The last few days I have doing a great deal of meditation, reading and reflection about the contemporary Church in contrast to the Apostolic Church (Early Church beginnings to the 4th century), what the essence of the “Gospel” happens to be, and the Church’s impact on society. It is a lot to work through and I am far from finished, but I am on a trajectory that is taking me somewhere, and it is connecting a lot, and I mean a lot of dot are coming together revealing some truths that are worth exploring further. I have no doubt that much of what I am discovering could over time make up a book or books, and in this case, multiple related blog posts. But one thing at a time.
The Kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of men and the subjugation of the Church
I am a student of history, theology, philosophy and politics, and all four disciplines are are interconnected along with other disciplines such as sociology. When you delve into one stream you end up into many other tributaries that are connected to one larger flowing and emerging river. When looking at the history of the Church in the world, there is a span of some 2000 years to cover, examine and review the significant characters and the roles they played in the major events in the corridor of Christian history. How the Christian faith emerged from a rag tag gang of Judean rebels in Palestine, to become in less than one generation the greatest threat to the Roman Empire is a story worth reviewing. We have all heard or read, and in the case of the age in which we live, we likely have seen the videos on the various video sites on the Internet, primarily YouTube, where the history of the Christian Church is readily available with a multitudes of story lines, from multiple sources and various historical perspectives.
So what is the deal, and where to begin?
It is my contention that the “Gospel” we hear preached in our contemporary postmodern world, is nothing more than a lukewarm watered down version of the Apostolic Gospel that was once preached to the saints of God. It has been so watered down, that the reality of who Jesus is as Saviour and Lord of the world, its King and Emperor, restorer, repairer, sustainer, has been reduced to a personal Saviour who simply saves you so that you can go to heaven. THAT is a watered down “Gospel”.
Have you pondered the first “Gospel messages” found in the Book of Acts? I venture to say, that if you read those sermons, really read them, and what they proclaim, within the context of a hostile society, and realize the historical context, and what the message of the Apostolic Gospel was to that society, you would realize that it is not a simple message of getting people saved and ready for heaven. Rather it was a direct challenge to the established order of society, and that the Lord of the universe and His Kingdom was directly challenging the kingdoms of men. It was a clash of ideologies and power and might. The one was rooted and grounded in the peace that Christ came to establish and rule the earth by, and the other rooted and grounded in power and might and the use of the sword to wield and rule the peoples of the earth. One was driven by the law of love and grace, while the other by political power through military might.
This is the context of the early proclamation of the Gospel. This is the reason why for 300 years the Church was persecuted. This is why when Constantine hijacked the Christian Church in 312 AD and used Christian symbols as some kind of talisman, and won the Roman Civil War at Milivan Bridge, the Church became subjugated to the state, and the Gospel message was changed from a radical peace message to a just war message.
In 313 AD with the Edict of Milan, which brought toleration of the Church, and bastardized it and gave the Church imperial protection, wealth and influence which compromised the Church into a willing supporter of the State and its use and abuse of power and violence, and in effect became its chaplain. It thereby distorted the Gospel of peace, and rendering Jesus to a “personal Jesus with a message of personal salvation”, diminishing and at times totally obliterating the true message of peace and the salvation message of Jesus as Saviour and Lord of the world.
The Book of Acts reveals the Gospel as a challenge to the empire culture of the day, and a fuller understanding the Gospel as a salvific and transformational agent of people and culture and society
Of the twenty sermons that are included in Acts, seven of them are clearly related to missional Gospel preaching. For example, Peter throws down a fantastic Spirit-inspired sermon in Acts 2:14-39 that leads to three thousand conversions (Acts 2:41). As C. Richard Wells notes (Inspired Preaching: A Survey of Preaching Found in the New Testament), “Paul is the missionary preacher par excellence” because he preaches to Jews in Damascus (9:20, 22), Jerusalem (9:28-29), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2-3), Corinth (18:4), Ephesus (19:8), and Rome (28:30-31). Luke actually writes down four of his sermons (13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31; and 28:24-28). Gospel missionary sermons have the purpose of converting people to Christ.
|Major Sermons and Preaching in the Book of Acts|
|Peter to Crowds at Pentecost||Peter’s Explanation of Pentecost||Acts 2:14-40|
|Peter to Crowds at the Temple||The Jewish People should repent for crucifying the Messiah||Acts 3:12-26|
|Peter to the Sanhedrin||Testimony that a helpless man was healed by the power of Jesus||Acts 4:5-12|
|Stephen to the Sanhedrin||Stephen reviews Jewish history, accusing the Jews of killing the Messiah||Acts 7|
|Philip to the Samaritans||Philip flees Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen and begins to preach to the Samaritans||Acts 8:5|
|Peter to Gentiles||Gentiles can be saved in the same manner as Jews||Acts 10:28-47|
|Peter to church at Jerusalem||Peter’s Testimony of his experiences at Joppa and a defense of this ministry to the Gentiles||Acts 11:4-18|
|Paul to Synagogue at Antioch||Jesus was the Messiah in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies||Acts 13:16-41|
|Paul and Barnabus at Iconium||Paul and Barnabus spoke boldly in Iconium’s Jewish Synagogue, causing many to believe and disbelievers to stir up opposition||Acts 14:3-7|
|Peter to Jerusalem Council||Salvation by grace available to all||Acts 15:7-11|
|James to Jerusalem Council||Gentile converts do not require circumcision||Acts 15:13-21|
|Paul and Silas in Prison||Paul and Silas preach to the prison guard after a terrible earthquake||Acts 16:31|
|Paul in Athens at the Areopagus||Paul preaches the Gospel in the Athenian culture that has no knowledge of the God of Judaism||Acts 17:22-35|
|Paul to Ephesian Elders||Remain faithful in spite of false teachers and persecution||Acts 20:17-35|
|Paul to crowd at Jerusalem||Paul’s statement of his conversion and his mission to the Gentiles||Acts 22:1-21|
|Paul to Sanhedrin||Paul’s defense declaring himself a Pharisee and Roman Citizen||Acts 23:1-6|
|Paul’s defense before Felix in Caesarea||Paul proclaims his righteousness and judgment to come||Acts 24:10-21|
|Paul to King Agrippa||Paul’s statement of his conversion and zeal for the Gospel||Acts 26:2-23|
|Paul to Jewish leaders at Rome||Paul’s statement about his Jewish Heritage||Acts 28:17-20|
*Much of the information in this chart is taken from Nelson’s Complete Book of Maps and Charts (1996).
The need for the return of the Apostolic Gospel of Peace
The Apostolic Gospel declares Jesus Christ to be the Saviour and Lord of the world and all the people in the world. That is a gargantuan claim that challenges every philosophical, religious system, political ideology on the planet, and in particular it challenges those that wield power and might and military power. Jesus is Saviour and Lord over all. It is not just about personal salvation, but rather the redeeming and restoring of the whole world, and all of its power structures and elements of society. Jesus is the biggest threat to the established order, and the status quo people who represent the empires of men will oppose Him at every turn.
The contemporary Church needs to rediscover the Apostolic Gospel of Peace and begin to proclaim it and live it out radically within their lives and in the wider society and culture. THAT is what the Apostles did and that is why they moved in supernatural power and why they were persecuted and martyred.
What would happen if the Christian Church rediscovered the Apostolic Gospel of Peace?
I look at our culture and society in Western democracies, and the evolution of our respective nations with a common culture was largely promoted and spread around the world of Western democracy through the means of the marriage between Church and State. When the Roman Empire fell, the Pope as the leader of the Church, not only stepped into the power vacuum but in effect became the defacto Roman emperor, and even took on the imperial title of Pontifex Maximus. When all the countries of Europe formed national identities and borders, it was the Pope that sanctioned and blessed whoever was the ruler, and that made that ruler legitimate in the eyes of the world powers and other rulers. This was the case until all the major revolutions took place, including the Reformation, the English Reformation, the English Civil War, the French and Russian revolutions. The Church, both East and West has constantly been in bed with the State. The Church provides the spiritual support for the state, especially as the state wages war in the name of the common good.
No one seems to truly reflect on, or confront the state prophetically, calling it to account for even trying to use violence to oppose violence. The state never chooses the option of peace. It justifies the use of violence and war all the time, all in the name of good, and expects the Church to support it, even passively. It will not tolerate those who oppose and resist the use of violence.
We are faced with a choice, you and I
The contemporary Church is faced with a choice. We much decide if we will take the Lordship of Jesus Christ seriously or not. We have been flirting and playing around with discipleship without really counting the cost for centuries. God in his mercy throughout the ages has uses Christian people to be his vessels to bring about the spread of the Gospel, the true Gospel, and those people have been at first appreciated, venerated, idolized, and then marginalized when they have refused to submit to the desires and demands of the secular state or the organized religious order in that state. Check the list of the martyrs throughout the ages, and you will see all the attempts of the organized religious order and the state to control, use and manipulate them to extend their own power and influence over the people they rule. This is NOT the Kingdom of God. So what are we going to do?
We need to rediscover a fearless faith
We need to return to the Apostolic Gospel of Peace, and preach Jesus being the Saviour and Lord of the world, and not just your own personal Saviour. It means the Church as agents of grace in the world must become representatives of God and His Kingdom and not be the lackeys of the kingdoms of this world. It means taking all the teachings of Jesus that confront organized society, from slavery, to finance, to governance, to dealing with issues like healthcare, education, and poverty, much all be confronted with the teaching and grace of the Gospel message, which is that Jesus is Lord over ALL of it and he wants to redeem it, restore it, deepen it, enrich it, with his righteousness and goodness. He wants to fully rule in society, and rule through US, through his Church, as we become the agents of change in the culture. It is about God ruling, not organized religion. It about individuals making a difference at every level and strata of organized society. It is about applying the teachings of Jesus and the principles of the Kingdom of God in every facet of life, and that includes those areas where the state demands total control.
The Church to be the Church must become a prophetic voice to the generation in which believers find themselves to be living. Anything other than this is a betrayal of the core teachings and ideas of Jesus Christ. It will mean confronting evil at every turn and finding an alternative to violence, exploitation and war, and being vessels of peace and goodwill.
The apostles proclaimed the message of the “upside down Kingdom” and they literally turned the world right side up because of it. It was a costly proclamation. The were persecuted and rejected and marginalized, but the Kingdom of God spread throughout the world. It is time to again see the fearless proclamation of the Apostolic Gospel of Peace, and challenge the rule of the kingdoms of men under the influence of the demonic. It is time to see the Kingdom of our God come in greater manifestation of love, peace and grace, and see the supernatural transformation of every strata of society and culture be redeemed by Christ Jesus.
~ Sam Buick