Putting an end to the Funeral Gospel.
Several years ago I attended a funeral for a dear friend who lived and ministered in our community for decades.
And, though this friend had a full life, he still – for so many – died at too young an age. As such, his death was an untimely and terrible reality to face for dozens, even hundreds, of family and friends.
As is often the case for funerals such as this, the church was packed.
Well into the service, a pastor took the pulpit and gave a moving message on the love of God and the hope we have in Him.
He told heart-tugging stories, one after the other, of people of faith who have gone before us and whom we are certainly hoping to see again.
He strung together soul-stirring phrase after phrase until the crescendo of the entire service, when he convincingly said, “Don’t you want to know this Jesus?”
Followed by a pulsating, “If you want to see this person again, then make a decision today! Right here, right where you are, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus as your personal savior.”
Every Head Bowed and Every Eye Closed . . . Come Again?
Then, in the closing, he asked that with every head bowed, and eye closed, those who made a decision for Christ, to raise their hands.
I, of course, peeked and saw that dozens of hands went up.
Twenty years ago, I would have been encouraged by such a scene. And, in fact, I’ve preached a similar message all too often. On this occasion, just a few years ago, I felt dismayed.
I left the funeral knowing that the preacher had presented a truncated and abstract version of the Gospel!
I’ve come to refer to this truncated version of the Gospel as a two-chapter, transactional Gospel. I knew as I drove home that day, that if that’s the only gospel those folks ever heard, then they simply never heard the Gospel.
At least not the whole Gospel!
Unintended but Catastrophic Consequences
The reason that I believe this two-chapter, transactional Gospel is not a picture of the whole Gospel is because of the outcomes that follow from our commitment to it.
A specific outcome to which I am referring is one where the person(s) who made a decision for Christ then leaves the funeral service and effectively puts Jesus on the shelf until they die.
Because they know – at last – where they will go when they death finally comes knocking.
This place is heaven, of course.
One might argue that such a response isn’t always the case. To that, I’d say, “Yes, you are right.” But, I’d also respond that, though it’s not always the case, often – very often – it is the case!
Honestly, this type of shelving Jesus until the afterlife response is normative because it’s exactly the type of response the question expects!
The preacher asks:
“Want to see your friend again one day?”
“The one that you’re mourning right now? This dear friend whom you’re not even sure you are going to be able to live without?”
“Then, you better say yes to Jesus now – right now – so that you can see him/her when you die.”
If the only thing that matters is where I will go when I die, then there is no need to be concerned that the Gospel might shape the life I live until then.
As such, the Gospel asserts no real authority or influence over or in my life. Such a Gospel not only fails to speak to the realities of my life today, but it’s a Gospel that I can intentionally refuse to listen to even when or if it does.
Sacred Versus Secular?
Further, such presentations lend themselves to an “I’m in/You’re out” way of living that divides us into opposing factions and breaks the world into different categories of what’s “sacred” versus that which is “secular.”
The Bible makes no such distinctions. That’s right. You’ve been
taught it does, but it doesn’t divide creation and creature into neat categories of the “haves and have-nots.”
The Bible does, however, speak to the reality of an enemy. This enemy rails against the human soul at every turn.
It’s this reality to which the Four-Chapter, Relational Gospel so forcefully and invitingly speaks. It’s this space – the space between what’s now and not-yet – that the Four-Chapter, Relational Gospel inhabits.
Putting an End to the Old by Proclaiming the Original Good News
In my last post, I began exploring four areas of life that, in today’s mainline Christian economy, remain untouched by the Two-Chapter, Transactional Gospel.
These four areas the very reason why the Gospel was first announced!
These four are:
- The Good News Gospel Revitalizes the Cultural Mandate.
- The Good News Gospel Reframes the Great Commandment.
- The Good News Gospel Reinvigorates the Great Commission
- The Good News Gospel Reveals the Kingdom of God, present in and among us, through Christ.
The order may need to be reversed. For example, starting with number 4 might be the right place to start.
For now, we will leave it as it is.
Doing so will help us come to terms with the fact the Good News Gospel begins before my sin and goes beyond my redemption.
Disrupting to Renew!