MESSAGE: Good News or Paying Dues?

“What I need first of all is not an exhortation.  I need a gospel.  Not directions for saving myself, but knowledge of how God has saved me.  Have you any good news?  That is the question that I ask of you.  I know your exhortations will not help me, but if anything has been done to save me why don’t you just tell me the facts.”  John Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

TRANSLATION: Relativizing the Gospel

Another good program over at the White Horse Inn, featuring William Willimon: Faulty Translations

Willimon sees “Christianity is kind of like a foreign language that one is not born with,” which sadly “many preachers today are attempting to “translate” …into familiar and comfortable terms that people are used to, but the result, he argues, is that things get “lost in translation.””

Willimon points out the following:

1)       The Gospel is not to be translated as Therapy.

2)       The Gospel is not another Commodity.

3)       The Gospel is not another Life-Style Choice.

4)      The Gospel is not something you are born with.

5)       The Gospel is not User-Friendly.

6)      The Gospel does not make sense to/in this World.

7)       The Gospel creates a different world, with a different focus (i.e., Cross-eyed).

8)      The Gospel creates a counter-culture.

9)      The Gospel can make Life a bit more difficult.

10)    The Gospel is not a word about Glory (God’s making all things glorious now).

11)     The Gospel is a word of Grace (God’s condescension to sinners).

Willimon suggests asking this one question:

“When listening to a sermon, would Christ need to be CRUCIFIED in order to make this sermon work?”

Meaning, if the sermon works without Christ’s birth/godly-life/death/burial/raising/reigning, then, the sermon is not Christian.  It may be informational and/or ethical, but to be fails to be CHRISTIAN (rooted in the New Covenant!) by not preaching Him (1Cor.1.23; 2 Cor.1.19; 2Cor.4.5; Col.1.28; 1Tim.3.16).

POISON: Christless Preaching

Here we find words that hit the nail squarely on the head!  We can stop wondering folks, about what it is that ails the church, making it to look and sound so much like the world.  Cut the church off from its Head (Jesus Christ, crucified and risen!) and you have something that closely resembles a chicken with its head cut off.  Lots of commotion, but no life (in/of the Spirit). 

Just look and listen closely enough for where the Gospel is being usurped in the inner workings of the local church, and there you will find forms of idolatry that most of us would otherwise call orthodoxy.  Idolatry has a history of being subtle particularly when it is making a direct assault on the Image of God in Christ.  Remember the Garden.  It all began there one lovely day when all else was good. 

Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

“I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith. It is this preaching of the ‘good life’, or being ‘a good little gentleman’, and of viewing religion as ‘morality touched by emotion’, as Matthew Arnold put it, that has been the curse. Such men have shed the doctrines; they dislike any idea of atonement, they dismiss the whole notion of the miraculous and the supernatural, and ridicule talk about re-birth. Christianity to them is that which teaches a man to live a good life (Life in the Spirit, 19).”

Quote originally found here:   Jim Kang at Pastor’s Perspective

PREACHING: Why Johnny Can’t (4th post)

We left off last time (in our discussion about Why Johnny Can’t Preach) with a remark about the alleged Pauline statement regarding the “folly of preaching”.  I claimed that Paul did not say such.  Let us look at the text itself:

1 Corinthians 1 (ESV)

V.17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

V. 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.

V.19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

V.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?

V.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.

V.22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

V.23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

V.24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Notice that it is not “preaching” that the World considers folly.  No, rather, it is “WHAT we preach” that is folly, not preaching in and of itself (v.21).  The world and its churches preach all the time (v.20).  The world has its own proclamation.  So I dare say it is not “preaching” proper that is the problem (folly) but the Cross (God’s humiliation saving sinners).  Christ (God’s anointed) crucified for sinners is folly.  It is folly to the world (undiscerning; see 1Cor.2.14), that, CHRIST, dead and risen, is the power and wisdom of God. 

Why do I bother to stress this?  Because all too often folks are thinking that preaching itself is the answer (almost regardless of what’s preached).  In addition, too often this proclamation is being reserved for the pulpit.  Anything taking place outside the pulpit is somehow inferior.  I simply do not buy a high-church tendency that hijacks the Gospel ministry, chaining it to an elevated desk.  Granted, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed/taught God be thanked, but let us not quarantine the Word of Life to one platform when there are other acceptable ones.

Notice too, that Paul understands that a “polished” ministry is not only what the World wants (is wooed by) but is something that in itself can empty the Cross of its divine power and wisdom.  There was no shortage of such “eloquent wisdom” in Corinth and Paul knew it, repeating the matter multiple times (see 1Cor.2.1; 2.4; 2Cor.4.2; & 10.10). 

Consider also the following from the JFB Commentary:

“not with wisdom of words” — or speech; philosophical reasoning set off with oratorical language and secular learning, which the Corinthians set so undue a value upon (1Co_1:5; 1Co_2:1, 1Co_2:4) in Apollos, and the want of which in Paul they were dissatisfied with (2Co_10:10).

In sum, then, it would be the case that Christ himself is foolishness and eloquent preaching (particularly that which only allows Jesus to make guest appearances) a subtraction.  Reader beware…not only the World but believers too stumble at Christ crucified being the simple and sufficient means whereby God does His salvationing, all of it, beginning to end, from here to glory. 

One last post to come…