To assume the Gospel is to lose the Gospel

To assume the Gospel is to lose the Gospel

“If you get to the place as an individual in a family or in leadership in a local maxresdefaultchurch, you get to the place where the Gospel is that which is assumed, but which you’re not particularly excited about, the next generation puts the Gospel to one side.  It assumes it too but doesn’t really care.  The generation after that loses the Gospel.

So when you come likewise to something like the Lord’s Supper, I would argue that one of the groups of churches that is most likely to lose the centrality of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, is precisely the Plymouth Brethren; precisely because it’s so central for [them].  That’s not an insult, it’s a perennial danger in every denomination:  that which is most understood to be central can accidentally become that which is merely assumed – and then is on the edge of being lost!”

D. A. Carson

“A perennial danger” maybe the perennial danger.  I have found that as wonderful as being involved in a church can be, the power of assumptions are quite something to behold.  We assume too much because what we assume is too little.  There is a cognitive displacement that takes place, as though the Gospel is a stepping stone to actual ministry, or actual church business:  The Gospel is actual ministry and it is actual church business.  I suppose it gives rise to the reason why Carson would also say “I cannot think of  why any thinking Christian would not want to study theology.”  

Any departure from the Gospel is, of course, a catastrophic mistake more serious than if the escaping Israelites had set up home in the middle of the parted waters as they escaped the despotic Pharoah.  Many churches have “set up home” in the place where they are still being redeemed, because they have assumed the Gospel, they have fallen for the perennial danger; they have cuddled the wolf thinking it is a lamb.  This leads inevitably to a fossilising of corporate church life and of personal devotional life.  That is how the theological wolves pacify the churches today.

Institutional monotony is as alive and well in decaying Catholic churches as well as so-called charismatic-evangelical churches.  Give us a baby in a manger any day but do not give us the Christ who walks on water or wakes the dead!”  The Gospel obviously gives both – and shows that the baby doesn’t stay in the manger because he likewise doesn’t stay in the boat….or the grave for that matter.  A water-walking, dead-rising Messiah is a Messiah we can’t control, and the moment we have controlled him…’s not Him but another sentimental Hymn of slogans (this is the point to say that a truly great hymn can be reduced to sentimental sloganeering no less than a soppy bad hymn – it is the culture in which it is sung that makes the difference).  If it is a culture of Gospelised content, then wonderful.  But if not, then it is noise and wind!

Let us not lose sight of the Gospel because we’ve been too busy or too lazy to see it.  In 1534 John Calvin wrote on the importance of the Gospel, the opening of which reads:

jean-calvin-028“Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness…”

I have quoted it in full here, and it is a brilliant reminder of the things that are of first importance.  Our cognitive displacement is, I think, part of our tendency to sloganeer words rather than live with their reality and depth.  In other words, actual biblical content has been displaced in favour of mere words that are biblical but function as religious slogans.  This happens in our worship, mission, evangelism and devotions.  Often, what we think is Christianity is a parody, a shadow a pale reflection.  The Gospel, and all its content and entailments is biblical Christianity.  An assumed Gospel is a sloganeered Gospel, empty of power, depth and meaning – and who wants that?  Not me!

And we say this because we love the church.  And we love the church because Jesus loves the church.  Dodman Cross

The Rise and Fall of God

Ascension Day: ‘The Rise and Fall of God’

Luke 24:36-53 (Acts 1:4-11)

Ascension Day! I know, I know, most of us are like: Say that again!

Most of us who have been Christians for some time now and heard of this strange thing called ‘The Ascension of Jesus,’ but, if truth be told, we treat it like we treat a Big Issue seller: We know it’s there, but we can’t wait to get passed it and onto other things.

And even when we do, for a brief moment, consider the ascension of Jesus, we will most likely have those embarrassing images from film and TV in our heads of that awkward moment when Jesus is blessing his disciples, hand raised (as we see in much post-Enlightenment art), as he is strangely lifted into the sky, and hid behind a fluffy cloud. If we’re not laughing at how silly it looks on the screen, we’re certainly left wondering if it really happened like that!

Bright scratches

And so the Ascension of Jesus has become like that embarrassing uncle everyone avoids at weddings. It becomes a footnote in history and to the gospel story we tell. By all means mention the teaching and the cross and the resurrection and the reign of Jesus, but….well, the ascension is more than a tad embarrassing.

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Without the Gospel

I came across this brilliant piece in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, an excellent tome in its own right, and one I have mentioned before on this blog, here, here and here.  Without the Gospel was penned by John Calvin as a preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s 1534 translation of the New Testament.  I’ve used it in communion services a couple of times, and I hope you can find a way to use it too, it is simply, simply brilliant.


Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.


And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

jean-calvin-028With thanks for this great painting capturing Calvin the Pastor to Kelly Rider over at Poesies & Rye

Church: Do not neglect meeting together

John Calvin commented on the problem of Christians giving up on meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), as they have done from the beginning until now, and we all know churches and maybe even our own friends and family who have done such a thing, he said,

“There is so much peevishness in almost everyone, that individuals, if they could, would gladly make their own churches for themselves…This warning is therefore more than needed by all of us that we should be encouraged to love rather than hate and that we should not separate ourselves from those…who are joined to us by a common faith.”  

For some people, if they don’t like something or someone, they leave the church.  This is individualism trumping the gospel; a decision that is often devoid of gospel content, and never borne out of the agony of prayer.  When was the last time we heard of someone leaving a church because of heresy?  How many people leave because they were hurt and refused the medicine of the gospel to bring healing and reconciliation?  The priority is rarely the Gospel-of-Christ and almost always the ridiculous parody of the  gospel-of-self.  Scripture warns us most clearly in Hebrews 10:25 and elsewhere to be alert to this.  This is evidence of secularism in the church.  And it must not be.

The Church is a Gospel people and we do things the Gospel way.  Any other way is a dead end.

On a lighter note, I thought “peevishness” is a much under-used word today.