October 19, 2017

From the iMonk Archives: Gospel Relevance=Gospel Application

Since we have been discussing the Gospel and how it shapes our Christian lives, let’s continue the conversation by taking a look at this classic IM post from April, 2007.

It amazes me that the apostles immediately know- they KNOW- that Christianity has to be applied in ways they had never thought before. Perhaps the story in Acts 10 is a window to how the Holy Spirit stirs us up to get off of the roof and down into a Roman’s house.

The Apostles apply the Gospel broadly. There must be a different kind of economics. There must be a different kind of inclusion around the table and in relationships. There must be prayer, breaking bread, teaching doctrine, but there is more. You cannot leave out the issues of hunger, inclusion, assistance, mercy ministries, economics or even political theology. While you can point out the kinds of issues that weren’t addressed, it’s remarkable what kind of issues are addressed…and how they are addressed.

“Christian culture” is always a counter-culture, not a consumer culture, an entertainment culture or a political lobby. “The Church” is a gathering of people loyal to Jesus who believe certain things, but it is a movement of people who apply the gospel to those issues in their midst that demonstrate the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

There is a lot of scholarly controversy over whether the “communal” passages in Acts reflect the teaching of Jesus or whether the Apostles are going beyond what Jesus taught and forcing an application of the gospel that Jesus did not require.

This “either/or” may be missing the point. If a particular form of the application of Jesus’ teaching turns out to be a failure on some level- such as the communal experiment of Acts 2 and 4- that does not mean that it was wrong to conclude “the gospel must be applied and practiced, as well as believed.” If this is a failed “program,” it is not a wrong application of the Gospel. Jesus leads us to issues of ownership, the lordship of mammon and the meaning of being one body. We may not see the Acts “commune” passages repeated throughout the New Testament, but we do see the relevant questions and hear the relevant applications in most of the New Testament letters.

For example, Paul may not have approached the issue of slavery the way a Justice Mission might today pursue the same issue. But does anyone argue that Paul believes Christ does not transform, undermine and put in motion the eventual end of slavery?

This is why I can commend many Christians for their attempts to put the Kingdom of God into practice even if I disagree deeply with their particular application. I have mixed agreement with many liberals and conservatives, but I commend them for seeing that Jesus has a meaning for politics, relationships, community and culture.

This is the kind of “cultural relevance” that many churches and younger leaders are seeking that is ignored or misunderstood by critics. Caricatures always criticize younger leaders and missional churches for seeking to be “cool,” but what is to be said to those who are asking these questions:

What are the pressing human needs in the community that surround us, and how can we help meet those needs?

What are we doing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widow and visit the prisoner?

What are the ethics of building when the maintenance of facilities takes away substantial support for mercy ministries?

What priority can we give to supporting denominational programs as we seek to use our resources to become a missional congregation?

How do we connect the gospel as proclamation to the application of the gospel?

How can we make our gospel application meaningful to those who see any application of the gospel as capitulation to liberalism?

How can we keep our application of the gospel from manipulation by those with agendas that are not Christ-centered?

How can the teaching of the faith and the application of the faith in proper balance so that the faith confessed and taught is never displaced by works of any kind?

One other thing is sadly clear: there were and will always be people who do not want the Gospel to change things. They want women in their place, economics ordered as best benefits them, politics left to the politicians and “those people” left to suffer since the poor will always be with us. The only widows who should be cared for are the ones they know. People of different color, different beliefs and different religions aren’t our business. We should grow our church by sticking to our own kind.

That kind of sad thinking- untouched by Jesus and the power of the Spirit will always be around, and those engage in it are usually generous with their views. The application of the Gospel means responding to those kinds of opponents as well. We give an answer, we choose to suffer in order to love, and we keep doing what Jesus would do.

Comments

  1. “How can we keep our application of the gospel from manipulation by those with agendas that are not Christ-centered?”
    this question is to me the most important. the answer is Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”. That last line is very important. I hear everyone yelling “we have God on our side”, we are not stopping & listening to God. The Gospel is relevant today, but often times people are trying to form the gospel into their agenda instead of the Gospel forming their lives & work. When we read the gospel we should be humbled. I’m not seeing much humility today from either side of the coin. Let us stop, wait, & listen before we walk humbly with the LORD. peace

  2. “I have mixed agreement with many liberals and conservatives, but I commend them for seeing that Jesus has a meaning for politics, relationships, community and culture.

    This is the kind of “cultural relevance” that many churches and younger leaders are seeking that is ignored or misunderstood by critics.”

    Sumarized:

    Relevance. ” What should I do that pleases God and makes him happy?” “What does christianity and being a christian have to do with making things better on earth?”

    Truly Godpleasing outward earthly righteousness has only two elements:

    self-discipline (aka mortification of the flesh) + love for neighbor.
    Love = actions that make the earthly life of our our neighbor better.

    This true, ie God Pleasing righteousness. Simple logic sees that this kind of true righteousness requires no faith in christ to do and so is not christian or even “christian.”

    usually people call righteousness what is not. their “righteousness” misses love or misses SELFdiscipline.

    False righteousness that is useless to neighbor and (therefore!) not pleasing to God:

    neither SELFdiscipline nor love is done:

    This is where christians assume it´s their duty to work on the SELFdiscipline of others.

    Only self discipline is done:

    following man made rules like tithing, abstinence, self flagelation, or works designed to point up to God to please him rather than pointing to neighbor. Man purposed to serve law rather than law purposed to serve man.

    Only “love” is done. self discípline is skipped.:

    we muddle and medle in the lives of others. resulting in “he meant well”. if we are lucky. acting in “love” on impulse without considering consequences. this is the stuff unwed pregnancies are made of.

    None of this stuff requires faith or christianity. Christians need Jesus as savior and abraham as a faith-example. we don´t need christ as example (a new moses that is) or a sweaty abraham.

    But once we have Christ as Savior, we should not leave Christ as Example behind!

    THIS is how we are “relevant”. In EXACTLY the same way God wants pagans as well to be relevant: Serve your Neighbor!” Love your neighbor!

    • Christopher Albee says:

      fws, it seems you would contend with the Apostle James most strenuously when he says that we ought to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:21-27). How would you respond to James if he should ask you, “Show me your faith without your works”? While it is true that good works may be done by both pagans and Christians, for the Christian good works testify to her faith. How might I know that you have faith in Christ if not by your works? By your words of love and kindness toward the author of today’s article?

      • Dear Christopher,

        How do you feel Saint James would argue with the definition I provided? as follows:

        TRUE Outward righteousness : selfdiscipline + love for neighbor. love being actions that make our neighbors earthly life better. As St James says very correctly: God loves this stuff!
        Yet Romans 8 tells us that it will perish with the earth along with those who seek to live here.

        How do you feel st James would argue with this “strenuously” dear friend?

        Can you tell me just one outward visible thing you do as a christian that a pagan would never do? Testimony needs to be visible in a way that differentiates yes? What do you do as a christian that looks in any way different from what any pagan can do?

        Then there is The Righteousness of faith: Christ. it will never perish, nor will those who live in this righteousness. We should seek this Christ as Savior whom we cannot do withhout and once we have him, we will also love the Christ as Example, as one more Moses and James, to guide us in what is very necessary to do to truly Love our neighbor and so be righteous and pleasing to God in our outward actions.

        ” By your words of love and kindness toward the author of today’s article?” I don´t see anywhere where I addressed the author in his person as you are saying , anywhere in what I wrote. I addressed what he wrote, and tried to answer the questions he raised from the perspective of what I believe is the truth.

        If I lacked charity, love or kindness in any of that, then I DO need to repent of that. How do you feel that your comment, not pointing to any specific can help me come to that repentence? It can´t. So yours is a use-less comment. Therefore it is the opposite of true love towards me.

  3. “One other thing is sadly clear: there were and will always be people who do not want the Gospel to change things. They want women in their place, economics ordered as best benefits them, politics left to the politicians and “those people” left to suffer since the poor will always be with us. The only widows who should be cared for are the ones they know. People of different color, different beliefs and different religions aren’t our business. We should grow our church by sticking to our own kind.”

    To put it into a more contemporary context: The behavior, ethos and verve of The Kingdom and its corresponding culture looks more like Martin Luther King Jr., and less like Richie Cunnigham and Happy Days. So much of what passes for Christian Culture in North America is nothing more than a nostalgic and whimsical yearning for the Golden Age of Americana circa 1945-1960.

    • Jason, it is so good to hear someone say that.

      • Ditto.

        And of course it was not a Golden Age. There was child abuse, rape, embezzlement, domestic abuse, greed, theft, prejudice, injustice, adultery, lust, bullying, lynching, starvation, and whatever other kinds of sin and the results of sin you care to name.

        The perceived “Golden”-ness consisted largely of the fact that these things were much, much better concealed from those of us who did not suffer them ourselves.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’m just old enough to remember the tail end of the Nifty Fifties, the First 1960s.

          NO WAY WAS IT THE GODLY GOLDEN AGE YOU HEAR FROM CULTURE WAR PULPITS, but it did incorporate many things that we should have kept during the following turmoil. The sense of style, the can-do optimism (“To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before!”), the sense of decorum, order, and respect. Why did we end up discarding some things we might well have been better off keeping?

  4. Christopher Albee says:

    fws, I have tried to follow your line of reasoning, but without success. It seems you initially understand iMonk’s definition of the gospel to be that of the Gospel according to Matthew, which you declare contains law (presumably by way of the Sermon on the Mount?). You then conclude that the article itself is an application of Law, but since we are under grace, iMonk’s application (and his whole understanding of sanctification) is flawed. Am I close?

    To sympathize with your point of view, iMonk’s understanding of the Gospel is not stated explicitly. However, it is somewhat broader than the Romans Road, if I may paraphrase very roughly. Yet the article is not discussing ‘works-righteousness’ or some such thing (though according to James we are justified by works). Rather, the article presupposes our understanding that the Gospel is the Good Announcement of the Kingdom of God having arrived among us in the Person of Jesus Christ and proven by the things He did and taught. The Gospel is later completed in His death for our sins, His burial, resurruction, ascension, and promise of return.

    The Great Commission commands the Apostles (and by extension, all Christians) to extend the Kingdom of God in this present evil age by declaring–and applying–the Gospel to the end that we make disciples in all nations. It is this very declaration and application of the Gospel by the Apostles in Jerusalem that many were added daily to the number of those being saved in early Acts, as well as during Paul’s itinerant ministry described later in Acts and his epistles. We would be wise as bearers of the Gospel not to neglect the needs of those around us whom we must reach. Indeed, how can we speak the Gospel faithfully with our mouths and not apply it with our hands as we speak?

    As for your thoughts regarding sanctification, I am befuddled. Your view would lead to antinomianism.

    • christopher, my response to you was unreasonably long, and so the moderator respectfully deleted it. we can continue this offline by email if you like. email fwsonnek@gmail.com. by the way I feel your comments are both thoughtful and right on point.

  5. fws – sorry, I disagree.

    The Kingdom is not a neat division of law and gospel; the Gospel is more than just ‘hear and believe this’.

    Systems that chop it up into “these are the correct beliefs – which comprise the Gospel – and these other are optional practices – which comprise Law” do violence to the whole of the message.

    • Dear sister martha,

      Your comments are not use-ful to me. They cannot be used to help me improve if you do not cite the specific place where you disagree with me.

      Could you help a brother out and show me some love? thanks!

      I want to agree and say amen to something you said dear martha:

      The Gospel = Christ. You are so very right. it is so very much more than intellectual assent or even belief in a set of propositions. even the devil assents to and believes ALL the historical facts about the Gospel doesn´t he?

      So you are so right! The “Gospel” IS Christ incarnate and trust in that Christ. Who He is, what He did, and why De did it.

  6. This is a massive question… because it has so many subtler questions embedded in it. One that stood out, though…

    “How can the teaching of the faith and the application of the faith in proper balance so that the faith confessed and taught is never displaced by works of any kind?”

    For me, that one comes back to the motivation. Are we motivated to act because of intense thankfulness for what we’ve already received, or are we motivated to act because we’re still trying to receive it? From the outside, the actions look the same, but the motivation is completely different.

    It can be difficult to wade through this, especially teaching it or living an example of it. I think I’ll have to come back to this post in the future to consider some of the questions more. For now, I’m almost overwhelmed by it. My site is all about practical application, so it’s something I constantly must keep in perspective.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

    • What about those of us who don’t act because of “intense thankfulness,” but just because we know good works are the right thing to do and our Savior asks us to do them?

      We’re not trying to displace faith with works, but we perform works, because when we accepted the salvation of Jesus Christ, we recognized that there was a price to be paid and an obligation to be faithful to his commands.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And Christian motivation can also be subject to one-upmanship games. “I’m More Intensely Thankful Than Thou…”

      • Christiane says:

        Hi THY PEACE,
        We are ‘commanded’ to be transformed and to be of service to others.

        If you go to the seventh chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, verse 29,
        there is mention that Jesus taught ‘as if one having authority’.
        Perhaps it is the same today: people will only listen to the message if they feel that the messenger ‘has authority’ (?)
        We have all seen the difference here where people sometimes argue a doctrinal point;
        and then the same person on another occasion, will speak ‘from the heart’ in a way that ‘connects’ or ‘resonates’ with something in our own souls.
        The ‘believability factor’ may lie in the degree of commitment that the speaker has to his/her message which enables the Holy Spirit to act through him.
        Is the listener hearing just another intellectual doctrinal argument set forth in arrogance and pride?

        Or is the listener permitted to witness the humble sharing of a deeply-held vision of Christ which has transformed and illuminated the speaker’s life ?
        ‘Deep calls to deep’ and the Voice of the Spirit is able to speak through a humble and thankful believer to another person’s spirit. It’s not just the that words one ‘says’ that communicates Christ to others. It is so much more than that.

    • Maybe the proper motivation question comes down to not so much intense thankfulness (although that certainly should be a motivation, but not necessarily a condition we must wait for before acting), but rather a recognition that our good works are only meaningful within the context of Christ’s overall redemption of creation. We have faith that Christ will bring His kingdom and somehow incorporate our meager efforts into His work of renewal. N.T. Wright says this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Cor. 15 where he ends a passage expounding on the resurrection with the exhortation to “give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”.

  7. Yes, the gospel has relevance for all aspects of life: economics, society, politics, work, and even entertainment. The blueprint of all this is found in Scripture, not what we think is good or right.

  8. How can we keep our application of the gospel from manipulation by those with agendas that are not Christ-centered?
    That can be difficult — especially when you consider that all of us have our own collection of personal agendas, and, in that sense, we need to first defend our applications of the gospel from ourselves. And that involves the painful process of trying to distinguish between those things that we want to do for our own reasons and those things that God woud have us do for His reasons. If you’re lucky or blessed enough to discover an activity in which God’s and your own agendas converge, then you just might have found a life-long ministry to pursue. But don’t fall into the trap of equating your agendas and desires with God’s will. Sooner or later, He calls all of us to do things we don’t want to do — or even stop doing something we like to do. How else can we learn obedience?
    When it comes to group applications and missional activities, I think a plurality of leadership can help to prevent the thing from becoming one person’s crusade to change the world. Even with plural leadership, a type A personality in overdrive can still manipulate the others into line with his or her personal agendas. And sometimes it’s not even intentional. Some people just don’t know how to be involved in something without also being in charge of it. Be loving and patient with such people, but be firm also. Stand firm with the others in denying absolute control to such people, giving that person the choice of either learning to be a team player or moving on. Usually, control freaks with no intent of changing will leave such a situation and look for one they can control.
    In the case of outreach activities in the community, I think everyone involved should agree from the get-go that there will be absolutely no advertising for a particular church or denomination. Whether it’s a real underlying motive or not, people will percieve it as such and write off your good works as just another ploy to suck more people and their money into your religious group. Just do what you came to do in Jesus’s name, don’t be preachy, and leave it at that. If your good work does open an invitation to share the gospel, then, by all means, do so — but don’t just invite someone to your church and hope the preacher will take care of that for you. And keep in mind that in order to bring people into a relationship with Him, Christ often calls upon us to enter into a relationship with them first.
    In this age of consumerist Christianity with heavy-handed Christian agendas saturating the airwaves, I think more discreet, non-showy applications of the gospel are sorely needed — along with a more personal, Christlike touch.

  9. MOD: FWS—Comments this long are unacceptable. If you want to communicate with another commenter to this extent, email or post your own blog. Stick to responding to the topic, please.

  10. The crux is, and always has been, contextualisation.

    Incorrect or correct – that is the question.

    Too many in the name of relevance and seeker sensitivity often incorrectly contextualise.

    Mark Driscoll and many of the ‘latest’ Emerging guys all are a perfect example. [Though Mark is certainly a mixed bag]

    “Preach the Word!”

  11. Chaplin Mike,
    Thank you for the refreshing post. I strongly agree that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about transformative application. As enthusiastic as I believe Christian worship should be, it is lacking, if it doesn’t move the believers to respond to the needs of those around them. Consequently, in my context, which is known for poverty, unemployment, lack of coordination among service providers, we find ourselves involved in improving these areas. We have a long ways to go. But we are at least conscious of the right path and crawling up it. Thanks.