Sunday, June 27, 2010

what is the gospel

What Is The Gospel

There was an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette a couple of weeks ago – Greg shared it with a few of us – that sparked an interesting discussion. The article focused on a very large and influential Christian denomination in the U.S. and the article opened with this statement…

"Saying that 6 billion of the world's 6.8 billion people are lost and headed for hell, the SBC on Tuesday called for a 'new tidal wave of evangelistic and missionary passion”

Over the next couple of days, Greg, Jeff Moore, Keith, Nathan, Mark Edwards, and myself tossed around the implications of such a statement. Do we believe the statement? How do you come up with those types of numbers? Are they accurate? If they are accurate, how do we respond?

Lots of interesting ideas were tossed around but one of the questions raised was, for me, the most significant – with the deepest implications for the church universal and for our community here.

The question is this: What is the Gospel?

As a product of the SBC, I have a pretty good idea how they define the gospel; at least how they define it institutionally. The gospel I was taught was that God became a man and died to pay the price for my sins. That his blood was a substitution for the blood I owed for my sins and ultimately for my connection to the sin of Adam. The gospel was that I needed to accept this gift and profess my allegiance to Christ in a public way. We heard this good news – and – if we accepted and believed, we walked an aisle and made a public profession of our faith. The hope, we were told, was that when we die we will go to heaven to be with Jesus. Or… that he would someday come back to earth and take us to heaven with him. Until then; we tried as hard as we could not to sin… not to cuss or lie… not to cheat or steal… not to watch R-rated movies or listen to SECULAR rock and roll music. The attached moral code varied slightly but the core of the gospel was the same. Accept Christ – enter into a personal relationship with him – and someday leave this wicked world behind to spend eternity with him in heaven.

This is the gospel that most of us heard… it is the Gospel we have been encouraged to spread… but is it the gospel that Jesus came to offer?

This question; “what is the gospel” is pretty vital if we have any hope of unpacking the SBCs statement regarding evangelism. Unfortunately, too many traditions filter this question through a strict denominational grid. I am reminded of the old joke about the man who has gone to heaven and is receiving his welcome to paradise tour from saint peter. After seeing beautiful villages and homes full of communities of saint playing and living together, he spots an area with high, prison-like walls and razor wire. He asks peter to explain and peter responds, “shhh… those are the missionary Baptists… they think they are the only ones here”.

You could easily substitute the Church of Christ’s, the Assemblies of God, 7 Day Adventists, Nazarenes, take your pick. The point is simple – most of us were taught that the gospel is not only to be told in a very specific way but is also to be accepted in a very specific way. I wish I had access to the methods used by the SBC in order to arrive at their 6 billion lost number – and I’d be doubly interested to know who was “left behind” in order to arrive at that number. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in the world and another 240 million eastern orthodox Christians. Just these two combined – with no protestant Christians counted – exceed the SBCs estimate of those who are currently “heaven bound”.

That said… I am not interested at this moment in tearing down these numbers or focusing on denominational bias and prejudice. I prefer to again look at 6 billion question at face value. Full disclosure – I need to reword or paraphrase the question to get to my point so, here it is:

Is it possible that the gospel – the good news of Christ’s kingdom – is not reality to 6 billion of the world’s inhabitants?

All of this leads me back to the question the SBCs comment sparked in me: “What is the Gospel”

Instead of asking what definition the SBC or other denomination might offer – let’s see what Jesus said. Gospel means good news and when Jesus first speaks in public – it is to declare the good news (or gospel) that he was born to proclaim.

Jesus is in the synagogue – he is asked to open the scrolls and read. He chooses Isaiah and reads the following words:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

You see - I don't have a hard time believing there are 6 billion that have not received the gospel (or good news) so long as we let Jesus define what, in fact, the gospel is:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

As John the Baptist awaited his execution he needed hope – he needed to ask the same question we ask this morning… “What is the gospel”… he needed to know if the messiah had come – if the kingdom was really among us.

Luke 7:20-23 (New International Version)
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "… 22So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

What do you hear…? What is the gospel Jesus preached? Was it a conversion experience? A new moral code? A new religion?

Or was it the new and long promised coming of the Kingdom of God?

What is the Gospel?

Jesus said this. The Gospel is:
• Good news for the poor
• Freedom for Prisoners
• sight for the blind
• hope for the oppressed
• healing for the sick, the blind, the lame
• cleansing for the leper
• Life instead of death.

No call to conversion. No call to religion. No sort of conditions at all. The gospel – the good news – is that his kingdom is here. Now… Among us.

So again we ask… are there billions who have not received the gospel?

• 1 billion of the world’s children live in poverty
• Political prisoners – and criminals. Christ does not specify?
• Cancer
• Alzheimer’s
• Birth Defects
• MS
• Malaria
OUR Lepers:
• In Sub-Saharan Africa - 22.4 million infected with HIV virus
• in 2008 1.4 million died and another 1.9 million became infected
• 1 million with AIDS in US.
• ½ million deaths

And all around, through disease or oppression or violence, we live in a world marked by the sting of death.

Is the gospel real to those who have never seen or tasted the deliverance that Jesus promised? Have they even HEARD the good news?

” I was in Uganda last month. While there I saw, if not hell, some of its suburbs. The stories are familiar to us all - dying children, slums beyond description, systemic brokenness that robs hope. So many of those questions popped into my head - How could God allow this sort of thing? What kind of god could allow children to live like this?

It isn't a new question for me or for any of us. It is among the world's oldest questions I suspect. But as I thought about it something clicked. God isn't allowing this suffering. I am. You are. We are.

I will focus on Africa's suffering. Africa finds itself where it does today because of a billion or more decisions that people made... individual decisions. A decision not to invest here. A decision to buy a slave there. A decision to drive an unfair trade deal here. A decision to pay diamond miners pennies. Billions and billions of decisions like this have been made over the centuries. The result? Africa today.

Is that God's fault?

I think not. Because at every moment those decisions were made God was whispering for people to do the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing. But we chose not to listen.
God has done his job. We haven't done ours.

I used to think the suffering question was a serious head scratcher, a truly troubling thing - the best evidence against God. No more. I think it is largely an excuse to make ourselves comfortable in our complacency by blaming God for the suffering we aren't spending our lives addressing.”

~ David Kuo – J-Walking

Again… I don't have a hard time believing there are 6 billion that have not received the gospel (or good news) so long as we let Jesus define what, in fact, the gospel is:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed"

We should absolutely be preaching and DOING this message - just not sure there is anything in this mandate about conversion or that any sort of conditions are attached. As followers of Christ - our great commission is to preach THIS gospel. Trouble is, many in the SBC and other denominations, while not completely ignoring this call, put it tertiary to a primary goal of conversion to a belief system. It seems to me that Jesus put it the other way around.

It would seem that there are certainly billions who have not seen the reality of this good news – this gospel. So long as there is oppression, poverty, sickness, captivity... the work of the gospel of his kingdom remains incomplete.


Stickhorsecowgirls said...

well, you know my take: The SBC is wildly off. There will be only one person who ends up, forver, in hell...your guess who. C

Morgon77 said...

It helps if you follow up the passage in Isaiah with the Sermon on the Mount, which starts off with "the spirit less, the poor, the unrighteous, the broken...they already have God on their side" and goes on from there.

But it does paint a very different picture, doesn't it?