The Christ-Centred Church
1Corinthians 2:1, 2
Over the last number of weeks we have considered those characteristics, which should mark the Christian Church. The characteristics we have studied should not be considered an exhaustive list. Nor have these characteristics been arranged according to their importance.
For I submit to you that the characteristic to be studied this morning is the preeminent characteristic. It is the mark above all other marks—no, it is more: to speak of a local congregation as Christ-Centred is to talk about the very foundation of that congregation’s ministry.
A local congregation can be marked by an array of impressive characteristics and corresponding programs, but if Christ is not at the heart of what is taking place in the congregation, there is a fundamental problem.
On the other side of things, if a congregation is beset with all kinds of obstacles and difficulties, it can do none better than to fix her eyes on the Saviour of the Church, Jesus Christ.
To this end, if there were ever a sermon for you to reread, if there were ever a sermon to obtain the CD-ROM and listen to again, this is the one. I say this not because Bryn MacPhail has any particular pearls of wisdom for you—no—I say this because the biblical text before us today speaks primarily about Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him.
If we rightly apply such a text, then our feet will be set on a most sure foundation. However, if we allow the words of Paul to pass over us without ever entering into us, we run the risk of forfeiting the most important thing about our assembling—the blessing that comes from union with the crucified Christ.
In 1Corinthians, chapter 2, Paul outlines for the people of Corinth his approach to his ministry among them. We know from various sources that Paul was a man of profound learning. We know that he had been educated by some of the most revered Jewish scholars of his day. We are quite sure that Paul had a brilliant mind, and my guess is that he might have been tempted to persuade the Corinthians by presenting them with polished arguments, and by excelling in the graces of oratory. He might have said to himself, ‘The philosophers of Corinth are very wise men; if I would be a match for them, I must be very wise, too.’
But what does Paul say instead? “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom, (I came) proclaiming the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:1,2).
Paul did not address the Corinthians with the wisdom of the day; he addressed them by proclaiming Jesus Christ. Now, when Paul says that he was “determined” only to preach “Christ crucified”, this does not mean that the only thing he mentioned during his 18-month stay in Corinth was the cross. In his letters to the Corinthians Paul covers a myriad of subjects.
What I think Paul means here is that whatever else he knew, whatever else he intended to communicate, he would say it, and he would do it, in relation to Christ crucified. For Paul, the cross of Christ wasn’t the only thing he preached, but it was at the centre of what he preached. The cross was the foundation of Paul’s ministry in that it influenced everything he said and did.
And so should it be with us at St. Giles Kingsway. Everything that we do should have some relation to what Christ has done. We may lack an explicit connection to the cross with some of our activities; nonetheless, we would do well to articulate a reasoning for our activities that relates to the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
I regret to report to you that there are congregations where the message of Christ crucified is notably absent. I do not mean to be unkind when I say that I suspect the ministers of such congregations to be largely responsible for this.
I noted this problem on a few occasions while working with search committees as an interim moderator, as we reviewed applications from interested ministers. On more than one occasion, I was compelled to ask the committee, ‘What is fundamentally wrong with the narrative section of this application?’ My answer was that the applicant, in the course of three or four pages, failed to make a single reference to Jesus when describing Christian ministry!
I agree with the theologian who says, ‘Christ is Christianity’. Without Christ, and His glory, as the chief motivation, a congregation descends into being little more than another community service club.
For this reason, it is critical that there be unity on this point: Our gathering is all about Christ—who He is and what He has done. And all that we do must be for the sake of His glory.
This may seem obvious to some, but I fear that if we do not name this—if we do not clearly, and repeatedly, articulate this as our ‘end game’, we run the risk of being a congregation where the members work at cross-purposes (no pun intended!) with one another.
Needless to say, if we work from different starting points, if we build upon different foundations, we will become highly unproductive as a congregation. Moreover, our lack of progress will likely lead to internal tension and spiritual exhaustion. We’ll find ourselves in a situation like the man who was walking down a residential street and noticed another man struggling with a washing machine at the doorway of his house.
When the man volunteered to help, the homeowner was overjoyed, and the two men began to work and struggle with the bulky appliance. After several minutes of fruitless effort, the two men stopped and looked at one another huffing and puffing. They were on the verge of total exhaustion.
Finally, when they caught their breath, the first man said to the homeowner:
‘We’ll never get this washing machine into the house!’
To which the homeowner replied, ‘Into the house? I’m trying to get the washing machine out of the house!’
Leaders within a congregation may not agree on every single procedural or theological point, but we cannot afford to push in opposite directions when it comes to that which lies at the heart of church ministry. We must agree on the place of the cross—and no, I don’t mean the place of physical crosses within our sanctuary, I’m talking about the place of the cross event within the collective conscience of St. Giles Kingsway.
We ought to be confessing that our inclusion in the covenant is not based on something we have done, but rather, our relationship with God is based entirely upon what Christ has done for us.
The Bible teaches us that, apart from Christ, none of us were living according to God’s Law (Rom. 3:10-12). It’s not that we are as bad as we conceivably could be. No, by human standards, many people are quite attentive to advancing their moral character.
I sometimes hear people described to me as ‘good-living people’. We know we’re not perfect, but many people imagine that they are good enough, and are therefore on track to be welcomed into heaven based on some achieved level of morality.
Perhaps we could gain entry into heaven according to our own morality if it were the case that God evaluated us relative to how we rank among our peers. But the Bible nowhere teaches this. Instead, God instructs the people of His covenant, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; 1Pet. 1:16).
This Divine standard poses a serious problem for humanity. The implication of the Divine standard is that our predicament apart from Christ is dire. Our sin—the fact that we are not perfectly obeying God’s laws, estranges us from Him because He is a Holy God (Rom. 5:10). And this estrangement threatens both our earthly comfort and our eternal standing.
In other words, what every human being needs more than anything else is to have a right relationship with the God of this Universe.
We may have all sorts of worthwhile needs that relate to our physical and emotional well-being, but we do not possess a single need that surpasses our need to be reconciled to the Almighty.
The message of the New Testament is that the cross of Christ, when approached with faith, provides us with this reconciliation with God that we so desperately need (Rom. 5:10).
At the cross, not only are our sins forgiven in Christ, but we also gain the positional holiness that is necessary for our union with a holy God. That is, faith in the death of Christ brings a two-pronged blessing of pardon and righteousness (Rom. 5:17).
I can think of nothing better. I can think of nothing better than to be eternally reconciled to our Creator. And neither can Paul.
And I suspect it is for this reason that Paul would move from congregation to congregation, determining to “know nothing among (the people there) except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2).
I have preached nearly 200 sermons in this pulpit since my arrival in 2002. Not all of those sermons spoke of the cross. Like Paul, we have studied many different subjects together. And yet, my ultimate aim in this pulpit is the same as Paul’s. The most important message you could hear is the message of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Some may disagree. Many disagreed with Paul in his day. Paul conceded that “(the) Jews asked for signs, and the Greeks searched for wisdom; but (Paul) preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (1Cor. 1:22, 23).
I pray that the cross of Christ is not a stumbling block to you. I pray that the cross of Christ is not foolish simplicity to you.
If it is either of these things to you, I invite you to ask the Lord to show you the wonder of the cross. The cross is no mere icon—it is far more than a religious symbol. Faith in the cross of Christ is the way to eternal life (Jn. 14:6).
I pray that the cross of Christ is, or will become, the most precious thing in your life. And I pray that, as a congregation, the cross of Christ is what will animate our every action. Indeed, all other grounds for religious activity is sinking sand. Amen.