If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV)
I remember growing up attending church most of my life. At the front of each church was a platform with all the appropriate trappings including a cross, pulpit, communion table, organ or piano and seats for the choir. Many churches included a prayer or altar rail as well.
In most of those churches the cross was at the center of the platform. It was usually as large as practical for the space available. In all cases it was the center of focus for all entering the auditorium. The pulpit or lectern, where the Pastor stood, was located on either side of the platform in many cases. Thus the center of attention was always drawn to the empty cross of Christ, not to the efforts of men.
Today, in many churches, the cross is no longer center stage but is behind the pulpit which has moved to center stage. The effectiveness of recognizing the empty cross of the resurrection is often overshadowed by the animated preaching of the Pastor. I have even recently experienced churches where the cross was colored to blend into the wall color making it easily fade from sight.
“Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (NIV).
Paul preached Christ crucified. The cross is the crux of the Christian Life. Without the cross and the shed blood of Christ there is no redemption or washing away of sins (Hebrews 10:19-22). The crosses in churches where I was raised were empty. This empty cross pointed to the foundation of Christianity in Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).
In the sermons found in the New Testament the messages of the Cross and Christ are central, not the qualifications or efforts of the speaker. How often have you read or seen a church falter as a body when the Pastor takes another position? We see this in areas such as missions, youth ministries, and music where a long time servant of God departs and the ministry suffers and many times stops functioning effectively.
It may appear to be dependent on the servant of God and their method of ministry. This is at times true and we find ministers who preach for their own glory and importance. However, more often than not I’ve found the ministering servant to seek after God and desire to draw others to God and not themselves. Unfortunately this leaves us with the uncomfortable thought that we are partially, if not sometimes fully, to blame.
What are we seeking when we enter the church each week? Are we looking for the Sunday message to inspire us, the choir to lift up our spirits as they sing, or a chance to reveal our own vocal or theological talents to those seated near our Holy pew or chair? Or, do we come because we love and desire to see God through Christ, to worship Him because He is worthy of worship?
I’m guilty! Yes, I must admit the quality of music, the comfort of padded seats or the impressiveness of the message are often at the forefront of my thoughts as I enter one of God’s houses. I have to stop myself when I discover I’m seeking entertainment, not worship. I’m wrong!
Our ability to undauntedly justify our thoughts and actions leads us away from worship into self seeking entertainment. We come telling ourselves we are prepared to minister to others and yet, we minister because we expect to receive. Often we will easily be hampered, if not stopped in our ministry, when we are not praised and lauded for our efforts.
Where is the Cross of Christ? Is it at the center of our life as a decoration? Or, is it on the mantle of our heart providing direction and inspiration? We must be sure our ministry and worship are inspired by a heart overflowing with God’s love and not boiling with the pride of man.
“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel,” (Romans 9:3). Paul saw Christ at the center of his ministry. He desired his own destruction if it would bring salvation to the Jews. We need to be willing to give everything to bring others to the cross.
As we gather together to worship, we must truly give ourselves to worshiping God, not the inventions and trappings of men or the church. As men we are worthy of nothing but condemnation.
“. . .for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,. . .” (Romans 3:23).
God is worthy of worship without question.
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)
Let’s put the Cross of Christ back at the center of our lives and our worship. Let’s be sure it’s not a physical face lift to our spiritual auditorium but a real true building on our foundation of faith.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).