Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Irrepressible Gospel

Through evangelism, through repeated confrontation with the intrusive grace of God, the church can be born again. By letting God use us in his never-ending pursuit of the unbaptized, the baptized can rediscover what it means for us to be the church, that unlikely gathering of those who are called to sign, signal, and witness to the graciousness of God in a world dying for lack of salvation. – William Willimon, The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized (Eerdmans, 1994).

I love how irrepressible the gospel is. I love how unstoppable the Holy Spirit is. I love how resilient and vibrant the church is. Just when I become worried that the Kingdom of God is faltering in the world instead of advancing, I am reminded of Jesus’ assertion that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church (Matthew 16:18). Assuming, of course, that the church truly acts as the body of Christ in the world.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle (“Returning the Favor: Missionaries bring the Gospel back to secular Europe,” Kevin Sullivan, 6/23/07) spotlights what is taking place in Denmark as preachers from Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, India, Iran and Latin America pour in and plant churches. Until a century ago, Europe was Christianity’s center of gravity in the world, but in the 20th century it became increasingly secular and its state-run churches increasingly impotent. Only about two percent of Denmark’s 5.5 million citizens attend church regularly. The state-run Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church is moribund. After U.S. Ambassador James Cain and his family arrived in 2005, for instance, they tried to attend a scheduled Sunday service and found the door padlocked. The next week they tried a different congregation; only nine people were present, seven of whom were Cain and his family and bodyguards. In 2003 a Danish Lutheran priest (whose salary is paid by citizens’ taxes) admitted publicly that he didn’t believe in God. Church officials suspended him for a month, but hundreds of sympathetic parishioners rallied to his defense, saying that a priest didn’t have to believe in God to promote Christian values.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. Indeed, one does not have to believe in God to promote Christian values, but the church is called to do far more than promote Christian values. It is called to be an outpost of the Kingdom, a mission center, a catalyst for “confrontation with the intrusive grace of God.” And when the church fails to be evangelistic and mission oriented, it becomes a dying shell of a body. And God’s Spirit goes elsewhere, like to developing countries, whose citizens for the most part are not comfortable and complacent, and wherein now reside the majority of the world’s two billion Christians.

As Ravi Chandran, the Filipino pastor of International Christian Community in Copenhagen, Denmark, puts it, “When we became Christians in the East, we read the Bible and it said, ‘Go out into the world and spread the gospel.’ And guess what? We came back to the West!”

I love how irrepressible the gospel is! I love how unstoppable the Holy Spirit is! I love how resilient and vibrant the church is when we understand that we are missionaries to a world dying for lack of salvation! Christian values programs eventually get padlocked. Mission outposts prevail against the gates of hell and apathy.


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