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Allowing the cross to shape the Christian agenda

Apparently there is a village in Cornwall with 864 road signs. That means one road sign for every three inhabitants. However the council has agreed there are too many and plans to remove 200 of them. One can readily imagine the dazzling bombardment of information that such excess signage produces.

 

In some ways Christians today will feel that the message of the gospel is regarded as just one sign among many others. We know the importance and significance of Jesus Christ but are frustrated that it does not stand out in a society in which Christian adherence and commitment is declining (see the 2011 census statistics). Real Christianity is despised by many and certainly most are vastly ignorant of its core message.

            As we seek to live as churches and Christians in this environment there is a real danger that we will be deceived into responding in the wrong way to the challenge of bringing Christ to the people who live in our villages, towns, and cities. We will be tempted to join unwittingly in the clamour for attention and see if we can use our remaining influence and resources to shout more loudly than everyone else and so get the Christian voice heard.

            That would be a big mistake. And it is evangelicals perhaps who are more prone than most to adopt the world's agenda for living the Christian life and promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelical spirituality is sometimes painfully similar to that of the Christians Paul wrote to in Corinth 2000 years ago. Unnecessary divisions, hypocritical attitudes to immoral behaviour, a consumer driven selfishness, and a refusal to really live in the light of the world to come are sadly all too prevalent among us.

            As in 1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul could well say of us 'Are you not acting like mere men?' In other words Paul observes that we are worldly. Our values are shaped by human agendas and not by that of the Lord. As we issue vision statements and five year plans and clutch at the straws of ministry and church consultancy we fail to recognise just how much our response to Christian decline is shaped by the values of the society in which we live.

            We need to have our eyes opened and our response shaped by the apostle Paul's cross shaped spirituality. Instead of taking pride in the various features of our church life, let us boast in the Lord (1:31). Instead of being obsessed with modern means of communication, let us pray that our message would be accompanied by a demonstration of the Spirit's power (2:4). I still recall the frustration years ago of being challenged after giving a talk on that passage that this must refer to the need to have miracles in church life. Given the context that is precisely what it cannot mean! Instead of thinking that our fellow human beings will work out the wisdom of Christ's cross, let us remember that this has to be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (2:10). At that time it was the rulers of this age whom the Corinthians so admired that in their wisdom ended up crucifying the Lord of glory. Now it would be the celebrities and the powerful and the rich whom the media generally encourage us to admire who would do the job.

            Of course it is difficult to allow the cross to shape our agendas and way of life as Christians and churches when it has become such a recognised symbol of the Christian faith. Perhaps we need to seriously engage with those from Islam who still recognise the natural offence of a crucified Lord in order to recover this. Another way might be to ponder the method God used to incarnate his Son. The Word became flesh in a despised corner of a land among a people who themselves were despised by their rulers.

            If we are tempted to lose confidence in the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified we need to remember this. If we are tempted to look to other methods than ministers preaching and teaching this message in and out of season then we need to remember this. Judged by human values this may be just one sign among many, but to those who are being saved it should be viewed as indeed the power of God. When Paul said that the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world and yet they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4), he really meant it.

Mark Burkill is the Chairman of the Latimer Trust

This article was first published in the CEN in May 2013

 
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