This article is based on writing I did two years ago for myself. I adapted it to be in a present tense and relate to recent articles and to express myself in past tense.
For a while now, it seems that the church has been rolling through innumerable struggling conversations. Even a few weeks ago, I wrote about how I don’t think I’m an evangelical anymore. There’s not an easy answer to any of the questions we face on a daily basis. These conversations are difficult because they cut to the core of our identity, and they’re terribly messy and almost illegible words. But this nasty mess of words is all I have here, so bear with me
For a while now, I’ve felt that there are two different gospels going around in our churches.
One says “Jesus was born to die for your sins and so that you can go to heaven instead of hell, so pray this prayer and follow these rules to show that you believe.” The other says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, so live as citizens of a Kingdom where Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Look closely. Do you see the difference? On the surface they’re close enough to be mistaken for each other, but look at what they imply and you’ll see how radically different they are.
One is concerned with regulating behavior, and one is concerned with justice, equality, and healing. One anticipates Christ’s return to destroy his enemies and snatch up the faithful to heaven, the other looks forward to the eventual restoration of all of creation. One draws a line in the sand and separates those who disagree, and the other welcomes those that have lived as outsiders.
I know that these are very general statements, and most of us live somewhere in between these. But I think you understand what I’m talking about.
I believe that over the past few years, we have been witness head-on collisions between these two gospels.
A clear example of this happened a little over two years ago when World Vision came under fire for allowing gay couples to serve in its ministry. At their announcement, ten thousand Christians withdrew their support. Ten thousand Christians stopped funding the impoverished, the needy, the starving because they decided their dedication to morality trumps their dedication to those in need. Their doctrine was more important than the real-life children who depended on their generous support.
In the days after, we saw people say that their particular brand of Christianity, even the gospel itself, lives or dies on the exclusion of LGBT people from the church. “Heaven and hell hang in the balance” they claimed. They grabbed a few verses from across scripture, and declared that this was “at the core of the gospel.”
I sat by, dumbfounded.
Have we forgotten what it looked like when Love incarnate walked barefoot among us?
When religious systems wanted to build walls, Jesus wanted to break them down and welcome people in.
The sick. The lost. The hurting. The widows and orphans. The exploited. The cheaters. The prostitutes. The racially excluded. The ceremonially unclean. And yes, the gay people that you can’t possibly believe really know Jesus. They all have a place to call “home” in the Kingdom of God.
We seem to just stand there with our hands on our hips, wagging our fingers at Jesus.
How dare you heal on the Sabbath; It’s not Biblical. How dare a Samaritan be the hero of the story; he’s unclean. How dare you let that woman touch you; don’t you know she’s a sinner? How dare you allow gay couples to serve in this ministry; don’t you know they’re assaulting traditional marriage?
To all of this, Jesus shrugs and opens his arms to them anyway.
This is the message strewn all throughout the Gospels:
Your moral codes do not trump the grace and mercy of Jesus.
Your rules for how people should live out their faith can’t limit where and how Jesus chooses to work.
All your doctrine, your cries of “Lord, Lord, did we not defend traditional marriage in your name?” isn’t worth a thing when the Kingdom falls into the hands of the very least of these, the same ones you pushed away and kicked to the curb because you’d rather walk away than walk beside a Samaritan.
Verily Verily , I say unto you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
This whole time, I’m constantly hearing the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Galatia:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Let me say this and let it be clear: If your rules about morality are at the heart of your gospel, it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Friends, there’s really only one gospel. But there’s a lot of people that bother us, distorting the gospel of Christ.
With words like sticks and stones, they lay claim to our religion and declare themselves the sole arbiters of faithfulness, the only true interpreters of the Holy Words. They alone know exactly what God’s intentions were when He inspired His word. They make their favorite rules prerequisites for entry into the Kingdom of God. They force sincere, loving people to choose between a heart of generous compassion and an abstract threat against “marriage”.
They wield the “Gospel” like a threat- until even the Apostle Peter denies his brothers and sisters in Christ like he once denied Jesus himself, because he fears those who declare that their way is the only way to be a Christian.
It’s as if these people never even read the stories of Jesus, how over and over again He turned moralism and doctrine and Biblical rules upside-down just like He did to those tables in the temple. It’s as if they never listened to the parables he told, how the outsiders and the rejects and the sinners are the rulers of Heaven. It’s as if they’ve never read the book of Acts, how the Spirit of God keeps drawing the circle of the beloved bigger and bigger, inviting in all those who labeled “unclean”.
But listen to me- They don’t have a copyright on the Gospel.
The gospel is free, and cannot be bound, bundled, bought, or sold. It can’t be bargained with or boycotted, held hostage to the whims of those whose pet prejudices want to leave you standing on the outside unless you conform to their interpretations of how you should live out your faith.
Listen- do you hear it?
Can you hear the whisper of grace beyond these walls of rules that they built high to keep us in?
There’s a better Gospel- I can feel it deep in my bones. I can remember it faintly etched on my heart. I can see it glowing like the sunrise beyond distant mountains.
I’m leaving to go find it.
Do you want to come with me?