A young boy sensed his mother was unhappy with the interim preacher at their church. He asked if that was so, and why. She hesitated, then spoke two words: "No cross." His mother's response remained with him through out his life, especially when he would hear sermons without any word of the atonement, the truth that Christ died for our sins that we might be saved by grace through faith. The way of the cross is the essence of the Christian faith. Without the cross, there is nothing to our Christianity. With "no cross," no one can become a Christian in the biblical since of the word.
The atonement is, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ..." The atonement is "Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me ..." The atonement is, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a expiation by His blood, to be received through faith. (Rom. 3:23-25) One cannot be a Christian, think like a Christian or live like a Christian without believing in the atonement. John Wesley said, "Nothing is of greater consequence than the doctrine of the Atonement. It is the distinguishing point between Deism and Christianity."
Some don't see the problem here. They say this is what all Christians have always believed. All churches observe Good Friday, Easter, and most use the cross as the focus of worship. But, if the truth be known, Christ's atoning death on the cross, the essence of Christian faith and life, has been compromised for some time. Many, if not most, Christian churches teach and preach the words and ways of Jesus, not the cross, redemption, nor repentance. Instead of pointing worshippers to the cross of Christ, sermons are replaced with topical "series" of talks about improving life with Jesus. The key idea proffered is that we change or reform ourselves by modern or progressive reinterpretations of the gospel. The church attenders who accept such teaching, whether evangelicals, moderates or liberals, operate with a salvation by good works ideology. For them, it's all about doing good and considering yourself a child of God.
The basic truth of the Bible, though, that is to be taught and preached in every congregation of God's church, starts with Original Sin and the Atonement. There is no way to improve life with Jesus by doing good and leaving out confession of our sin and personal faith in the death of Christ on the cross. That is what at-one-ment is all about. Only by reconciliation with God will our relationships be restored between God and us and others. We must believe and receive that reconciliation by grace through faith in Jesus' death on the cross. Without the cross, we cannot repent and accept that reconciliation through faith. We remain lost and without hope in the world.
So, God's church continues to call out to a lost and weary world, trying to make it on their own without confessing the truth of Jesus' cross as revealed in God's word - the Bible. "Come to Jesus; He will save you, He will save you now!" Come by grace through faith in Jesus' cross, and sing, "Gone, gone, gone! My sins are gone. Now I'm forgiven, and my heart is a song. My sins are buried in the deepest sea. Yes, that's good enough for me. I shall live eternally, praise God, my sins are gone." The cross is the essence of the Christian faith. For those who live the truth as it is in Jesus and accept the authority of God's word, the Bible, there is no such thing as "no cross."
Our Father, guide us, who are teachers and preachers in our local churches, to teach the whole counsel of Your Word, the Bible, based on the truths of Original Sin and the Atonement found there. May we always begin every message/lesson with the words, "Please Open Your Bible To ..." And also, dear Lord, guide those who are looking for such a church to rely on Your divine guidance. And when they find that church, help them to stay, be nourished, and invest their lives there. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
*Thanks to Riley B. Case's "Essential Methodist Teachings: The Cross (Part 1)" parts of which I used for the outline of this blog post.