Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christians Need to be More Honest about the Gospel

Think about "the Gospel" for a moment. Whatever that means to you.

Now, remove anything related to Christ's death and resurrection. [[Note, this is a thought experiment, I'm not actually advocating that we remove such things from the gospel. Just work with me a bit...]

Now, remove anything related to Jesus being the Messiah.

What do you have left?

I think for most Christians the answer is "not much."

I'd like to challenge those Christians and everyone else to ponder a bit the gospel message of Jesus and His apostles.

The Bible indicates a wide variety of instances where Jesus and others spread "the Gospel" prior to His death. This includes John the Baptist preaching "the Gospel" before Jesus' public ministry. It includes Jesus preaching the Gospel throughout His three years of ministry on Earth [the word "Gospel' is not used in John's account, but "Word" is more or less his equivalent.] The disciples are sent out partway through Jesus' third year of ministry to preach the gospel to the surrounding areas.

What were these people preaching...and why is it called "The Gospel"?

At this point you might be looking at me like I have a third eye or a "I love Twisted Sister" tattoo on my forehead. But I'm serious...what do you think Jesus and His disciples preached as "The Gospel" during that time?

The reason why this is an interesting question is that no one knew Jesus was going to Die. Of course Jesus knew He was going to die, but the disciples didn't. Luke 24:26-27 and John 20:9 makes very clear that none of His disciples had realized that He was going to die, so what kind of Gospel were they preaching if no one had figured this out?

Note, I'm not saying Jesus never alluded to His coming death. It's sad I have to write this disclaimer, but you would not believe how many people read the last two paragraphs and immediately attack me for saying that Jesus never said He was going to die. I'm not saying Jesus never alluded to this event, I'm saying that it could not have played a role in the Gospel He and His disciples taught because no one understood His teaching.

We are told of many people who "believed" the message Jesus gave, and the apostles took that message to everyone else...which means whatever that message was, it couldn't have anything to do with Jesus' death. It would be hard for disciples to take a message to everyone that they themselves did not know!

Furthermore, whatever this message, this "Gospel" was, it couldn't have anything to do with Jesus being the Messiah either. It was not until rather late that even His own disciples identified Him as the Messiah, and that was not due to Jesus' instruction but by divine intervention [as Matthew 16:17 makes clear.] Furthermore, after Jesus verifies this, He tells them not to tell anyone!!

And that brings up another great question. It's easy to see why the gospel the modern Christian church preaches counts as "good news." But that message more or less disappears once you remove any reference to Jesus' death...that means that not only do we have to wonder what the message Jesus and His disciples taught was, but we have to wonder why it was good news (which as most know, is what "gospel" means)!

To add to the bizarre state of things, we see that even the message Jesus tells His apostles to take to "all nations" is not at all like the gospel Christians teach today. If you read Matthew 28:18-20 carefully, you'll note that Jesus is not saying "Go tell everyone about me in order to save them from Hell."
Instead Jesus says "Go teach them to obey the commands I have already given you, because I have been made Lord over Heaven and Earth."

It is worth pointing out here that these apostles that were told to make disciples of all nations only went to the Jews. No one preached to the Gentiles until nearly ten years after Jesus' resurrection. Anyone who believes the original Gospel was about "saving souls" is instantly making villains out of Peter, John, and the other apostles. Do we really think these holy men of God desired to abandon all gentiles to Hell? That is the logical deduction one is led to if we believe the early Gospel was about "saving souls from Hell."

But that isn't what the early Gospel was about. In fact, the word "hell" doesn't even appear in all of Acts. Not one time. Acts is the most abundant repository of early teachings to new believers by the original apostles, and the word Hell never even comes up in the nearly 20 passages describing their teachings in Acts.

So, regardless of what we teach as the Gospel today, we owe it to all Christians and anyone else to point out the original apostles never thought they were "saving souls" in the way the Gospel is described today. While we're at it, it might prove worthwhile to consider what the Gospel Jesus and His apostles preached really comprised.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Silent Responsibility and Danger of the Great Commission

When you say "The Great Commission," all good Protestants know what you are talking about: Matthew 28:19-20 .

Everyone takes this as an active call to go make converts [though clearly that is not the point... Jesus tells people to make disciples and to teach people to obey everything He has commanded, which fits well into the view of salvation shown in the Later Prophets, but Christians have never been very good about letting those passages encroach on their doctrine...perhaps if Paul had written Ezekiel and Malachi the would be read more...] but I digress, I think it is important to look at the non-evangelistic side of this responsibility.

Consider Matthew 5:19 and Luke 17:2 [which may or may not be referring to believers], and then consider Luke 12:42-47

Luke 12:42-47 is an interesting parable describing a steward left in charge of a household. The master comes back and finds people not doing his will. Jesus describes 3 classes of people. The steward in charge is both killed and "assigned a lot with the unbelievers." Those who knew what they should be doing but were not doing it were punished severely while those who did not know what they were supposed to be doing [and hence were not doing it] are given few lashes.

At the time of Jesus' telling the parable, He is referring to the priests who had failed in teaching the Jews how to please God. That aspect of the parable is clear. [Most of the middle chapters of Luke deal with attacking the leaders of the Jews who had failed in their roles as shepherds.]

What is unclear are the eschatological implications [what does it mean to have a light beating? How does a severe beating differ from being assigned a lot with the unfaithful...which for the Jews would mean being cast out of the covenant...]

It's not surprising that the eschatological implications are unclear, the Jews have never had a clear understanding or prescription of the afterlife. There is almost nothing about the afterlife in the entire Old Testament, and even though Daniel 12:2 describes a resurrection the idea really didn't take hold in Jewish culture until the intertestamental time.

What is more concerning and important is the application of this passage to Christians today, assuming there is some application. Given that God has removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles and subordinated all of Creation to Christ's rule, we must think of all men [including those who do not believe or have never known of Christ] as being "in the household.' Jesus is, after all, the propitiation for the entire world [1st John 2:2] and savior of all ("especially those who believe") [1st Timothy 4:10], so it is best to think of all people as in God's nation....just some do not know who their King is.

But if that is the case, and Christians are instructed to show others how to please God, as the great commission indicates, what ramifications does that have for us when our actions drive people away from Christ or following Christ's teachings? Christians need to take very seriously the effects we have when we are not "spreading the Gospel."

If verses like Ezekiel 3:18 [one of many verses that say the same thing] are any judge, if we fail to adequately warn people of the need to repent [one of the most common teachings in acts] and indeed cause them to "stumble" by turning them off due to our stereotypical judgmentalism and hypocrisy, there could well be a reckoning. After all, recall Jesus' warnings to His own disciples in Mark 9:50 [people would do well to note that the entire passage in Mark is told only to the disciples]