Friday, October 21, 2016

The Far-Reaching Gospel


Nearly four hundred years ago, a movement within the Christian community engineered the future of the church by stressing field preaching, aiming to draw in young people, the writing of innovative hymns, taking those hymns outside the church, and meeting together in small groups. The fields have become streets, and street preachers are not typically well received. But the overall plan suggests a modern approach.

Of course, nobody wants to hear how European pietism of the 1600s shaped modern evangelism. Not right now. Too many oddities have swept over Christianity in the new world and this is not the time to delve into church history. What we need now is the safe comfort of an American Bible-belt sanctuary filled to the last pew with clean-cut, straight-laced, but not too politically correct believers. We want the familiar, the good old-time religion. We don’t want the wrong crowd, the radical music, the broad political agenda, or the apprehension of too much evangelism in a hostile environment. We just want a place to call our own where the outsiders won’t bother us. Maybe that’s a good definition of church for some, but it doesn’t carry the Gospel into the broken world.

While the movement of those long-ago believers progressed, their culture endured political and religious wars. In the thinking of most of the population, the evil of slavery was socially acceptable. Witchcraft and paganism were common. This was no Bible belt. If the average family had access to scripture, it wasn’t in the form of several faux-leather copies piled unread in the den. This was a harsh existence for most. The voice of the Gospel, however, rose above the obstacles as it always must.

Living the Christian life has never been easy. Looking back, it may seem a more pleasant and peaceful saneness blessed a generation or two at various points in history. But peace not found in Christ is an illusion. Sometimes, it’s a very good illusion that demands to be kept. Then a generation comes to its senses by revelation or oppression, and the Gospel moves. It reaches into a stained society to free those wrenched in unbelief. It calls to the ones deemed unclean. It meets the threat of perversion. It counters the claim of irrelevance. It is a far reach the Gospel sustains into the uncomfortable places we thought we could avoid.

It is the joy of the church to tell the old story anew in times of trouble. It is not the privilege of the church to remain forever content in its surroundings. Our security is not of this world, nor our hope in this world. Our guarantee is not to remain citizens of a Christian nation. Nor should we think our national leaders are anything but appointed by God for some purpose. If their objective proves detrimental for us, then God will be sufficient. And by His will the message of the Gospel will become a louder cry.  


A very old hymn that was once new:

Christ, the Life of All the Living

Christ, the life of all the living;
Christ, the death of death our foe;
Christ, for us yourself once giving
to the darkest depths of woe:
through your suffering, death, and merit,
life eternal we inherit;
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.

 You have suffered great affliction
and have borne it patiently,
even death by crucifixion:
our atonement full and free.
Lord, you chose to be tormented,
that our doom should be prevented;
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.

Lord, for all that bought our pardon,
for the sorrows deep and sore,
for the anguish in the garden,
we will thank you evermore.
For the victory of your dying -
sinful nature mortifying -
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.