Can We Change The Gospel?

change-the-bibleCan we change the gospel? For years now, many theologians, politicians, and average Americans have been emphatically saying, “Yes.” According to them, we can and must change the gospel so that it can connect with the modern man and woman. Prohibitions against infidelity and homosexuality are deemed outdated and unnecessarily offensive. Instead of hanging onto the two-thousand-year old claims of a dusty book, we need to extend love and acceptance.  As Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor at Emory University, nicely summed this ideology writing, “I think it is important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority…We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience of thousands of others have witnessed to.” As Doctor Rachel Noami Remen said, “The complexity of the real world requires us to struggle to hear the Holy and develop a personal responsibility to live a good life.” We must unhinge ourselves from the slow wagon of gospel truth and embrace the rapid beauty of the human experience. We must allow people to change the gospel to fit their experience. Not too long ago, Katie Perry declared, “I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell or an old man sitting on a throne….I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable.” Depending on her shared experience, she found the modern, relevant God that she needs. To be loving and relevant Christians must embrace and tolerate such declarations of divine discovery. If we do not, we will find ourselves alone, bitter, and on the wrong side of history.

So can we change the gospel narrative? Can we add and subtract from Jesus message so that it will resemble our human experience? Should we trust ourselves?

Jesus says no. In Mark 8:31, Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his impending death, burial and resurrection. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and killed and after three days rise again.” And like many of us, the apostle Peter takes great exception to Jesus teaching.

Did We Create The Gospel?

Peter had just confessed the Jesus was “the Christ,” the messiah (8:29). But he did not fully understand how Jesus was going to save humanity. And how could he? The human experience had led him to believe success and salvation equaled human victories, achievements, and crowns. Jesus proclaimtion debunked everything Peter’s thought. Jesus delcared that the very best people in society, “the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” would perform the most horrible act in history.  According to Jesus, true Life was not found in the celebration of human accomplishment and goodness but in death and submission.

This is not the story that we would naturally want. This is not the story that mankind wants. This is God’s story. Prior to Jesus we could not concieve of a such a savior. We could not imagine such a strange narrative. We should not seek to change the gospel, because we did not create it.

Why Change The Gospel?

And because Jesus’ narrative was so radically different, Peter was disturbed. And so, he did what many of us do when we find Jesus troubling. Peter took Jesus aside and shouted, “Wrong!” Verse 32 says, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Peter took Jesus aside and said quite forcefully, “No. I do not want this gospel. This is not the gospel I signed up for. I want the Messiah who will vanquish the nasty Romans who have desecrated our temple and who have repeatedly robbed, abused, and denigrated the God’s people. I want the Messiah who will create a new and powerful earthly state. I want the Messiah that will fulfill and accomplish all my goals and place my high in authority. I want the Messiah who will validate my experiences, wants, and desires. I want the Messiah who does things my way.”

Today, you will be hard pressed to find anyone concerned about the Roman Empire imoratlized by its ruins. The modern man, woman, or child is not going to be too tempted to twist Jesus until the Messiah once again fits into the Jewish Revolutionary mold. That’s not our temptation.

We are tempted to daily twist the gospel to make a host of other goals acceptable. We tell Jesus that we will accept his gospel as long as we can have our sexual liberty. We tell Jesus that his gospel must allow us to be greedy and ignore the poor. We tell Jesus that his gospel must vindicate our harsh words directed to our kids, coworkers, and political opponents. We tell Jesus that his gospel must allow us to regularly disrespect our parents and those in authority. This is the human condition. This is our natural default condition. We want a gospel that does not require us to die to sin. We want a gospel that allows us to remain lord of our own lives. We want a gospel that vindicates a favorite sin, wants, and desires. We want a gospel that praises coveteousness and idolatry.

When we encounter Jesus’ gospel, we join the apostle Peter and scream, “No, I rebuke you, Jesus. Give me the gospel I want.”

Does Jesus Approve Of Our Changes?

What does Jesus say? Does he agree with Peter? Does he listen to Peter and hear out his concerns? Does Jesus think the human experience is a worthy standard by which to judge the world? No. Verse 31 reports, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus does not allow Peter to change the gospel to fit Peter’s context and his understanding of the human experience. Rather, Jesus says that Peter’s ideas are demonic in nature. Why? Because they originate from earth. Peter’s thoughts are the thoughts of men. And men are not naturally good. Nor are they divine in their outlook. We cannot improve upon God’s plan because we do not think the thoughts of God. We think the thoughts of little insignificant creatures. And when we seek to change the gospel to fit our wants, we are maring perfection.

Many years ago, my brother and I received a couple of packs of airplane stickers while at an air show. We thought them quite becoming and decided they were just what our room needed. We went happily about our room sticking the bright little airplanes on all of our darkly stained wood furniture. A few moments later, we invited our mom to come checkout our decorating masterpiece. Instead of watching joy spread across her face, we saw her face fill with shock and horror. Needless to say, my career as an interior designer both began and ended that day.

Though my brother and I thought we were improving things, we actually made things worse. In effort to brighten things up, we destroyed the very beauty and worth of my mother’s furniture. We could not see her thoughts. We did not understand that furniture is worth more unstickered than stickered. And so we wrecked our bedroom suite.

When we attempt to change and to force the gospel to fit our ideas and goals, we are doing the exact same thing. We take the glorious gospel of God and decorate it we dumb stickers. We take that which is perfect and make it dirty and messy and worthless. Our ideas do not make the gospel heavenly. They make it more dumb, irrational, and foolish. We cannot improve the gospel. The creation cannot improve the creator. Do not argue with God.

When the world cries for us to change, to acquiesce, and to submit to the new cultural norms, we must resists. We must realize that the gospel is not our story. Because we could not conceive of it, we cannot change it. And we must realize that our experiences, our ideas, or wants are not divine or inspired. We do not add to the truth of the gospel. We take away from it.

And now we must all face the most trying question. Will we submit to the gospel? Will we listen to Jesus and obey? Will we daily as believers repent of the gospel inconsistencies in our own life – such as anger, greedy, and sexual immorality? Will we accept Jesus’ salvation? Or will we rebuke Jesus?

The Evangelical Problem With Sin

blog sin problemIt only happened once in my life. But it happened. I threw away a Bible. Just moments earlier, I had been wearing rubber gloves, a surgical mask and a hospital gown. When the very sick and very contagious patient asked to flip through my Bible, I let him. We had a great time together, discussing our Lord and savior.  As I prepared to leave the room, he did the unexpected. He gave me back the Bible. Talk about being in a bind. When I looked at that Bible all I could see was germs, sickness, and my impending death. So…as I prepared to leave, I quietly placed the Bible into the toxic bin with my gloves and all.  There was no way, I was going to risk death. Sadly though, we evangelicals are far more flippant about our spiritual health.

This weekend, Deadpool grossed $55 million dollars. Risen grossed 11.8 million.  As Dr. Albert Mohler recently noted, Deadpool can only be such a big success (grossing over 296 million over the last few weeks) because church goers are being entertained by the very sins they supposedly denounce. And this past Saturday, 1/3 of the evangelicals in South Carolina supported a presidential candidate who regularly contradicts the scriptures in both lifestyle and policy. So while we give Jesus a nod on Sunday, we Christians are increasingly going against him on Monday – Saturday. We are increasingly ok with sin if it promises entertainment, wealth, or security. We are increasingly comfortable with death.

I think we find ourselves willing to risk spiritual death because we don’t really believe that sin is all that bad. Sure, It’s an annoyance; it’s a distraction; perhaps, it’s even a stinging paper cut. But it’s not deadly; it’s not something we need to put on masks and gloves to encounter. We excuse sin as an enjoyable albeit slightly tainted endeavor that brings minimal harm. And sure, we will try to improve upon our vices at some point. But until then, we are content to watch the sexual explicit movies on Saturday before worshiping Jesus on Sundays. After all it’s the secular culture that’s destroying America. We are not as bad as them.

The solution? We need view our sin as death. Yes, God is concerned about divorce and homosexuality. But, He is equally concerned with our secret sins whether they be pornography, pride, racism, stealing, etc. To be a friend of the world (even a secret one) means you are an enemy of God.

In Mark 1:40, Jesus encounters a leper, a man who has been kicked out of his family and community because he is physically beyond help. He is also highly contagious. In short, he is unclean. To encounter him, one risks becoming unclean. One risks physical death.

Friends, this is us. We are not Jesus. We are the leper. Our sin in not little, insignificant, or minor. Our sin destroys our lives, families, and communities. As Romans 8:13 say, if “you live according to the flesh you will die.” Don’t miss this. If left unchecked, our sins will kill us. Instead of entertaining them, we need to flee from it, screaming.

But we can’t. We are already infected with the deadly virus. We can’t make ourselves clean. And that latest five step program or legalistic rubric won’t do the trick. At the end of the day, we are all lepers incapable of healing ourselves.

We have to call out to Jesus. The leper did just this. He asked Jesus to take away his uncleanness. And, Jesus did. He touched the leper. Instantly, the man was made clean.  The way we overcome sin is to call out to Jesus for salvation.  And when Jesus saves us he makes us eternally clean; we are justified. He cleanses us from all sin.

But we are not yet perfected. We still struggle with sin. Every day, we need to continue to cry out to Jesus. We need to continually remember that all sin, even the whitest white lie brings death. We need to daily stand out the foot of the cross.

To be a holy people all seven days of the week, we have to understand sin. We have to get just how bad we are. Only then, we will see the need to depend daily upon our great God.

The Summertime Gospel

V…B…S…V…B…S…V…B…S

Summer Time GospelHundreds of kids running around downing Jell-O incased gold fish is just one of the many things that make Vacation Bible School one of the craziest but most exciting events on the church calendar.  As the week of crafts, games, and singing unfolds, Christian parents and youth have the chance to pour the gospel directly into the heart of kids. But as with all good church programs, Christians must actively work to keep VBS focused on preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.  

The Purpose Of VBS  

Several VBS publishers have begun to tailor their programs to church kids. These curriculums emphasize God’s love, obeying parents, or caring for schoolmates. They want kids to bounce out of the closing ceremony with a better understanding of how to be good Christian.

Though well intended, the move to make VBS into a summer camp-style-refresher course on the merits of moral living is not the best use of church resources. The people of God are called to be evangelistic. We are to follow Christ and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). Our goal should not be to turn outreach programs into members’ only ministries. Not too long ago, the evangelical church redid Sunday school, changing it from a program designed to reach poor, inner-city kids into a muffin filled fellowship time for adults. Now I don’t think adult fellowship times are evil. But we must be careful not to become so focused on meeting our own needs that we close our eyes those outside our walls. One program that traditionally has had an outside focus is VBS. Let’s keep it focused on the Great Commission by inviting the community to attend.

Logo-GirlThough reaching the community is hugely important, an effective VBS also needs a message that connects to those outside the church. If we call unsaved kids to be good without offering them the power of the gospel, we will confuse them in one of two ways.  Either they will leave depressed because they cannot be meet the impossible standards of Jesus or they’ll leave a VBS t-shirt wearing Pharisee, who is convinced they can conquer sin through sheer will power. Let’s not leave kids hopeless or help them cover up their sin nature with some spiritual self-esteem. Let’s faithfully proclaim the gospel, trusting that God will work mightily!  

Now when it comes to preaching the gospel this summer, we do not need to restrict it to an emotional display that climaxes with a pastor passionately asking kids to accept Jesus because “He will make everything better!” After all, who wouldn’t sign up for their best life now by repeating the short phrases of a sinners’ prayer?  

               A better option is to make all of VBS be about the gospel. We should choose curriculums or create programs that help the kids singing in our pews to understand the depths of their sin. Then, we direct these energetic souls to Christ who has paid for their sin. We offer them the hope of eternal life while reminding them that to gain true life they must abandon their self-centeredness.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

What About The Church Kids?

Now some might be concerned that a VBS focused on the gospel might fail to connect with the church kids. First, we need to remember that our good church kids might not be saved. They could be all about the nice things in life because they hope their mission’s offerings and Sunday school attendance will get them into heaven. Second, we need to remember that our goal is not to help kids pretend that they don’t need a savior. Even saved children still need to be reminded of the cross and of their need to depend on Christ alone as the live they Christian life.  “The cure for kids who feel burdened by sin is not to ignore the topic (they feel the burden anyway, even if that aren’t talking about it), but to administer large doses of the good news so that their faith Jesus grows” (Klumpenhower, p. 39). The gospel is relevant for every kid regardless of how many times they went to Sunday school.   

This summer, let’s make the VBS all about the gospel!

Works Cited

Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel To Kids. Klumpenhower, J. (2014)Greensboro : New Growth Press .