“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:16
“I do not pray for these alone but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one..” John 17:20
“To the pilgrims in dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…” 1 Peter 1:1
It is approximately 30+ years sense Jesus Christ was crucified, resurrected and returned to heaven. At the beginning, there were eleven disciples left. These were not learned men. These were not men revered as leaders in the local Jewish or greater Roman communities. These were not men who decided to separate themselves and go through a long, arduous training or study program.
Christ had been very simple and His commandment, His Great Commission to them; was to go and preach the gospel to the ends of the earth; to “every creature”. Christ gave them no commandment concerning the physical properties of a church, its dimensions or furnishings (in contrast to the very specific details of the tabernacle and the temple). Christ gave them no commandment about what music or even if music should be sung. Christ did not give them goals of the size of church membership, the amount in a church treasury. Christ spent no time discussing church government structure. Preach the gospel, He told them.
And they did. First in Jerusalem and shortly after, during the dispersion of believers and the conversion of Saul; they preached the gospel to the known world. In Mark, we hear that they are to preach the gospel. In Luke we read that what should be preached that Christ, the Son of God died and rose on the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.
And, did it work? Did they preach and did it have any effect? Yes and Heaven (versus that other place which often gets put in front of words to add emphasis) Yes! In acts we are told, in the area of Jerusalem, the early preaching had 3,000 joining in a day. Some 30 plus years later, when Peter is writing this epistle, it is estimated by some, that the population that this was being written to, Jewish and Gentile believers was over 300,000! I think it is also important to point out that Peter was not the one who started all these churches. He wasn’t just writing to ones to which he had preached to. No many of these churches had been started by Paul, some by Apollos so there wasn’t a sense of factionalism here. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010 there were 2.18 billion Christians in the world; nearly a third of the then world’s population.
Why is this important? Why bring this up in a post? Because, in local churches that I’ve been a part of; larger regional governing bodies, books and multimedia presentations in much of America if not the western world; there is much angst and fear. The fear comes from what is perceived as well as a probably also real decline in the influence of the “traditional” church and Christian denominations in the greater society. This is primarily measured in two ways; the size of individual church membership and the amount of money given. I again am not saying that indeed the traditional church and what have been called “Traditional Christian Values” have not seen a decline in influence and impact on our daily society; in some cases much to the detriment of our society. What concerns me most is our response to that decline.
Jesus Christ seemed very clear on the message; the Gospel, that should be the focal point of everything preached and the preaching and living out of that gospel is our primary task and goal. Yet all too often, in the church leadership councils that I’ve been a part of there has been a tragic loss of focus on that task and goal. I have seen more and more that the focus shifts to things concerning the physical space provided, the presentation of the message bringing about divisions of “traditional versus contemporary”. Much planning goes into the bringing in of new members through things like sports programs, church schools; whatever it takes to appeal to people today. Finally and most tragically of all, I have seen in some cases a feeling that the Gospel message itself is no longer relevant and must be “updated”, tweaked or changed in someway to make it more palatable to today’s world.
We must be extremely, extremely careful in this. First, Christ seemed very clear when He was on this earth that during that time and beyond; not everyone is going to believe in Him, period. In fact His questions seems to resonate greatly today when He asked: “what good is it for someone to gain the world but loose their soul?”. The Gospel is as powerful and sufficient today as it when it was first spoken. The Gospel, the simple Gospel; Christ the Son of God, died and resurrected, His commandment to love Him and each other; is the message that brings peace in times of strife, confidence in times of angst and joy in times of tribulation. It is the “believers” in that Gospel who Christ, Himself, was praying for.
That message may seem too dull to a world in need of flashy. That message may seem too simple in a world which thrives on complexity. That message may seem too confining to a world hell bent on having the freedom to do whatever it wants. Yet, Dear Sisters and Brothers; that is the only True Message. That is the only message that provides true life. That is the only message that provide true salvation. That is the message with true power and that message still works, as it did yesterday, it does today and will for all tomorrows.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that You have seen fit to give us Your Gospel, Your message for us in this world. Forgive us when we are tempted to either minimize it or modify it to make it more popular in our current age. Forgive us should we lose site of proclaiming Christ’s message as the world clamors for a different one. Embolden us with Your Spirit as You promised that through the Holy Spirit; we would proclaim only the truth. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen