Christ The Redeemer's 20th Anniversary Reflections
September 22, 2013
Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Shaun Cross.
Twenty years ago this month something very special happened. My wife and I and our four young children, who were 11, 7, 4 and 1, were actually on time for church! How did that happen? We were on time because Christ the Redeemer’s first service took place 20 years ago in the living room of our home on the Southeast corner of 20th & Post.
That morning, 19 adults and 24 children gathered in our living room and entryway. Seven of those 19 adults are still with Christ the Redeemer today.
We didn’t have a pastor that first Sunday 20 years ago, so I led the group in what’s called Morning Prayer, a form of service used in the Episcopal Church we were in the process of leaving. That Sunday, after I gave the sermon, we prayed and we sang a few songs. We did not have a pastor that first Sunday. In fact, our little group did not have a pastor for the first three years of the church’s existence, not until Peter Hayward joined us from Sydney, Australia in the summer of 1996. During those initial three years our little group met each Sunday, in various homes and an office building, in an Elks Club and the Women’s Club. One of us would give a sermon. We would sing a few songs a cappella and we would pray.
Our experience was similar in many ways to the early church that Luke describes in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That’s what we did. We devoted ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching (i.e., we studied the Bible). We devoted ourselves to the breaking of bread and to fellowship and prayer. And we met in homes, just like they did 2,000 years ago.
During these critical early years our understanding of what Church is changed radically and our understanding of the centrality of Jesus Christ changed radically.
Like a human baby, an organization’s DNA is established very early on. Well then, what is some of the DNA of Christ the Redeemer that was put in place during our first three years?
The First Strand of DNA
We came from a tradition that improperly elevates the role of priests and pastors. Their main role biblically is to preach Christ, to proclaim the Gospel through the exposition of God’s Word. Because we wandered for three years without a priest or pastor, we learned, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:4, that we are “like living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.”
We learned what the “priesthood of all believers” means, that we who are sitting in the pews today in this church and in all of the churches throughout history, have been called by Jesus to follow Him, not a priest or a pastor, not a bishop or a pope. Each of us has been called to witness to the world ourselves, not vicariously through a third person in a robe.
The Second Strand of DNA
We came from a tradition that focused most of its resources and attention on cathedrals and beautiful churches, on building maintenance and building projects. Christ the Redeemer wandered in and out of nine different locations over a ten year period before God literally gave us the building that we’re in today.
Why did we wander in nine different places for ten years? What was God teaching us? Again, that same verse in 1 Peter says, “You yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.”
Our journey taught us that this building is a mere shelter from the elements. It is not the Church. We are the Church. We are the living stones that have been built up to be a spiritual house called Christ the Redeemer. This building we’re in, while very convenient and a huge blessing (thank you , Grace Baptist), is from a theological perspective, totally irrelevant.
The Third Strand of DNA
The core group that started Christ the Redeemer had all attended Bible Study Fellowship in the 1980s. We believed, and still believe, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. By stripping away the pastors and the large buildings and all of our traditions and forms of prayer, we were left with each other and the Bible. And by God’s grace, we were led to a small, faraway Anglican (i.e., Episcopal) seminary in Sydney, Australia called Moore College, where all three of our senior pastors have been trained. Through their expository teaching, we’ve learned that we’re saved by grace and grace alone. We’ve learned that the majesty of Jesus Christ appears in every one of the sixty-six books of the Bible, not just the four Gospels or the New Testament.
Today, as was the case twenty years ago, the Bible is at the center of this Church. We believe the Bible is truly God’s Word. That belief and confidence in the Bible as God’s Word to do the work, to reach sinners, to build new believers up and to send them out as lights in a dark world, created a trajectory that led to two words being inscribed on the glass in the rear balcony: “Preach Christ.”
The Fourth Strand of DNA
Names and words matter. Gabriel told Mary that she was to name her son Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” The Bible teaches that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow, both in Heaven and on Earth.
Our group came out of the Episcopal Church. In reality, it probably would not have mattered if we’d come out of the Lutheran Church, or the Methodist Church, or the Catholic Church, or a myriad of other mainstream, mainline churches in America. Many of these denominations name their churches after mere human beings, like St. John, or St. Mark, or St. Luke, or Our Lady of Fatima. Fleeing a denomination that had abandoned and was embarrassed by the Truth (namely Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life), we had come to the strong realization that:
John the Evangelist is not our redeemer;
Mark is not our redeemer;
The physician, Luke, is not our redeemer; and Our Lady of Fatima is certainly not our redeemer. Christ is our Redeemer. It was with great intentionality that we named this church Christ the Redeemer.
Individually and collectively, we become who we are by our history, by what we believe and by the sum total of the choices we make based upon those beliefs. In the early years of this church, starting twenty years ago this month, a small group of believers in Spokane began a journey that has now been joined by all of you and has led us to this time and place. None of us accomplished this. None of us can take any credit for this. God, by His sovereignty and His mercy and His grace, made Jesus clear to us in a way that astounds all of us today.
I hope and pray that we will remember our history for one main reason only. The church we left once cherished the Gospel as much as we do today. But over time it lost its focus on Jesus Christ. It lost its confidence in the Bible as God’s Word.
In his last letter to Timothy, during his final imprisonment and just prior to his death, Paul warned Timothy 2,000 years ago and, in doing so, warned all of us today:
“That in the last days there will come times of difficulty [and that] people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant . . . .”
Paul went on to say people would be “always learning [but] never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” Finally, he said they would have “the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.”
At the end of the day, that’s what this small group of Episcopalians discovered. That the church that had come out of the Reformation hundreds of years ago with such a firm belief and confidence in Jesus Christ and His Word had gotten to the point, centuries later, where it was denying the power of Jesus and supplanting that with the appearance of godliness.
May we heed Paul’s warning! May we remember where we’ve come from. Let’s pray.