Defining Who We Are

Two years ago, I watched an unpopular senator get re-elected though many thought she’d finally met her match. However, she got ahead of her opponent and defined her for the public. By the time the challenger came out with her ads saying what she would do as a senator, few people were listening. They already had her labeled, courtesy of Ms. Unpopular.

That political race told me a lot about how the public works in this day and age. We deplore attack ads, but we listen to them. We may not even realize we are, but it shows when people start saying what they believe about this or that candidate — the material is often straight out of the opponent’s playbook.

In the same way, Christians are allowing non-Christians to define us, to the point that we’re buying into it ourselves. Worse, we are parroting the ideas, as if they have merit, as if they are true.

I heard one on Sunday that really bothered me: Protestants don’t like to think about Jesus on the cross. All that blood and death makes us want to look away. The Catholics, now they embrace this dark side of salvation. By implication, the idea was, So should we.

I admit, I felt a little defensive — mostly because the accusation is scurrilous. In my church we regularly take communion, and until recently that was a time of reflection on Christ’s sacrifice, His broken body, His shed blood. How many times have I sung “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or “‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow” or “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”?

That contemporary song writers are not writing about Christ’s suffering doesn’t mean that Protestants don’t or haven’t put an emphasis on what Christ did in dying.

In addition, I’ve heard from our pulpit more than one sermon about Christ’s death, none more powerful than “Death on a Cross” that graphically took Christ through the scourging and beating and humiliation and nails and hours writhing in pain, to the spear piercing his side and proving his death. (You can listen to a sermon from the same text in the book of John by the same pastor, this one entitled “Jesus: A Lamb Led to Slaughter”)

I find it ironic, though, that we should be taken to task for focusing on Christ the resurrected Lord seated at the right hand of God. I’ve heard more than once that the cross Protestants display is barren because Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is, in fact, a risen Savior. Easter is a joyous time.

The cross is significant, no doubt. Paul says clearly that our “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. Without Christ’s death, we’d still have the burden of what we owe — an insurmountable burden.

The cross affected Christ in every facet of human existence. He was forsaken, betrayed, denied, humiliated, rejected, tortured, misunderstood, condemned, doubted, and killed. For me. For you.

Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it was pain, like few have experienced. But focusing on the physical alone is to miss the wider scope of what Jesus did. He bore our sins. The Man who had the nature of His Father, who lived accordingly, took on the stench of his fallen brothers — that which separates us from God.

How can that be? A Holy God, bearing sin? An immortal God, dying?

It is by Jesus’s blood we are sprinkled, by His precious blood we are redeemed. How can anyone say, Protestants look away from the cross? Perhaps they’ve mistaken our weeping for closing our eyes.

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. In my church, the contrast isn’t between “Catholic” and “Protestant” treatments (or lack thereof) of the cross and the blood of Christ, but between “much of the Church” [in America] that “doesn’t like to talk about the blood” (or about the need for holy living, or about …) and “this pulpit” (“because it’s in the Word”). This irks me somewhat because after starting to think carefully about things (and being exposed to the traditions of the Church as opposed to the traditions of our local church) I can see significant blind spots. (Most egregiously, whenever we take communion, whichever passage is read for the explanation of the Institution, whenever the pastor gets to where Jesus says, quote, “this is my body,” he stops reading verbatim and says, “the Bible says that the bread symbolizes Christ’s body”.)

    But the meditation that makes up the second half of your post is squarely on target.

    (Oh, and one probable typo you might want to correct: in the last paragraph “… blood we are sprinkle …” should probably be “sprinkled”.)


  2. Great reflection for this week. Thanks Rebecca.


  3. I can’t imagine why anyone would say that Protestants don’t want to look at the cross because blood and death make them want to look away. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’ve never heard that accusation and I don’t know what it means. I’m mulling it over and I can’t understand what he’s implying.

    We should love blood and gore more? There’s not enough of it in the movie theaters?

    We should love the blood of Christ more? We don’t camp at the foot of the cross enough, letting the blood wash us?

    We should have crucifixes instead of crosses around our necks because we’ve forgotten that Christ died since our crosses are empty?

    What does he want us to do? I don’t get it.

    As you say, our crosses are empty because Christ left the cross and rose from the dead. I heard a story about a little girl who went into a Catholic church for the first time and saw Jesus on the cross and she held out her arms and said, “Jump, Jesus. Jump.” The preacher telling the story said, “I’m here to tell you, Jesus has jumped.”

    Most protestants had crosses without Christ because they didn’t want to make a representation of Christ. The iconoclasts got rid of all representations of Christ during the Reformation. It has nothing to do with our not wanting to meditate on the cross. Hebrews 12 tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus and to consider him on the cross. I don’t know any protestant who doesn’t think we ought to do that.


  4. Jonathan, I certainly agree that our local bodies can get too comfortable and perhaps smug in how we do things. At the same time, I chafe at the notion that we have to “keep up with the Joneses” especially when the Joneses are taking pot-shots at the Church — unjustly so when the criticism is about things like preaching from the Bible.

    In this case, I just don’t find it factual. As you pointed out, there are apostate churches which are not referencing the blood of Christ, but any true part of the body is there only because of His precious sacrifice. The cross of Christ is not a thing we can or want to ignore.

    And thanks for the heads up on the typo.



  5. Karl, thank you for your feedback.

    Sally, I can only think this criticism has its origin in the criticisms coming from the emerging “church.” There is a faction of those that criticize American Protestantism that think we should be reading the works of theologians pre-Reformation, that they somehow understood God better than do we who can read the Bible for ourselves. They are the ones who want us to walk mazes and do “centering prayer.” They like the early art that shows a bleeding Christ (though I think far more show a haloed Christ). I can only assume this is what this person was referencing.

    It’s hard to imagine that someone who has been in a Bible-believing church for the last twenty-five, thirty years even could say such a thing. As I mentioned in the post, the most recent contemporary music might be at fault for not having content about the blood and cross of Christ. But then the music ministers should see to it that the hymns of old that do focus our thinking there are still part of our worship.

    But the old songs are a criticism too. Ironic that the emergents want to turn their thoughts to stuff written in the 500s but not in the 1800s. The former is looked at as enlightening and the latter as stodgy. Ironic, I think.



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