Only One Gospel

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Bible study sessionWe live in a time of tremendous political, economic, and cultural change all around us. Everywhere we turn, the foundations of our lives and society are being challenged like never before. This is especially true in the Church today, with a hundred new varieties of the Christian Faith popping up every week. While fresh expressions of the Faith can be good, it is also possible for some groups to so fundamentally change the Faith that it is no longer The Faith. Hence, the danger that faces the modern Church is the real possibility of creating a church that is fresh and relevant to people in changing times, but not relevant to God.

Now the basic message of the Christian Faith is contained in something called the Gospel or "Good News." Most Christians would agree with that statement. The heart of this Gospel message is that human beings have sinned against God and that Christ has died in our place to save us from that sin and restore our fellowship with God. This basic message of the Gospel is contained in I Corinthians 15:1-6. In this passage, the Apostle Paul outlines the simple message of the Gospel that once again centers on Christ's death for our sins on the Cross and the subsequent Resurrection from the dead that leads to new life. This simple, powerful message of the Gospel has been the bedrock of the Christian Faith.

However, this basic Gospel message began to fundamentally change in a noticeable way with the emergence of something called the "Social Gospel" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Social Gospel was an attempt by certain Protestant intellectuals to apply Christian ethics to social problems of the day such as hunger, racial tensions, war, illiteracy, poverty, and a host of other economic and social issues. People started to believe that we could "Christianize" the world if Christ's ministry of love, compassion, and justice were modeled and lived out by the Church to others. This new "Gospel" of social transformation was seen as the way to bring heaven to earth and allow the Church to triumph over the evils of the world and prepare the way for Christ to return.

The problem the Social Gospel faced, however, was it didn't work! All of the progress in doing good deeds didn't seem to stop or hinder people from starting two World Wars and a host of other human disasters in the 20th century. Many of these wars and problems started in well educated and materially prosperous nations in Europe such as Germany. The Social Gospel failed because it forgot that people needed to be changed BEFORE you could change their society. People had forgotten the simple message of the Gospel and the need for personal transformation through the forgiveness of sins.

Sadly, a number of new churches and leaders are encouraging the current generation of Christians to "resurrect" the failed Social Gospel of the past under the new banner of Social Justice. Churches are being told that we need more "deeds" and less "creeds." People are being taught that the best way to "save the world" is to get out there and to heal the world's pain by being Jesus to the lost, lonely, and hurting. This message is especially appealing to the young today, who often see their parent's faith as dull, apathetic, and hypocritical. People are desperately looking for something new and fresh, but are ending up with something that in the end is really an old, failed idea from the past in a new and appealing package.

Amidst the confusing times we live in, the simple message of the Gospel is crying out to be rediscovered by a new generation of believers. This wonderful Gospel message is never old but, like the Lord and His mercies, is new every morning. The Lord is calling His people back to that message and back to the Cross, back to basics. That simple, powerful message may not fill modern churches or fuel building programs, but it still saves people from their sins. And when the Gospel is preached and people's lives and characters are changed, you get the social transformation people are looking for as a wonderful by-product. The Cross is the message that the Lord Jesus Christ finds most relevant in this hour of spiritual novelty and confusion. May all of us love the Gospel message of the Cross and the empty tomb with the same passion and fervor of our Lord.