Under the pavilion, a group had gathered with musical instruments, microphones, and plenty of chairs. As we exited our car, we heard them singing praise songs. Obviously, a local congregation had gathered this evening to worship.
I observed a few intriguing things as I walked:
1. The congregation was essentially oblivious to everyone else in the park. They simply did their thing perhaps hoping doing their thing would rub off on the rest of the people in the park that afternoon.
2. The rest of the folks in the park were basically oblivious to the congregation which was worshiping. Several groups continued to play volleyball. A father and his sons threw a football. Numerous kids played in the splash pad--all with no concern for this group gathered to worship.
If evangelism and getting folks to worship with them was a goal, it failed. My wife and I walked around the park about 10 times or so passing this pavilion each time. No one asked us to join. No one invited us to sing and be a part of the gathering. Apparently, this Pentecostal group and most Lutherans have at least this in common...
Now, at this juncture, I would like to make it absolutely clear that I admired this church for taking its proclamation public. I admire them stepping outside of their four walls and gathering in the open air where others gathered. I admire them leaving the safety of their sanctuary to risk ridicule in a culture that has become more than a few voices saying, "You can have faith; just keep it private." Too often, we kowtow to those voices instead of allowing our deep trust in God filter into our everyday lives.
I needed to put all of that out and admire their courage because as I heard their proclamation--their articulation of "the gospel"--I cringed.
Not that I had any right to cringe. I mean, two or three years ago, I might well have been saying the same basic things just in a different manner. But that was before my conversion. Now, I see things in a totally different light. I see how I was a modern-day Pharisee, and I heard modern-day Pharisaism plain as a bell.
The preacher lifted his voice in that perfect Pentecostal rhythm, cadence, and accent, and each time I cringed. Several times, I responded out loud. (My responses will be in italics.)
"Gawd wants to bless yuh, today-ah."
He already has.
"Gawd wants to heal yuh, today-ah."
He already is.
"Gawd wants to bring yuh peace, today-ah."
He already does.
"Yuh just have to follow Him and give your life to Him, today-ah."
He's already claimed it.
"Gawd wants to bless our nation, but we must turn to Him first and repent-ah."
Didn't I just preach about this today?
From yesterday's post:
The Pharisees taught over and over and over that the people of Israel should purify themselves. And if the people of Israel would purify themselves, God would look down upon their purity; their holiness, and be moved to action. What sort of action? Well, to establish the Kingdom of God–that kingdom where all of Israel’s enemies were overthrown, a new king who was a king of justice and wisdom would ascend the thrown and lead the people in righteousness, and the Israelites would become another world power growing in wealth and prosperity and power. The Pharisees believed that if they followed the holiness code contained in the Torah–the first five books of the Old Testament–then God would be forced to act in such a fashion.
How was the proclamation I was hearing in the park different from the proclamation of the Pharisees so long ago?
It wasn't. And it isn't.
And there's an awful lot of this proclamation going around.
There's an awful lot of folks preaching that we've got to get our collective acts together for unless we do, God will not bless or God will punish. Many folks say this is the Gospel, but there is one problem.
It's not the Gospel.
The Gospel is about what God has ALREADY accomplished through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is about how God has ALREADY blessed us, forgiven us, justified us, and prepared our salvation for us WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS. There is no "repent and God will bless you." It's "God has blessed you, no repent."
Just this past Sunday, I took my adult Sunday School class through this--through the wonder of the Gospel. A class that usually had lots to say--that raises many comments and questions--sat in almost stunned silence. I asked why.
"This is deep. It's tough to get your head around."
I agree. I told them, "Don't feel bad. I've been preaching for 14 years. I have eight years of formal theological training. Before that, I was born and raised in the church, and I am only now beginning to get it."
It's not surprising the response out of those adults. It's not surprising the proclamation I heard in the park. For every philosophy and religion teaches the exact opposite of the Gospel. We are immersed in a culture and in a world which tells us--do the right thing, and you will be rewarded. Work hard in school, and you will get good grades. Do your job correctly, and you will be compensated fairly. Follow the rules, and you will be treated well. This is pounded into our being from day one. Theologically, this train of thought is put forth in this manner, "Do what God says; be obedient to Him, and He will love you; you will attain salvation; you will be blessed; etc."
And the Gospel turns it upside down. The Gospel says, "You are loved; you are cherished; you are saved by Jesus' actions, now be obedient to God."
It's radically different, and I couldn't help but wonder--would the proclamation of the Gospel have reached across that park and touched those playing volleyball, throwing the football, and splashing in the water? Would the proclamation of what God has ALREADY done receive a welcome in their ears and in their hearts?
I don't know.
I just don't know.
But perhaps a lesson can be learned from those Pentecostals in the park. Perhaps the Gospel needs to find public proclamation. Only when it is taken outside the four walls of a church will we find out.