When an angry crowd tried to take Jesus away after Judas had betrayed him, Peter drew his sword and was apparently ready to take on the whole mob. He began by slashing off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, and seemed to be set for further action when Jesus intervened. He instructed Peter to put away his sword, and then he healed Malchus’s ear. (One cannot help wondering what thoughts must have crowded into Malchus’s mind as he led away captive the one who had performed this miracle of healing upon his own body.)

Then Jesus uttered these remarkable words: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53, 54). Thus Jesus made it clear that he was not at the mercy of the mob. They had tried before to capture him and could not because his “hour had not yet come.” If God had not willed it, no mob, regardless of its size, could have taken Jesus captive. He submitted to his enemies and eventually to death because in the plan and purpose of God it was absolutely necessary. It had to be.

If God was to carry out his purpose of calling out a people for himself, if the barrier of sin that separated man and God was to be broken down, it was imperative that Jesus Christ die on the cross. As once again we approach the season of the year when we remember the death and resurrection of Christ, it is tragic that some theologians attempt to devise a Christian theology that bypasses what took place on the cross. They speak of “relevance” and “renewal” and “reconciliation” but remain strangely silent about the cross, apart from which these terms become meaningless. Without the cross there is no renewal, there can be no real reconciliation Godward or manward, and Christianity therefore has no relevance to the needs of modern man.

Why was the cross necessary? Why must it be at the very heart of any statement of Christian theology? Why did the first messengers of the Gospel characterize their ministry as preaching Christ crucified? As Jesus indicated at the time of his arrest, the cross was necessary as a fulfillment of prophecy. The cross was the reality of which the Old Testament sacrifices were only a shadow. It was the once-for-all shedding of blood without which there could be no remission of sins. It was the offering of the sacrificial lamb par excellence—the Lamb of God—as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus knew that his chief role as Messiah was to be the Suffering Servant who would be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” In the Garden he had prayed that if at all possible he might be spared the bitter cup he was about to drink. But there was no way to avoid it. And he was prepared to be obedient “even to the death of the cross.”

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The cross was necessary as a fulfillment of the Scriptures; but there was an even deeper reason why it was necessary. Paul states that reason clearly in writing to the Galatians: “Now Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law’s condemnation, by himself becoming a curse for us when he was crucified” (Gal. 3:13, Phillips). Apart from what happened on the cross, sinful man finds himself estranged from a holy God. He has been pronounced guilty in God’s sight, and the sentence is the wrath of God, alienation from God, hell. Man is totally incapable of doing away with the barrier that separates him from God. God alone could do something to solve the problem. This is what the cross is all about.

On the cross God himself in the person of Christ became a substitute for man. He took man’s sin upon himself and suffered all the horror that hell has to offer. If Christ had not done this, there would be no possibility of forgiveness, no reconciliation between God and man, no such thing as “eternal life.” To preach a “gospel” without a cross is to propagate a delusion that can lead only to despair and death.

In emphasizing the imperative of the cross, we cannot, of course, overlook the importance of the resurrection. The two must be always seen as one event. Had not Christ risen from the dead, his death would have been no more than the passing of another famous (though eccentric and even grossly deluded) man. And to speak of his life—past or present—apart from his death leaves man still an enemy of God sentenced to death.

Theology without the cross ignores the Scriptures that demand the cross as their fulfillment. Theology without the cross fails to come to grips with the fundamental problem of human existence—the sin that separates man from God and alienates man from man. Theology without the cross is left with another gospel, which, as Paul says, is “no gospel at all” (and he says of him who preaches “another gospel,” “let him be damned”).

Would God have allowed his beloved Son to endure the brutal death of the cross if there had been any way to avoid it? There was no other way—it had to be. And man ignores it to his own destruction.

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Cocu’S Plan Of Union

The Consultation on Church Union holds its annual meeting this week, and the outcome may determine the face of American Protestantism for years to come. Representatives of the nine COCU denominations have before them a long-awaited plan of union. They must decide whether it is acceptable and whether it will work.

The initial reaction to the plan is predictably varied. More than a few are wont to take their cue from the Soviet cosmonaut who on first seeing the Washington Monument said, “It will never get off the pad.”

Sheer size seems to be a major liability of the new Church of Christ Uniting. Bulk already inhibits many of the larger denominations from moving expeditiously (the COCU proposal itself has been nearly a decade in the making, and formal merger is still at least five years away). What will the new church be like with 25 million members and the vast machinery that is bound to result? Programmers will need to be prophets.

We doubt whether COCU plan of union is adequate for the coming great church. Religion Editor William R. MacKaye of the Washington Post, a liberal Episcopalian, wrote of his “suspicion that the drafters have managed to prescribe for the government of their united church a careful melange of most of the worst features of the governmental methods of the denominations they presently serve.”

Evangelicals should not reject the plan out of hand. Those who have drawn up this blueprint have worked long and conscientiously. They have sought a framework for renewal, which the churches desperately need. They should be heard and their plan appraised fairly. There is merit in at least asking ourselves, “Are there things that the churches can do better as one church than separately?” The Los Angeles Times calls the COCU plan “a flexible design, with many positive features. Among them are the new life it would breathe into today’s often struggling parishes and the new order it would bring to a somewhat confused church picture.”

Perhaps the most distressing facet of the plan is its equivocation on Scripture. The united church, according to the plan, “acknowledges the unique authority of the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments. It witnesses to God’s revelation.…” A distinction is thus made between Scripture and revelation. We are given no clue of the extent to which the Bible is revelation; we are not even told what revelation is. Therefore, it does little good to describe Scripture, as the plan does, in terms like “inspired writing” or “the supreme norm” or “the fundamental guardian.”

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Tradition, interestingly, gets pretty firm support, including explicit insistence that it be given a capital T (the drafters apparently were uncertain, however, whether Tradition should be prefaced by the article the). The discussion of Tradition seems to leave the reader to choose between such statements as “Scripture is interpreted in the light of the Tradition” and “Scripture is the supreme guardian, expression, and correction of Tradition.”

Adherence to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds likewise is surrounded by ambiguity. They are accepted as “witnessing to the mighty acts of God recorded in Scripture,” “conditioned … by the patterns of language and thought of their time”; they are symbols that the united church will use as “acts of praise and allegiance,” and they are to “be used persuasively and not coercively.”

It seems clear that what the churches have not been able to do in eliminating humanists, syncretists, and universalists will not be done in the united church either. The present weakness caused by the inroads of unbelief will be a continuing weakness in the larger framework.

The key question is not whether COCU will get off the pad but where it will go once it is launched. There is good reason to be concerned about its direction unless further and substantial changes are made to bring it in line with the tradition (small t) of the apostles and thus with the Word of God.

A Case For Sexual Restraint

Homosexuals have increasingly come to public attention and have had some success in gaining reluctant toleration from a predominantly heterosexual society. The Jewish and Christian traditions have historically condemned the practice of sexual relations between members of the same sex. Whatever unbelievers may think of the origins of this prohibition, Christians are firmly convinced that it is based on divine command (see also “Homosexuality in the Bible and the Law,” July 18, 1969, issue). Paul was speaking for God, not simply venting his own prejudices, when he deplored men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men” (Rom. 1:27).

But homosexuality is not unpardonable. Those who have practiced it have as much opportunity to receive the forgiveness of God and participate in the fellowship of the church as any other sinners. Paul told the Corinthian congregation not to be deceived, that “neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11). The company that homosexuality keeps in this list is noteworthy. There is no scriptural indication that this sin is in a separate category from adultery. Congregations should welcome repentant homosexuals just as much as repentant adulterers.

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The corollary is that homosexuals, whatever the cause of their problem, are no more free to engage in sexual relations than are the many heterosexuals who are not married, or whose work requires them to be separated from their spouses for a time, or whose spouses are ill—physically or mentally—and unable to engage in sexual relations. Do those who say that homosexuals who claim to be Christians should be free to practice their sexual inclinations also advocate that Christian heterosexuals be free to violate God’s commandments against adultery and fornication?

It may be that some homosexuality is the result of glandular malfunction, and that most homosexuality is deeply established from one’s earliest years. But God is able to give to those homosexuals who trust him the ability to control their passion just as he can give it to heterosexuals.

All of us need to remember that Christ died for the “gay” as well as the “straight,” and to recognize that we do not have scriptural warrant for deploring homosexuality more vehemently than illicit heterosexuality. Both are sins and deserve denunciation. Yet at the same time, compassion for the sinner, and patience with him when he slips, is just as clearly our responsibility and privilege. The practice of homosexuality is a sin, but so is the attitude that looks upon others’ sins as worse than one’s own.

The Middle East: A Stern Test

“Barring divine intervention, another Middle Eastern war is as certain as day and night. The only question is when, and there may be less time than we think.” So says George W. Ball, former undersecretary of state and American ambassador to the United Nations, now a New York banker.

To Arab guerrillas, the war is already on: they have warned foreigners to stay out of Arab territories administered by Israelis and have advised Christians not to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The admonition followed an Arab terrorist attack on a busload of American tourists near Hebron. Barbara Ertle, 31, wife of Baptist minister Theodore W. Ertle of Grandville, Michigan, died after a hail of bullets struck the bus.

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The ambush, together with recent sabotage of airliners bound for Israel, darkly underlined a comment made by President Nixon in his foreign-affairs message to Congress last month. He said the Middle East is “one of the sternest tests of our quest for peace through partnership and accommodation of interests.” The French, eager to curry favor in the Arab world, recently sold 110 jets to Libya. And the Israelis asked Nixon for twenty-five more supersonic Phantoms and eighty more Skyhawks, a request likely to be granted.

Is there a way to head off the fourth Middle Eastern war in twenty-two years? The United States, first of all, can make it unmistakably plain to Moscow once again that Soviet intervention on behalf of the Arabs can only result in American intervention on behalf of Israel. Second, we can press as hard as possible for all warring parties in the Middle East to observe an immediate ceasefire according to United Nations resolutions. Third, we can urge negotiation, improbable as it appears to be.

Christians could emphatically wish that the transforming power of the Gospel could be brought to bear in the lives of those making the decisions, for New Testament Christianity can break down even these barriers and allow the Holy Spirit to overrule. But while we wait and work, we’d better take a cue from George Ball and pray for divine intervention.

Heroin In The Schools

“Within a couple of years every high school in the country will be inundated by heroin.” Dr. Donald H. Louria, president of the New York State Council on Drug Addiction, made this alarming prediction at a recent seminar on student drug abuse in New York. Other experts in the field note the speed with which not only marijuana, but harder, addictive drugs are moving through elementary and junior high schools. One expert says 40 to 60 per cent of these students may be on drugs in a year or two.

Statistics confirm this frightening outlook. According to Dr. Michael Baden, associate medical examiner for New York City, the average age of that city’s heroin addicts who have died from overdoses has decreased from thirty-four in 1950 to twenty-four at the present time. Of the more than 800 heroin deaths from all parts of New York in 1969, more than 210 of the victims were twelve to nineteen years old. And many of the youngsters are being hooked inside the schools.

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The use of marijuana is a serious problem, but with the appalling increase in heroin addiction among the young, many parents will feel fortunate if their youngsters restrict themselves to smoking pot. We do not advocate the legalizing of marijuana. But neither do we feel that there should be a disproportionately heavy penalty upon some young people who are caught with that drug.

As long as marijuana is available, young people will use it, laws or no laws. And many are now turning to the far more dangerous heroin. The time has come to declare all-out war, not upon the victims but upon the victimizers—those who profit from making drugs readily available to even our elementary-school children.

The drug problem is here to stay. It will not go away of its own accord, and we cannot afford to ignore it. Christians must inform themselves about drugs—not so they can criticize the young but so they can understand and help them. And perhaps the most effective way to help our young people is to demonstrate that the release they seek to find through drugs can be found in submitting to and serving Jesus Christ.

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