The gospel versus cultural Christianity

    April 25, 2019

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    I first read about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire when checking up on the day’s current events on a popular news aggregate website I frequent.

    I was initially thankful because the first article I read mentioned that no people were hurt in the fire. However, the massive historic significance of a church that had its cornerstone laid in the year 1163 was not lost on me.

    The cathedral has long been known the world over as the emblem of French Catholic Christianity and, in many ways, France itself.

    After the fire, stories abounded with news that while much of the cathedral’s structure was destroyed, two of its bell towers and much of its interior – including historically significant artifacts housed within its walls – were saved.

    Britain’s Daily Mail reported on the efforts of a “hero” fire brigade chaplain who risked his life entering the blazing cathedral to rescue ancient Church relics – which were said to include Christ’s crown of thorns.

    As a history lover, I am always sad to learn that historically significant architecture, art or other items are lost forever. Such objects act as windows to lost eras, allowing us to better understand and appreciate the past.

    Yet, as a Christian, I found media reports of the Notre Dame fire disconcerting.

    Who knows if the crown of thorns that was saved from destruction was actually the one worn by the Savior of the world two millennia ago? From a historic perspective, it would be intriguing if it were. However, from a spiritual perspective, the crown has zero value since, if the Bible’s account of the resurrection is true, Christ is alive!

    Unlike every other chief figure of any other faith or spiritual philosophy that has existed, the God of the Bible is alive and wants to be involved in the lives of His creation. Therefore, relics, idols and any other spiritual implements designed to provide a sense of physical connection to the one true God are unnecessary.

    This truth is the very heart of the Easter season that Christians across the world recently celebrated – our God became man, died for our sins, rose from the dead and is now an advocate for all who follow Him! What an amazing truth that is.

    While the vast majority of French citizens, nearly 90 percent in some polls, still claim Roman Catholicism as their religion, a 2011 Ipsos (a global market research firm based in Paris) poll found only 19 percent of French individuals polled, “believe in God or a supreme being.”

    These statistics imply that while most French people still identify as Catholics, they no longer view the Church as a spiritual body, but a welcomed relic of their national identity and heritage.

    The Notre Dame Cathedral fire not only confirmed this, but also pointed out that the French people are not alone in their view of Christianity.

    Millions of people from across the vast reaches of the once definitively Christian Western world, offered their thoughts, prayers and sympathy for the damage to an international symbol. But what is the Notre Dame Cathedral a symbol of today?

    For years, we have seen the steady degradation of Christianity in the West. Sure, the West was never fully Christian – however one might define such a designation – but the West was definitively shaped by Judeo-Christian truth found in the Bible.

    Without the revelation of God, concepts such as loving one’s neighbor as well as one’s enemy, being charitable to those who are less fortunate instead of taking advantage of their weakness for personal gain, the sinful nature of man and its eternal consequences and, most importantly, the fact that God sent His Son to earth to walk among us and die for the sins of all who believe in Him, would be inconceivable – folly at best. These are tenets of Christianity, but they are also basic truths that all people today benefit from, even as their universal recognition in much of Western culture is quickly diminishing.

    Reactions to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire highlight the heavy irony that while the West was won – so to speak – by the truth at the heart of Christianity, when belief in Christ and Him crucified is lost, symbols that once stood for something incomprehensibly beautiful, are now just thorns.

    Caleb Yarbrough is associate editor of the Arkansas Baptist News. Email him at