The Gospel is Not a Way of Life
A recent Star Tribune article sadly reported that many Minnesota “mainline” churches are losing membership and closing their doors. In so doing, “a way of life” comes to an end. The problem is that years ago these churches reduced the gospel merely to “a way of life.”
The truth is that the Christian faith is a historical faith. Without the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity does not exist. Pastor and theologian J. Gresham Machen, who fought hard to preserve the gospel, wrote nearly one hundred years ago: “If religion be made independent of history there is no such thing as a gospel. A gospel independent of history,” he goes on to say, “is a contradiction in terms.”
When Saint Paul recounts the message that he delivered to the Corinthians, he does not say he gave them an idea to ponder, rules to follow, values to promote, rights to defend, happiness to spread, or love to embrace. He says he gave them history to receive (1 Cor 15:1-2). Again, Machen says it well: “All the ideas of Christianity might be discovered in some other religion, yet there would be in that other religion no Christianity. For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.”
You hear of Judeo-Christian values. You hear of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And yet as good as Judeo-Christian values and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are for peace, justice, and human dignity, let us not confuse values, rights, ideas, rules, love and “a way of life” with the gospel.
The gospel is an announcement of news—good news. News of information about something that has happened to someone in history: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Contemporary to Machen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, fighting his own battles in Germany, sums it up well: The cross is real; the resurrection is real; or there is no Christianity.
While some churches have denied the historic reality of the death and/or resurrection of Jesus, some have not. Rather, some “mainline” churches have denied doctrine. Jesus died and rose is history. Jesus died and rose for our sins is doctrine. Therefore, if you abandon the history and doctrine that “Jesus died and rose for our sins,” you abandon the gospel, thereby making the gospel merely “a way of life.”
Pastor Dan Burrus