Monday, January 19, 2015

Is "The Gospel" our new idol?

It is all about The Gospel.
The Gospel is the most important thing.
Our primary purpose is to proclaim The Gospel.
Gospel, gospel, gospel…

Now, I am not trying to be provocative for the sake of being provocative. As an ordained, evangelical, conservative, Bible-believing, Spirit-led, minister of “The Gospel”, I am increasingly concerned that we are losing our focus.

Stay with me here. What word or phrase should we allow to complete these sentences?

The most important thing to our church is ______________?
or how about
As a follower of Jesus, the most important thing I can do is teach others about ________________?

What should we put into the blanks?
Prayer? That doesn’t seem right.
Fellowship? Nooooo…not really.
The Bible? Hmmm…still a bit murky.
Worship? It just doesn’t seem to fit.
Mercy? Grace? The Cross? The Resurrection? Forgiveness? Holiness? Theology? Our denomination? Our traditions? Church history? Faith? Justification? Righteousness? Sanctification?
Do any of them seem adequate?

Now, go back and plug in “The Gospel.”
All of a sudden it just seems adequate? Why?
I believe it seems righter (I know that isn’t a word) than lots of other terms because it is the buzz word right now. It seems you can say just about anything about “The Gospel” and no one will even bat an eye.

The whole reason Jesus came was to proclaim The Gospel.
Our purpose in this life is to know The Gospel.
The New Testament is built around the idea of making The Gospel known.
The Gospel changes us.
The Gospel saves us.
The Gospel should be the most important thing in your life.
It is all about The Gospel.

Does anyone else out there feel uncomfortable with the ease at which this phrase is used? Maybe it is just me. No other Christianeze word fills those sentences with such confidence as “The Gospel” seems to do. So, am I saying that it is wrong to do so? Yes. I suppose I am. Because if you strip out the words “The Gospel” from the above sentences and put in the only word that should be there, then I believe you will find, as I have, that even such great words as “The Gospel” fall short. The only word that has earned the right to be in those sentences is the name above every name. Jesus.

The whole reason Jesus came was to proclaim Himself.
Our purpose in this life is to know Jesus.
The New Testament is built around the idea of making Jesus known.
Jesus changes us.
Jesus saves us.
Jesus should be the most important thing in your life.
It is all about Jesus.

Do you hear the difference?

I guess the reason I am concerned is that often times the people and churches that are over-using “The Gospel” and also the ones under defining it. If you don’t believe me just listen sometime. Listen to the people and churches that are proclaiming the primacy of “The Gospel.” As they proclaim it are they also defining it? Does their definition of the Gospel stay the same or does it change to meet the point they are making? Is it a literal definition meaning the good news of Jesus Christ? Or is it the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection? Or maybe it is the larger narrative running from creation to fall to law to the virgin birth to the sinless life to the cross to the resurrection to the redemption to the return? Or maybe it is about the life changing power we have each day? Is it all of them? Is it different ones at different times?

You see…it just has become murky. It is really easy for everyone to use the same words but have very different meanings. Just let a Mormon in sometime and let him tell you about salvation, justification, and faith. Let a Jehovah Witnesses in sometime and listen as she tells you about the same words. The listen to a Muslim. Then a Buddhist. Then a Catholic. Then a Jew.Then any protestant Christians you know. I guarantee that you will hear the same words but hear very different meanings.

The story of Jesus. The Good News of Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus. Whatever you call it, it is wonderful. It is important. It is just as important as any other Chistianeze word I listed earlier. But Jesus…Jesus is Jesus and “The Gospel” is not…unless, of course, that is your definition of “The Gospel.”

You see… words simply mean different things to different people and our lack of thoughtfulness when we use the words “The Gospel” and when we hear others who use those same words makes us vulnerable for putting something in the blank that only Jesus should be in…and that my friends make it…an idol.

For full disclosure my working definition of “The Gospel:”

“Humanity was created to be in relationship, to have fellowship, and that fellowship was to be with the One who created us all. We were to walk with Him in the garden and enjoy the wonder of that relationship for all time, yet we rejected it. We listened to a lie and desired more. We doubted that the God of the universe was enough. So humanity fell. We sinned. We lost the fellowship we were created to have. The holy God of creation could no longer allow us into His presence. Sin became the barrier that broke our intended purpose of fellowship and worship. But as a display of mercy, God gave us the law. In the law, humanity saw just how fallen we really were, we saw just how holy God really is, and we saw how large the gap between sin and holiness has always been. Yet the law’s demands were too high, its price we were unable to pay, and the path of purity was found too impossible to live out. Still, God in His grace provided a way for the demands of the law to be met and the sinfulness of man to be atoned for all in one person, one perfect, sinless person, Jesus. Through the birth, life, death on the cross, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the just wrath of God was satisfied for the sins of all who would be drawn to Him by faith through the call of the Holy Spirit. However, the goodness of God doesn’t stop there! The life of a follower of Jesus is about so much more than the glory of forgiveness (although it must start there!). It is about the victory of the life we are now empowered to live. It is about the opportunity to love the One who has done it all and because of that love also be able to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is about taking that love from Him and returning it to Him and to others by pouring ourselves out as a living sacrifice as He makes us become fishers of men. Fishers who disciple the nations as a grateful response to eternal love. It is about the restoration of a relationship, the renewal of a fellowship, and the return to a reality that we shall once again walk with Him in the cool of the day. This is the good news of Jesus. This is The Gospel.”

I am not saying this is a perfect definition, but when I speak of The Gospel this is what I mean. What do you mean? What do the people you hear say it mean? Do you know? Ask...just please ask and then listen to see if it proves consistent. But whatever you do...don't let it be an idol.