Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever. —Fulton J. Sheen
I think it only prudent to begin this series by talking about some of the Church’s most central doctrine. There is no person more central to Christianity than Christ, so it seems judicious enough to start there. And like any adventure into theology, it is best begun with story.
I was on the edge of my seat—as were the other students present—while my professor recounted the ordeal of his heart transplant. He drove frantically from southern Oregon to a Seattle hospital. He had just been bumped up to first on the donor list for a heart that now awaited him in the surgical room of the hospital he now raced to. Three years prior to this moment, after multiple heart attacks, bypass surgery and innumerable prescription medications, doctors finally told my professor that his heart could truly bear it no longer. If he did not get a new heart, he would be lucky to live for two more years. Now, into the third year after that prognosis, his weakening thumps survived only on the borrowed days of grace.
Of course, it was he who was now telling the story, so we could all rest easy knowing that he did receive a new heart. But it was not until after the transplant that he knew to whom he owed the gratitude. The boy whose heart now kept my professor alive was a fourteen year old middle school football player who died of a freak brain injury on the field. [bra_blockquote align=’right’]The boy whose heart now kept my professor alive was a fourteen year old middle school football player who died of a freak brain injury on the field.[/bra_blockquote]And it was that boy’s parents who, in that moment of unfathomable pain, made the urgent decision to donate the boy’s organs that went on to save five people. My professor recounted in painful detail the grief of the parents and could barely muster the strength to show us all his scars. At the end of the story, my professor was struggling to choke back from sobbing as tears betrayed his resolve.
But he needn’t say more, we all knew. We knew it deep in our souls. There was a testimony in his scars alone. There was something remarkably sobering about the reality that someone had to die so that he could live. Someone innocent was taken so that something…someone broken could be made right. This is not at all dissimilar to the central story of our faith, where Christ, our innocent savior, took upon himself our brokenness, the brokenness of all, and died. Died so that we could live.
This is the doctrine of redemption or salvation. We are saved by and through Jesus alone. He died so we can live. Though there are various interpretations regarding how, precisely, this salvation operates (e.g. Christus Victor, penal substitution, covenant restoration), it is really only necessary for us to recognize that Christ did in fact die for us and that this did in fact mean that we now may be saved through Him. To deny this is in many ways to deny the very soul of Christianity. Yet some denominations have done just that. They have denied Christ as the singularly most crucial and necessary person for salvation. They have done so at their own peril, hoping that a larger gate and a less narrow path to salvation will win them disciples. (Despite Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:14, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”)
These denominations are now realizing that being liked by the world is not a sign of successful ministry. To their chagrin they are finding that the wider they make their doors, there are fewer people that walk through them. They have tacitly embraced the infamous quip of H. Richard Niebuhr, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
Any Church that denies the way to salvation is through Christ alone gathers for naught. They have stripped Christianity of its Christ and have brought the church to irrelevance. And when the Church means nothing, you gain nothing to join it and lose nothing to leave it. In its irreverence to the only Savior of the world, it has gained the love of the world only to lose its soul. (What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36)[bra_blockquote align=”]It is true that we can make the world love us by sacrificing the things that mean the most to us, but though they may love us, they will never become us. And the Church is not in the business of making friends; it is called to make disciples[/bra_blockquote]It is true that we can make the world love us by sacrificing the things that mean the most to us, but though they may love us, they will never become us. And the Church is not in the business of making friends; it is called to make disciples.1 And the Church must NEVER forget that we do need a savior, because we too have broken hearts, and there is but one person in all of heaven and earth who can place in us new hearts, hearts that will beat for all eternity. And if you ask who this person is, there was a man 2000 years ago who has already answered that:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” —John 14:6
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1. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” —Matthew 10:14
“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Matthew 10:22
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” —Matthew 28:19
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