The Real Gospel
Steve Jones, the President of The Fellowship of churches to which I belong sent this email out this morning. The issue he speaks about has been something that has bothered me for some time. The trend to ignore the death of Christ in favour of the more positive message of the Resurrection has been growing—even in my own church. I am glad that our president has chosen to speak to the importance of Christ's death. Here is the email.
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… This next week we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour. This Sunday, we will begin our Easter worship services with the words, “He is risen!”
However, before Jesus rose, He died.
An organization in Britain called The Churches Advertising Network unveiled a fairly unconventional Easter ad campaign a few years back. They said it was designed to take the “churchiness” out of the Easter holiday. Among the symbols being dropped in the campaign was the symbol of the cross. It was dropped because it was considered too “churchy” by this new breed of church advertisers. They had not removed Christ from Easter, as was the case with Christmas, but they did think it wise to ditch the cross.
Rev. Richard Thomas of Oxford said, “With this ad campaign we have tried in a very stark way to focus on the resurrection and not the death of Jesus. In Christian circles, they are talking about a need to educate people about the allegory of Easter and, in doing so, the symbol of Christianity — the cross — becomes a victim.”
The cross is a victim?! Go figure!
We live in a society fixated on living forever, youthfulness, and new beginnings. The spirit of resurrection sounds great in a society fixated on these things. Who wants to talk about or be reminded of death, blood, suffering and being nailed to a cross? That’s such a downer! Think positive, eh?!
But does Easter have any real meaning without Good Friday?
Pastor Rick Warren wrote that throughout the 1990s, marketers reshaped the Mexican food craze. By 1996, it was a $1.6 billion industry. Pillsbury (of the “dough-boy” fame) bought up a pile of companies and put the industry on steroids. A “watered-down” version fit to suit North American tastes became the norm. Industry experts call it “gringo-food”. Bib Messenger of the magazine Food Processing said: “…the gringoization of Mexican food will continue. In twenty years you won’t even recognize what they’ll be calling Mexican food.”
In business there is profit in watering down a strong, even offensive, flavour. But, to do that to Easter, as our Oxford Reverend suggests, spells disaster. There is a “gringo-Gospel” out there in churches that is simply not the “genuine-Gospel”. It’s not the real thing.
The hot, spicy, even offensive themes of the cross, if removed, takes away the power. The gringo-Gospel may be soothing to the taste, but it’s powerless to save. You take the cross from Easter and all you have left is the Easter bunny. No hope, just a little hop!
In the late 1980s, as a young youth pastor, my church hosted a gathering of pastors to meet and hear Pastor Joseph Ton. It was a life-changing experience for me, one in which emotions still surface as I write of this occasion. His courage, humility, and surrendered life was so evident. I would later read of an occasion when this Romanian pastor was arrested by the secret police for publishing a sermon calling for the churches to refuse to submit to the communist government’s demand for control over their ministries. When an official told him he must renounce his sermon, he replied, “No, sir! I won’t do that!”
The official, surprised that anyone would respond so forcefully to the secret police, said, “Aren’t you aware that I can use force against you?”
“Sir, let me explain that to you,” Ton said. “You see, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying… You know that my sermons are spread all over the country on audio tapes. When you kill me, I only sprinkle them with my blood. They will speak 10 times louder after that, because everybody will say, ‘That preacher meant it because he sealed it with his blood.’ So go on, sir, kill me. When you kill me, I win the supreme victory.” The secret police released him, knowing his martyrdom would be far more of a problem than his sermon.
To think that the cross needs to be removed from Easter to make the message more palatable to Canadian tastes is a fool’s game. Easter loses its power without Good Friday. There is power in death.
The great 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, was once reading the account of Abraham offering Isaac (Genesis 22) on the altar. His wife, Katie, said, “I do not believe it. God would not have treated His son like that!” Luther replied, “But Katie, he did.” We have experienced birth because Jesus experienced death, or as the Apostle John wrote:
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (NIV).
Have a blessed week,
Our 2015 Fellowship theme verse is:
“ "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (NLT)