Sunday, April 11, 2010

The true church: The gospel in both word and sacrament

The true Church, founded by Christ, tells us of the gospel—his dying on a cross to save completely all those he died for. This comes from God’s word, the Bible, where Jesus himself promises everlasting life for all who believe in him and his complete and finished work for their salvation (John 6:47). In short, by his death and resurrection Jesus--the Son of God in the flesh—defeated sin, death and the devil and won eternal life—heaven—for all who believe in him.

The gospel in word and sacrament

This gospel is the “good news” that is from and about Jesus the Christ. Jesus and what he has done for us is celebrated every week in the true Church when believers come together. They hear the presbyter or elder preach the gospel from the Bible and also remind them of the words of Jesus at his Last Supper, when he clearly promises us his body and blood as we wait for his return.

So, although we may be accused of seeking a perfect church, we can say in all honesty that we ask only that these two biblical marks be most obvious in any true church: The gospel of Jesus dying and rising again bodily to win believers eternal life, and that same gospel in the form of his Last Supper empowering us by his body and blood, his grace, which he promised us for this life until he comes again. This is what we call the gospel in both word (Bible) and sacrament (baptism and Lord’s Supper—Holy Communion).

All that believers do in this life is done in simple thanksgiving that Jesus alone has saved us by his one great work on the cross. He died and rose bodily for nothing less than the complete salvation of all whom he has given the gift of faith to believe in him. (Ephesians 2:8-10). Those who have this gift of faith to believe in Jesus should know that it is also a wonderful sign to each of them that he has chosen them for everlasting life with him.

False gospels abound—warning signs

We pray for those who have never heard or have wondered away from this true Gospel to worship a christ of their own making--someone who shed his blood for no more than the "possibility" of every ones' salvation. This false gospel is told in many ways, but no matter how many ways it is explained, it is no gospel at all, for in it Jesus actually saves no one, but relies on the help of each person to work with him to attain their own salvation or eternal life by what they do in this life.

Any gospel that claims that you have any--even the smallest role--in your salvation, is a false gospel. It is a perversion that offers a false christ who only "helps" you toward salvation, but does not save and is therefore not the true Christ, but no more than an idol. Those who preach such "gospels" are condemned (Galatians 1:8-9) unless they repent. Those who worship this false jesus have fallen into idolatry.

While this gospel perversion is not always clearly evident in certain faith statements offered by so-called churches or denominations, it is most easily identified when the group admits that it believes a true Christian may “lose his or her salvation.” Whenever you hear such a thing, you can know you are dealing with a false body of worshippers. They may be sincere, but they are sincerely mistaken about the good news of Christ Jesus.

Jesus has promised us that all who believe in him have eternal life and that he will not let us be condemned, perish or be snatched from his hands (John 5:24 and 10:27-30). Those who do not believe these promises from Jesus, reject Jesus himself and his gospel. To believe that a true Christian can lose his or her salvation, is a rejection of Jesus's clear gospel promises and thus a rejection of Jesus. It is a refusal to give him all the credit for our salvation.

These people usually believe instead a false gospel that claims Christ can die for someone without saving them. They claim that Jesus shed his blood to the death for some people who will end up in hell. Of course, this false gospel makes Jesus himself a failure, and causes people to focus on themselves instead of Christ for their salvation. They start trusting in their own works, prayers and good deeds to help them attain heaven instead of putting all their trust in Christ.

This false gospel is found in Roman Catholicism and among many Protestant denominations as well. Sadly, it has spread like a cancer in the last 100 years to encompass most of what is called Christianity in our day.

You will most often hear this false gospel preached when you hear the word "free will." Those who believe in the power of this so-called "free will" of man often give it a very elevated place in their lives. Though they cannot tell us where to find it in the Bible, they insist that it is very important to God that we come to him voluntarily, of our own "free will" or choice. However, this is contrary to Christ’s own words in the Bible where he tells us that no one comes to him, unless the Father calls him (John 6:44, 6:65), that it is not we who choose him, but he who chooses us (John 15:16), and that we are to pray that God's will, be done (Matthew 6:10), not our own will.

Their false belief in their own "free will" control of their life and destiny also allow them to reject the fact that God is in total control of all things, past, present and to come (Ephesians 1:4-5). In other words, they also reject the doctrine of predestination, which is no more than our humble admission that God is in total control of everything. If he wasn’t in total control, he would not be an almighty God. If he wasn't in total control—we could not believe all his promises, but because he is in total control, we can believe all those promises. All who worship a God who is not in total control, worship an idol of their own making.

Exploiting or reducing the Lord’s Supper

The Lord's Supper has also been corrupted in Roman Catholicism as a re-presented sacrifice that goes far beyond any biblical explanation provided by Jesus himself, ending in idolatry. On the other hand, in most of Protestantism, Christ's own words and biblical promise to give us his body and blood, have been rejected by being reduced to no more than a representation—and usually a shallow representation at that. All of these so-called churches claim to know the gospel, but continue to reject it in either word or sacrament and sometimes both.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the true church is able to see these false teachings and reject all false gospels. It celebrates the truth of the gospel of Christ in both word and sacrament. It proclaims the truth of Christ's finished work--that has won the salvation of all who believe in him, and it invites them to be baptized and receive Christ's body and blood in his Supper for their strengthening. It calls upon true believers to join in the community of faith that is the true church.

The church is the community that the Lord himself founded with the promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Amen. -- brother Jim