A church-planting friend just wrote me about a conference he’s attended in one of our state Baptist conventions. Plant those churches, boys, was the rallying cry, but stay out of those pubs.
Take the Gospel into the world, but stay out of anyplace that serves beer. That’s someone’s version of how the Gospel applies to church planting. Go to jungles, mountains, into the tribes of cannibals or the roughest ghetto, but stay out of O’Charley’s.
Here’s my current theory: it’s not that we are simply ignorant of the Gospel. We can stop announcing that the church needs to hear the Gospel for the first time. It’s more than that. I think most people in most evangelical churches have heard it more than adequately. (Though I am not disagreeing with myself or anyone else that many in evangelicalism’s darker corners haven’t heard the Gospel with accuracy, understanding or personal application.) They may not have your footnotes on justification memorized and they may not be wrath-anxious enough for some of you, but a lot of Christians understand the Gospel.
The problem isn’t simple ignorance. It’s primarily cowardice.
Here’s the Gospel. Here’s life. Let’s apply the Gospel to life, to sin, to church, to ideas, to boundaries, to traditions, to power, to the accepted way of looking at everything.
Or let’s not….because it could cause some trouble and we’re afraid. We aren’t going to go where the Gospel goes. We’re going to get some brakes on that sucka.
The Gospel should create a whole room full of problems from the extreme nature of grace and God’s radical forgiveness. Instead, we want our church planters to stay out of pubs. That’s not the beginning of the cowardice that accompanies the Gospel these days. We want to have fun and feel great, but we don’t want our message- THE message- to upset, overturn and explode our predictable experiences and presuppositions.
We want to blame the Muslims. We want to hate our enemies. We want our money left in the bank. We don’t want to forgive anyone who isn’t sorry. We want the men in church and the outsiders out of sight and quiet. We want the music enjoyable and the youth group fun. We want our values, politics, opinions and certainties left alone. We’ll praise the power of the Gospel to save, but we don’t want a Rock to crash into our comfortable club.
We don’t want the Gospel to DISTURB the way things are. We want the Gospel on a leash. This far and no more. We want it in a box so we can put it where we want to do what we want.
We resent- deeply- those voices who tell us our Gospel is a mini-Gospel and its power is a prop to the way we’ve always wanted things to be. Radicals are annoying. And the Gospel isn’t radical, is it Marge?
If we could hear ourselves talking about all our opinions and “values;” if we could see ourselves making the world safe for our comforts, assumptions and presuppositions; if we could see our no-risk, no-rankle, no-rock-the-boat religion- and how we keep the Gospel tamed- we would be ashamed.
At every place in history, in every church, in every sermon and book, there is one common fact: NO ONE LET THE GOSPEL GO FAR ENOUGH.
We wimped out. We didn’t want to be called liberals, fanatics, johnny-one-notes, progressives, trouble makers. So it was the Gospel that got pushed back into the closet and told to be quiet.
We don’t want a revolution that causes us to question what we’ve always been comfortable with. We want the predictable path, going where we want to go and no where else.
We will venerate other cowards, imitate their tactics and say how much they helped us understand the Gospel. In almost every case, they brought us nothing of the demands and power of the Gospel. They let us be today what we were yesterday.
If someone goes with the Gospel and strange, new, different, unlikely and uncontrollable things start to happen without our permission, we already know that’s divisive or dangerous or just wrong.
Our Gospel is safe. The Gospel isn’t safe.
Our Gospel is predictable and familiar. The Gospel is flying in a new direction.
Our Gospel is familiar and affirming. The Gospel overturns the status quo and shakes us up/down.
Our Gospel is the scenery for our little play. The Gospel runs us all out of the theater because the world is on fire…or could be.
Do we need to know more? Or do we need the courage to stop taming and neutering the announcement that turns the world upside down?
While we’re still tying the Gospel down with the Lilliputian legalisms of culture and religion, the Gospel doesn’t need our entourage around. We need to stand back and let the Gospel go places, do things and set precedents that testify to a whole new Creation brought about by a death-defeating resurrection.
We need to repent of being cowards with the Gospel.
Every so often I hear someone say “I want to see the Glory of God in all spheres of life.”
I wonder. I really do. If it moved us all out of our political/social/religious/personal/financial comfort zones- if it even challenged the opinions of our favorite pundits or preachers!- would we recognize such a thing?
Or do we mean: I want to see more of the way I think, the way I operate, the way I justify my words, attitudes and actions. When more people agree with me and act like I think they should, then Glory to the Gospel.
Like I said. Our problem isn’t that we don’t know what it means that Jesus is Lord now. It’s that applying that could make a lot of people upset.
So waiter, more of the same please.