Contemporary Christianity – Part 3 // The Gospel: Misrepresented, Misunderstood, Misappropriated
Posted by Jose Philip on April 28, 2016
As terrible as it is, the slippery slope of practical deism-dualism-atheism in the church is only symptomatic. That is not what is causing the church to lose her saltiness, or blanket her light. The cause, I believe, is what we have made of the gospel; how the gospel is being preached, and why it is being received.
The gospel is increasingly being proclaimed as a pill for personal ills. This is not to suggest that the preaching of the gospel has to ignore the individual. However, in a culture obsessed with self, the preaching of the gospel without communicating its demands on repentance and discipleship will be both misunderstood and misappropriated. The call to follow Jesus must never be separated from the cost of following him. If we do, we will be guilty of preaching another gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is reduced to ‘God’s means to my ends’, and idolatry ensues when the preaching of the gospel is reduced to personal fulfilment.
What evidence do we have that many in the contemporary church are flirting with another gospel? When Christians are neither troubled by their apathy towards the world, nor appalled at their obsession with pleasing themselves, we must recognize the writing on the wall. The nation Israel was in a mess, God’s people had forsaken him, and when they were charged with unfaithfulness they dismissed it with disdain. Micah 6 tells the morbid tale of what happens when the light [in you] is indeed snuffed out. God demanded an explanation for the people’s unfaithfulness. The people nonchalantly replied ‘what do you want from us? Name it and it will be yours. Do you want us to give you thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Do you want our firstborn for the sins of our flesh?’ God was invited to name it and claim it. When the people of God lose sight of why they are his, they become part of the problem the world has to deal with. When the message of the gospel is reduced to personal wellbeing, the church will assume the posture of non-interference.
Let us approach this dilemma by attempting to frame the questions differently: “what must the world expect from the church”, “who might be responsible for the moral conscience of a society”? God’s answer to the people’s rant in Micah 6 is: “I told you O man, what is good, that you do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). We live with a deep sense of entitlement. We have a lot of expectations of God, and the world. It is important that we consider seriously what the world is entitled to from the church. The church is responsible for the moral fabric of society. Make no mistake, if the world is perishing it is chiefly because the light has been snuffed out. Light will dispel darkness only when it shines. When the gospel is misunderstood and misappropriated, there will be no place or purpose to be “poor in spirit”, or to “hunger and thirst for righteousness’s sake”. To “suffer for righteousness’s sake” is to suggest the unthinkable, and to have “trouble in this life” will be perceived as God’s absence. Hope in such a state for spiritual malformation is absent, or worse, nonexistent.
Let us learn to watch how we live in light of what we proclaim. It is not only important that we preach the gospel, it is vital that we preach the gospel as it has been handed down to us, and not as something that works for us. Jesus warned his disciples that even the elect will be deceived (Mat. 24:24); Paul cautioned the churches in Galatia and Corinth to stand guard against other gospels (Gal 1:8; 2 Cor. 11:4). We will do well to take heed, and to stand guard, paying careful attention to what is being preached, and how it is being appropriated. Os Guinness sums it well. In an interview with the Christian Post he commented,
Our central problem does not come from secularists, post-modernists, Islamists, Gay activists, or any other purported threat raised and broadcast by the fear-mongering machines. It comes from our own evangelical worldliness and our signal failure to live the Way of Jesus (Guinness, Christian Post website, June, 2011).
Summarily, the problem lies not so much “out there”, as much as “at home”, in the calloused heart of the church’s wanderings and meandering from the truth of the gospel that established her.