Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Preaching of the Cross


Like many other bloggers (I will assume), I have quite a few blogs on my bloglines that I skim through each day. All of the blogs are there because at some point or another they've addressed issues that are close to my heart, and they addressed them so well I figured I'd go ahead and add them to my list of blogs to read. While not all of the blogs I have listed there post every day on topics that are of interest to me personally, all of them do on a fairly regular basis and I appreciate reading insights from various people on these topics.

One such blog that did this recently was Strange Baptist Fire, when Andrew Lindsey posted on Ed Stetzer's message at the SBC. What caught my attention more than anything was Andrew's comments on Stetzer's points on contextualizing the gospel. Now I have not heard Stetzer's message and while I have responded to Andrew at SBF, my response was in a general sense, on that particular topic of culture and the gospel. I just want to make it clear, that this is not a refutation of Ed Stetzer's message, since I have not even heard it - this is just a post on my thoughts on "contextualizing the gospel".

This is a topic close to me personally for a variety of reasons that I wont get into just now, but suffice it to say that as a new believer in a free will/charismatic church in the mid 90's - with a million questions about evangelism, these were some of the questions I had that went unanswered.

During that time as a new believer with more questions than you can shake a stick at, over a period of a few weeks or maybe a few months even, Isaiah 55:11 kept coming up for me, in private studies, devotions, sermons I'd hear online, and snippets of devotional style messages on the radio. The more I heard it or read it, the more I kept wondering "why this verse?" Of all the verses that Christians might routinely hear in sermons or what have you, you'd likely think of John 3:16, or maybe John 14:6, or Romans 8:28. But Isaiah 55:11? Before the first time I'd heard it during that time, I don't recall ever hearing anyone use that verse for anything - and then suddenly it was before me constantly (or so it seemed).

Since I don't believe in coincidence, I knew that for whatever reasons the Lord had, He wanted me to hear that verse. Well, He certainly got my attention. It occured to me one day that Isaiah 55:11 actually answered so many of the questions I had, all with one verse:

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

It was no small thing to me to see that God's word, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, would go where God sent it, would not go where He did not send it, would do what He purposed for it to do, where He purposed it to do that, and exactly how He purposed for it to do this.

Just that one verse opened my eyes to so many things. It answered questions, it settled certain doubts, and it brought me a great deal of comfort. It also compelled me to begin a cross-referencing treasure hunt that led me to these verses:

Roman 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

1Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

1Cor. 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

1Thes. 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

James 1:18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

1Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

I have emphasized the sections in each of these verses that literally stood out of the pages of Scripture, when I first read them. It was an obvious, compelling thread that I was seeing in Scripture.

- It wasn't through making friends with lost people (although being a friend to them is a Christlike thing to do)

- It wasn't through being "culturally relevent" (although no one called it that at the time, and being involved in your local community is certainly a good thing to do)

- It wasn't because of them "seeing Jesus in you" (although when the lost see a hope in you that they know they don't have, it does intrigue them)

It also wasn't through "just take that step of faith" because apart from God enabling man to believe through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not only can man not believe but man has no desire to believe, or persue a fellowship with the Father, through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. (See 1Cor.1:18 above, one more time - it is foolishness to those that do not believe)

Just by hearing Isaiah 55:11 over and over again, that motivated me to dig a little deeper and see so very clearly that becoming a genuine believer is simply and purely and entirely the work of God.

Man could live ten thousand lifetimes and still never come up with a more effective way of reaching the lost for Christ, than by this way:

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.(1Cor. 1:21)

So, when I read or hear men and women say that preaching isn't enough, or that we have to do this, add that, go here, or speak this way or live that way - either they have never read these verses and they genuinely do not know what Scripture says, or they simply don't believe it, and believe in men's methods & men's works.

While I do believe it is prudent and logical to educate yourself on either your own local culture where you are - or the culture you are called to minister in - in such areas as local traditions, language, customs, etc., that is not at all what I am referring to. In our day, this term of contextualizing the gospel seems to have taken on a new meaning, and that meaning is more along the lines of blending in so well with the lost and sinful culture around you, that it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between the believer and the unbelievers.

When "becoming culturally relevent" has gone so far that believers are looking, sounding and living like unbelievers, it's simply gone too far, and they have ignored the simplicity and the power of God to do His work through the gospel declared.

UPDATED: Interestingly enough this morning I woke up to read The Gospel: The Power of God at Pulpit Magazine. I'd recommend you read it as well.