Rev. Dr. Bill Bouknight is a retired United Methodist minister, a member of the Memphis Annual Conference. He was educated at Duke, University of Edinburgh- Scotland, and Yale Divinity School. He served churches in South Carolina for 28 years. From 1994 until 2007 he served as Senior Minister of Christ UMC in Memphis, TN. Currently he is a part-time Associate Director of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church.
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On August 5th, bad news came from China. Authorities in southeastern Zhejiang province are under a two-month deadline to remove crosses from the approximately 4,000 churches in the region. This campaign is believed to be the will of President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping whose administration has launched the most severe crackdown in decades on social forces that might challenge the monopoly of the Party’s rule. It is estimated that there are over 100 million Christians in China after more than three decades of rapid growth.
Since most of China’s rulers are atheists, one would suppose that they would ignore the cross as a harmless sign, important only to superstitious folks. But no, even pagan atheists perceive the power of the cross.
In St. Paul’s day, the message of the cross was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” and that message is still offensive around the world. Even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the cross offends many. Frequently atheists go to court in order to rid all public lands, even cemeteries, of crosses.
But the offense of the cross is not limited to non-Christians. At the infamous Re-Imagining Conference of 1993, a seminary professor declared: “We don’t need to hear about somebody hanging on a cross, and blood dripping, and all that stuff.” And when she spoke those blasphemous words, the interdenominational audience gave her a standing ovation.
Why do some who identify themselves as Christians find the message of the cross offensive? Some of the reasons given are the following:
- The bloodiness of the cross offends many; they wish God could have found a more aesthetically pleasing way to save the world.
- Some refuse to believe any doctrine that they cannot fully comprehend; the Atonement is a mystery bigger than the human mind.
- Requiring a belief in the atoning cross for salvation is too exclusive; many believe that there are numerous avenues to salvation.
- Most Universalists oppose the message of the cross. They reject hell, believing that it was a malicious invention of the early church. They believe that God is going to welcome all people to heaven, regardless of belief or behavior; therefore, an atoning cross was unnecessary.
John Wesley seemed to anticipate that the cross would always be offensive to many. He said, “Undoubtedly, as long as the world stands, there will be a thousand objections to this scriptural doctrine. For still the preaching of Christ crucified will be foolishness to the wise men of the world.”
Satan is the real power in the war against the cross. Satan knows that the only way to prevent his diabolical harvest of human souls is through the message of the cross. He fears no other recipe for salvation. Therefore, he does all in his power to distort or disrupt or destroy the message of the atoning cross.
Our challenge today as always is to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). That faith is cross-centered. Here are just a few Scriptural gems about the cross:
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” (Hebrews 9:27).
“He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2).
“You (the Lamb) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Therefore, Christians, don’t be discouraged. As long as our message is cross-centered, it will not be popular or politically correct or culturally comfortable. St. Paul understood that. He wrote: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). The cross will lose its offensiveness only when the Lamb of God returns in glory. Until then, the cross-centered gospel is the only message that can deliver forgiveness, new birth, salvation, and personal and social change. Therefore, LIFT HIGH THE CROSS!