The transformation of the blood-stained wooden cross of Calvary to the diamond-studded gold cross of a cathedral may well signify man’s attempt to remove the offense of the cross. Throughout the centuries the blood of the cross has been a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. And to make the cross more palatable to unregenerate religionists and intellectuals, some preachers and theologians have tried to substitute a symbolism quite at variance to that so carefully defined in Scripture. The message of the Word proclaims that the incarnate Son of God died on the cross, the voluntary victim of our human guilt—“delivered for our offences”—“made sin for us”—“given for us, the just One in the room of the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”

During the Lenten season and especially during the observation of Passion Week, the cross will be preached from every pulpit. Its symbolism, however, will be variously explained, with many deviations from the biblical definition. One serious error will be a hazy presentation of the cross, expressing indefinitely that in some incomprehensible way Jesus died for mankind and man becomes a partaker of the remission of sins. The cross proclaims, they will say, absolute forgiveness and confirms our confidence in the grace of God. The cross, thus, brings peace to the troubled conscience and gives assurance that all is well. But this will be a proclamation of forgiveness independent of the fact of the atoning sacrifice.

Some will picture the cross as depicting a sublime and perfect surrender of self: Christ surrendering to the will of God even though it meant cruel suffering and agony. And the lesson drawn from this will be that men must partake of this spirit and imitate Christ’s example. This notion, of course, is good but fails to deliver the central message of the cross. It omits the declaration that the Father decreed that Christ surrender his life as a ransom for many.

To others the cross will be considered the vivid symbol of God’s aversion to sin. Undoubtedly one will hear this emphasis on the heinousness of sin and the judgment of God. The cross will be raised as a symbol of God’s judgment against sin, preparatory to the proclamation of God’s grace and reconciliation. We will not quarrel with this view that the cross is a vivid symbol of God’s wrath against sin. But this divine aversion to sin dare not be proclaimed without reference to the necessity of vicarious atonement.

Many will hear that on the cross “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). That reconciliation will be described as a subjective experience of man; only man, not God, needs to be reconciled. And it is the cross that leads man to reconciliation with God, as it expresses God’s desire to forgive. The cross, in other words, melts the heart of man. The cross need not affect God for he stands ready to forgive and only waits for man to be reconciled to him. This theory, however, has no basis in Scripture, not even in the context of the quoted passage. For some reason those who hold this position seldom quote the complete text, which explains how God reconciled men to himself, namely, by “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” These trespasses are imputed to Christ as we see in a following verse, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Reconciliation is based solely on the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ.

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Objection has been raised to the concept of the cross being a transaction, once and for all accomplished by Christ. Those who are averse to this concept would insist that the church is a reconciling and redemptive society which, for the sake of love and obedience to God, is called to be a suffering servant and thus an instrument of atonement. That the church must bear a cross and suffer is certainly taught in Scripture, but this is not an extension of the atonement, which was completed when Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished.” The Scriptures present the sacrifice on the cross as once and for all accomplished for the sin of the world. “But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”—“The Son of man … came to give his life a ransom for many”—“For Christ also hath once suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (Heb. 9:26; Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 3:18). Those who disparage the atonement as a completed transaction disparage the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. And any view of the atonement as an accomplishment performed in part by the church is foreign to biblical teaching. This final transaction, of course, is not to be compared to that of a commercial kind for the infinite love of the Father and the Son for the lost sinner is involved.

The position is sometimes taken that the incarnation rather than the cross is the reconciling and redeeming deed. The assumption of human nature by the Son of God completed, in some mystical and unexplained way, the full reconciliation and immediate reunion of fallen man to God, and subsequently, the commencement of a new humanity. That is, a new principle of life was implanted by the miracle of the incarnation, and the work of Christ is but the continuation of that divine act. All this is maintained, of course, without reference to any expiation wrought out on the cross. Those who believe in Christ are indeed made partakers of his life, but the believer knows that this is possible only as a result of the atonement. The life of Christ is not given as an immediate gift of God except it be purchased by his blood (Acts 20:28). No one has stated this more sharply and clearly than Christ himself: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). And as Herman Bavinck wrote, “The incarnation is the beginning and introduction to the work of Christ on earth, it is true, but it is not the whole meaning, nor the most important meaning of that work” (Our Reasonable Faith, p. 330). Jesus entered into history in order to give his life a ransom for many; his vicarious death made the gift of life possible.

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Any preaching of the cross that fails to include this expiation of guilt neutralizes the influence and power of the truth. For while the subject of the cross has many facets and inculcates many lessons, Scripture uniformly presents one central message, viz., that Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

True biblical preaching of the cross must therefore set forth Christ as the great High Priest “offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world”—a sacrifice that procures pardon and eternal life. However men may seek to void this revelation and conceal the profound truth of the cross by mystical, existential and dialectical language, they will always have to face an avalanche of passages that tell us that our sins were the cause of Christ’s death. “Delivered for our offences—who gave himself for our sins—who gave himself for us—once offered to bear the sins of many—being made a curse for us—who his own self bare our sins” (Rom. 4:25; Gal. 1:4; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:28; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). Paul would never have experienced persecution if he had suggested that man could be justified by any means other than the blood of the cross for “then is the offence of the cross ceased” (Gal. 5:11). But Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). It was the cross to which he clung for deliverance from his sin and guilt.

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What glorifies the cross is its shame. And hence, how little a diamond-studded gold cross reflects the symbolism portrayed in Scripture. A man-made cross cannot show the shame, sin, guilt and blood. Sin seems such an innocuous word until it is translated into descriptive terms like lust, adultery, sodomy, rape, murder, hatred, deceit, envy, war, idolatry, covetousness, strife, drunkenness and pride. Such vile sins as these nailed Jesus to the cross (Col. 2:14) and were borne by him on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24). The blood of Christ was shed to cleanse from all sin (1 John 1:7). He who can depict sin at its vilest and visualize the flow of his blood best describes the symbolism of the cross. Yet the very shame of it is its highest glory for the Son of God was made sin for us that God might justly forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from iniquity. Removing the shame of the cross, therefore, deprives it of its true beauty and power.

Biblical representation of the cross acknowledges also the truth of a moral Governor over the universe. The existence of sin presupposes first a law and a lawgiver, then a judge. And as Scripture reveals the living God as this Lawgiver and Judge, then those who claim no need for reconciliation to him ignore the evidence of transgressions and deny that he must ultimately deal with disobedience to his law. Holiness, righteousness and justice are attributes of God and necessary to the welfare of the universe. They give no ground for representing God a fierce, vindictive and implacable tyrant—indeed, a caricature often drawn of biblical revelation. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul deals more with righteousness than grace because only in the light of God’s absolute righteousness does the sinner obtain a glimpse of his mercy and cry out with the apostle, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!… For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (cf. Rom. 11:31–36). Only as the biblical symbolism of the cross is proclaimed is the righteousness of God vindicated, his justice satisfied and his mercy perceived.

What other preaching of the cross can satisfy the wounded conscience of man? Written upon the human heart are the claims of justice and righteousness. True, these claims may be ignored and the conscience deadened, but when a man’s conscience becomes quickened, it instinctively demands that there be satisfaction of divine justice before divine forgiveness and mercy can be enjoyed. A true preacher of the cross will point out that Christ gave his life a ranson for many, that he bare our sins in his own body on the tree, and is the propitiation for sin. Setting forth that truth, therefore, is the direct and only way of calming the troubled conscience and putting men in possession of peace.

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The cross radiates the matchless grace of God. Where dependence for salvation is not wholly placed on the cross of Christ, there a form of legalism exists. Some expect pardon on the ground of self-surrender, others upon repentance, reformation, the incarnation, ethical life or deeds of charity. But all these refuse to submit to God’s way of salvation and seek to establish their own, thereby dimming the radiance of God’s grace. Only those who kneel humbly before the cross of revelation are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:24, 25). Proclaiming Christ and him crucified centers the attention on the wondrous grace of God.

No finer nor more striking exhibition of divine love can be given than in the true preaching of the cross. As any form of legalism hides the grace of God so does it obliterate the love of God. God’s love is seen in the providing of his only-begotten Son as the sacrifice for sin. Of course, the cross does not render God loving nor make him merciful. Love provided the cross and the sacrifice upon it. The cross enabled the holy and righteous God to manifest his infinite love. Love moved in the path of righteousness. It is then in the sincere preaching of the cross that we are afforded the most striking demonstration of divine holy love.

Throughout the history of theology there has been a constant attempt to remove the offence of the cross. Some have felt that only by “demythologizing” the cross can Christianity obtain acceptance by the wise of this world. By this, of course, they have forgotten that the cross has always been an amazement, even foolishness, to the mind that is unchanged by the Holy Spirit. And while ignoring the blood and shame of it, they have catered to the pride and prejudices of men, they have rendered at the same time a cross ineffective and depleted of glory.

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The faithful preacher of the Word is well advised to remember Paul’s admonition in the first chapter of First Corinthians, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.… But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

Labor Leaders Look To The Churches

Leaders assertedly speaking for organized religion and for organized labor have influentially indoctrinated the contemporary American mind in such collectivistic ideals as expanded government power and a controlled economy.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council’s recently adopted statement on “Labor and the Churches” not only pledges the labor movement to a continuing program of socialization, but even measures the social concern of American religious forces by their enthusiasm for this program. Moreover, it purports to find Judeo-Christian sanction for this program in the teaching of Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus of Nazareth. Made to the Second AFL-CIO convention in December in Atlantic City, the report declares:

The religious organizations of our country—Protestant, Catholic and Jewish—and their leaders, inspired by the lives and teachings of Moses, the Hebrew Prophets, and Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth, have repeatedly shown a vital concern about the social, economic, cultural and spiritual aspects of American community life.

During the last half century especially, they have evidenced concern about equal rights and justice for all men, for adequate housing, for the abolition of injurious child labor, for regulation of working conditions for women, and for wholesome recreation for every child.

They have stood for the abatement and prevention of poverty everywhere, for reasonable hours of labor, for just wages, for fair working conditions, for security for old age, for insurance against injury to the worker, and for an equitable division of the product of industry.

They have joined with other groups in our American society such as trade unions in working for workmen’s compensation, unemployment insurance, minimum wage and adequate social security legislation and for the legal recognition of labor’s right to organize and bargain collectively.

To attribute enthusiasm for this whole series of social goals to the membership of the local churches, or of the local unions, would neglect the frequent top-level determination of organizational positions without mandate from or consent of member constituencies. Agencies whose spokesmen profess special concern for individual welfare have occasionally subordinated and even exploited their own constituencies by imposing a machine program approved only at the top by the official leadership. The point is hardly that the Church must oppose whatever AFL-CIO approves, for not all its goals can be dismissed as socialistic, and many New Deal objectives seem now, for better or worse, to belong to the accepted social ideas of our times. But to confer the blessing of revealed religion upon this legislative program, and to bind the Church to it in the name of biblical ethics, is quite another matter.

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Recently a labor leader commented enthusiastically on “the similarity of the Church’s legislative program and labor’s legislative program.” But neither labor leaders nor church leaders need be surprised at this conformity, since it reflects an interlocking directive strategy, and no necessary identity of mind on the part of the constituencies involved.

The error of social planning currently approved by many religious leaders is twofold.

It presumes to confer Christian status on specific modern movements and temporary programs (some due for serious criticism), mobilizing laymen in local churches to promote man-made legislative programs, instead of legitimatizing and vitalizing earnest Christian social endeavor by enunciating the enduring principles of revealed ethics.

Worse yet, it thereby confirms the misunderstanding of Christianity frequently gained by the American worker from those who profess to speak within labor’s ranks for the Protestant community. The AFL-CIO statement on “Labor and the Churches” indicates the labor movement’s growing interest in direct proclamation and promulgation of its specific aims through the churches: “The AFL-CIO, recognizing the tremendous role that religion and religious organizations play in American national, state and community life, seeks through its office for Religious Relations to interpret our labor movement, its ideals, aims, practices and achievements to the members and leaders of the various religious bodies in our country, and to provide a channel of communication, friendship and co-operation between religious and labor groups.”

When expulsion of the Teamsters Union resulted in the loss of $1,000,000 income and in a cut-back of personnel at AFL-CIO headquarters, 30 workers were shifted to Albert Zack, newly appointed director of AFL-CIO’s $1,200,000 public relations program (with defeat of “right to work” laws among its specific objectives); other personnel was offered by the Religion in Labor Movement to councils of churches throughout the nation to address congregations and men’s groups sympathetically on the labor movement and its objectives. Today only the churches of the land constitute a larger segment of public opinion than do the labor unions, statistically at least. The unions seem eager to penetrate the churches in propagandizing objectives quite removed from the primary task of religion. When secular agencies see nothing amiss in such use and exploitation of the churches, it is time for the churches themselves to take another look at their message, and to ask whether they themselves—by neglect of the Gospel and by emphasis on temporary legislative goals—have unwittingly set the precedent.

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To churches and synagogues the labor movement stresses that organizational efforts and collective bargaining have won higher wages and shorter hours that “give the workers the time and money for cultural, community, educational and religious pursuits.” The Atlantic City report declares it “exceedingly important that the forces of religion and labor that have so many common aims and objectives should understand one another and work for greater material, cultural and spiritual fulfillment for everyone.” It also notes that in labor’s ministry to the churches “the case against ‘right-to-work’ laws has been presented as well as descriptions of efforts to eliminate racketeering in the labor movement.” Not only does this propaganda identification of Christian conscience with the closed union shop ignore the coercive restriction of the worker’s freedom latent in that program, but it adds the shameful implication, perhaps unintended but nonetheless conspicuous, that opposition to the closed union shop falls into the same category of immorality as support of union racketeering. Such handling of ethical concerns will hardly create open doors for union propagandists in churches whose enthusiasm for the labor movement has waned somewhat on the edge of current labor scandals. Many clergymen have watched hopefully for signs that labor would react to racketeering and exploitation within its ranks by something more significant than mere verbal spanking. Despite scandals among some of their own leaders, union spokesmen now are prone to justify inactivity on the ground that “you can’t legislate morality” (while all the while they lobby vigorously for a legislative program on moral grounds). So far, union leaders have reacted to the proved cases of misappropriation and theft by labor bosses only by approving full public disclosure of all operations in health and welfare funds; additional legislation is regarded as administratively unfeasible and unjustified by the facts.

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Perhaps it is time for the Church to stress that God alone is the ultimate guardian of human liberties, and that labor leaders and unions too may impinge upon man’s freedom. The daily newspapers leave no doubt, at any rate, that liberty and justice are not something inherent in the unions. Human nature in the ranks of labor and its leadership is no worse, and no better, than human nature generally. The only real remedy for its corruption remains the gospel of the new birth. Not simply man’s rescue from poverty by natural means, but his rescue from sin by supernatural means, is the worker’s real hope.

The Church And Red China

No American churchmen have visited Communist China since the bamboo curtain fell, but some from Canada, Australia and other countries have done so. Their conflicting reports reveal the complexity of the situation, and also the effect of one’s personal viewpoint and philosophy in interpreting what one has seen.

Fortunately the free world is not now dependent on either conducted tours or politically supervised contacts. A great volume of information is coming from China. Some of it is surreptitiously sent out. Much of it comes from printed articles and reports of addresses by Church leaders. Again, contacts in Hongkong are fruitful in revealing conditions, although for obvious reasons they must remain completely protected.

Evaluating every available source of information certain conclusions now seem fully warranted.

That there have been social changes and material progress under the Communist regime is clear. The very backwardness of China in the past has offered a golden opportunity for spectacular advances in communications, building of new railroads and highways, and in the field of public health and sanitation. That many of these changes were underway under the Nationalist regime when Japan attacked China is not known by some and has been forgotten by others. To keep the record clear, we should not forget the pressures of a war with Japan which drove the government back into West China, with its accompanying destruction and demoralization. This was followed by a peace where rapid reoccupation of the war-ravaged areas was complicated by an American policy which unfortunately played into communist hands. It is a fallacy to attribute the present material and social progress entirely to Communism. Had Japan not attacked, and had there not been externally imposed compromises which later were in part responsible for the Communist victory in China, there is every reason to believe that China would still today be a land of vast material and social improvements. These advances would not have been made at the cost of personal freedoms and national enslavement. We should also at all times guard against confusing social reforms and material progress with Christianity; not every “reform” is Christian, and revelation and redemption and regeneration are integral to the biblical religion.

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What of the Church? How restricted is she and how much has she compromised?

It should be stated at the very beginning that no people in the world are more capable of “rolling with the punch” than the Chinese. Furthermore, the Western concept of compromise is, in many cases, considerably different from that held in China.

When all of this has been recognized, the fact remains that some leaders within the Christian communion have compromised by any standard of morality. This is evident from the public denunciation of fellow Christians when their only sin has been a dogged determination to put God above the state. It has been shown by the willingness of some to permit the Church to become an agency of the state, for the state’s own purposes. It has been obvious by some Church leaders assuming political roles usually considered incompatible with one’s spiritual calling.

It is also increasingly evident that the government’s policy towards the Church varies with the area. Apparently Christians in the larger cities enjoy a greater freedom than those in the towns and villages. Many church buildings were originally commandeered for other purposes. Not all have been returned. Private sources also indicate that when there are visitors from the West the Communists see that the churches they visit in the large cities are well-filled. In the interior, congregations do not enjoy this “blessing,” their problem being the ever-present political supervisor to see that nothing is said or done which might produce “reactionary thoughts.”

But the picture of the Church in China is far from a bleak one. There is a vital activity for which we should thank God. Freed from every form of mission control and subsidy, forced to give of money and time, Christians are assuming responsibility and witnessing for the Lord in great numbers. In a few localities this renewed interest has assumed the proportions of a minor revival.

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Because the Church of Jesus Christ is a living organism in China today we may yet witness a stirring chapter in the history of the Church, and also a new chapter in cruel repression and persecution. Many have felt that any toleration shown the Church by the Red regime has been because of contempt for her ultimate influence, combined with a desire to use her to the fullest during the period of transition. For this reason, if faced with a revitalized and spiritually-awake Church, there is grave reason to expect the sternest measures of repression.

Few Christians in the West have prayed for their brothers in China as they should. It is easy to point an accusing finger where compromise is suspected, but none of us has faced that which they have faced. Our own compromises with the world can well be far more grievous in our Lord’s eyes than those of brothers across the Pacific. Nor have many of us exercised the steadfastness and moral courage some of our less fortunate brothers are now exercising in China.

It is high time that we join in daily, importunate prayers for Christians in China, who are passing through days of grave testing and trial.

We Quote:


Unitarian Minister

One of the frontiers now confronting Unitarianism and causing much anxiety within our circles lies within the question: Are Unitarians Christians?… The National Council of Christian Churches in 1950 … excluded the Unitarian Church by the statement “oneness in Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Saviour.” Not that some Unitarians could not agree with the statement.… At any rate, this brought the problem to a point of tension within Unitarianism.… Many of our ministers had found through their seminary education that they were not really Christian in belief no matter how far you stretched the definition; and furthermore they didn’t want to fool anybody, especially the Christians, by saying that they were.… My personal beliefs exclude the possibility of my being a Christian.… If we accept the truths of Jesus as we would accept the truths of any outstanding religious leader, then we ought to be honest enough to let go of our claim upon Christianity. This growing issue within Unitarianism is important because truth is important.—In a sermon, “Outgrowing Our Heritage,” in All Souls Church, Washingtin, D. C., February 23, 1958.

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