Urges to write overwhelmed me during yesterday morning’s message from Danny O’Neil, my pastor. At Calvary Fellowship, we’ve been going through a series of messages highlighting the plain and simple aspects of the Christian faith. Actually the series title is Christianity, Plain and Simple. Last week, Danny talked about religious noise and how it bogs down the beauty of Christianity as a whole. And this week, he brought into the discussion the ongoing debate revolving around evolution and the origins of life. His main point: scientific theories such as evolution or the Big Bang Theory do not contradict the essential elements to the Christian faith.
What I couldn’t help but think of after hearing that was all the different subjects prevailing (or plaguing) Christian discussion in modern-day times; inerrancy, the Trinity, Christology, etc., etc. There is one common theme that I can’t ignore in each of these issues: where do you stand?
Much of Christianity is segmented into small little groups as if they were NFL teams; the Reformed Calvinists, the Radical Lutheranists, the Anti-Noninerrancyists, the Mars-Hillians, and on and on they go. We create neat little logos with neat little phrases about why our team is better than yours and throughout it all, we constantly remind people of where we stand.
No, it isn’t just Christians that do this; many religious or anti-religious groups do this as well. But the undertone in each of the groups is the same: where do we stand? Do we believe that every word of the Bible as we have it was literally breathed out by God or is there more complexity to it? Do we believe that all of creation was created in six days or millions and millions of years? Do we believe that the gospel message is the Bible as a whole or quite simply the cross of Christ? This is where my heart was led during Danny’s message yesterday.
Everything unravels when we come to Christ’s cross; all our pretentions, our religious affiliations, our “right” beliefs. It all falls apart when we see His flesh torn open, when we smell His blood pooling at the base of the cross, when that deep chill runs up our spine and freezes our heart because we realize that none of the religious differences matter; what matters is Jesus.
You might say, “Well that’s where you stand and now you’re going to start up an expansion team for the Christian Debate League that takes a few phrases from a major theologian and then argue against all the other teams.” Having the cross of Christ as the only thing that matters to the Christian faith, however, is nothing new.
Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” – 1 Cor. 2:2. It was clear to him that the urge to divide and ridicule the other groups was not a primary tenet of Christianity; it’s not what the cross means. As Danny went through his message, I couldn’t help but think of where I might stand. It was only a few moments before I realized that I do not stand on any side.
Seeing His body bloodied and beaten and ripped apart beyond recognition and knowing that it wasn’t any religious group He was dying for, but rather my sins, my failures, my greed, my pride, my ego, my ambitions, my arrogance, or just simply, me – it makes my knees quiver. It causes my heart to stir and tears to fall and before I know it, I’m face down in the bloodied mud beneath Jesus’ cross. My hands clench the red-stained earth in anger, in frustration, in grief, in a whole wave of emotions that is too much for my body to physically bear and therefore causes it to shake. I’m barely able to breathe. My teeth grit and grind at the thought of each nail being hammered in to His arms and legs, each whip gouging into his skin and ripping it off the muscle and bone. Thinking of what Christ went through to break the chains around my ankles and wrists does not compel me to pick a side to stand on; I can’t stand at all when I come to the cross.
No matter how many words I could ever write about religious divisions, they will always be there; as long as sin prevails, so will our little teams. But what we can never forget is that before we had any power to prevail over anything at all, Christ prevailed over death. Most – if not all – of our religious or theological differences, as my friend Brad always says, come down to a choice. And when it comes to picking a religious division with its neat little slogan and its neat little logo, I choose those of Jesus: His crucified body and His words, “It is finished,” – John 19:30.