[The following is the preface to a forthcoming book.]
The subject of this study can be easily misunderstood, especially by those who have drifted away to religion from the nature of the gospel. For this reason we must be very clear on what we are trying to say, for we all have a little religion in us. We must be definitive in our comments because those who have more religion than gospel find it quite difficult to understand the true nature of the gospel. When confronted with the truth of the gospel, the religion in us often makes us to become very defensive in reference to the beliefs and behavior of our particular religious group. Just ask the Jews during the ministry of Jesus.
If there are areas where we are not clear on what we are trying to say, please be patient with us until you have finished the final chapter. But because the evangelistic outreach of the church seems to be waning, we have deemed it necessary that something be said as a caution to where we are in reference to the true nature of the gospel, which nature seems to a great extent be fading away.
For those of the West who would be zealous to preach their understanding and application of the gospel, we would also write a note of caution. The nature of the gospel to a great extent has been Westernized. We say this because of the impact that the gospel had on the lives of the early disciples when compared to its impact today on the typical Western citizen. When we compare the behavior of the Western disciple today with the disciples of the first century, there seems to be a stark difference. The reason for this is more in reference to culture than belief. Nevertheless, the New Testament paints a somewhat different picture of the first century Christian as compared to the typical Christian today who resides in a very materialistic society.
Contrary to the culture of the early disciples, ownership of possessions and the right to prosperity are strong cultural values of the West. Therefore, we would certainly be naive if we did not recognize that these cultural values have not influenced the response of the typical Western disciple to the gospel. In other words, we often believe the gospel, but we will not allow the truth of the gospel to infringe on our right to posses and prosper in abundance.
What we have discovered is that some who champion the gospel are doing so only by preaching the historical events of the gospel, not so much the impact of the gospel on the individual who seeks to live by the gospel. Life-changing gospel motivation as incarnational living is another subject that is often ignored. If you question this assessment, then ask yourself when was the last time you heard a sermon on the incarnation of the Son of God and our response to have this mind of Christ and behavior in our own lives (See Ph 2:5-8)? One might even take a moment to read in Philippians 3:7,8 in order to see the impact that the truth of the gospel had on the life of Paul.
What inspired the writing of this book has been something that seems to always plague the disciples in reaching out with the gospel to those of the world, regardless of what society in which they live. This is especially true in reaching out to those who have a common faith in Jesus Christ, but are somewhat disoriented in reference to connecting all the dots concerning the truth of the gospel. Many religious groups realize this. But unless we ourselves can connect all the gospel dots, we will continue to preach confusion. But if we can sort ourselves out on his matter, then there is a tremendous opportunity in the religious world to preach the gospel that frees the minds and hearts of the people from the bondage of religion.
An historical example is often good in order to remind ourselves from where we may have drifted. For example, we remember reading the biography of a gospel preacher who worked in the northwestern part of America in the early 1900s. We read with interest in his biography a very interesting practice that he and other gospel preachers followed in their efforts to preach the gospel to churches who were stuck in the religion of their forefathers. The author of the biography stated that it was the common practice of gospel preachers in those times to preach nightly meetings that would carry on for weeks. He explained that the reason for this was that the request for coming to different churches to preach the gospel seemed to be unending. People wanted to hear more about the gospel.
So he explained that which he and other gospel preachers would do in their meetings. They would go to a particular religious group and ask if they could come and preach the gospel to the entire group. Since there were few preachers in the northwestern part of America in the early 1900s, the leaders of the churches almost always asked them to begin immediately a meeting in their church building.
The meeting would subsequently proceed with nightly preaching on the subject of the gospel. After about two weeks of preaching the gospel, resulting in the baptism of several who were meeting with that particular group, they would move on to another church and continue preaching the gospel. Sometimes they were asked to move on because they were baptizing too many of the host church members. Nevertheless, they would go from one religious group to another until the requests to come and preach the gospel were exhausted, or rejected. The preaching would carry on nightly from six to eight weeks. The result was that scores of people would obey the gospel in baptism for the remission of their sins.
In our travels throughout almost five decades of preaching, we have experienced the same. We have recently found that it is more productive and far reaching to work with the pastors/preachers of different religious groups in studying the gospel together, and then inspiring them to preach the gospel anew to their own churches. God has opened an incredible door to thousands of pastors/preachers throughout the world who want to study the Bible in order to better understand the gospel that is revealed in the Bible.
The common confession that the leaders have is that they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have come to understand that they still need studies in the gospel. This is particularly true of independent churches who have come out of the bondage of mainline traditional religion. But because many of these leaders have had no formal education, they are seeking someone to come and teach them more accurately the truth of the gospel.
This is certainly a wonderful opportunity in these days for preaching the gospel in reference to those things about which we agree concerning the gospel. It is simply an overwhelming open door that has been thrown open by sincere Bible-believing leaders who just want to know more about the gospel.
Regardless of how great the opportunity, however, a problem often develops in the circle of those who claim to know the gospel, but have often turned the gospel into “another gospel” that is patterned after their own heritage and theologies. There are those who have circled around and become that from which they fled in their own restoration movement. They have subsequently lost touch with the spirit of trying to work with others in reference to the fundamentals of the gospel about which we agree. Instead of focusing on the gospel that moves us closer together, we seem to have this obsession to focus more on our differences that move us further away from one another.
This is often the curse of restoration movements, especially those movements that were actually legal restorations of law. By legal restoration, we mean those who have sought to restore law by which they would judge others, and not the gospel of grace. Consequently, when they approach others with whom they disagree on interpreted law, they find it difficult to discuss Bible because they are more apt to debate law. And in communities throughout the world, those who have claimed to be a true restoration of the “truth” have made so many enemies that they are no longer invited for any discussions. This is certainly a sad situation that the debaters of law have developed in communities throughout the world.
One of the best examples to use to illustrate the preceding problem is the Lord’s Supper. Throughout the continent on which we now live there are a great number of preachers who think they are preaching the gospel when they are preaching the Lord’s Supper. They believe that the Lord’s Supper is a part of the gospel. Therefore, they believe that they must preach every aspect of the Lord’s Supper in order to be preaching the entire gospel. But they are mistaken.
The result of making the Lord’s Supper a part of the message of the gospel is actually a diversion from the gospel. It has actually creating a stumbling block for many of those groups who claim to be preaching the gospel. The proof of this is that those who preach the Lord’s Supper as the gospel have actually divided among themselves on this matter because of supposed violations of legalities surrounding the Supper. For example, they have divided over the substance of the bread and fruit of the vine, the number of containers by which to serve the fruit of the vine, as well as the frequency and ceremonial performance of the Supper on Sunday. Some have even divided over the proper attire that should be worn when serving the Supper.
One would think that all this division would at least turn the light on to the fact that the Supper is not the gospel. When Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of Me,” He established the Supper as a law in remembrance of the gospel. The irony of the matter is that the observance of the
Supper is to bring us together around the table, not divide us. But because of so much contention that often arises on the subject, the Supper has often become the occasion to drive people away from one another. This is not gospel behavior. Some have legalized certain ceremonial systems of the Supper to the extent that it has become an opportunity to reveal divisive attitudes that are contrary to the unity that the gospel should produce. This cannot be what Jesus had in mind when He instituted the Supper.
Because of division that is sometimes caused around the observance of the Supper, one would think that legal theologians would conclude that the Supper cannot be the gospel. Therefore, we believe that those who would divide over the Supper have as much difficulty in understanding the truth of the gospel as those who are trying to dig themselves out of the confusion of religion.
The sad result of all the clamor over rites, rituals and ceremonies, therefore, has not only divided those who claim to be the guardians of the gospel, it has also led supposed “gospel preachers” away from being invited to preach the gospel to other religious groups. Others have witnessed all the division that supposed “gospel preachers” have caused over various issues, and thus they have concluded that they do not want such debaters to come into their midst. They conclude that if such “gospel preachers” cannot determine the difference between the gospel and issues surrounding law, then they simply do not want such preachers to come among them and cause the same chaos.
Our inability to distinguish between gospel and law sometimes makes it difficult for others to understand the distinctiveness of the gospel. We ourselves have often confused the two, and as a result of our own confusion, thousands of doors have been closed to preaching the gospel. Some of our literature that we have sent throughout the world has often perpetuated the problem. Since there is little distinction made between the gospel and law in the literature, others cannot fully appreciate the simplicity of the gospel since it is often wrapped in the shroud of so many religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. Therefore, instead of preaching the unify truth of the gospel to a world that is trying to come out of legally defined religion, some of our literature is actually teaching a legally defined “gospel” that one must obey in order to justify oneself before God.
We believe in a restoration of the gospel, not in a restoration of legalities that set aside the gospel of grace and the freedom that one enjoys as a result of his or her obedience to the gospel. We believe in the total sanctification of the cross, not in our ability to sanctify ourselves by our own performance of either law or good works. This is the message that many in the religious world are yearning to hear.