We Need More Cruciform Churches

work_226Those grand and glorious cathedrals built in the Middle Ages may have something to teach us about the way we live the Christian life today.

The medieval church ministered to a culture that had no direct, personal access to the Scriptures in their own language. The church leaders of that era were faced with the challenge of teaching biblical truth to a Bible-less people. One creative way they taught key doctrines was by building object lessons into their church facilities. The cathedral served as “The Poor Man’s Bible,” as historians now call it. Everything about the way a cathedral was built—firm foundations and transcendent towers, storytelling statues of stone, tile mosaics and stained glass windows depicting central biblical stories in full color, and even the way sunlight streamed through those windows—was designed to help folks discern, delight in, and declare the great, biblical doctrines concerning God and the gospel.

The art and architecture of these sanctuaries taught two central biblical truths: God’s just judgment against the sinfulness of mankind; and God’s gracious provision of salvation from his wrath through the life, crucifixioaerial-amiens-cathedral-2-2n, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Cathedrals were intentionally built to teach theology to the people in the pews. And not just random bits and pieces of biblical teaching, but a consistent curriculum of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as he is offered in the gospel. Indeed, the most distinct feature of these cathedrals was their cruciform or “cross-shaped” floor plan. The central doctrine the church building communicated was the gospel, the message of the cross. And since these church buildings were the most prominent and prized buildings, the hope was that through the preaching of the gospel inside the church building and through the presentation of the gospel in its art and architecture, the surrounding population would both see and hear the message of the cross.

Here in the 21st century we need more cruciform churches. Not lavish cathedrals but living communities of disciples being shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. Our best hope is to cooperate with The Architect, who promised he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) as we join him to form our families, small groups, and churches into “cruciform communities.” Such communities visibly show and verbally share the message of the cross because they are made up of people who have been vibrantly shaped by that message.  

Unlike the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, this construction project requires both the building and its building blocks to be cross-shaped. The Apostle Paul taught that both our individual bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the corporate Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) are temples in whom the Spirit and glory of God dwell because of what Jesus did on the cross. The biblical blueprint for a cruciform church calls for every Christian to live what I’m calling “the Cruciform Life,” a life shaped by Christ crucified (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 16:24).

Let us pray with Jesus that through the preaching of the gospel in and by our church communities, and through the presentation of the gospel in our vertical love for God and horizontal love for others, the world would both hear from us and see in us the message of the cross (John 17:14-21).

[This post was adapted from the Introduction to Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. To learn more about the Cruciform Life read Cruciform and this blog.]

A Prayer For Christian Unity

Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, three-in-one God, one God in three persons . . .

You are the original relationship. You are the original God-centered, others-oriented community. You are the MODEL for the unity of Your Church. Our Lord Jesus prayed that we would live in holy relationship with one another, even as You live as a holy relationship.

But we have fallen short of the glory of Your loving unity, Lord. Forgive us: for we have hurt and hated one another, we have turned away from and not toward one another, we have talked about and not to one another.

But because of His great love for us, the Father planned to provide peace through the Son by the power of the Spirit. You have forgiven us so that we might be able to forgive those who have sinned against us. You are not only the glorious MODEL but also the gracious MEANS by which Your people live in unity.

Now we ask, Lord, that Your work of redemption for us and in us might powerfully work reconciliation between us. Stir our hearts to forgive as we have been forgiven, to reconcile with one another even as we have been reconciled to You.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever,


Excuse the Mess . . . Renovations Underway

blog_154556_1775210_1349976616A couple of years ago one of our churches here in town was renovating their worship area to make room for more seating.  I was there for a meeting during that time and was drawn to this sign posted in the hallway: “Trinity Presbyterian Church – Excuse the mess while renovations are under way.”

A sign like this should be posted on the front door of every church, don’t you think?  After all, isn’t this a fitting description of every church?  No, not the church building, but the real church, the people.  Every congregation is a mess because every congregation is undergoing renovation.  And for that matter, every church member is a mess because every church member is undergoing renovation.

That reminds me of 1st Corinthians.  Talk about a mess!  The church at Corinth had quite an assortment of problems that Paul needed to address:  divisions among members, unbalanced loyalty to celebrity teachers and preachers, immaturity, sexual immorality, Christians dragging Christians to court, abuse of the sacraments, prideful boasting about spiritual giftedness, dysfunctional worship, confusion about the roles of men and women, and a faulty understanding of the resurrection.  A mess indeed.  So messy, in fact, that one might wonder if these folks were really saved at all.  (Ever had that thought about yourself?  Yep, me too.)

However, the mess among the church at Corinth didn’t cause Paul to doubt their salvation. It only served to show they were still in need of renovation.  Here’s how he opened his letter to them in chapter one, verses 4-9: Continue reading

When “Ministry” Trumps Community

We’re finishing up our study of 1 Corinthians in my 11th grade Bible class at TCA this week, and yesterday we concluded our discussion of chapters 12 through 14, Paul’s instructions about spiritual gifts. An old thought from a new passage of Scripture dawned on me as we talked, but first some background . . .

Paul has acknowledged that the Corinthian church is “enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge . . .  not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:5, 7), but that they have allowed their gifts to become a source of division among them (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, 3:3, 4:7, 12:25, 14:12).  Two forms of pride were cropping up in the congregation: Continue reading