For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep…(I Corinthians 15:3-6)
That’s the Gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again, and I appreciate the emphasis on eyewitness testimony to those truths.
I think many of us are guilty of, at least at times, of making things the Gospel that are not the Gospel. We add on statements to these verses. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and… abortion is murder -or- homosexuality is sinful -or- women have a certain place and role in the church -or- young earth Creationism -or- being Republican -or- baptism by immersion -or- Reformed theology -or- social justice…etc.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that these other issues are not important. If you read my blog often, for example, you know I’m egalitarian and have strong views on the role of women in the church. I’m passionate about a number of issues. There is a time and place for these other things, and our faith should have societal implications. Yet, we shouldn’t make things the Gospel that are not the Gospel. We can do this in various ways…
Once in a forum for a class, someone insisted that if you were sharing Jesus with a gay person that you must make sure you bring up their homosexuality and clarify for them that it is sinful. Really? When we share the Gospel it is indeed important to emphasize that everyone is sinful and that Jesus died for our sins. But pointing the finger at specific sin? Isn’t that the role of the Holy Spirit? Often it takes spiritual growth and progress over time for our sins to become apparent to us – whatever those sins may be. And the Gospel is not “clean up your life first, and then come to Jesus” but come to Jesus and then through Him your life will be transformed.
In the recent Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate, I was impressed at one point when Ken Ham admitted that Creationism is not the Gospel, and that a person can be a genuine Christian and have a different view on origins. Some might argue that because Ham runs a whole organization about young earth creationism that he has elevated Creationism over the Gospel. There might be some truth there. But I was none-the-less impressed by his comment in the debate, and Ham does emphasize the Gospel often in his ministry – and on that I will defend him.
Are we refusing to be friends or have fellowship with other Christians simply because they have different views on some of these issues? I’ve come in contact with Christians on both sides of the women in ministry debate who shun those on the other side. I see this as indicative that we have elevated this issue above the Gospel.
Yes, some things are not debatable. Orthodox Christianity has core, non-negotiable beliefs such as: the triune nature of God, Jesus being fully God and fully man, Christ’s death for our sins and bodily rising again, salvation by faith, etc.
Even good things such as helping the poor and fighting for social justice can get elevated above the Gospel. As Jim Wallis has said, churches are tragically split between those who stress conversion but forget its goal, and those who emphasize social action but forget the necessity of conversion. We should be concerned with social justice (and evangelicalism has been sadly deficient in that area) – but it should flow from the Gospel.
This is a speech to myself as much as to you. Back in my 20’s, I definitely elevated the abortion issue over the Gospel and the pro-life movement became like my religion for awhile. While I’m different today (but still pro-life), other things can distract me from the Gospel. So lets not forget what was of first importance (I Corinthians 15) – because that is what changes everything.