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"The Offence Of The Cross"

Against the background of spiritual conflict with those who urged that keeping the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation, Paul wrote to the

Galatians:

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the Cross ceased (Gal. 5:11 AV).

"The offence of the Cross"! To this day God's unique message of salvation alone through faith in a crucified Saviour arouses opposition and resentment from many religious groups. It is still true that "the word of the Cross is to them that are perishing foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18). To the unregenerate mind, however religiously conditioned, the concept of salvation through Christ crucified remains a stumbling block and foolishness. In 1 Cor. 1:21 Paul spells out the striking paradox: seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the thing preached (RVM) to save them that believe".

This basic truth has again been illustrated in connection with a movement among British churches aimed at converting the large proportion of the nation which has lapsed into spiritual disinterest. Introduced by the House of

Bishops of the Anglican Church last year, it calls for the nineties to be made a "Decade of Evangelism". The Roman Catholic Church, while patronising the idea, prefers to speak of a "Decade of Evangelization", doubtless to maintain a distinction from groups which are identified with certain forms of Protestant evangelism. The whole movement was of course intended to function on ecumenical lines, with a measure of cooperation, but also mutual respect for each denomination's special approach to the matter of winning converts.

From the start the idea of the "Decade of Evangelism" was promoted on very general lines, without clearly defining the aims of its sponsors. Eighteen months later it is still not clear what it really means. Perhaps it means quite different things to different groups. Someone has commented that "to describe it as all things to all men is the polite way of saying it means nothing to anybody". At the heart of difficulties which have arisen lies "the offence of the Cross". For when keen evangelical believers wished to include an all-out concerted effort to convert people of other faiths, such as Muslims or Jews, there was swift reaction from both these influential groups. This led to divided counsels among church leaders. The more liberally inclined urged that those of other faiths should not be confronted with the unique claims of Christ as the One in whom alone salvation can be found. Rather it should be stressed that all great world religions have contributed aspects of truth for mankind's enlightenment. Such reasoning of course ignores the fact that these religions are all based on some system of gaining merit with God by religious self-effort. The need for Christ's atoning sacrifice is ignored: the word of the Cross appears to them foolishness.

Many church leaders who did not share that liberal view were nevertheless concerned to evade "the offence of the Cross". Confrontation should be avoided, they felt, and sharpness of approach toned down by emphasizing commendable aspects of other faiths' teachings. By all means seek diplomatically to introduce people of those faiths to the gospel; but let the process be from the standpoint of "sharing Christianity", and pay ample tribute to the richness of the traditions of other faiths. It has been well pointed out that this sort of approach just does not work, for its impact is too feeble to make converts from people deeply entrenched in alternative religious systems.

Scriptural example would encourage directly confrontational evangelism. In Acts chapters 2 and 3 Peter's preaching in Jerusalem unflinchingly called his hearers to repentance for the rejection of their Messiah; in Acts chapter 7 Stephen was equally uncompromising. Two examples of Paul's testimony in Acts chapters 13 and 17 show the same bold confrontational strategy.

Because its objectives were so ill defined from the start, and influential church leaders are so concerned not to give offence to people of other faiths, the Decade of Evangelism has not proved very effectual to date. In refreshing contrast we recall the noble statement of the great apostle to the

Gentiles:

"I shrank not from ... testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ... I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whale counsel of God (Acts

20:20,21,26,27).

A standard to maintain; an example to follow!