The Scandal of the Cross, the Scandal of the Church
But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25 NASB)
I have always known that the Christian faith was an offense to non-Christians. But it seems that the faith is becoming an offense to believers as well. I have engaged in conversations with folk who think they have discovered that the church is sinful and corrupt and that the means of salvation is embarrassing. Imagine that.
I will take the last one first. Some folk are offended by blood sacrifice and the idea that God sent his Son to die for someone else. It is an offense to the modern mind. A fairly large number of pastors and theologians, who identify themselves with the emerging church, have referred to the idea of the Son being sent by the Father to die as cosmic child abuse. So, they try to find some other model for the Atonement. May appeal to the Christus Victor view of Christ offering himself as a ransom, paid a ransom to Satan for us. I have problems with the idea of God paying a ransom to Satan. On the other hand, I have no problem with the idea of God being victorious over Satan. But it is not all there is to atonement. The New Testament is clear, Christ died as our propitiation (meaning to turn away the wrath of God), and it is spelled out in Romans 2:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1John 2:2; & 1John 4:10. But it is more than propitiation, it is substitutionary atonement, 2 Corinthians 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Many are embarrassed by the idea of blood sacrifice. But the entire Bible expresses the seriousness of our position before God through the requirement of blood sacrifice. The Old Testament sacrificial system is about the repetitive need to be cleansed by the blood of a sacrificial victim. The Book of Hebrews says that Jesus becomes the infinite sacrificial victim and that he dies once and for all for our sins. As embarrassing as it might be to modern sensibilities, there is so salvation without the shedding of blood. Hebrews 9:22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (ESV) The fact is, the only way to be forgiven of your sin, to be made right with God, and to receive eternal life, is through the sacrifice of Christ on the bloody cross.
Those who say that substitutionary Atonement is cosmic child abuse, do not understand the doctrine of the Trinity. Scripture says that the Father and the Son are one. The concept of Perichoresis, mutual interpenetration, means that each member of the trinity is an individual yet each shares in the life, will, and thought of the other two. What the Father thinks and wills, the Son thinks and wills. Appropriation means that the works of the Trinity are a unity; every person of the Trinity is involved in every outward action of the Godhead. God does not single out the Son against his will and send him as a sacrifice. The Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit choose this course of action on behalf of fallen man.
The first problem I listed was the nature of the church. Many are embarrassed by the local church because, it is so . . . , so sinful. In an interesting commentary by Mark Galli titled, Grace-That’s So Sick he says that there is a new breed of “Christian” who refuses to call himself Christian because it carries so much baggage.
Christians have been bad. We have crooked televangelists, high profile pastors who get caught being morally compromised and some Christian organizations being swindled out of large sums of money by “Christian swindlers.” And we are ever mindful of the horrible fact that hundreds of child sex abuse cases committed in churches.
There is no doubt that the church has much to repent. But the church is made up of redeemed sinners who still struggle with their sin. Galli writes:
It has pleased God to love sinners and that is the cosmic scandal. Why would a holy God love sinners like me? I don’t have the answers. But his love has been costly and it comes to us all with a calling. Our calling is to grow in holiness, to be progressive in our spiritual maturity so that we all become conformed to the image of Christ. We are with Paul when he wrote:
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NASB)