the church.

“you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!”

To be fair, the cross does hold a great amount of significance for the believer.  It symbolized freedom, new life, the death of sin, forgiveness and it plays a major role in the atonements. But at the end of the day, it still is just a symbol.

Just for sake of the argument, if Jesus was hung, beheaded or electrocuted, would we be embracing the  “noose” the “sword” or “electric-chair? Would we be placing such value and emphasis upon the instrument of death that took the life of our Lord? It is not all about the cross, it never was and it never should be for a true follower of Christ.

“The cross is just a symbol”

Interestingly enough, the early followers of Christ embraced the ichthus (the fish) and the dove more commonly as a symbol of their calling. For them, the calling to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and be empowered by the Holy Spirit, was the primary focus.  This mentality shaped the early church into an exponentially growing movement that brought the love of Jesus to the world in the first hundred or so years. Consequently, the cross bore the painful memory of the execution of their Lord, not something they wanted to constantly remember.

It was not until Justin Martyr in the mid 150’s wrote that the symbol of the cross should be engraved on all objects of Christianity. The Emperor Constantine expanded the use of the cross eclipsing the use of the ichthus after claiming to have received a dream that commanded him to conquer in the name of the cross (if he was truly a follower of Christ, he would have recognized this dream was not from God). Constantine used the symbol of the cross to incite fear and dread in the lives of his foes. For Constantine the cross symbolized power, destruction and impending death to his foes if they resisted his expanding empire. Needless to say, the cross was not viewed in a positive way by those outside of Christianity.

In recent history, the cross has become sacred, especially to evangelicals and in subtle ways–a substitute for Jesus. There are numerous worship songs that glorify the cross, sermons are structured that focus on the cross, crosses are affixed throughout houses of worship; evangelicals have put the cross at the center of their lives…in many cases, instead of Jesus.

“The cross has been put at the center of the evangelical experience…instead of Jesus”

Evangelicals have a unhealthy obsession with the cross. The cross speaks predominantly to a certain part of the Christian life…mainly the early stages of belief. Unfortunately, at the cross is where a majority of believers stay their whole life.  Battling their sins in the shadows of the cross, working on themselves to be worthy of the cross or even living in self guilt and shame, even though that is exactly what Jesus came to deliver us from. They never seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and never act on the command to be a fisher of men. When the focus is upon the cross it places more emphasis on justification, the struggle against self and sin and the personal experience.

No one focuses on the limo that brings the superstars to the red carpet. 

There needs to be a balance between using symbols in the Christian experience and allowing symbols to dictate or define the Christian experience. The christian life includes the cross but is not defined by the cross, it is defined by Christ. It is always a danger to cling to symbols as it leads to idolatry. Quiet frankly the use of the cross in almost every “christian thing” (music, stationary, jewelry, statues, sculptures, buildings, prayer rooms, multi-media, carvings etc.) is becoming hard to defend as “not-idolatry”.

“The cross is the mode–something used to accomplish a greater purpose.  Don’t focus on the mode, don’t obsess over the mode. Worship and focus on the greater purpose which is Jesus Christ and his love for the Father and His plan for salvation.”

Advertisements

Apology to Women: The Church Got It Wrong

Over the past few months I have been really been exploring the traditional stance of the church in regards to women. I don’t think I need to embellish too much here, but the track record of the Church in general has not been very good. Women are often treated secondary to man, the back up plan…and in some cases told they can only serve in the church in limited capacity with a lesser or without a formal title. What they wear is constantly criticized in comparison to man (somewhat of a double standard if you ask me) I grew up in a Church like this and have witnessed more of my own share of this type of sexism and inhumane treatment of women, all in the name of “this is Biblical”, women need to be silent, submit and keep their opinions to themselves.

Well, today I am here to challenge that belief system. How? By looking at Eve or “woman”, the first created woman. What was her identity? Why and how did God create her? What situation occurred for God to decide to create woman?

We all think we know the creation narrative well, and I don’t know about you but it always seemed that woman was not a part of creation at all. 7 days of creation passed…no woman.  Somehow this meant that women were not a part of God’s original plan or least this was what the church has taught me.

So here are 3 points I have found:

  1. “But for man, there was not found a helper suitable”. I think it is correct to say that woman was given to man as a helper. But what kind of helper? Well the Hebrew word here that is used is “`ezer kenegdo”–which means to surround, help, aid to protect. In ancient Hebrew literature this word is used in the context of war, where one nation is being destroyed but then another nation comes to “help” or “coming to the aid” of the nation that is being destroyed.  This word would have carried this understanding during that day. So to the Hebrew people, this word would have been better understood as a “rescuer” or even “savior”.
  1. Furthering this study, I studied the word that was given to the word “`ezer kenegdo” in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) sticks very close to this meaning while incorporating the word that we know in English as “Ebenezer” which has more of the understanding of a “deliverer”. In the vision that man received for the creation of the woman, Yahweh says in paraphrase “She is just like you, she is created just like you, your equal”. Man and women are to be united (nothing about sex here) but as a coming together of two created identities, personalities and characteristics to create one unified entity.
  1. Lastly, when studying Paul’s letter to Timothy we seem to have a road block, or do we? “Woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For man was formed first than woman . And man was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” Ouch! ok don’t freak out yet. Let’s look at the context, who was Paul writing to? women? No, Timothy. Why would Paul write this to Timothy? Well, back then it was obvious. There was a lot of false teaching that were coming from women during that time period, that was being allowed into the church. So in order to get these heretical teachings under control Paul takes a hard line against these woman teachers. This is not our context or at least I hope not. Also, when Paul uses the word “authority” he is using the Greek word that is “authenteo” which during that day was used in reference to describe corrupt dictator type ruler. Of course no one who is in Christ should possess this attitude anyway.

After the study of these passages, it is very hard to agree with the tradition of the church on this issue. Especially when you go to the original language and properly study it. English translation will always fall short, because all translations are made up.

Translations are not inspired text, the original language is the inspired word of God.

But I diverge, the “slam dunk” for me when studying all this was when I went back to the creation account. I studied Hebrew narratives back in the day and in a narrative there is always was a “pinnacle” or “climax” to the story. So in the creation narrative, what was the climax? Fish? Animals? Man? Rest? I always thought it had to be Day 7, right? It was the last day. But careful study of the creation shows the creation account recounted back in Genesis 2, but something is added…woman.

Woman is created as the “climax” or the “pinnacle” of the creation account. Because it was through the woman’s help, aid, deliverance and saving, that man is able to see glimpses of Yahweh. In the same way Yahweh eventually gives us the ultimate helper, aid, deliverer in the Holy Spirit.

The church is guilty of mistreating women and hiding behind the Bible to do it. It is shameful to have treated the “crown jewel” of creation the way we have. I offer my sincere apology for the way we have hurt, belittled, put down, not recognized and even dehumanized you.

 

 

**By the way, if this bugs you, I would really encourage you to ponder why. Why does this bother you so much? Is it because of all the things you have been taught over the years? Is your belief’s grounded in a translation?–(this should never be the case)  I would push you to study the Bible in its original language and see for yourself 🙂 Many of these “hot topics” become “hot topics” because people are debating faulty translations. Go to the original language, read it in the context it was meant to be read in, and somehow these “hot topics” are more easily understood Biblically.