Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Good News Is Never Old News

I've been pondering lately the nature of the church and her mission in today's world, nearing two millennia after Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Ours is a time when many talk of a "new kind of Christian" and of "dialogue" with the culture, implicitly arguing that there's an "old kind" of Christian that can not properly relate to today's culture. That's a concept I reject, but it's a notion that is symptomatic of a greater ill: finding the preaching of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ to be, well, old news.

Now, the Good News is seldom, if ever, dismissed in any Christian community as old news, at least not in a straightforward polemic. But I fear that many times the way we engage worship and preaching treats the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as a stale narrative or as background noise, rather than the heart of our being and mission of the church.

In a post-Christian America, it's easy to presume that all Americans are familiar with the Gospel but reject it nonetheless. As such, it's become fashionable to think that the New Testament model of preaching, preaching, and more preaching is bound to fail. Dialogue and interactive (rather than didactic or expository) preaching are held up as more successful tools of ministry.

But the proper public ministry of the Gospel has always been and always will be centered around preaching Christ and Him crucified, as it's the preaching of the Gospel that God blesses as the instrumental means for calling men and women to new life in Christ and sustaining them in growth in godly character.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, [5] as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” [Rom. 1:16-17]

[...]

11
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? [3] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Rom. 10:11-17]

That preaching the Gospel can seem ineffective to critics is for one of two reasons: Christ isn't being properly preached from the pulpit and/or the seeming lack of conversion and obedience to Christ is held forth as evidence that preaching fails more often than it has measurable success.

But as Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote to the church in Corinth, Christ crucified will always be foolish to the vast majority of people:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, [2] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being [3] might boast in the presence of God. [I Cor. 1:18-29]

"The word of the cross" is and ever will be folly to those who are perishing, but to those that God has raised to new life in the Son, it's the sweetest, dearest word of all. The spotless, sinless Son of God took on human flesh, lived the sinless life we sinners from birth could never live, died the wrathful death we deserved, taking our place for our sins, and rose again physically from the dead to everlasting life as testimony of and firstfruits of the glorious resurrection God promises all who trust in His Son Jesus.

That's good news now just as much as it was 2,000 years ago and even well before that, for this is what centuries of Hebrew prophets eagerly yearned for but did not see. (Matt. 13:16-17; I Peter 1:10-12;)

Let's never let the Good News seem like old news to us. But with Paul, let's rejoice in the gospel and how it reveals the "depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God." (Rom. 11:33)

And as ambassadors of Christ, let's continually, ceaselessly and passionately make our appeal to a lost and dying world to be reconciled to Christ. Let's preach the good news. Let's preach the unconditional surrender to God's sovereign rule that He is calling us to faithfully preach:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. [2] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling [3] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [II Cor. 5:16-21]


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