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

The Advent Wreath is a War Flag

Advent-Wreath1The Advent wreath is a war flag. It is a reminder that Christmas is really about conflict. As 1 John 3:8 says, “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” All the world lies under the power of the devil (1 John 5:19). But Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil by removing Satan’s power: his ability to accuse Christians of their sin (Revelation 12:9-11). On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, and at the same time, defeated the evil cosmic powers (Colossians 2:14-15).

The Advent Wreath, then, symbolizes God’s victory over Satan, sin, and death, which all began when a small baby was born in a dirty animal feed trough.

The Wreath

The circle of evergreen branch symbolizes the goal of God’s work: to give His creatures eternal life and freedom from Satan’s dominion. Just as the evergreen never fades and the circle never ends, so our eternal life is secure because of Jesus.

The First Purple Candle: Hope

The first purple candle symbolizes hope. When Adam and Eve sinned all the way back in the Garden, humanity was ruined and corrupted by sin. Now all people are under the dominion of the devil. But God did not let His creatures go their own way. He got involved. And from the very beginning, Scripture prophesied of a human descendent who would destroy Satan, sin, and death. We have hope in the Coming Savior.

Genesis 3:14-15
 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this
Cursed are you more than all cattle
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
[15] And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

The Second Purple Candle: Love

The second purple candle symbolizes love. Why did God become a man? Why was Jesus born? Because of love. God could have left us to our own devices, destined for His judgment. But our God got involved. He loves His people, not because of anything that they do to earn His favor, but because of His overwhelming mercy and grace.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The Pink Candle: Joy

The third candle that is lit is usually the pink candle. The pink candle represents joy. We can have exceeding joy because the penalty for our sins have been paid. The power of Satan over us has been broken. And the fear of death has been abolished. All of that happen through Jesus entering our broken world as a baby. And God’s victory march culminated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Luke 2:10-11
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; [11] for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The Third Purple Candle: Peace

The third purple candle symbolizes peace. Because of Jesus, we can have peace with God. Our war with God is over. We can turn from our rebellion and become friends of God. Satan is defeated. And death is overthrown. Peace reigns through the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isaiah 9:6
A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Romans 5:1
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The White Candle

The final, white candle in the middle symbolizes Jesus. The candle is pure, just like Jesus was free from all sin (1 Peter 2:22). He was the perfect substitute for our sins (1 Peter 2:24). Although He never sinned, He died for sinners like us.

The Advent wreath is a war flag. It is a declaration that the powers of Satan, sin, and death have been crushed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The lyrics of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sums up the meaning of the Advent wreath well:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

(Image Credit)

You Don’t Make A Decision To Join a Local Church

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, in their book Total Church, speak on the true nature of church membership:

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. To fail to live out our corporate identity in Christ is analogous to the act of adultery: we can be Christian and do it, but it is not what Christians should do. The loyalties of the new community supersede even the loyalties of biology (Matthew 10:34-37; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 11:27-28). If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians. (p. 41)

 

 

God Renews, Restores, Repairs

The book of Zechariah can be summed up in one word: Restoration. It’s about the restoration of Israel’s land, temple, city, priesthood, prophetic office, and even the people. Just as every aspect of Israel had been corrupted by sin and lead to exile, so also, every part of Israel will be renewed, restored.

A Brief History: Slavery, Freedom, Exile

Israel’s history roughly covers three “periods.” Israel was first enslaved in Egypt. God then sent Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt through the great event known as the Exodus. God redeemed His people, and gave them freedom. God brought Israel out from the land of slavery into the Promised Land of Palestine. On the way to her inheritance, Israel received God’s Law at Sinai. If Israel would obey the Law, then she would have long life in the land. Disobedience, however, would lead to exile, being kicked out of the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, Israel did not obey the Law of the Lord, and was sent away into exile. Due to God’s mercy, exile is not the end for Israel. God sends His prophets to Israel and they promise that a day is coming when Israel will return from exile. The return from exile will be characterized by the resurrection from the dead, the restoration of the temple, and the ushering in of the new creation.

After seventy years in Babylon, Israel did return, but not in the glorious way expected by the prophets. The question persisted: You can get the people out of Babylon, but how do you get Babylon out of the people? The answer unfolded in the Hebrew Bible is that the exile has two dimensions: a physical return, and an even greater spiritual return.

The Message of Zechariah

It is at this moment when Zechariah the prophet steps on the scene. Zechariah is prophesying in Israel when the people have physically returned from exile. Israel is back in the land. But the people have not experienced the greater return from exile. The people are waiting for the return, or to use exodus language, the Second Exodus.

The reason why the people have not experienced the greater return—and restoration—is because sin had not been dealt a definitive blow. The returned exiles are just as sinful as the generations which lead up to the exile (as demonstrated in both Zechariah and Malachi). When the new day dawns, however, sin will be wiped away and restoration will commence. God’s restoration will cover all aspects of Israel life:

Land

“I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (3:9).

“‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols in the land, and they will no longer be remembered’” (13:2)

Temple

“Look, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord” (6:12)

Prophecy

“I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirits from the land” (13:2).

Priesthood

“Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (6:13)

City

“I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain” (8:3)

Why Does This Matter?

Zechariah matters because it points to Jesus. Jesus is the One whose sacrificial death on the cross puts away sin and makes restoration possible. It is Jesus’ resurrection which ushers in the new creation into this broken, fallen world. What God will do for Israel, He will do for the whole world. Amazingly, the prophet Jeremiah talks about a return from exile for Gentile (non-Jewish) nations (Jeremiah 12:14-17). Zechariah also talks about Gentiles being made family with the Jews:

“Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people.”

All people can be made family together through faith in the One man, Jesus Christ. So, Zechariah is all about restoration. And restoration comes through Jesus.

 

Thousands of Small Steps for God’s Mission

To get involved in God’s mission does not necessarily require selling all of your possessions and moving across the globe. God wants you to be involved in His mission right where you are. But if you feel stuck, consider taking one small step today.

I wrote for Lincroft Bible Church’s Community Groups blog 3 Ways To Be Involved in God’s Mission. I wanted to take some time to expand on those three ways.

1. Team Up

I was trained in “personal evangelism” growing up. Basically, personal evangelism meant sharing your faith one-on-one with someone else. In college, my evangelism class consisted in some training on what to say, and then an assignment to “cold call” someone and share the gospel with them.

I think there are two deficiencies in this approach. One, you are only trained in how to share the gospel one particular way, whether through Evangelism Explosion, Way of the Master, or the Romans Road. But people often come to God in a variety of ways so you need to be able to get to the gospel by a variety of routes. Some people struggle with God’s existence. Others believe that a God exists, but grapple with the problem of evil. So on and so forth. You need to be able to engage with people on their level. Second, it is not truly personal! “Personal” evangelism implies some sort of personal relationship, not merely doing “hit and run” evangelism.

I think there’s a better way.

Accomplishing God’s mission happens through community. When Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), He was not merely giving it to individual Christians; rather, He gave it to the disciples who were representative of the church. God’s church is sent out on mission.

That’s why LBC does Community Groups: to further God’s mission. On a practical level, no Christian is omnicompetent. So having a diverse “team” surrounding you makes furthering the mission much easier, because you are able to rely on others who different gifts than you do. You may be great at hosting parties and events in your home, but get tongue-tied about spiritual things. That’s ok. Someone in your Community Group may be especially gifted at sharing the gospel with unbelievers. All you need to do is make the introduction!

So get involved in Community Group. You can find more information about Groups here.

2. Link Up

I find in my own life that I often don’t do things because I don’t know where to start. At LBC, the pastors are committed to mobilizing the church for service and mission. We want to give you a start. If you are looking for opportunities, just keep your eyes and ears open. By serving with your Community Group, you will build deeper relationships with everyone in the group. You will also grow in faith because you are now “walking the walk,” performing good works like Jesus commanded.

3. Throw a Party

If “personal evangelism” is to be truly personal, then you need to get know people. The first step is to meet people. Throwing a party is just one way to meet your neighbors and co-workers. At first, it might seem like throwing a party is a big deal. I mean, don’t you need to clean the house, make food, and decorate? That takes time, and usually lots of it!

One question that has helped me when trying to reach out to others is this: I am trying to look good or do good? If I’m trying to look good, then yes, throwing a party will be a burden because I am trying to impress others. But if I am trying to do good—to get to know people—then I don’t need to work for human approval. I throw a party for the good of others, and therefore, it doesn’t really matter what the house looks like.

 

I hope that fleshes out of the points I made in my first post. God’s mission is huge, but He is asking us as a church to begin taking small steps. After a while, we’ll look back and see that thousands of small steps accomplish much.