The title seems contradictory. Is there really such a thing as Christianity without the Gospel? It depends how we define Christianity. If it means to be born-again, saved and a follower of Jesus Christ then there is no Christianity without the Gospel. If on the other side we look at Christianity as an institutional religion, a doctrine or a mere Judeo Christian heritage, then it has little to do with the Gospel. Many today speak about threats against Christianity. There is a sense of being under attack from our secularized society, or from other religions, like Islam. We’re encouraged to fight against these forces if Christianity is going to survive, and many are doing just that: battling immorality, corruption and the secularizing forces.
Religious fervor is not new. Pope Urban II gave a stirring appeal at the Council of Clermont in 1095 AD. With the theme “Deus vult,” which means “God wills it,” he rallied people to go to war against the Islamic “infidels” that occupied Jerusalem. Young men from across Europe responded in a cause they believed to be from God. Parents viewed it as a privilege to see one of their sons dedicated to this “holy” crusade. Regrettably their cause was not to bring the word of reconciliation, but conflict and war.
Have you noticed how much God is mentioned in the public discourse? Politicians across the board end their speeches, “God bless America,” and some Canadian counterparts have added, “God bless Canada” as a closer. To talk about God or spiritual values is very non-offensive, but it gets a little sticky when Jesus is mentioned. Even then it depends on what aspect of Jesus you’re highlighting. When we speak of Jesus’ leadership skills, His servant-hood, His goal-setting abilities or the golden rule, everyone – atheist or believer – usually nods approvingly.
Today many around the world are filled with admiration for America, for its ability to renew itself, shed old prejudices and move forward. My grandfather immigrated to America almost 100 years ago, and through the twist and turns of my own life I have had an opportunity to live in America, although born in Europe.
When I enrolled in Zion Bible Institute in 1973 my roommate Steve Rodriquez, an African-American, opened my eyes to racism. This was brand new to me; I came from Sweden, which at that time, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas, was almost completely a homogenous country. We had little or no reason to interact with people of other races. Years of travel around the world and across America have caused me to hear many stories of prejudice and meet many who have been victims of terrible discrimination. Racism is an ugly sin, and regrettably the church has not always been at the forefront in rooting it out.
Passion for souls is a rare commodity. Let’s define the word. Passion is zeal, deep concern. In my blog last week, I talked about the value of a soul. I contrasted it with the emphasis we put on feeding the hungry, church buildings, programs for those who are already believers in Christ and humanitarian aid. These worldly projects receive multiplied billions of dollars, while very little is invested for the salvations of souls. Does that mean that I’m uncaring about people’s physical and material needs? Not at all. I’m grateful that United Nations, The World Health Organization, UNESCO, the US and Canadian governments, European governments, and a whole list of NGOs (Christians and others), who are relieving poverty. I believe it has helped many, and even lifted some out of poverty.
Each soul has eternal value; it can be saved or lost. Jesus puts the value of the soul above “the whole world”. Yet, this simple fact has been deemphasized in evangelical Christianity. It is rare to come across a church or an individual believer who considers winning souls to be of supreme importance. Though lip service is paid to the task of evangelism, in practical terms buildings, musical instruments, programs for believers, feeding programs and a host of other activities get priority treatment way ahead of salvation of souls. We claim to believe in the value of souls, but not much of our offerings or people resources are committed to the cause of winning people to Christ. Yet, believers and unbelievers have one thing in common; God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are soul- and eternity-conscious. Why then does the question of eternal souls take a back seat?
On Dec 10th, The Globe and Mail reported that the gay-bashing, hell-preaching Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas is protesting a Canadian high school drama in the small town of Uxbridge, northeast of Toronto. This 5-member church, which specializes in hate-mongering, is headed by “Pastor” Fred Phelps. They will raise placards that read “God Hates Canada”, “Fear God” and “Hell is real”. The protest is in response to a performance of The Laramie Project based on a story of the slaying of a gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998. The Kansas group also picketed the Shepard funeral ten years ago. It seems this little group gets publicity all over the world. Recently I saw articles in Scandinavian newspapers where they had found an occasion to protest some event or another in those countries.
Former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, acknowledged in his October congressional hearing that he didn’t have the answers or explanations for the current global financial crisis. That was a startling statement from the man many consider the world’s top financial advisor, and a striking illustration of the limitations of human wisdom [1 Corinthians 1:17-25].
Remember Phil, who I introduced a couple of months ago. Well Phil copied me a letter he wrote to someone concerned about demonic powers operating in their lives. This issue seems to pop up with a certain regularity. Born-again Christians seem to think they are caught up in a gigantic battle in the heavenlies. I think it was novelist Frank Peretti who got all this started with his “Darkness” books. Or it could have been one of many other authors. One thing is for sure, the spiritual warfare craze is not found in the Book of Acts.
Any how, here are Phil’s thoughts: