The Preaching of the Cross (1): Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross

Larry Ray Hafley
Bartlett, Tennessee

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Since the gospel "is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16), when one preaches the gospel he preaches the cross. To "preach Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2) is to preach the cross, the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17,18). To preach the cross, the gospel, is to preach "the testimony of God" and "the wisdom of God" which has been revealed by the Spirit of God in the book of God, the Bible (1 Cor. 2:1-13). No one who believes the word of God doubts any of these facts.

To receive the word of God is to receive the gospel (Acts 2:4 1; 8:14; 11: 1; 1 Cor. 15:1). To receive the word, the gospel, is to receive "the grace of God" (2 Cor. 6:1; Tit. 2:11,12). Unless and until one is obedient unto "the word of his grace" (Acts 20:32), he has not been saved by "the preaching of the cross" (1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Cor. 1:18). To preach the cross is to preach "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). Whenever and wherever one is obedient to the gospel he is saved by grace (Acts 10:48; 15:11). Again, about this there can be no denial by anyone who believes the Bible.

So, why cite the facts above if no one questions them? Recently, in a paper published by brethren, several articles appeared which correctly called for "the preaching of the cross." Assuredly, the gospel facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, promises to be enjoyed and threats to be avoided must be impressed on the hearts of all who would be "of Christ." However, in certain articles, the idea was advanced that when we refute denominational error and preach obedience, baptism and the church that we are somehow drifting away from a cross centered gospel. While stating their objection to denominational error and upholding the need for obeying the gospel, the thrust of some essays was that preaching against error and emphasizing gospel obedience unwittingly causes "some to stray from a cross-centered evangelistic message to a church-centered appeal."

Paul's Preaching of the Cross

When the apostles preached the cross, did they preach something in addition to the facts of the death of Christ? If the answer to that question is "yes," then one may preach the cross and preach things other than the physical, literal death of Jesus on the cross. Let us see the example of Paul. Obviously, he preached the cross, "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

When Paul preached the cross at Corinth, he preached at least three things: namely, (1) the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4); (2) Christ was crucified for them (1 Cor. 1:13); (3) that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:13; 6:11; Acts 18:8). When one preaches "Christ crucified," he preaches not only the death of Christ but also what one must do in order to receive the redemption procured by his death. When the Corinthians heard the preaching of the cross, they "believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). This is the way they were "washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). Baptism is "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:48; 19:5), and baptism "in the name of the Lord Jesus" is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5).

How did the Corinthians know to be baptized in the name of Christ since what they had heard was "Jesus Christ, and him crucified"? They knew to be baptized because "the preaching of the cross" includes the preaching of baptism. Hence, when one preaches baptism, it cannot be said that he is not "preaching the cross," for baptism is a part of "the preaching of the cross."

Indeed, the entire letter to the Corinthians is "the testimony of God," "the wisdom of God," "the gospel," "Christ crucified." In other words, it is all "the preaching of the cross." When Paul spake of denominational division and encouraged unity (1:10-3:9; 12:12-27) was he not "preaching the cross"? When he wrote of marriage and morality, of adultery and idolatry (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 7;8;10:1-13), was he not "preaching the cross" of Christ? When he spoke of subjection and the Lord's supper, the communion of the body and blood of the Son of God (10:1621;11), was he not "preaching the cross"? When he urged peace, decency and order in the churches with detailed directions regarding the place of "spiritual gifts," (12:1-14:40), was he not "preaching the cross"? When he spoke of the "resurrection of the dead" and gave "order" to the "churches" "concerning the collection for the saints" (15:12-16:4), was he not "preaching the cross"? Who will say that he was not?

When gospel preachers of today address these topics, when they assail the evils and errors of Protestant and Catholic denominationalism, are they not "preaching the cross"? When they warn against immorality, adultery, fornication, homosexuality "and such like," are they not "preaching the cross"? While discussing headship and the proper partaking of the Lord's supper, are they not "preaching the cross"? When gospel preachers debate Pentecostal errors regarding Holy Spirit baptism, tongues and spiritual gifts, are they not "preaching the cross"? When they dispute against premillennial speculations concerning "the resurrection of the dead," are they not "preaching the cross"? When studying "the issues" with institutional brethren concerning congregational cooperation, are they not "preaching the cross"? Who will say that they are not?

It is a false choice to say, "Preach the cross, not baptism." Beware of those who say, "Let us preach the cross and not the church," or "let us emphasize the person of Christ on the cross and not the plan of salvation." Broken down into its simplest form, this is nothing more than the old " gos pel- doctrine" distinction. It is the same thing as "Let us preach the man and not the plan." Do not be deceived by these pseudodistinctions. Where in the Bible are we ever warned against these "so-called" differences? Where are we ever told to preach Christ more than we preach the church or baptism? What passage even hints at such a "misplaced emphasis"? Where in all the word of God are we ever told to preach more on the actual "doing and dying of Jesus" and not so much on obedience to the gospel in baptism? It is a false, unscriptural concept.

However, it has an appeal. Like the proud publican of Luke 18, there is a super piety, a spiritual elitism, that feigns greater reverence for the things of God when it says, "We need to trust more in the Savior's person and not so much in his program. " Assuming a divine demeanor, they declare, "We need to lead people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ rather than to a baptistry." It is subtle; it is snide. Worse, still, it is false.

For example, note Paul's interchangeable terms as he spoke of salvation:

1. "Baptized into Christ" (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:27). "Baptized into one body," the church (1 Cor. 12:13,20; Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18,24).

2. Reconciled unto God "in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Reconciled unto God "in one body," the church (Eph. 1:22,23; 2:16).

3. Saved, redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1: 18,19; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). Church purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28).

4. Christ "gave himself for me" and tasted "death for every man" (Gal. 2:20; Heb. 2:9). Christ "gave himself for it," the church (Eph. 5:25).

5. "In Christ" - "made nigh" - "by the blood" (Eph. 2:13). "In one body" - "reconciled" - "by the cross" (Eph. 2:16).

When one speaks of baptism into the body or church of Christ, when he speaks of reconciliation in one body, the church, when he speaks of Christ's having purchased the church with his own blood, he is not off balance or out of focus, for what is ascribed to one, Christ, is also said of his body, the church. The apostle Paul once "persecuted the church of God" (Acts 8:3; Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:9), but when the Lord appeared to him, he said, "Why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14) To persecute the church was to persecute Christ. Hence, to "preach Christ" is to preach the church. If not, why not? If to persecute Christ is to persecute the church, then to preach Christ is to preach the church.

So Also Is Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 contains Paul's great analogy of the human body and the spiritual body of Christ, the church. He speaks of the many members of the physical body and their respective offices or functions and concludes that though there are many members with diverse duties, yet there is "but one body." Paul shows that the same thing is true of the church, that it, too, has many members, each with its own distinct place and responsibility, yet it constitutes one body (cf. Rom. 12:4,5).

However, our subheading above contains the sentence of verse 12 which says, "so also is Christ." Now, this is a curious, singular wording. In the context, we should expect the Spirit to have said, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is the church, " but he did not say that. Rather, the Spirit said, "so also is Christ. " In the very next verse, he says we are "all baptized into one body." Here he could have said, as he did in other passages, that we are "baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3). But he speaks of "Christ" and "one body" and refers to the same thing. Christ, the church, the one body are spoken of in synonymous terms. Hence, let no one beguile you with enticing words of superficial spirituality by saying that we need to talk more of Christ and less about the church.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 10, pp. 302-303
May 21, 1992