Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Crossmas

Not only can the Christmas season reveal confusion over the nature of evangelism, I believe it can also expose the confusion over what is meant by "Christ-centered." Recently, "Christ-centered" has become an adjective that can be placed before almost anything: Christ-centered music, Christ-centered preaching, Christ-centered hermeneutic, Christ-centered furniture padding. (Okay, I made one of those up.)

Though I've often called it a "Jesus hermeneutic" on my blog, I have no problem with the Christ-centered moniker. I think it aptly labels your intentions as keeping your focus on Christ. However, this term can usually bring difficulties from two directions:

    It's confusing at times to know what is meant by "Christ-centered." Do you mean it simply needs to name Jesus? Can Jesus be implied? If the focus is always Jesus, do you mean you are only appealing for people to get saved each time? Does this mean you allegorize to make obscure passages somehow about Jesus? Is it possible to mention Jesus yet not be Christ-centered? Strangely, there is a lot of confusion about the term.
    It's offensive if it seems someone is suggesting you are not Christ-centered. Who wants to be told an element of life is not centered on Christ? Let alone, what minister wants to hear that his ministry is not centered on His Savior? If emotions escalate, it can seem like someone is saying your ministry is based on secular humanism or may even seem like the person is questioning your own salvation. Once the emotions are raised, no one is listening and lines seem to get drawn.
It seems Christmas serves as a perfect illustration of what may and may not be Christ-centered. No real triumph has happened if the person says, "Merry Christmas" over "Season's Greetings." Some even act as if you defy Christ-centeredness by saying "X-mas" instead of Christmas. (Jay Adams points out that the origins of X-mas aren't as Jesus suppressive as some think.) Are these fair accusations to make? Is the name Jesus all that is necessary to be Christ-centered?

Let's just take preaching, for example (same principle could be applied to all other areas). What does it take to be a Christ-centered sermon? Is there a number of times the pastor must say Jesus? Is it the insertion of a first-time-gospel-invitation that makes it Christ-centered? Must the pastor always cross reference to the New Testament? Perhaps he must find a word directly from Jesus that is germane to the sermon theme?

While any of these elements may present themselves in a sermon, none is essential for a Christ-centered sermon. Theoretically, you could apply each of the above questions and still not be Christ-centered. Again, in theory (not like it is a goal), you could have little connection to these questions yet be Christ-centered. The best question to ask is:

Is Jesus the hero of your sermon?

Sally Lloyd-Jones loves to call Him "the Rescuer." (And I love that too!) Our attention is drawn to the fact that the Text is not about me, but its primary purpose is to reveal Him. (For even when the Text reveals my character and nature, the end result should be that it calls me to depend on Him.)

I've had the privilege of watching my wife deliver four children. Each time I witnessed the birthing event (and the 9.5 months that built up to it), I was struck by the bravery, toughness and selflessness necessary to usher in new life. However, those thoughts were never appropriated to my children. I never once looked at one of my babies as heroic in any fashion. No, I was amazed by my wife! I couldn't imagine enduring what she just did and was humbled to see the attitude by which she did it.

Christ's incarnation should humble us as well. However, if you segregate His incarnation from His crucifixion and resurrection, it really doesn't make much sense. Let the story end with Jesus in the manger and it really fails to be a heroic story. Yet this is exactly what so many do at Christmas time. (Perhaps this is why some elevate Mary to an undue nature; an understandable error if the focus is not kept on the heroic Christ.) A Christmas sermon isn't really a Christ-centered sermon unless it finds itself pointing to a Crucified, Risen and Exalted Savior! In the same way that His crucifixion would not have meant justification for us had He not become a "Second Adam" and took on flesh, the incarnation is not heroic unless He was born for the purpose dying as our sin substitute.

The Christmas season provides a great opportunity for evaluation. Pastor, do your sermons faithfully present Christ as the hero and you completely desolate without His work? Brother, do you neighbors hear not only that you believe in Jesus, but do they hear you explain the Person and Work of Jesus, chiefly directed at His work on the cross and resurrection? Friend, if your religious system makes you feel heroic by living up to the rules, no matter how much it considers those rules a reflection of "Lordship," such that you affirm Jesus as the hero, but claim some victory on your own, it simply isn't Christ-centered. Christ-centered does not mean you make Jesus a hero, it means you make Him the hero.

And in that sense, it is impossible to really be Christ-centered unless one is also Cross-centered.

So perhaps it would be better to say, "Merry Crossmas!"

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