By Larry Ray Hafley
“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). To preach the gospel is to preach the cross, “for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). To “preach Christ” is to preach the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:23,24). About this there can be no doubt to anyone who believes the Bible. God has “manifested his word through preaching” (Tit. 1:3). He has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Ironically, the death of Christ is the life of the world. What is seen as “weakness” and “foolishness” is the power and wisdom of God unto salvation.
The Displacement of the Cross
In a book entitled, The Cruciform Church, written by an ultra-liberal, C. Leonard Allen, the charge is made over and over that “the preaching of the cross” has been disregarded and displaced by undue emphasis upon, “What must I do to be saved?” It is argued that when we stress man’s part in obeying the gospel that we are neglecting “the centrality of the cross” in our salvation. If that is true, one wonders if Peter was “guilty” of ignoring “the cross’s doctrinal fulness” when “with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). In other words, according to this charge, as we stress the terms of pardon, we are not “preaching the cross.” When we tell men what they must do to be saved, when we emphasize the conditions of pardon, we are leading men to rely and trust on their obedience and not upon the death and blood of the cross. We may lead men to obedience in baptism and to the church of the Lord, but have we truly converted them to the Christ of Calvary? The inference is that we have not. But that you may see the charge for yourself, consider the following excerpt.
. . . There was affirmation of the fact of the atonement but reluctance to delve much into its meaning. Thus preachers could preach sermons entitled, “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” and scarcely even mention the crucifixion or atonement of Christ.
One of the most striking examples of the displacement of the cross appears in T.W. Brents’ huge volume, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (1874). It became a standard work and was widely read for decades . . . . The only extended treatment of the atonement is a five-page section devoted to refuting Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. Although one finds a few references to Christ’s death scattered throughout the book’s 662 pages, nowhere does one find any systematic or extended discussion of human need and how God met that need at the cross. Brents devotes 306 pages to a discussion of baptism. But even there I found only about two pages even connecting baptism to the death of Christ. In a book claiming to set forth the gospel plan of salvation, I find such omission astounding, the sign of something deeply awry in the theology of the movement . . .
“. . . Where the atonement does appear the concepts are fragmentary and anemic. Ironically for a movement devoted to restoration of the New Testament faith, nothing like the richness of the New Testament doctrine of the atonement appears in our preaching” (The Cruciform Church 120,121).
Similar statements and criticisms have recently appeared in print. “The Gospel Plan of Salvation (1874) by T.W. Brents is a well-written refutation of Calvinistic and sectarian errors relative to man’s response in the plan of salvation. While this is important, it’s ironic that a book so titled doesn’t present a full, systematic exposition of the centrality and positive meaning of the cross in the plan of salvation” (W. Frank Walton, Christianity Magazine, February, 1992, p. 12).
T.W. Brents needs no defense from me. His work needs to be read and preached by all who would preach the cross of Christ. His purpose had something to do with the thrust of his argumentation. What is here denied, in these articles, is that preaching man’s response in the plan of salvation is somehow an abandonment of the meaning of the cross.
Brethren, if our preaching is off base, spare us the assessment and philosophy of Abilene Christian University and The Cruciform Church crowd. Two years ago, a very fine lady, a sister in Christ, sent me several pages of The Cruciform Church. In part, my response to her was this:
Finally, as to the enclosure, I shall profit from it. Thank you for caring enough to send it. I try not to pattern my preaching after Campbell, Locke, Bill Love, T.W. Brents, C.L. Loos, the 1950s or any other human assessment. I strive, however much I may fail, to preach as the prophets, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus the Christ and the holy
apostles and prophets of the New Testament. In short, as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), so I speak. I seek to emulate and imitate the manner and method of divine history (Matt. 5-7; 13; 23; 2 Tim. 2:2,14-18,23-26; 3:13-4:4). As to source, emphasis, manner and doctrine, I seek to obey 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:6-16; 5:20; Titus 1:9-13; 2:1,15.
I care not how this relates to Campbell, the restoration, Martin Luther’s imagery emphasis, the reformation, nor to the form, style or substance of any men in any era. My goals, if I know my heart, are those of the spirit, genus and model of the Bible. Wherein I have failed, I solicit your prayers and entreaties.
So, if “my speech and my preaching” needs some revision, give it to me from “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Warmed over and worn out philosophies of preaching from liberal professors will not suffice. Wiersbe, Lucado and Shelley are not to be compared to Bible preaching. If preachers today need to be “taken to school” so they can learn to preach, take them to the word of God. Rehashing the judgments and opinions of liberal, ecumenical spirits will not “cut it.” The points made in this series of articles may be totally off base, but they begin and end with Scriptures. If the conclusions we reach are a perversion of the word of God, then kindly and candidly correct us (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Meanwhile, please note that our efforts are centered on “the preaching of the cross” from a biblical perspective and not from the “wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.”
Grace and the Cross
In Colossians 1:5,6, Paul wrote of “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you . . . and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Those who heard “believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8), were characterized as those “which had believed through grace” (Acts 18;27). Those who “knew the grace of God in truth” had learned of “the hope . . . in heaven” through “the word of the truth of the gospel.” Those who have believed and been baptized have been saved “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48; 11:15; 18:8,27).
Thus, the “gospel of the grace of God” consists of more than the mere acknowledgment of God’s unmerited favor. When one preaches faith, repentance and baptism, he is “testifying of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; 19:5; Eph. 2:8,9). It is unfair, not to mention unscriptural, for one to say that preaching the conditions of forgiveness is to neglect the grace of God, because, as we have seen, those items, along with the knowledge of the hope in heaven, are an integral part of knowing “the grace of God in truth.” The same is true with regard to “the preaching of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18; Acts 18:8,27).
Peter spoke to those who had a “living hope” and redemption through the death, blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3-5,18,19; 2:24). These people had been begotten by the word of God and had purified their souls “in obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22-25). “Baptism doth also now save us,” Peter said, “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). To preach the necessity of “obeying the truth” and that “baptism doth also now save us” is not to ignore the place of the cross of the Christ in our salvation, for, Peter concluded, “I have written . . . that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand” (1 Pet. 5:12). Do not be deceived by this false dichotomy, this false distinction, between the grace of God and the commands of God. One preaches the grace and cross of Christ when he preaches that “baptism doth also now save us” and that one purifies his soul “in obeying the truth.”
Further, Peter referred to “the grace,” the gospel system, that had come unto them (1 Pet. 1:10-12). In the very next verse, note his “Wherefore.” In view of “the grace,” I ‘the gospel,” certain pure and holy behavior was demanded of them (1 Pet. 1:13-4:19). By living in accord with the truth, by living godly lives, they were standing “in the true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12). Hence, preaching that exhorts and encourages righteous living, is preaching the grace of God. One is not displacing the cross when he preaches against immorality and ungodliness. He is preaching the grace of God when he preaches against worldliness and sinful living (1 Pet. 2:1; 4:3,4). Yet, we are being told that such preaching that condemns the sins of the flesh, while needed, is getting us away from the cross of Christ and away from the grace of God. As the epistle of 1 Peter demonstrates, that is not so.
In Titus 2:11-15, we see Paul’s linking of the grace of God with righteous living. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying undgodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that I he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”
The grace of God (1) brings salvation and (2) teaches us. What does God’s grace teach us? Negatively, the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Positively, the grace of God teaches us to live soberly, righteously, godly, in this present world. What teaches us how to live? The grace of God. Is preaching on how to live in this world an abandonment of the grace of God? No! Are we to preach on such matters? Are we to discuss the demands of God for righteous living? “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.” In so doing, one is speaking “sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1-10); he is preaching the grace of God. Hence, sermons against immodest dress and social drinking are sermons that preach “the grace of God” and the cross of Christ. Do not swallow the line that says that such preaching is neglecting or displacing the cross.
Enemies of the Cross of Christ
In the Philippian letter, Paul emphasized that righteousness does not come by the law, but by “the faith of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:9,10). He instructed them to only let their manner of life “be as it becometh the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). There is, Paul said, a manner of living that befits the gospel, and he exhorted that all should walk by its rule (Phil. 3:15-17). But some do not so walk and live. Their god is their own carnal appetite; they glory in shameful behavior; they act in sensual, fleshly sins (Phil. 3:19). And how does Paul describe such people? What are they? How shall we label those who live in various lusts and passions? Paul says, “that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). To walk in a lewd, licentious, lascivious lifestyle is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ! There, when one preaches the Bible standard of righteous living, when he teaches against the shameful, sordid sins of the flesh, he is preaching “the cross of Christ.” Those who would make a distinction and say that we are displacing, or at least ignoring the cross when we preach on such matters, are just as wrong as they can be. However well-intentioned they may be, they, too, are “the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:15-19).
What of those, who like Paul, are “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17)? T. W. Brents has been set forth earlier as an example of one who vigorously defended the faith, but who in so doing, displaced and ignored “the atonement.” What of such men? What of such work? Is it truly a case of unwittingly drifting from the grace of God? Let Paul answer. “In my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye are all partakers of my grace” (Phil. 1:5-7). No, my brethren, those who defend the truth against the evils and errors of Catholic and Protestant denominationalism are not ignoring God’s grace nor Christ’s cross. Rather, they are partakers of grace and friends of the cross.
The Galatians had been “called into the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6); that is, “unto the fellowship of . . . Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:9). Jesus Christ had been “set forth” and “crucified” among them (Gal. 3:1). Obviously, Jesus was not literally, physically, crucified among the Galatians, but when they heard “the preaching of the cross,” “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor. 1:18; 2:2), in that way, in that manner, Jesus had been “set forth” and “crucified” among them. So it is with us even today.
Paul equates the reliance of the Galatians on circumcision and the law as an annulment of the faith, the cross and the grace of God (Gal. 2; 5:14). To trust in “another gospel” is to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-9). To “obey the truth” (Gal. 3: 1; 5:7) is to uphold and support the cross of Christ. Those who refused circumcision suffered “persecution for the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:12). Thus, when the faithful saints at Galatia contended against circumcision and showed that it was no longer binding, their arguments were “for the cross of Christ.” They were not displacing the cross when they confronted Judaizing: teachers with their arguments. When they urged men to “obey the truth” and to let their lives be “crucified with Christ” in denial of the flesh, they were glorying “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
In a parallel fashion, when we confront a Seventh Day Adventist today, when we reprove and rebuke his errors on the Sabbath observance, when we show that such things have been “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14-16; Gal. 5:1-4), we are “preaching the cross.” An article on Sabbatarian errors that points to the Lord’s way and “the Lord’s day” is not one that ignores the cross. We are not detracting from the essence of the gospel, the cross, when we instruct men “in the way of God more perfectly.” Do not be misled by a superficial spirituality which says that we should not place so much emphasis on “doctrinal correctness” at the expense of “the central theme of the cross.” It is a false dissection as Galatians and Colossians 2 clearly shows.
Baptism and the Cross
Space forbids quotation of Romans 6:3-6 and Colossians 2:11-13, but one’s burial and resurrection in baptism is “in the likeness of his death” and resurrection. In baptism into Jesus Christ and into his death, the old manner of life is “crucified with him” that the former manner of life should be destroyed. Through faith in the working of God, we are raised up with Christ to walk “in newness of life.” When one preaches baptism, even for “306 pages,” as Brents did, he is certainly preaching the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; he is assuredly preaching the cross of Christ. Observe, too, that this obedience from the heart demands a godly manner of life. One may not continue in sin. He may not yield his body as an instrument unto unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12,13,19). Those who preach the truth about baptism into Christ and into his death and who urge godly living as a consequence are the ones who are preaching the cross. They are the ones who are truly putting the cross on 94center stage.” Those like the extreme liberals who gave us The Cruciform Church with all of its snide criticisms of preaching would have you believe otherwise. Likewise, parrots of the liberals’ philosophy of preaching are misguided, and regarding the real nature of faithful New Testament preaching of the cross, they understand “neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 11, pp. 325-327
June 4, 1992