Church of (Human) Glory? Or a Church of the Cross?

Amid our shifting culture—moving away from a culturally Christian, modern culture to a postmodern and neo-pagan culture—how should church respond? I think that we should reclaim some of our Protestant roots and learn from the great Reformer, Martin Luther.[1] In 1518, Martin Luther was still a monk within the Catholic church. His superiors, however, wanted Luther to explain himself more, because some of Luther’s writings began to make waves within the Catholic church.

When Luther appeared before them, he did not merely explain his views. He actually sent forth a complete paradigm shift for how someone comes to know God. In his lecture, Luther contrasted two ways of doing theology. There is a theology of (human) glory, or there is a theology of the cross. The theology of glory begins with humanity. Humanity defines what glory is like and then fashions God into that image. Furthermore, human reason is competent enough to figure God out.

The theology of the cross, on the other hand, starts with the cross as the clearest revelation of God. At the cross, humanity sees the kind of God that Scripture reveals to us, a God who comes near in suffering, brokenness, and death. The glory of God is not a raw exercise of His power, but God is glorified through the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Luther has hit upon a profound concept by distinguishing a theology of (human) glory and a theology of the cross. I want to build upon that concept and propose that we can do church either one of two ways: we can either be a church of (human) glory or a church of the cross.

The church of human glory focuses on being respected by the culture. It focuses on fancier buildings, and bigger budgets. The church of glory wants the pastor on CNN commenting on the latest issue. The church of glory wants the praise of the culture, not God.

Throughout most of American history, Christianity in general, and churches in particular, have been respected to some degree. To be a part of some kind of church was the respectable thing to do. And so, I think that some churches became prideful. They expected to be listened to and they expected to yield cultural influence.

Today, the culture is turning on those churches. It is becoming not fashionable or popular to be a Christian in American society.

The church of the cross, however, focuses on preaching Christ crucified, sharing the good news of our crucified and risen Messiah. It does not seek cultural acceptance. It doesn’t do good works to be seen. Rather, the church of the cross works behind the scenes, faithfully doing good works without seeking wordly acclaim. It may seem like the church holds no influence on the culture, but if you have eyes to see, the church of the cross is meeting the needs of hurting people.

So how do we respond to a shifting culture? Most simply, by faithfully preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

 


[1] The basis of my understanding about the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross comes from Robert Kolb’s article, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,” in Lutheran Quarterly, XVI: 4 (Winter 2002), 443-466. It can be accessed online here: http://pastormattrichard.webs.com/LQ_16-4_04_Kolb.pdf

4 thoughts on “Church of (Human) Glory? Or a Church of the Cross?

  1. Great post Chris and good analysis of what the church needs to emphasize in our post Christian culture. Thanks for the challenging words!

    1. I write a lot of these words for myself too, because it’s always a temptation to want the approval and prestige of the culture. But there is something far more important out there, approval from God.

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