Do We Lutherans Need To Move Beyond The Cross; Is Our Cross Theology Too Narrow?

917645_crossMany Christians regard Lutherans as being very one-sided or narrow in their theology. The accusation is that we Lutherans shrink the church year together into Good Friday. In other words, Lutherans are often blamed for making every day Good Friday, while ignoring the other major themes of the church year.  We are accused of failing to move beyond the cross to the resurrection.  A recent comment from a reader on my personal blog PM Notes captures the concern well,  “All too often evangelicals across the board focus exclusively on Christ’s death and not near enough (if any) on his resurrection. The power of the gospel is that Christ ROSE from the dead; it’s our future hope to rise as well!” Hermann Sasse in his book We Confess also addresses these criticisms towards Lutherans.  He states that we are accused of only focusing on the cross, only one fact among others in the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed.

“What a constriction of Christian truth Luther has been guilty of!  How can true Christian theology be limited to a theology of the cross, as if there were not also a theology of the resurrection…?”[1]

So, what shall be our response?  Is the choice between the cross and the resurrection?  Are we only faced with two options, the cross and the rest of the Bible’s doctrines?  If so, should we fight for the cross at the expense of diminishing other Biblical themes?  Should we simply loosen up our passion for Luther’s theologia crucis?  Thankfully the choice is not between the cross and other Biblical themes, for this would be an example of an either-or logical fallacy.  The choice is not between two alternative doctrines as the only possibilities.

Sasse responds to these apprehensions  saying,

“Obviously the ‘theology of the cross’ does not mean that for a theologian the church year shrinks together into nothing but Good Friday. Rather, it means that Christmas, Easter and Pentecost cannot be understood without Good Friday.”[2]

Sasse goes on to state,

“Always it is from the cross that everything is understood, because hidden in the cross is the deepest essence of God’s revelation.”[3]

What this means is that we don’t avoid the themes of Creation, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, and so forth.  Rather, when we speak of these themes we do so with seeing the cross in the background and we do so within the shadow of the cross.  Otherwise stated, we embrace these Biblical themes, preach them, and teach them while we understand them in light of the Cross, but never apart from the Cross.

 

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[1] Hermann Sasse, We Confess: Anthology translated by Norman Nagel (Concordia Publishing House), 38.

[2] Sasse, 39.

[3] Ibid.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Do We Lutherans Need To Move Beyond The Cross; Is Our Cross Theology Too Narrow? — 21 Comments

  1. I fail to see why this is an “either/or” issue. And I could just as easily say to the evangelical world in response that Good Friday is only reserved for altar calls and evangelistic crusades.

  2. Thanks for the article, Matt.

    A particular verse addresses this compactly, Phil 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

    There we see both the cross and the resurrection, and certainly Lutherans proclaim both. But the resurrection should not be proclaimed in a way that detours around sharing Christ’s suffering, around a fellowship of his suffering (KJV), around becoming like him in his death.

    1 Pet 4:13, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

  3. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8

    A “Theology of the Cross” does not have false dichotomies since our Gospel includes the purpose of: the death, burial, and ressurrection of Christ as witnessed by the Apostles. This is why the so called “Gnostic Gospels” are so misnamed. They only contain “sayings” or deeds of Christ and have no passion. Our four Gospels do show a complete passion and resurrection of the physical body of Jesus!

    In the Lamb!

  4. I find this a bit odd. In how many of our churches do you see a crucifix? We have crosses, but by and large they are empty. There may be a concentration on the cross, but it is an Easter cross not a cross with a corpus over which we should lament. They are crosses of resurrection.

    When it comes to Evangelicals as opposed to Evangelical Catholics (Lutherans) I find that there is an obsession on the Law. I’m don’t know when the last time any of the people i this forum went to a Baptist service, but the preaching in a Baptist, Pentecostal, or Nondenominational is always (in my experience) based on the Old Testament, and always about the Law, but rarely includes any mention of Grace.

    I realize I’m relying on visual clues and architecture, but those things do reflect our doctrine.

  5. Erich :
    When it comes to Evangelicals as opposed to Evangelical Catholics (Lutherans) I find that there is an obsession on the Law. I’m don’t know when the last time any of the people i this forum went to a Baptist service, but the preaching in a Baptist, Pentecostal, or Nondenominational is always (in my experience) based on the Old Testament, and always about the Law, but rarely includes any mention of Grace.
    I realize I’m relying on visual clues and architecture, but those things do reflect our doctrine.

    They’ll do the same thing often with the New Testament passages as well. Like I said, the gospel is often considered the “foot in the door” doctrine, then it’s often set on the back shelf until it’s time to tell people to go evangelize (and I don’t mean expounding on the doctrine of Vocation by that).

  6. @J. Dean #5

    J. Dean :

    They’ll do the same thing often with the New Testament passages as well. Like I said, the gospel is often considered the “foot in the door” doctrine, then it’s often set on the back shelf until it’s time to tell people to go evangelize (and I don’t mean expounding on the doctrine of Vocation by that).

    You’re so right. Living in NYC I get plenty of evangelizing on the subway, and I never hear a word of Gospel come out of their mouths even when they are quoting the New Testament. It’s all the hammer of the Law and no Grace from the Evangelicals. “You’re a sinner. Mend your evil ways or you’ll burn in hell, so repent because you don’t want hell.”

    Yet they call their music Gospel. Ach!

  7. Do we need to move beyond the cross? We already do! “Death, burial, resurrection.” If a pastor is good at his preaching — we get it! But never put the cross in the back seat. It is the point. If we put the cross in the back seat, we’ve lost it.

  8. “Rarely includes any mention of Grace”

    Being unfortunately stuck in an Evangelical world, You are dead on! There is little understanding of the Gospel except in terms of “getting into the special society.” So the Gospel is for potential converts. But once you are in, then you are to be sheep-beaten by the Hammer of Law until you die a death of a thousand beatings. This is why so many (especially younger) Evangelicals will walk away from it all. They can not deal any longer with their constant despair and turn away and assume (i.e., wrongly) that they have heard the true Gospel. What they actually heard was “LAW LAW LAW gospel LAW LAW LAW…” ad inifinitum ad nauseam.

    When I share the Grace of the Gospel with Evangelicals around me, some look hungrily on, hoping it is true for them, while others just stare at me as if I am some kind of heretical freak. Their perspective is, “I have already started (i.e., “been saved”) this endurance contest…so don’t keep spewing that “milk” at me yet again! I am a “mature” Christian and I need to get busy “Trust and Obeying!” “I don’t need to return to that Gospel…I need to share it with the lost! So it becomes yet another works-righteousness trip!

    What we all need to hear is Paul’s rebuke of their Judaizing, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3.

    In the Lamb

  9. “But once you are in, then you are to be sheep-beaten by the Hammer of Law until you die a death of a thousand beatings.” Dr. Ralph at #8

    That is so right. But I am hearing this being done by some LCMS pastors too lately. Who are trying to be “motivational.” Grace is not even included in the sermons sometimes. It is very confusing for us out here. I really really wish all the pastors would get serious about the essential teaching we are to receive. The real message that God intends for us to receive. It really is all about Law and Gospel. The cross is the Gospel. Someone tell me if I am wrong. When I look at the cross all I can see is both. Someone else said something about “empty” crosses. I wear a cross which I bought from an Orthodox church and Jesus is on it. Not that He stayed on it. Or in the tomb. But the cross was never empty.

  10. @Abby #9

    It sounds like some of those pastors need to have a copy of Walther’s Law and Gospel sent to them as a Sexagesima gift.

    I said empty cross to illustrate the difference between a cross and a crucifix. It’s the difference between the tomb of the Vidal and the “empty tomb” of Easter. You say you bought your cross at an Orthodox church; I think you’d be hard pressed to find a crucifix at a Lutheran church.

    Growing up Lutheran, the crosses in church and at home had no corpus. They were reminders of Jesus’ death as they directed us toward the resurrection. I’ve had to explain the difference many times to unchurched or non-Christian friends who saw a cross as a crucifix as a crucifix as a cross, not quite getting that there are denominational differences in the type of cross you display.

    This doesn’t even touch on a Christus Rex!

  11. Erick @10 Your website is very interesting :) I would like a Christus Rex too! Those don’t come in jewelry. And you are right, I look at crosses in stores all the time (even Christian ones — even CPH!). I haven’t found any I like. Best ones come from the “Greeks.” Even though I bought it from an Orthodox church in the U.S. it came in from Greece. Pure gold too!

  12. @Abby #11

    Thank you.

    I did a little searching on-line and if you look for “risen Christ necklace” you’ll find some that are not too bad, but you may want to consider commissioning one from a jeweler you like and trust.

  13. Erich,

    You gotto get out more. Nearly every LCMS church that I frequent – I would say that’s about 30 or so – has one or m,ore crucifixes. You are hanging out in the wrong places. Many of the young pastors (post 1995 graduation) are putting crucifixes in their chancels.

  14. Do we need to move beyond the cross?

    The resurrected body of Christ still bears the marks of His crucifixion. A hint to us perhaps?

  15. @Pastor Tim Rossow #13 This is encouraging. When our oldest son started attending college we went to the only Lutheran (LCMS) congregation in town. The young pastor led the people in building a new church building and lo and behold a crucifix on the wall behind the Altar. This father and pastor prayed the Amen.

  16. This discussion is interesting. I left the Catholic Church when I was 18. I went to a Pentecostal Church. There I was told to turn my crucifix around because, “Christ is risen.” Today I have a cross with a shroud draped over the cross beam. I do see crucifixes in Lutheran Churches and don’t understand why that image is kept. Christ is risen.

    My evangelism training, in all the churches I’ve been in for the last 30+ years, always stressed that we are talking to people with a problem–sin. The solution is Christ’s salvation and that’s through Grace: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

    As for Evangelicals being bound by law, I don’t think that’s true in my case. If anything, past churches were very focused on being faithful to the Great Commission–go and make disciples.

    My family left the charismatic church because we felt they were too focused on the Holy Spirit and the Power ‘it’ provides. Yes, I typed ‘it’. That little pronoun is why we left. The charasmatics are impatient for ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’ to validate their ministry that I fear they’re following demons.

    The non-denominational church I’m in is SO afraid of doing anything the Catholic church does: lent in particular and being ‘legalistic’. They focus on the ‘relationship’ with God.

    Me, I’m interested in the question/answer style Luther used in the catechisms. I’m also enjoying the reading in your ‘Book of Concord’ that I found online.

  17. Lisa,

    Thanks for the post and thanks for reading BJS.

    There are many things that Roman Catholics do that are profitable. For instance, they sing hymns and read the Bible. Protestants don’t quit singing hymns and reading the Bible because Catholics do these things.

    They also have crucifixes. This is a good thing. Paul says in I Corinthians 1:23 that “we preach Christ crucified.” He does not say “we preach Christ risen from the dead.” Of course we do that as well. It is not an either or, but the essence of the faith is that Christ has died to take the wrath of God upon himself in our place.

    The ressurection is icing on the cake in a sense. It is proof that the Father has accepted the sacrifice of the Son for our sins.

    Jesus said “It is finished” when he was on the cross. He had suffered all that needed to be suffered for our sins.

    In I Corinthians 15 Paul says that death is not the problem, sin is. Death is a symptom of sin. The sting of death is sin. Sin is the real power that needed to be defeated. Because sin is paid for, we can now live forever with Christ.

    Hope that helps. Blessings on your reading of the Book of Concord.

  18. All too often evangelicals across the board focus exclusively on Christ’s death and not near enough (if any) on his resurrection. The power of the gospel is that Christ ROSE from the dead; it’s our future hope to rise as well!

    Yes, that is what they say. But here is what they mean: “The power of the Gospel is that Christ ROSE from the dead, so that we can enjoy a life of joy, growth, prosperity, and glory after glory until we finally enter into the glory of heaven.”

    But this is a trap. “Why aren’t you living the resurrection life?” The only possible answers are either “I’m trying, but I keep screwing up. My faith is too weak.” or “I am. I’ve solved my problems and I’ve moved beyond my sinful flesh.” The life of joy, growth, prosperity, and glory unto glory is a recipe for either despair or self-righteousness. The only alternative to a theology of the cross is a theology which denies the cross.

  19. @Pastor Tim Rossow #18

    Dar Pastor Rossow:

    I am copying from my email my response to yours for all to read. I can’t describe how much this exchange means to me. I have questions about Lutheran things but no one to ask in person. I completed a survey of one making a “journey to Lutheran thought” recently. From reading his posting I bumped into this site. Here it is:

    I really appreciate what you wrote. It’s true that Paul preached Christ crucified and all the other points too. What about, no graven images? I just wish the cross was visible with the cloth over it. I fear that the image of Christ on the cross might look too much like one culture group and not at all like Jesus did in real life. I read once that in Europe there is a European Jesus, in the Orient and Oriental Jesus. Every portrait of Christ is different, I’ve seen some that look just like the artist!

    I’m surprisingly comforted by your explanation. Two charismatic churches I attended didn’t use hymnals–those were for the “frozen chosen”. The first Pentacostal church did–I loved the hymns. One church used a lot of music written by the choir members. The one I attend now does “blended” worship. A mix of hymns and contemporary music. I don’t like the contemporary stuff. A few songs are good but most of them just seem to be off, to me, sound doctrine. It’s hard to explain, I’m not a theologian.

    I’d like to ask another question sir. I’ve looked for Lutheran hymns through Amazon.com and iTunes. All the CDs I have found so far have choirs and organ accompaniment. What so special about the organ? I’m not a fan of ‘rock bands’ up in the front–been there, done that. It sounds SO formal. Is it that way in all Lutheran Hymns on CDs?

    I hope to find a Lutheran church that has an Ash Wednesday service in the morning or afternoon. I know my family won’t go to it but I want to. My church lost 3 pastors in the last 6 months, the senior pastor has moved on to pastor pastors in Africa through the college he attended. Another returned to seminary to finish his PhD. The third left, we think, due to hard feelings about church matters. We’re down to 1 and the search is on.

    Hope that you and your family will be safe and warm through the snow storm that’s due to hit the northeast this weekend. My family lives just north of where it’s to be bad in NY.

    Until Christ Returns, Lisa B.

  20. Dear Pastor Diers: [#19]

    I read your remarks serval times and you are absolutely correct. Being in charismatic/evangelical churches DO focus on “the abundant life–now.” It’s interesting to compare what I’ve learned to the typical image of being an American, ‘…pursuing happiness…being healthy, wealthy, and wise…the customer is Always Right…You deserve a break today…ect”.

    Last year I our senior pastor encouraged us to read, “The Old Books” and gave a list of some of the “classics of Christian literature.” I took up the challenge. Though it was not on the list I read Foxxes Book of Martyrs. I was shocked by what I read. The early Christians had so much less material than I do and yet could face death. Heck, I had trouble facing the sibling rivalry between my kids w/o giving up hope.

    I look forward to reading more of the conversation between those that post here even-though I’m not sure of everything being discussed; for instance, what’s a “Christus Rex?”

    Thank you, Lisa B.
    @Pr. Martin Diers #19

    @Pastor Tim Rossow #18

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