What is the “gospel” or good news that is being proclaimed today in conservative, evangelical Christianity and to whom is it applied? This post will review a broad range of answers to this question: Is the general consensus consistent with the biblical gospel?
This is not just an academic question of theology. Correctly identifying the “gospel” that is being taught and preached today goes to the heart and soul of a people, a country, a system of government, and a world view perspective. What are the implications of the “gospel” being promoted today in respect to the outcomes of a deteriorating culture? Are they connected?
These questions should peak everyone’s interest and the necessity of correctly identifying the biblical gospel.
Let’s look at the evidence of conservative, evangelical Christianity in order to arrive at a conclusion of fact. We will look at a very large sector of evangelical Christianity called Reformed or those who identify closely with Reformed theology. Again, we are only reviewing the evidence from the consensus of evangelical Christianity and NOT implying that what they are teaching and promoting is, in fact, the biblical gospel.
There are certain basic elements that define the “gospel” being taught within evangelical Christianity today. They include:
- The life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
- He was the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins
- He was raised up from the dead to save and justify the people who believe on Him
- The prophecies of the Christ were fulfilled to inaugurate a kingdom new age
There are other nuances to understanding the gospel such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper in some circles as necessary to the gospel narrative. But all in all, the above is representative of what is confessed in the evangelical world.
The Cambridge Declaration
Let’s begin with this Declaration which was a statement of faith written in 1997 by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals comprised of Anglican, Baptist, and Christian Reformed. This effort was in response to “the modern church’s abandonment of the historical confessions of faith . . .” (Wikipedia under Cambridge Declaration).
Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.
The purpose of this Declaration was stated and the problem admitted:
Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism.
As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.
The Declaration, therefore, set to reaffirm the historic faith of the Reformation and we couldn’t agree more with its assessment as stated above. Although some evangelicals would not totally agree on all the points made therein, all are in agreement on the meaning and application of the gospel. So, let’s review some of those convictions especially as it pertains to the recipients of the gospel.
The broad range of reformed Protestantism includes Continental Reformed, Presbyterian, Evangelical Anglican, Congregationalist and Reformed Baptist. The largest Reformed association is the World Communion of Reformed Churches “with more than 100 million members in 211 member denominations around the world” (Wikipedia under Calvinism). Other Reformed federations include “World Reformed Fellowship and the International Conference International Conference of Reformed Churches, as well as independent churches” (Wikipedia, ibid.).
Here are selected statements from the World Reformed Fellowship1:
- The self-revelation of the Creator to his covenant people
God makes himself known more fully and completely to his covenant people, with whom he has established a special relationship.
God’s revelation of himself in the Old and New Testaments is accurate and sufficient for human beings to know, love and serve him.
God spoke in a special way to Abraham, to whom he gave the promise that he would become the father of a great nation. He would be given a land and he would bring blessing to the whole world. These promises were renewed to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, to whom the name of Israel was given. Through Jacob’s descendants, Israel, the nation, became a special people whose historical destiny was to receive and transmit God’s Word to the world, and to prepare for the coming of a divine Saviour.
These remain valid for Christians, who have been united to the people of Israel on the basis of the faith that we share with Abraham. Christian believers form a family, the kingdom of God, which extends to the utmost limits of the world, and the preaching of the Christian gospel brings blessings to all who hear it and believe.
- The universality of sin and its consequences
In Adam all die and death has spread to everyone because all have sinned. The whole human race is implicated in the fall and its consequences: sin, alienation, violence, war, illness, suffering and death.
These statements reveal that God called Abraham and his descendants (“the people of Israel”), but as the further explanation continues, incorrectly identifies them as “Jews.” Notice also that the recipients of the gospel message are inclusive of the whole or “entire human race,” lumping all races into one category as stated below.
- Evil and humanity
Evil intruded into human life through the sin of the first human beings in the Garden of Eden. Adam is the ancestor of the entire human race and so every human being must suffer the consequences of his sin, which included a disordered world and physical death.
The International Conference of Reformed Churches2 also is inclusive:
The circle, a symbol of the world, indicates the international character of the ICRC. Around the circle we see the Church, which began small and is moving out into all the world, as the ICRC also makes clear. A continuing movement signified in the unfinished, open end. The cross, a symbol of the Church. At its starting point it is a symbol of Christ's redemptive work for all the world. The cross spans the whole world. The curved lines also support the dynamic movement in the history of the Church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
In personal correspondence with me, the Presiding Bishop (Executive, Discernment of Contextual and Theological Issues) wrote this in response to my question about to whom does the gospel apply:
“The promise of the gospel is universalis, that is, it pertains to all people” (see Article XI of the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration; p. 645 in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [Fortress Press, 2000]).”
In a statement from another representative of the ELCA-Global Mission in correspondence with me, he replied, “So, intended recipients? Anyone who hears, I guess.”
In the official statement of its constitution the “Confession of Faith,” the ELCA, asserts “the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (2.02). Further the ELCA confesses “the Gospel…as the power of God to create and sustain the Church for God’s mission in the world.” (2.07).
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS)
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which draws from various confessional statements as to the definition of the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” states:
Since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin ... (Augsburg Confession, 1)
Although the LCMS does not specify those who “are born according to the course of nature” they do embrace the universal aspect of salvation for all races.
We believe that the Scriptures teach that God’s grace in Christ Jesus is universal, embracing all people of all times and all places. (The Introduction to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, p. 8)
The LCMS confirms this in their Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod on page 7 under “Of Conversion”: “God’s grace is universal and all men are equally corrupt...” In the same document under “Of the Means of Grace” on page 11 the Lutheran Church further testifies that “the Christian church must …Go into the whole world with the preaching of the gospel …”
It appears that the foundation for its belief in a universal gospel comes from A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles, Article V “original Sin”:
We also believe that man, as the principle creature of God, was specially created in the image of God ...
We affirm that Adam and Eve were real historical human beings, the first two people in the world and that their fall was a historical occurrence which brought sin into the world so that “since the fall of Adam all men who are propagated according to nature are born in sin” ...
In other words, if all “human beings” (all races) came from Adam and Eve, then it follows that all races were made in God’s image and “born in sin” through the fall of Adam and Eve. Thus, the gospel would apply to all races equally.
The LMCS has a very active foreign missions program:
What Do Missionaries Do?3
The main priority of a missionary is to bring the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who have never heard the Good News. LCMS missionaries usually share that Good News in the language of the people they serve. . .
Today, the LCMS trains, sends and supports called and appointed career, long-term and short-term missionaries in various countries around the world and in the United States where there are mission stations, partner churches, schools or mission relationships.
Reformed Position on the Gospel
The foregoing was a survey of those in the Reformed tradition of churches, denominations and organizations that are in agreement with the gospel basics and the scope of the recipients of the gospel which is clearly globally inclusive of all races. Again, does the latter viewpoint correspond with the biblical gospel from the evidence of the Bible itself?
In Part 3, I will examine other Protestant viewpoints regarding the gospel and to whom it pertains. As this series continues, we will be examining what the biblical gospel is.
Lawrence Blanchard, ND, M.Div.
Next Up: In the next post in this series, I will be investigating more evidence from the general consensus of evangelical Christianity today regarding their current thinking on “gospel.”