But I DO want to urge you to buy this book!
I was having a bad day yesterday. Not because it was really bad, but because I responding to it sinfully, out of my flesh. Not being very productive as a result of my own little snit, I scanned my bookshelves and my eyes lighted upon this diminutive volume by C. J. Mahaney – The Cross-Centered Life. Someone had thought well enough of me (or bad enough in that they thought I REALLY needed it – they were correct!) to purchase it and give it to me. But I had never read it. I should have. Long before.
The Cross-Centered life isn’t hard to read at all. The way the prose breathes makes it a pleasure to imbibe by itself. And it will take you less than an hour to read it even if you read very slowly like I do. It isn’t filled with novel ideas, slickly packaged concepts or deeply buried wisdom. Its profundity lay in its deceptive simplicity. A call back to the only one truly important thing in life – The Cross of Jesus Christ.
That being said, that is my plug for reading the book itself. I was in desperate need of an attitude adjustment and this could not have been more timely or aimed more precisely at my particular need. My eyes were off Christ, the wonder of the Cross, the Spirit’s attempts at working that Cross in me and the need to set my mind upon the Gospel again. I was wrapped up in me. Bad news.
However, what I want to share with you about this book is not a reiteration of the contents, though that would be profitable in and of itself. My aim here is more to use the book as instructive, as a living exegesis of Ephesians 4:8-14 – “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
It is verse 11 I want to call to your attention here – that Jesus has given to the Church “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers. I know all the debates about continuationism regarding both the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit for the Church today, and whether or not there are still apostles and prophets. I don’t want to wade into those waters proper. I would just ask you to consider the following.
In the days of the Old Testament, God was pleased many a time to send prophets into the land. Sometimes their labors included setting forth future events. More often than not however, even where such foretelling was used, the principle thing the prophet was doing was engaging God’s people in warning over their course, calling them back to the right course, and encouraging them regarding God’s blessings when they did so. And if I might borrow Paul’s oft used metaphor of how the Church is God’s building – I think I can see something of how “prophets” may be of use today. And that perhaps Mahaney even fits that bill in this little book.
Now mind you, the greatest prophet who ever lived – according to Jesus – was John the Baptist. But there are two peculiarities about John’s “prophetic” ministry: 1. He never forecasted an event of any kind; 2. He never did any miracles. What then made him such a great prophet, to be singled out above all the rest? Rev. 19:10 gives us the answer: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” What the Old Testament prophets did in warnings, admonitions and encouragements – even by their miracles – is what John did par excellence when he said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” In other words, he pointed men directly to Christ, so that they might not err, and arrive at God’s salvation. They did it in type and shadow, and he did it in the blazing light of God manifested in the flesh in Jesus Christ. Here is the call for all of us to be prophets. To declare Jesus as the Christ, and point all men to Him. But bear with me just a tad more.
Back to the building metaphor. Throughout out God’s plan of redemptive history, He has always had His men. In building His Church, He has especially set among us four kinds of men. First, men who know the blueprint, understand what the “building” is supposed to look like, who can warn us when we’re not keeping with the foundation, remind us of the big picture, call us back to labor with zeal, vigor and precision, and encourage us in the work. These I believe are the prophets of Eph. 4. Always in the Church until the work is done. Others, are exacting and precise men. Men of clear and unyielding perception in the truths of God’s Word, who do the painstaking work of laying solid, sure and perfectly plumbed doctrinal foundations: apostles. Not authoritative in themselves – only derivatively from the Word – but who are mastered BY the Word that they may, like wise master builders, lay the foundation “other than which no man can lay” which is Jesus Christ. Evangelists are the ones who keep the supply of lively stones ever coming in. And Pastor/teachers cure, strengthen and mud the stones together for the increase of the whole.
That is how I understand those practical, timeless, necessary roles given to us in Eph. 4.
What does all of this have to do with Mahaney’s book? Just this. This little volume is in every sense of the word – prophetic. How? In that it warns us against losing sight of the work God is about in the Cross. It calls us to repentance. It bids us take note again that what we build on the foundation of Christ laid in our lives is commensurate with that foundation. We must build with like materials in proper proportion to the strata laid deep and low. It makes us get the big picture again – the vision if you will. And it encourages us in the work. It calls us to the Gospel, the Cross, to Christ. THAT, is prophetic. And we need that kind of prophetic utterance around us all the time.
I for one, am thankful Christ is still blessing His Church with His precious gifts.