Monday, 13 April 2009

Why the Cross?

‘Thought for the Day’ on the Today programme this morning was by the Revd Giles Fraser developing ideas he partially explores here about Easter, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Giles’s thesis is an interesting, and conscious, example of the clash I explored in my Good Friday talks between a ‘cross centred’ and ‘resurrection centred’ theology.

As he puts it, until recently (or in his words, “For too long”), the most widely accepted view of salvation amongst Christians, “has at its core the idea that God requires the sacrifice of his own son so that human sin can be cancelled,” adducing, as an example, the words from There is a Green Hill Far Away: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.”

Giles is, however, quite clear in his rejection of this. It is “a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate.”

Now apart from the fact that this must put a question mark over a great deal of Christianity, past and present, it leaves the question, “What, then, should be at the core of our belief?”

For Giles, the answer lies ready to hand: it is the resurrection (though you’ll have to listen to his Thought for the Day to hear that explored in its fullness). The resurrection is the triumph over darkness and death and (according to him) is the heart of the message we proclaim.

I mention this basically to illustrate that the problem I highlighted is not imaginary. There is a genuine, and significant, tension between these two concepts of the gospel — the one ‘cross centred’, the other ‘resurrection centred’.

The question I would put to those who follow Giles’s thesis, however, is simply this: why, for the past two thousand years, has the universal symbol of Christian faith been what it is — the cross? Isn’t this a clue?

Revd John Richardson
13 April 2009

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  1. Presumably Giles Fraser is suitably grateful for Cranmer and the BCP keeping the C of E going all these centuries even as he furiously disagrees with the theological heritage they bequeathed!

  2. In opposing the opinions of those such as Giles Fraser, merely getting involved in a battle of opposing opinions will not work. What is required is to demonstrate that this is a different religion and not Christianity. It needs to be shown that his opinions are opposed to the teaching of Jesus and of the apostolic interpretation of the significance of Jesus and his death/resurrection. Public opinion will always support those who are perceived to be contending to bring an ancient institution into the modern era, unless it can be made plain that what is happening is that a group of Fifth Columnists are insidiously attempting to overthrow the authentic apostolic gospel with a recently devised false substitute. It's this principle, not the theological battle, that will sway the public. Prove that what is happening is unjust, hypocritical and morally reprehensible, and Fraser and is ilk are far less likely to get a public hearing.

  3. Actually, so far as I know, it is _not_ the case that the cross has been the universal symbol of Christian faith for two thousand years. The cross has been the dominant symbol for Latin (Western) Christianity for around _one_ thousand years.

    And, as you say - 'Isn't this a clue?'

  4. I learnt somewhere that our reverence for the cross is not that old and the first cross was painted as an act of graffiti lambasting the cross.

  5. Your question -why, for the past two thousand years, has the universal symbol of Christian faith been what it is — the cross? - and its answer supports very much Giles Fraser's position. The symbol has indeed been the cross - an empty cross, not one bearing a body.

    David Matthews

  6. Your question - why, for the past two thousand years, has the universal symbol of Christian faith been what it is — the cross? - and your answer supports Giles Fraser's position. Yes, the cross has, for around 2000 years, been the symbol for Christianity but it has been an empty cross, not one bearing a body!

    David Matthews (Bristol, UK)

  7. The sad truth is that too few Christians are willing to take up the cross, as Jesus requires in Mark.

  8. There's also something faintly disgusting, and morally degenerate, about the arrogant attitude Giles Fraser has to 2000 years of biblical scholarship. Luther? Calvin? No, it's Giles Fraser who knows what it's all about.

    Why Isaiah 53, therefore? What was the point of (apparently) describing an obscure incident in C5th BC Israel if it wasn't a prophecy? And what would be the significance of the resurrection if crucifixion had not preceded it? So why do we wear crosses rather than empty tombs?

    Oh dear, Giles, you seem to have missed the point somewhere.

  9. The apostles' held cross and resurrection together. Liturgically, the church attempts to express this with the reclamation of the Triduum.

    A friend at an Anglo-Catholic church here has the three sacred days in one bulletin, a way of telling his congregation that "it's all one service."

    The Daily Office readings (ECUSA '79) this week portray this unity of cross and resurrection in the Divine plan, and the church's proclamation:

    ...this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:23-4)

    ...let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. (Acts 4:10)

    Cross and resurrection certainly come together in this morning's words of comfort from John 16:33, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" Christ's cross and resurrection become the very pattern of discipleship.

    And of course tomorrow we have Jesus proving the resurrection via his crucifixion wounds.

    It seems to me that those who emphasize the cross do not downplay or seek to hide the message of the resurrection, but those who emphasize the resurrection seem to downplay the cross as little more than a prop to get Jesus into a tomb momentarily. I don't think the early Christians saw a dichotomy - rather, an awesome and wonderful holy mystery at the core of faith. Cross and resurrection make our witness an emphatic proclamation of only one figure: Jesus Christ.

    Timothy Fountain
    Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  10. Well, before the thread goes cold (and my blather may well have frozen it) it is worth noting that Paul says both - preach Christ crucified AND if Christ has not been raised, then our message is a lie and your faith is in vain.

    In Philippians 2 (which might contain some of a primitive creed or hymn), Paul tells us to work out our salvation following the pattern of Christ, who was "obedient to death on a cross" and therefore "exalted to the highest place."

    In Philippians 3, Paul says that his goal is to "know Christ... the power of his resurrection... the fellowship of sharing his sufferings."

    Anyway, "Fountain blather off". I don't think that the NT sets cross and resurrection in some kind of competiton as far as church teaching and Christian life.

    Timothy Fountain
    Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  11. I have to thank you for this seies of articles John, they helped inform my sermon of this morning. I ended up with a summmary of God's power as:
    worked in the cross
    proved, fruitful and celebrated in the resurrection
    received from the Spirit
    and lived and magnified in community.

    And as Timothy mentions above, when in preparation I looked up Paul's line about wanting to know the power of the resurrection I was struck by the context that this cannot be divorced from the sharing of his suffering.

    Shaun Clarkson, East Yorks