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Only the Cross of Christ
L. R. Tarsitano—Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity - October 1, 2000
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). 

One of the most remarkable features of religion in our time is the whole idea of "Christianity plus." My friend Peter Toon has written extensively about "the American supermarket of religions," where people are encouraged to shop around for the ingredients of a "religion" all their own. A little Christianity, a little Buddhism, a dab of Unitarianism—it doesn’t matter, it’s all "good," according to one’s tastes. 

Others have called this phenomenon "cafeteria Christianity," wherein the only unifying principle is choice itself. One "customer" at the cafeteria says, "I chose a mixture of the Gospel and materialism, and I call it ‘liberation theology.’" Another builds a different kind of "tray" for himself, and says, "I chose the ‘happy parts’ of the Bible, where it say that God loves me, but I left out all that business about God’s justice and his demands that I obey him—I call it ‘seeker friendly Christianity.’" And a third says, "I passed up all that ‘complicated spiritual stuff’ about worship and fellowship with others. I just wanted some good rules for personal living, and the Hindus had some terrific ideas that I’d never thought of before." 

What just about everybody misses about this approach to the Christian faith is that adding things to Christianity never gives us "Christianity plus," but only "Christianity minus." A real religion, if we are not merely indulging ourselves in a little religious snack, is a life-defining set of beliefs and obligations, since in its technical meaning a "religion" is what ties all of reality together, whether for a single human being or for an entire culture. A "religion" is what human beings "rely on" to make sense out of absolutely everything. 

When we "add" to Christianity, we must necessarily leave something else out. And to be fair to the "supermarket" and "cafeteria" browsers, this is not a new problem. We encountered the first known example of this problem two weeks ago, when the reading was also taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. People called "Judaizers" were trying to convince the Galatians that they should add the regulations of the Old Law to their Christianity. 

St. Paul rightly told the Galatians that, if they put their faith in various works of the Law, they would be changing the Gospel itself, which offers mankind salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected Son of God made man. Thus, instead of "Christianity plus," they would end up with no Christianity at all. As one of my seminary classmates used to say, "Christianity isn’t a buffet or a smorgasbord—it’s a sit-down dinner where one eats what the Lord sets before him." 

It is in the same spirit, and guided by the same Holy Ghost, that St. Paul continues his dissection of the Judaizers in this week’s Epistle. When anyone offers an addition to Christianity (which is always in practice a subtraction), all any of us can say is "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." After all, it is the fallenness of the world that offers us the delusion of "additions to Christianity," because the world is constantly seeking to reclaim us from Jesus Christ, who bought us out of slavery to the world (the literal sense of "redemption") at the price of his own Blood shed for us all on the cross. 

Sin is not creative, but destructive, so the fallen world is stuck with the same old tricks to try to entice us away from Christ. What is unusual about our time is how childishly vulnerable we are to "the same old tricks" dressed up a little as if "going to church" were interchangeable with "going to the mall." We have forgotten our inheritance of the hard-won lessons learned by St. Paul and the Galatian Christians. 

We have, likewise, neglected (or, God forbid, rejected) our particular Anglican heritage of unequivocal witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ and the seamless integrity of the Christian Faith. How many of us, for example, really take the time to study the Articles of Religion, even though they are printed in the back of every Book of Common Prayer? If we knew these Articles, we would also know immediately that God has not called us to a "supermarket" or to a "cafeteria," where we may choose what we would like to believe. 

Take, for instance, Article XVIII, "Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Jesus Christ." This Article not only tells us the Truth, it gives us the Truth right between our eyes: 

They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved. 

"Christianity plus" (which we have seen must always be "Christianity minus") is a self-imposed curse, since only we can submit ourselves to the mercy of someone or something other than Jesus Christ the Lord. Only we can tell or accept the lie that man-made additions to the Gospel (called "Law" in the Article), or man-made alternatives to the Christian religion as given in the Scriptures (called "Sects" in the Article), or man-made moral codes supposedly based on Nature (which is, of course, fallen nature) can save us as well or better than the Blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross. 

We need to reclaim the whole of the Faith, and with it the spiritual power to witness that faith without flinching, because that, too, is part of our Anglican heritage. We need to remember great men like John Stark Ravenscroft, who served as Bishop of North Carolina from 1823 until his death in 1830. We can read about him and other great Anglican Christians in older, "pre-supermarket of religions" books like E. C. Chorley’s Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church. 

Bishop Ravenscroft was a plain-spoken witness to Jesus Christ and the glory of his Cross both in his private conversation and in his pulpit. Two anecdotes about him stand out as pertinent this morning. When his old friend Colonel William Polk (the father of Leonidas Polk, who was both an Episcopal bishop and a Confederate General) asked Ravenscroft if a man of high morality and clean living would get to heaven by these means alone, the Bishop answered, "No, Sir; he would go straight to hell." In his first sermon before his diocese, Ravenscroft explained why this is so: 

On the doctrines of the cross, then, as you have taken, maintain your stand, my reverend brethren. Preach them in the simplicity and sincerity of hearts that feel them, with the earnestness of men who wish to save their own souls, and the souls of others. The entire spiritual death, and alienation of man from God, by the entertainment of sin; the reconciliation of God to the world, by the sufferings and death of his only begotten Son; the atonement of his blood; justification by faith; acceptance through the merits of the Saviour; conversion of the heart to God; holiness of life, the only evidence of it; and the grace of God, in the renewal of the Holy Ghost, the sole agent from first to last, in working out our salvation from sin here and from hell hereafter. In fewer words, SALVATION by grace, through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. [see Ephesians 2:8-9] 

Ravenscroft gives us a good example for our lives by his courage and faith. By his words, he gives us the pattern of what should occupy our hearts and minds in our knowing and understanding of our Christian faith in communion with God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Ghost. And thus, he shows us what it means to say with St. Paul, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.