At Calvary the path of every man crosses the path that God has chosen to walk in this world. At this point of convergence God will do business with every man and every man will contact his God. No man can avoid this confrontation with his Maker and Redeemer, for at Calvary God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Here God accomplished his greatest work, greater than which even God can do nothing. Here he took upon himself the sin of the world and his own curse upon that sin. This, his most wondrous work, he will not allow to go unnoticed, not even by a single man. What he did, he did for all, and all must come to Calvary to see this thing that God has done, to approve or disapprove.
God wills to be seen and known as he truly is, and nowhere is he more fully revealed in his heart of hearts and inmost being than on that hill outside Jerusalem where the Son of God died in love for those who did not love him. Here is the act which declares that God is love; here is revealed a love that knows how to satisfy justice within a continuing love. To this place of Calvary God will bring every man to behold and see his God—and to approve or disapprove.
As Jesus moved closer toward the Cross, the people moved away from him, and left him alone. Multitudes forsook him, turning him to his disciples with the heart-rending question, “Will ye also go away?” They all answered that they would not, but as the Cross approached they all, as Jesus predicted, forsook him and left him alone. The song is right: “It was alone my Saviour died.”
Momentarily the movement away from him is reversed. As his own people abandon him, Greeks come and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” In a most significant response Jesus tells his disciples that the coming of the Gentiles does not mean what it seems. I am, he says, like a seed, which abideth by itself alone unless it fall into the ground and die. Only by dying will it bear fruit, and be no longer alone. Jews may go and Gentiles come, but I go my nonetheless lonely way to the Cross, for unless I die, like the seed, I shall abide alone. But, says Jesus, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” As he moves toward the Cross, he walks more and more alone. But once crucified, he will as the Crucified attract all men to himself. Not without but by means of the Cross every foot will be turned to climb the hill where Jesus had his rendezvous with death, because there every man who ever lived must have his rendezvous with God.
Drawn to the Cross, each man stands in the time of God’s judgment and salvation. Standing between heaven and hell, he must make a decision, react to what God has done. As he stands before the revelation of the inmost being of God, his own inmost being is revealed. Here every secret thought of his heart is disclosed. Here he must either accept such a God with thanks and praise, or turn his back upon Him and spurning and rejecting His love go his way, proudly asserting that he can go it alone. At the Cross he cannot avoid deciding whether God’s greatest deed was necessary—or quite unnecessary; whether the Son of God died for any good or necessary reason. Response is inescapable; approve or disapprove he must. Refusal to respond, even utter indifference, is in fact a response and a decision. It is a response that declares the death of the Son of God to be a thing of no significance, a decision that God’s greatest work of love and grace is an indifferent thing.
They who are willing to allow God to bear the Cross for them find release from sin, death, and hell, and discover freedom to live, the freedom of a blessed future.
They who reject the Cross—and many do—do not escape, for they are doomed to carry their own. Under it they will stagger, and finally be broken by it. Judas refuses the Crucified, who was nailed to the Tree for him—but how lonely he goes to select his own tree on which to hang.
Friedrich Nietzsche had a promethean defiance for the Cross. It was, he averred, a symbol of weakness, unworthy of a real man. In his defiance he went mad, but in the last days he lived by the tender ministrations of a woman, a Christian nurse. Significantly—and tragically—he who rejected the Crucified signed one of his last letters “The Crucified.”
He who will not accept the Son of God set at nought will himself be set at nought. He who will not accept the Crucified will himself be crucified. All roads lead to the Cross; beyond the Cross the paths of those who reject Calvary exhibit the folly and futility of dying on self-chosen crosses—beyond which there is no Resurrection and no Light.
Either one accepts the Cross and is crucified with Christ, or one goes his lonely way to his own crucifixion. He who rejects the Cross selects his own. There are no alternatives.
The Role Of Religion In Civic Life
The nation now awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling on Bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools. The verdict may not be given until June (controversial decisions often are not announced until just before the Court’s adjournment). Like other recent decisions, the ruling is likely to reflect not the nation’s past character and traditions but rather the growing pluralism of American society. In defining the kind of nation the United States shall be, the Supreme Court more and more conforms its pronouncements to the temper of the times rather than to the heritage of the past.
A number of American theologians, ironically enough, are promoting a secular non-theistic view of the state due to a misunderstanding of the nature and content of divine revelation. This misunderstanding is a baneful fruit of Karl Barth’s theology, which denies the reality of any general revelation and considers all divine disclosure to be saving revelation. The proper emphasis that all divine disclosure is revelation of the Logos (be it the redemptive revelation of the incarnate Logos or the general revelation of the cosmic Logos) is distorted to mean that all revelation is Christocentric and hence always redemptive or saving. On the basis of this error these theologians oppose all religious affirmation in civic life and in the public schools; these they consider to be either necessarily sectarian acknowledgments and therefore contradictory to church-state separation, or meaningless incantation.
This theological misconception underlies some of the support given the controversial study on “Relations Between Church and State” which will come before the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in May, and for which some denominational leaders now predict endorsement despite the wide flurry of earlier hostility. In properly opposing the disturbing American trend toward “multiple establishment” in national life, the report commits the egregious error of promoting an objectionably secular state which in its public functions will tend to act as if there were no God.
There is, of course, the constant danger that theistic affirmations under civic auspices will become either a meaningless routine, or the uncritical pronouncement of a divine benediction upon national policy, or an opportunity for sectarian exploitation. There are those, too, who oppose religious elements in civic life simply on anti-Catholic grounds: what if the Methodist chaplain of the Senate or the Presbyterian chaplain of the House of Representatives in another decade were to be a Roman Catholic priest? It is always pertinent to ask how much of our program springs from genuine church-state concerns, and how much from sectarian bias that is dignified with the motive of pluralistic sensitivity.
The far greater danger, however, is the possibility that through its neglect of civic recognition government may lose also its sense of civic obligation to the transcendent God and to objective justice.
Voluntary prayer by congressmen and by citizens is not only highly desirable, but is indispensable if the nation is not to sag into the gutters of expedience. But the plea for voluntary religion does not demand a conformity of public institutions to secularism. The contention that the United States might well dispense with the rule that requires each legislative day to begin with prayer, as long as prayer is pursued individually on a voluntary basis, deserves penetrating scrutiny. What are the implications of “free exercise” of religion in civic life and in public schools? Is it possible that negation by the Supreme Court may constitute an unjustifiable “free exercise”? Is not the tradition of religious devotion in public life which the founders approved and encouraged alongside their repudiation of religious establishment a sounder guide to the distinctive character of the United States than the pressures for obliteration brought by some expositors of a pluralistic society? The concept of a pluralistic society itself is susceptible of varied definitions, and ought not be summarily equated with the ambitions of atheistic crusaders who renounce unchanging morality and objective justice.
It is true, of course, that theistic emphasis in national life opens a door to inter-religious cooperation that is not specifically Christian. A possibility even arises thereby among the higher religions for an inter-faith ethos working for world peace. Wherever religion recognizes something beyond mere national interest it poses a problem for the totalitarian state; every recognition of an eternal order of morality and justice is therefore to be welcomed. This kind of cooperation need not necessarily lead to religious syncretism, since the promotion of justice is not the only dialogue in which Christianity must engage, particularly if it is true to its claim of being the religion of redemptive revelation.
Among church leaders there is growing interest in an inter-faith congress to promote world peace. More than twenty Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic leaders outlined such ambitions recently to Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Dr. Dana McLean Greeley, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, asserts the effort springs from a conviction that “the various religious bodies should not lag behind the nations in a cooperative or concerted effort” but insists it has “no ready-made answer and no ideological axe to grind.” The effort could be worthwhile if it really promotes justice as the foundation of peace. But if it reflects the mood of “peace-at-any-price,” propagandists inevitably will exploit it for partisan ends.
The founders of our nation guarded against the dangers of religious establishment, whose perils we are prone to overlook. At the same time, by their emphasis on the supernatural source and sanction of man’s inalienable rights they guarded also against the dangers of naturalism. To erase this theistic affirmation and recognition from the nation’s civic life and public schools leads just as surely to national chaos as does the path of religious establishment, be it pluralistic or otherwise.
Footnote On Glory: Who Is Mr. K.?
Low-flying planes discovered a religious community in the remote Siberian swamplands of Soviet Russia. Its members had never heard of Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev. The moral is not that many people could wish as much. It is rather that a world figure who works in season and out—shoes off, shoes on—at prestige must find it disconcerting to discover that some of his own people can get along without him, and do not even know that he exists.
Christians honor one name above all and take a dim view of trying to make oneself world-famous. They know the futility and ambiguity of such efforts. They remember that one of the best-known Roman emperors, Caesar Augustus, derived his fame from an infant in Bethlehem, and that another, Nero, derived his from his persecutions of the followers of Christ. And who, they ask, would know anything of Pontius Pilate had not the early Church mentioned him as the Nazarene’s crucifier in their apostolic confession of faith in Christ? In more ways than one, men borrow their glory from Him to whom alone glory belongs!
Some names thought imperishable are reduced to footnotes in biblical history—others are remembered only by becoming such footnotes.
The Passing Of Winter And A Lingering Lesson
Winter was rough all over. (This is simply a generalization, and our Australian readers should not take it as a prophecy.) Some scientists relate worsening winters to the H-bomb, and a theologian has said that our generation should be reminded of the tower of Babel.
The British have been sorely beset by angry weather, but a cheering word came a while back from a London correspondent:
We’ve had more snow these past few days, and many football teams have not had a game for the best part of two months. Villages are isolated in Western England (and, naturally, in Scotland), and they are calling it the worst winter since records began to be kept (1875). It’s still rather cold, but parts of the country are thawing. London’s buses have kept running most of the time, happily, and there’s been a return generally of that wartime spirit of good fellowship. The Postmaster of Lynmouth in Devon has stated that people who have not spoken to one another for years are now chattering away with the greatest camaraderie because flooding has threatened this low-lying little town.
We hope that the coming of spring and the voice of the turtle will not mean the resurgence of a measure of human silence in lovely Lynmouth, which has heard the praises of Shelley and Southey. But it is curious how adversity can bring out the best in men (as well as, at times, the worst). Centuries ago, Thomas a Kempis in commenting on the “fewness of the lovers of the cross of Christ” observed that “many love Jesu when no adversity happeneth.” He added:
But they that love Jesu for Jesu, and not for any consolations, they bless him in every tribulation and anguish of heart as in the highest consolation; and if he would never give them consolation vet would they ever praise him and ever thank him.
And, again curiously, in the midst of this thanksgiving in tribulation comes the highest joy, the most profound consolation.
Secondary Concerns Blur Missionary Vision
The Church of Jesus Christ in its worldwide mission is suffering for want of men and women who are willing to place themselves under the complete Lordship of Christ and, having done so, to serve him in his way and under the conditions of his choosing.
The sense of missionary urgency is often lost in a maze of unwarranted speculation, wishful thinking, and attenuated conviction. The clearly stated alternatives of the Bible have become blurred so that absolutes are willfully rejected in favor of a relativity which is nowhere to be found in the divine revelation. The lostness of men outside of Christ has only too often been rejected in favor of a neo-universalism which substitutes “knowing” for “believing” so that men need merely to be informed that they (supposedly) are already saved. Repentance and faith towards Christ as a part of the Gospel message are thereby lost, and the holiness of God is easily forgotten as men think their sin no longer separates them from God.
Oswald Chambers has put his finger on that need by which all should be confronted: “The key to the missionary call is the absolute sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must get into real solitude with Him, feed our soul on His Word, and He will engineer our circumstances.” Few of us know what it is to bow in humble and complete surrender to the sovereign will of our Lord. We temporize, compromise, and seek to dictate the terms on which we will serve him, and nothing happens.
We live in a world where the biological birthrate exceeds the spiritual birthrate by at least four to one. Certainly part of the reason lies with us who refuse to surrender to the divine will. Too many of us who consider ourselves churchmen are playing around the periphery of Christianity, concerned chiefly with secondary matters.
These have their rightful place but only after the central message of the Gospel is believed and preached—Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen from the dead, the only hope of the individual and the only hope of a lost world.
Decline Of The Role Of Truth In The Quest For Togetherness
The ecumenical mood muddies the waters of religious discussion with a great deal of confusion about unity and diversity. Some of its spokesmen deplore a monolithic church structure in the interest of diversity. What this comes to mean is not that denominations really have an ultimate right to survival alongside the growing ecumenical monopoly, but rather that heresy has a right to respectability within the framework of ecumenical inclusivism. Dean Robert E. Fitch of the Pacific School of Religion declares that “the continuity of Protestantism is not, in a clean-cut sense, a doctrinal continuity” but “rather a continuity of faith, hope and love as defined by St. Paul in the famous passage in 1 Corinthians, 13 …” (Religion, a pamphlet issued by The Fund for the Republic).
Now to most students of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 1–8 are as famous as, and no less authoritative than, 1 Corinthians 13. Dr. Fitch concedes that for Protestants “historically, our authority is the Bible. Then the question arises: who has the correct interpretation of the Bible?” (Since Dr. Fitch is able to discriminate the truly definitive passages, ought he so modestly to refrain from nominating himself?)
Dr. Fitch speaks of “the preponderance of the members of the student body and faculty” of Pacific School of Religion as coming from non-creedal churches. But, he insists, “they have a faith; and they have articulated and defined … their faith and hope and love in God and Christ, and in the Scriptures, and in the destiny of man within that framework.” By this time the reader, no doubt, will he thoroughly confused by the way in which Scripture is invoked whenever it can lend sanction to notions not derived from an authoritative Scripture in the first place, but which are happily invested with the authority of Scripture when that is serviceable to the articulation of private recombinations of beliefs. If this process somehow seems to do violence to logic, Dr. Fitch is prepared for the final tribute; of his students and colleagues he adds: “They do not define their doctrine with rationalistic precision; in fact, they are very skeptical of that approach.”
Verily; one can say that again! Dr. Fitch’s rationalism seems in fact to avoid precision of any kind (rationalistic or otherwise) in the definition of essential Christian doctrines.
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