“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 [NRSV])
LOUISVILLE (PNS) In 164 days the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) community will gather in national council as the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit. If the 220th General Assembly (2012) 550 days ago was any indication, we will come away from next General Assembly as an increasingly divided body as we debate and deliberate on questions about same-gender marriage, mid councils, Israel/Palestine, and with the prospect that several hundred more congregations across the denomination are in the waiting to seek dismissal to other ecclesial contexts. What is at stake for us as Presbyterians is the Gospel witness itself, and of our life together as a covenant community.
The challenges and entrenched shibboleths we have as a Church are real, serious and deep. It would be irresponsible to ignore them or diminish them; it would be unbecoming of us as disciples of Jesus Christ to simply barricade ourselves from those with whom we disagree, or, worst yet, to sequester ourselves from the world in which we have been called by Jesus Christ to offer and extend the compelling, transformative power of the Gospel, and instead fall prey to the temptation of an inward-looking, ecclesiastical narcissism.
What if 2014 was a year where we collectively and individually recommitted to our baptismal calling, a renaissance in the Gospel? This means that whether you are in a congregation that has been dismissed, are thinking of seeking dismissal, or are committed to remaining in the PC(USA) – the call of our Lord remains unchanged. After the votes are tallied, the speeches made, and the tweets tweeted, you and I are still disciples of Jesus Christ, and we all are held responsible to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s be clear what we mean when we say “Gospel” and “Good News.” The Good News is not lowercase “g” and lowercase “n” good news. The Good News is not whether your particular argument, overture, policy proposal garners the majority, or whether a church court or civil court or state legislature or Congress made a particular pronouncement or approved a particular piece of legislation.
The Good News that transforms, that saves, that redeems human hearts is that one distinctive, unique message described in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [15:1-5]
This is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. In short, Jesus Christ who is the Lord, is the One who was born, lived, died, rose and ascended.
So transformative is the Gospel that the apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:16 that it is “the power of God” to salvation and, for that, notwithstanding what may happen in the church and in the culture and world around us, “For I am not ashamed.”
I have been privileged and humbled to have witnessed in so many places in the United States and around the world where the Gospel is being proclaimed in word and in deed, and, in some contexts, where the lives of Christians are threatened, forcing them to meet in secret house churches, where being “gentle as a dove and wise as serpents” is the way to proclaim the Gospel in subversive but powerful ways.
Let every one who has the breath of the Holy Spirit proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let every one who has ears to hear, to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us proclaim it, not just in the works we do, but in actually saying on our lips, with the power of the Holy Spirit, with conviction but with humility, that God as Jesus Christ has come, has lived, has died, has risen, has ascended and invites you to follow Him, to trust in Him, to live the rest of your life in Him.
May 2014 be a renaissance year, a renaissance in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.