It has been an interesting week for the church in the United States. To be fair, it has been a controversial week. It’s been a week where several groups and individuals have claimed that they are the true representatives and followers of Jesus Christ. And, it all has to do with a chicken restaurant and its chief executive.
Chick-Fil-A, that famous chicken restaurant that is never opened on Sundays and always says that it was their pleasure to serve you, became the latest battleground in our country’s ongoing culture war. The latest battle was ignited by comments made by Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy to a Christian publication. Cathy expressed his belief that marriage was a union between a man and a woman. His comments set the stage for the controversy and instantly everyone was taking sides. On one side, you have people who claimed that Cathy, and by association Chick-Fil-A, stood for what is right about American and was being obedient to his faith in Christ. On the other, you have those who have accused Cathy, and Chick-Fil-A, as being anti-homosexual.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Cathy’s comments and Chick-Fil-A. So, what about you? What did you think of the Chick-Fil-A controversy? What emotions did it bring up?
Even though the nearest Chick-Fil-A is in Lexington, it is important for us to recognize that the controversy does not escape us. We can ignore the controversy’s political rhetoric. If we look deeper we will see there is something for us to examine. For us, the controversy is part of two larger questions that are being asked throughout the church and society, especially in the United States. What is the Gospel and what does it mean to proclaim the Gospel?
If we listen to the rhetoric, we would hear the common refrain that “their” side is the one truly following the message of Jesus Christ. Both sides claim to be in agreement with Jesus’ love and example. Both sides, especially on the national level, seem more interested in winning than in hearing the heart of God. There is something missing in our interest in being on the “winning” side than in deeply following Christ. That is this: What is Jesus’ message and how do we know if we are in obedience with such a message?
Throughout the summer, we have focused on the kingdom of God. We started by defining it and then we looked at what it means to be the kingdom. This month, we will examine what it means to proclaim the gospel. How do we proclaim the gospel in polarizing times? How do we exhibit grace in a culture that struggles to exhibit grace? Then finally, how do we proclaim the Gospel in ways that shows people that God has a purpose for their lives?
In a culture that is stripped of grace and truth, the only thing we have to stand on is the proclamation of the only true Good News the world has ever experienced or heard. That is the message of Jesus Christ.
First, what do we mean when we say, “the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
When we think of the term “gospel,” we think of the four books that open the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We use it as an identifier to these four books. However, the term is more than an adjective. The Greek word for gospel, evangelion, denotes an important announcement of good news. It is a specific announcement of something that must be heard and shared. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.
The message of Jesus Christ is the announcement to the world of God’s redeeming love and hope. It is the message of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is the message of salvation and reconciliation that is received through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. That is the message we proclaim each day. This is truly the good news for the entire world. Good news that Christ came and dwelt among us. Good news that Jesus died the cost of our sin. Good news that death and the powers of this world did not and do not have the final say. Good news that Jesus lives.
The gospel is not merely found in the four books that are known as “gospels.” All of Scripture proclaims Jesus Christ. Every word, every phrase, every chapter, and every book announces to the world that Jesus Christ is our hope and salvation. This message is why we are here and it is what we are called to share with others.
It is a challenging message. The gospel challenges our basic ideas and calls us to the hope found in Jesus Christ. Several points in Jesus’ public ministry highlight this. The Gospel called 12 regular Jewish men to follow Christ in deep discipleship. The Gospel challenged the religious leaders of the day in their understanding of what it means to be obedient to God. The Gospel called sinners to repentance and showed the righteous the errors of their ways.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down walls and opens the Kingdom to all who would believe. It embraces all and welcomes all. It announces the truth that God’s power exists and seeks to bring all people into a deep relationship with the Father, through the action of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter if you are white or black, gay or straight, rural or urban, left or right, Catholic or Protestant, a sinner or saint, the Gospel calls everyone to faith and deep discipleship.
We live in a time where proclaiming the Gospel can be a challenge. We’ll talk more about this in the weeks to come. For now, there is a reason for this: The Gospel is not about us. It is about God’s redemptive activity in the world through Jesus Christ. It is the power to save and redeem each and everyone of us.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:24-25, to the world the message of the Gospel is foolishness. It is contrary to the world’s power and desires, so the world seeks to make Christians ashamed of our beliefs. But, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not ashamed of the Good News. Romans 1:16 tells us we have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul held on to the promises of the Gospel when the world sought to limit his proclamation. He proclaimed the Gospel after being shipwrecked, arrested, persecuted, and jailed. He never ran from the Gospel. He never hid from its message. With love and grace, Paul proclaimed the hope of Jesus Christ to a world in need of its hearing.
I want to be like this. I want you to be like this. I want our churches, whether it is our charge, our district, our denomination, or the global church to be like this. Yet, so often we are not. We struggle with this. At times, we are all guilty of living as though we are ashamed of the gospel, either through our words or the life that we live. Take a moment to examine how you are living today. If you minimize what the Gospel of Jesus Christ says in order to appeal to someone then you are acting as though you are ashamed of the Gospel. If you try to align the Gospel to fit your own personal agendas of how the world should be, then you are acting as though you are ashamed of the Gospel. If you are leading a life that is counter to the ways of Christ and claim to be a Christian, then you are acting as though you are ashamed of the Gospel.
We must not be ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is our hope. It is the Good News for us and the world. As well, it is our calling to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. This has some implications for us.
As a church, everything we do must be about proclaiming the Gospel by our words, actions, and presence. Everything we do must be focused on the church’s main purpose. If we are doing something that is beyond the truth of the Gospel, then we must re-evaluate it and take an honest look at why we are doing those things. At the same time, if there are things we should be doing in order to proclaim the Gospel in our communities and world, we must be in prayer and seek God’s guidance for doors to open.
As individuals, we must remember we are all called to embrace and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Preaching on Sundays is not the only time the Gospel is proclaimed. It is proclaimed everyday by how we live our lives. People notice how you proclaim the Gospel by seeing if whether or not your faith has an influence on your life. You can have the biggest impact in proclaiming the Gospel by how you lead your life, how you share your life with others, and the difference you make in expressing love to those around you.
That is why the Chick-Fil-A boycotts and Appreciation Day were so disturbing to me. We missed an opportunity to share love and truth. What we saw was a failed opportunity by so many Christians to offer the love of Christ to so many – gay and straight – who believe the church has ignored them by focussing on partisan political battles instead of spiritual needs. As a fellow pastor in Georgetown said, if Jesus was here in the earthly presence this week, he would not have been found at Chick-Fil-A. He would’ve been with those who felt the church had nothing for them. The Gospel would have been engaging the same people the church has struggled with how to love. The Gospel would have been telling the story of God’s love and holiness.
We have a great story to tell. But, in our proclamation of the Gospel we must not recreate the boundaries that the Gospel has already torn down. Our call as the church and as individuals is to proclaim that God is love, God is truth, and God is holy. We should not be ashamed of this message. We should not try to change its words to fit our needs. We should not try to make it say something that is politically appropriate.
We must simply proclaim and announce to the world that there is Good News. Jesus came. Jesus saves. Jesus lives.