Two Halves of the Whole Gospel


Goin' nowhere fastDo you sometimes feel like we’re not hearing the whole Gospel? Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and you get the eerie feeling that no one truly knows what the whole Gospel entails.

And it’s not just the Godblogosphere. I suspect that many of our churches can’t articulate the entirety of the Gospel.

As I see it, we’ve made this mistake of viewing the whole Gospel as two halves. The mistake—one of typical human nature— is to wrap the entirety of our brains around the one half that resonates with us the most, then act as if the other half doesn’t exist.

If we must delineate the error of the two halves, it’s best to look at the one passage of Scripture that defines those halves. We find both in Ephesians 2:8-10.

Half A:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

Half B:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Those who cling to Half A are the folks I’ll call the Elect. They obsess about doctrine, detest even a whiff of works righteousness, and are enormously concerned with getting people saved. They got their marching orders at the Reformation and consider it the high point in modern history. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

Those who adhere to Half B are the folks I’ll call the Fieldworkers. They obsess about  helping those in need, detest the hypocrisy of not walking the talk, and are enormously concerned with bettering the lives of everyone around them. They can’t point to any one point in time for their marching orders,  but earnestly believe that we need a new Reformation. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

The problem with the Elect and the Fieldworkers is that they are so focused on their half of the whole Gospel, they simply can’t bring themselves to understand the other half. The blinders are on so tight that neither group  can even acknowledge the other side’s main propositions are just as Scriptural as theirs.

The Elect easily trash the loose theology of the Fieldworkers. The Fieldworkers quickly note the clean, uncalloused hands of the Elect. To the Elect, the Fieldworkers are false teachers and heretics. To the Fieldworkers, the Elect are uncaring, self-absorbed Pharisees. Both sides point to the other and claim, “You’re not living the Gospel. I doubt you’re truly saved!”

And you know what? On that claim, both sides may actually be right!

Worrying about how you come to Christ is great, but Elect, what are you supposed to do with the sixty or so years of discipleship you have staring you in the face afterwards? Worrying about the needy is great, but Fieldworkers, how do you receive the heart of God to do so if you can’t articulate how to know God at all?

The whole Gospel contains both the power to raise the dead in spirit to spiritual life in the name of Jesus AND the power to tenderize the human heart toward the service of others in the name of Jesus.

What baffles me is why this is so hard to understand.

Why do we slice the Gospel in half then whine about the half we don’t like? Why the venom between the Elect and the Fieldworkers? Why?

The whole Gospel is the whole Gospel. If we’re not concerned with seeing people saved through hearing the message of salvation, maintaining the integrity of our doctrine, and preaching that we can’t earn our way to heaven, then we’re blowing it. If we’re not concerned about taking care of those in need, living out the love of Christ in practical ways, and fighting for the betterment of everyone we meet, then we’re blowing it.

Please Church, it’s time to believe and live the whole Gospel!

Never Give Up


I don’t always write my posts and upload them in “real time.” Last week, for instance, “Welcome to Jerkville, Population Me” was written and posted a few days before it actually appeared. WordPress allows me to post in advance, and while I don’t always use that feature, if I find downtime in my schedule, I may write a post and have it load at a future date. (I’m doing that with this post, too.)

The “Jerkville” post had already been uploaded when I received a subject-less e-mail. At first I thought it was spam (always include a subject, folks), so I let it sit while I attended to other work.

When I eventually opened that e-mail, it contained a sad story of dire need by a stranger who was reaching out to me for help. Winston Churchill said it...Always skeptical, I verified the e-mailer’s story with some third-parties. Once verified, I called every resource I knew to find a way to help. I talked with many charitable organizations, dropped e-mails to large churches in the area of this person in need, spoke on the phone with probably two dozen people, but I still have not found help.

I remember reading a story on the Web about a woman who suffered a stroke (or some other vascular accident) while online, but was able to type out a request for help. A doctor, fortuitously online in this chat room, engaged her. He was able to call an EMT to her place. She lived because of that help.

About five years ago, I decided to join an online forum on a well-known Christian site. Within a few weeks, I got sucked into a vicious conversation about singleness and money. One poster on the forum was a single guy who didn’t make much money, but wanted to get married. Several commenters continued to beat this guy up about how no Christian woman in her right mind would want to marry a guy who barely made more than the minimum wage. I could not believe the nasty things said to this poor man by supposed brothers and sisters in Christ (though I sure can now). The guy tried to defend himself, and I came to his defense several times. His posts seemed to get more frantic with time, and his online assailants just would not ease up.

Eventually, after about a week or so of this, he left a cryptic message. A few hours later, he wrote in that forum that he was committing suicide.

I came to his posted confession later that evening. Horrified, I spent hours trying to contact the forum Webmaster and the company that ran the forum. Eventually, I got patched into a hotline and directed people to the post. The response? “Sorry sir, there’s nothing we can do.”

I have no idea if that man killed himself. (He never posted again, though his assailants did. But not once did they comment on what had happened in that forum.) All I know is that no one else seemed to care. He was just some quasi-anonymous soul. Just another person. There are six-point-something billion of us on the planet, give or take a few.

It’s the “give or take a few” people out there whom I grieve for.

In talking about the plight of my e-mailer with various charities and churches, you could hear the flatness coming through the handset speaker. Just another person in need. One more family looking for a handout. I spoke with a pastor of a church in that e-mailer’s area and he said, “You gotta understand. Everyone’s poor down here.”

I spoke with a few benevolence ministries housed in suburban megachurches in the region of that person in need. They all understood the need because they’d heard it a thousand times before. But they said they couldn’t help. You could almost see the heads hanging low on the other end of the phone.

The charities, too, had people answering the phone with voices marinated in weariness. “If we help in that way, sir, we’ll set a precedent and 1,500 people will be lined up here tomorrow asking for the same thing,” one broken charity coordinator said with a sigh.

My copy of Lloyd-Jones’s Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Its Cure stared back at me from my bookshelf, and I felt so sorry for everyone involved: the person in need, the charities, the churches, and even myself. Those people who face that kind of bottomless need…well, I don’t know how they drag themselves into work everyday. Knock out one tough case and two spring up in its place, a perpetual hydra of people saying, “Can you help me? Please, you’re my last hope.”

Compassion fatigue.

I haven’t heard back from some of the resources I contacted. The optimist in me says I will, but the typical Dan suspects the worst. “The poor will always be with you,” the Lord said. I think that’s one of the saddest set of words spoken in the Bible.

Here’s some words with more hope:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
—Galatians 6:9-10

To the charity worker who lives every day knowing that the need is always greater than the resources, I say this: “Never give up.”

To the church minister who goes out every day into yet another home filled with more need than a dozen churches could manage, I say this: “Never give up.”

To other Christian bloggers out there who also receive needy e-mails, and who struggle immensely with that responsibility laid in their laps for no other reason than that they write Christ-filled words of light in a dark world, I say this: “Never give up.”

To you, if you’re a person in a crushing situation, a well of despair, that threatens to drown you and every person you hold dear, I say this: “Never give up.”

The great revivalist Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The only time you can really say that ‘Christ is all I need’ is when Christ is all you have.”

No matter who you are, no matter how tired, broken, or weary, no matter how empty your pantry, know this: when Christ is all you have, you have the greatest blessing of all.

If nothing else, take away another thought from Ravenhill: “We must do what we can do for God before He will give us the power to do what we can’t do.”

So please, please, please don’t ever give up.

The Spirit Has Left the Building—More Thoughts


So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
—John 5:19

Last Friday’s post, “The Spirit Has Left the Building,” needed more analysis, so I hope to provide that today. I noted in that post that much of the problem we have with the twin church killers of entertainment-based worship and dull routine is largely due to a lack of the Holy Spirit working in those churches. They either try to make up for the missing Spirit by substituting dog-and-pony shows, or they just make do with emptiness (and call it the norm).

I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in our churches is to assume. In this case, too many churches fall under the assumption of “Here’s our church program for this Sunday, Lord, now bless it!” That’s highly presumptive on our part. Worse, it tells God that whether He blesses our service or not, we’re going to do it with or without Him. What a sad reflection on our churches that we feel we can get along just as well whether God is there or not!

The fix to this is to structure our church meetings along the lines of “Lord, we are not blessed unless we hear what you wish to do this morning.” That humble, godly openness to receiving what God intends differs greatly from the presumptive, “arm of flesh”-based format so many churches adhere to.

This is not to say that a meeting can’t be planned, only that the plans should never stand in the way of what God ultimately desires to do in and through us on any given Sunday. It instead offers an environment of reception, where the church as a whole anticipates what God will do in and through them.

This is the church that makes a difference in the world. It mirrors Jesus’ understanding that the only work worth doing is the work God is preparing for us to do. We do what the Father is doing. As we all know, God is a spirit, so He blows where He will. And that will may not conform to our own. This requires that we be discerning, able to draw near to the face of God to know what He is doing.

Are we daring to draw near? Not always. We Christians talk a good game, but whenever I’ve pressed people in the past, the truth comes out. We’re really not all that interested in seeing what the Lord is desiring to do. It takes time to draw near, and who has that kind of time anymore?

So we should not be surprised when we fail to discern the Lord’s leading, to be deaf to His voice. For all our talk of prayer, I would dare say that few of us pray more than an hour a day. In fact, I suppose that we spend less than ten minutes a day pressing into God to see what He is doing.

Some of us are just lazy. We’ve told ourselves that God doesn’t speak like that anymore, so we toss off a few prayers and go blithely on our way. Although I suspect that if most of us read a book on prayer by E.M. Bounds, we’d get a far different picture of what it means to travail in prayer.

Others only seek their answers in the Scriptures, but—as controversial as it might be to say this—we’re not necessarily going to find a specific word from God in the Scriptures to the need at hand. Jesus knew the Scriptures better than anyone, but he withdrew for prayer for hours at a time in order to receive power for ministry and for seeing what the Lord was doing in the situation at hand. Yes, we will see the face of God in Scripture, but we must also seek His face in prayer.

Here’s one reason why we need to diligently seek God for our raison d’être as a church:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
—Acts 11:27-30

The church that actively seeks the working of the Spirit is the church that receives revelation for service. Again, that openness for hearing God direct us toward specific works in the here and now is critical to the functioning of the church. Otherwise, what we are left with is what God has done, not what God is doing. And we need to know what He is doing now.

The church of entertainment and the church of solemn contentment go stale because the Spirit is not there to guide them. In fact, I suspect they don’t really wish to hear from the Spirit because He might ask something difficult of the people gathered there. He might very well tell the people in a wealthy church to sell all they have and give to the poor. Or He may not. But how will we know if we’ve closed off the Spirit?

The church God uses is the one that lives in a state of openness to the leading of the Spirit, no matter the cost. But when we support churches that don’t want any of “that stuff” or are too busy buying disco balls, then we’ve shut down the very conduit of Christian life.

See also: