Leonard Verduin writing about the Cross

I posted a little while back commenting on Leonard Verduin’s treatment of the case of Michael Servetus in whose death John Calvin seems to have played some kind of significant part.

Well, I’m still reading that book (The Reformers and Their Stepchildren). My incessant bad habit is starting books before I’ve finished. This begins to multiply itself several times over and…well, I’m sure you get the picture. So this morning I put aside Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham, The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T Wright, and an easier-going Sci-fi tome, as I realised that I really am so close to the end of Verduin’s book now that if I just concentrate, I might actually be able to finish it…

My reading habits aside, I wanted to share this beautiful paragraph. Verduin writes fantastically throughout the book. But you get these little moments where the depth of understanding that he has acquired and which so often feels close at hand suddenly surfaces and transports you from the largely historical framework in which he has been working, to something more profound.

So Verduin then, speaking of the Cross:

‘In authentic Christianity the Cross is God’s most emphatic no to man’s yes, His most emphatic yes to man’s no. A clear example is to be found in Galatians 6:12, where St. Paul pits a religion of human achievement and merit (of which circumcision was the symbol among the people whom the Apostle was opposing) against a religion of grace. He brings the issue into sharpest focus by saying “They constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” The Cross is a sweeping declaration of man’s inability to save himself from his predicament; this is bad news for every man who has not as yet capitulated to the speech from the beyond; hence it entails persecution against those who have so capitulated. When one experiences the hostility which the Gospel of grace is certain to encounter as it collides with unhumbled man, then one experiences the Cross. This is the one and only meaning Cross-bearing has in the New Testament writings. To bear the Cross is to experience the dislike which confirmed unbelief is wont to heap upon the Christ and upon those that have aligned themselves with Him.’

Beautifully said. The Cross really does stand at the Crux of human experience.

Verduin’s cause in general, though, is to address what he terms ‘sacralism’ in the Reformation movement, ie. the vision of Church and State in harmony, and all that comes with it. Thus opening the following paragraph:

“It goes without saying that when Christianity is thrust into the sacral pattern Cross-breaing becomes obsolete, there being not further occasion or opportunity for it.” He rather wryly and deftly explains what the Cross then became to the Reformed Church. “It was…transvaluated… It became an object that henceforth occupied a prominent place in the Church’s furniture.”

In other words, where the idea that church and state are somehow in harmony remains even in the back of the mind, the Cross stands only as a symbol of what Christ did in achieving salvation. While I of course rejoice in this fundamental message of the Cross, in the New Testament, and in the vision of those Verduin chiefly writes about in his book, the Anabaptists, those who went against the grain of the Reformation, the Cross remains something which we too will have to bear, though not for the sins of the world.

This topic is not without controversy I’m sure, but I’m happy to suffer controversy for the Cross of Christ!

3 thoughts on “Leonard Verduin writing about the Cross

  1. Ah – it gets worse! Well insofar as his observations continue astutely down the route that the meaning of ‘cross-bearing’ then took:

    ‘Whereas the New Testament reserves the expression for the unpleasant experiences that are wont to follow upon being a Christian, the expression was now made to connote the sufferings that dog our footsteps because we are men. Here is a man with a sightless eye, a palsied hand, a cloven palate – what a “cross” for such a man! This spurious connotation, however, finds not the faintest support in the New Testament.’

    Ay ay ay! How painfully true!

  2. Affirms grace, but not to Anglicans, Presbyterians, puritans, post-millennialists or anyone else that disagrees with his ecclesiology while entirely affirming that God became flesh for us and for our salvation, suffered under Pilate and rose on the third day based on a tenuous interpretation of one verse (I would say that bearing the cross means). I actually agree that a church-state is basically a contradiction in terms. I firmly disagree that those who differ have not suffered for Christ’s sake.

  3. Pants. I missed out part of my comment. Bearing the cross is accepting suffering for Christ’s sake, as far as I’m concerned. If you would lay down your life for the gospel or for the glory of God, whether physically through persecution or by a simple setting aside of comfort or your own temporary good for the eternal joy of knowing God, it appears to me that you have met this demand.

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