Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Social(ly Acceptable) Gospel

Two weeks ago, I was standing in the kitchen with my five year old daughter, Helen, and my two-year old, Josiah. He was squawking over something he couldn't have, and Helen stepped in with her wealth of five-year-old wisdom to save the day.

Helen: Josiah, you'll go to Heaven if you stop doing bad things.
Me: Whaaaa??? No, that's not right.
Helen (anxious to get it right): Josiah, you'll go to Heaven if you love everyone.
Me (facepalm): Noooo, that 's not right either. How do we get to Heaven?
Helen (aware she was standing on theologically shaky ground now): Josiah, you'll get to Heaven if you believe in Jesus as your savior and obey Him.

Ah. There we go. Finally.
But it got me thinking.
Isn't it just like the heart of man to avoid the issue itself, this pathway to Heaven, and create trajectories (as Al Mohler calls them) off the true Gospel?
In two seconds, my little daughter revealed that she is Everyman in her effort to preach a civil Gospel.
And in two seconds, she totally missed the Truth by landing on either side of it.

For the Gospel is not civil.
It is not complimentary to us.
It makes much of our sin.
It makes much of God's holiness.
It makes little of man's filthy efforts to rectify the situation.

Anything that calls itself a gospel which does not climax at Calvary is an inferior gospel.

Helen's first effort at trying to preach the Gospel, that we must stop doing bad things, results in a works-based Gospel. It is, in fact, the idea preached in all other religions: that to be right with God, we must behave a certain way. Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism all preach this kind of end, that we obey a law or add our own righteousness to God's to achieve right standing with God.

Helen's second effort in trying to preach the Gospel, that we must love everyone, results in a social gospel. It gives the idea that we can love people into the kingdom in place of telling them the truth about who they are, who God is, and what He plans to do about it. It's the 'if necessary, use words' approach. This one is more subtle because it seems so civil, so dignified, so kind.

But it is sooooooo wrong.
Words are always necessary to communicate the Truth.

The social gospel is really the socially acceptable gospel.
It recoils from icky things like wrath, blood, sin, and death.
And that is precisely what makes it an inferior gospel.
It diverts the purpose of Jesus' coming away from salvation and toward holy volunteerism.
But not once did Jesus feed the poor
or build a hospital
or advocate for the disenfranchised.
Not once.
Not once did He enter a town with the purpose of healing.
Oh yes, He did heal. But that was to testify to who He was.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Luke 4:18-19

He came to feed the poor?
He came to preach the gospel to the poor.
He came to heal the blind?
He came to proclaim sight to the blind.
As in, say something,
As in, do more than simply restore ocular function.

Building a hospital
or working a soup kitchen
or rescuing trafficking victims will alleviate temporal suffering.
Doing a skit for a nursing home will entertain the forgotten elderly.
Working in government will preserve common grace and civil society.
But none of these things will save souls.

Not ever.

Who we are doesn't matter a fig to God's plan of salvation.
It never has.
Consider the angel of death sent by God in Exodus.
Consider the Israelites.
Brutalized and impoverished by their captors.
Attempted genocide by the Egyptians.
Strikingly similar to many third-world nations today.
Did their position as the tormented and disenfranchised keep them from the angel of death?
It did not.
The only thing that spared anyone was the blood of the lamb.
The fact that their lives 'sucked' did not earn them special protection.

(Let me pause here. I hate that word: 'sucks'. But I can't find another one that communicates quite the same essence.)

In reality, their plight looked like this:
Your lives 'suck' AND the angel of death is going to kill you...
unless you are covered by the blood of the lamb.
And to know God's requirements about the lamb, Moses had to tell them.

Only preaching the Gospel will save souls.
And to preach, we must open our mouths.
We must tell men they are not, will never be, good enough to go to Heaven.
We must tell them they, like us, are sinners in need of a Savior.

(And we must build hospitals
and work soup kitchens
and rescue trafficking victims.
That was not Jesus' mission.
And that is not our mission.
It is downstream of our mission...
but it is not the mission.)

The social gospel is not a gospel at all because it does not save.
Here we must take our cue from the Lord Himself.
The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus for His earthly ministry.
And his earthly ministry was to preach and to proclaim...
not to heal or feed or advocate.

Jesus came to share the bad news:
You are poor AND you are going to Hell.
You are abused AND you are going to Hell.
You are blind AND you are going to Hell.
You are all lawbreakers no matter how much you've been someone's victim AND you are going to Hell.

And He came to share the good news:
You may still not have enough food, but I will be your Bread of Life.
You may still never see this world, but you will see God.
You are still a lawbreaker, but I will be your Lamb of God...
Because I will die for you, and I will secure for you forgiveness,
and I will bring to completion the good work I have begun in you.
And I will go to prepare a place for you in Heaven with my Father.
And I will return one day to take you there....
IF you are covered by the blood of the Lamb.

Then He did what He came to do.
He died.
He rose.
He imputed.
He justified.

It is finished.

This is the superior Gospel because this is the Gospel that saves souls.
And no social gospel will ever achieve that because no social gospel can.

(Many thanks for What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.)