From the Archives: A Perspective on the Cross

By Paul A. Tanner

It takes two dimensions to make a cross, even as it takes two basic relationships to practice the Christian faith adequately. The one direction is Godward, the other humanward. A half cross is no cross at all. There is room for the monastery with its steeple, as well as the marketplace full of persons. Each relationship is essential to the other, and neither is independent of the other.

God ministers to human need in a unique way. He could turn stones into bread or miraculously place a glass of cold water in the hands of a thirsty neighbor. But he doesn’t. He asks us to become his channels. That’s what we’re here for. And when we do it in his name he promises a reward. The vertical becomes horizontal.

Likewise, we do not put our tithe directly into God’s hand. We detour by way of an offering plate, a bank deposit, and a ministry performed by the local or national church. The needs of humanity become the channel through which we place our gifts in God’s hands. Jesus taught, “When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” The horizontal becomes vertical.

This vertical dimension distinguishes Christian service from human benevolence. Paul said, “You can give your body to be burned,” but to no avail. The fundamental question is, In whose name? Does your gift have a vertical dimension?

No amount of good works can take the place of new life in Christ. We do not begin the Christian pilgrimage by good works and ultimately win the favor of God. Nevertheless, good works are always byproducts of Christian faith. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16 KJV).

We are mandated by the gospel to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Each cross has a vertical beam anchored solidly in a physical world, but that points upward toward ultimate meaning. Each cross has a horizontal beam reaching out to embrace all people in shared suffering.

May the cross be raised again in the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. Jesus was not crucified in the sanctuary between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves. That’s what his crucifixion was all about and that’s what Christian service should be all about. To know him is to love him, and to love him is to serve him.

Paul Tanner served as executive secretary of the Executive Council of the Church of God from 1979 to 1988. Article originally published in the April 11, 1982, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission.

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