To what extent does Christ’s completed work on Calvary redeem all of life, and all of our relationships? If, as Scripture teaches, knowing Christ changes everything, should we expect and anticipate the power of the cross to renew our relationships as Christians? The early evangelicals asked similar questions—questions they answered with a high view of the cross.
The early evangelicals were the most cross-centered Christians in all of history, and they were also the first to develop a biblical basis for the emancipation of women and slaves. They believed that Christ’s work on the cross gave rise to a newness of life exhibited through unity and reconciliation between people. Consider Penn-Lewis (1861-1927) an evangelical who believed that the cross ushered in the new creation, where gender, ethnic, and class prejudices no longer excluded people from serving equally in Christ’s body—the church. For Penn-Lewis, the cross provided not only forgiveness for sin (redemption). Calvary was also a place of victory over sin (sanctification) where Christians received power to overcome sin and prejudice. She wrote:
The ‘old creation,’ in its form of ‘Jew and Gentile,’ must die to make way for a new creation ‘after the image of him’ that created them; where…there can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for we are one in Christ Jesus. In the face of these words we cannot wonder that the cross is a stumbling-block, and its message likened to a sword or knife, for it cuts deep into the very core of the pride of the old creation. God’s cure…is not a superficial one…Nothing but the cross will bring about the unity he desires.
Without the cross, we would lack the power to walk in newness of life. But, because of Calvary, gender and ethnic distinctions are no longer opportunities to exclude people but to include them. Baptism replaces circumcision among Christians! The cross does not eliminate gender and ethnic distinctions. Rather, the cross unifies us in these distinctions, making us stronger and more capable because of our differences as members of Christ’s body. Theologians might say that Penn-Lewis’s soteriology—what she understands about salvation—informed her ecclesiology—what she understands about the church.