December 2012

Body: 

“Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”   Matthew 28:20                                                                                          

The 1974 Lausanne Covenant lifted up the vision of the whole church sharing the whole gospel in the whole world. As UUC responds to our Lord’s call to offer practical theology and church leader training in many languages for people all over the world, this Lausanne vision is a powerful encouragement.  In our November, December and January monthly devotions for our UUC “first Monday” prayer time, we are reflecting together on the three parts of the Lausanne vision. In December, Let us think and pray about the UUC’s success in teaching the “whole gospel.”

It is important that UUC makes every effort to teach the whole gospel. Most denominations emphasize some parts of the gospel while neglecting other parts. For example there is far more focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in some churches and denominations than in others, and certainly more emphasis on using the gifts of the Spirit in some churches than others. There is more emphasis on healing ministry in some than others. More emphasis on spiritual warfare and on Jesus’ authority over the demonic in some. More emphasis on evangelism (transforming the individual person through salvation and sanctification) in some. More emphasis on the “social gospel” (transforming the society to reflect t God’s love) in some. More emphasis in assisting poor and vulnerable people in some churches than in others (True religion is to care for widows and orphans in their distress…James 1:27).

Sometimes emphasizing a particular part of the gospel is wise culturally and contextually. In 1987 a Presbyterian missionary in Thailand told me, “If you want to share the gospel with a Thai Buddhist, don’t say that Jesus can give him eternal life. The Thai Buddhist believes he already has eternal life through endless reincarnations, and since ‘all life is suffering’ he would like to escape eternal life rather than receive it. Instead, if you want to draw a Thai Buddhist to Christ share another part of the gospel…that Jesus has power and authority over all spirits, and if he gives his life to Christ he will never again need to fear the invisible dark forces and ghosts that his culture teaches him to fear.  Later he can understand the joy of resurrection and eternal life. But it will not sound like good news to him at first.” Personally I don’t know how accurate the Presbyterian missionary’s statement was. My guess is that it was wisdom learned within the Thai context and culture.

My own Presbyterian denomination in the United States deemphasizes the manifestation of gifts of the Holy Spirit. We seem, as a denomination, to prefer everything done “decently and in order.” We are better at worshiping the Lord with our “minds and strength” than with our “heart and soul.” This is true in spite of the fact that many clergy and lay Presbyterians have experienced gifts of the Holy Spirit. And that in large parts of the world the church is most alive where the experience of the Holy Spirit is most strong.

Sometimes the particular emphasis of a church has to do with correction of past abuses; but eventually the corrections need correcting. My denomination may have focused on “decent and in order” in response to chaos and superstitious thinking. But now it may be dying for lack of openness to a vibrant ministry of the Holy Spirit.

My conclusion is that when the church emphasizes a particular part of the gospel in a culturally and contextually wise way, the church is helping that society to hear the good news. But when a church’s particular emphasizes is due to a sinful fracturing of the whole church—evangelicals versus “social gospel” Christians for example—then the society in which the church attempts to share the gospel is not well served. Most people need to both hear the gospel and see it in action, loving and helping those in need, before they are convinced that the gospel is true. The Lausanne movement’s2010 Cape Town Commitment focused on this need to both tell and put into action the love of God for all people that is the whole gospel.

UUC needs to represent the whole church (November devotions) so that we have the ability to share the whole gospel. If we love and trust one another within the faculty, staff and students of UUC, though we are of many denominations and churches, we will correct one another’s deficiencies and teach the whole gospel.

I began this devotion by quoting a part of Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28. Before sitting down to write, I scanned the gospel of Matthew to remind myself of “everything” Christ had commanded us. The first thing Jesus teaches in Matthew’s gospel (in the story of his temptation) is that we are to live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Everything. Every word. The rest of Matthew’s gospel is a thorough mix of teachings about how God has drawn near in Jesus, how we are to personally respond to God, and how we are to live God’s love toward other people.  We are to love God above all else (what we usually talk about when we “evangelize.”) And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (what we usually do when we are doing the “social gospel.”)

And there is a checklist at the end for those who say they are followers of Jesus. Did we take care of those who are hungry and thirsty? Did we look after the sick, welcome the stranger and the ones not like us? Did we make sure the poor had shelter and clothing? Did we visit those in prison? (Matthew 25). And did we take the gospel (spoken and put into action) to the whole world, believing that Christ is with us to empower us for the whole gospel?

As we spend time in intercessory prayer next Monday, please pray that UUC will succeed more and more in teaching the whole gospel to our students. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will show us where our teaching needs correction and addition. Let us pray that as our university grows and teaches in more languages we will find faculty who can help us be the whole church teaching the whole gospel. And let us give thanks that the Lord is with us as he promised; and that the Holy Spirit will empower us to fulfill our calling.

As always, remember our students, our graduates and their congregations, our faculty and our administrators. And our staff, working hard to prepare for the accreditation process. Pray for our success in sharing UUC’s mission and need with potential donors.  And remember those you know in our community who are sick, suffering or weak.

Give thanks that the Lord has revealed to us the good news of God’s love and salvation. And that he has called us to share the whole gospel in the world.

Dale Sewall, President

Union University of California