Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good News or Gospel?

"The Great Commission", as it is called, is Jesus' last instructions to his disciples. First he tells them that "all authority in heaven and earth" had been given to him, and then he tells them to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to do everything that he had taught them. 

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Matt. 28:16)

I never noticed this before. Doubt? What could they possibly doubt? They saw Jesus heal and do all kids of miracles, raise people from death, die himself, raise himself...what are they wavering about? I don't know. But if the gospel we are to preach is "believe the correct doctrine and never have any doubts about it", well...it doesn't look like Jesus disciples are even capable of that.

Speaking of correct doctrine, I want to address the doctrine of Jesus crucifixion being a substitutionary punishment for sin. I've talked about this a lot before, because I see it as the main problem with how we relate to God. (it makes God incapable of forgiving unless somebody pays a price--can you imagine a earthly parent like that?) But here I'm going to come at it from a different angle. If Jesus dying for our sins is the main point of the gospel message, which at least in my experience it has been, then how could Jesus have sent out his disciples to preach it before he even died. 

Over and over Jesus is preaching "good news" and telling his disciples to preach it. Here is one example:

 "And it came to pass thereafter, that he was going through every city and village, preaching and proclaiming good news of the reign of God, and the twelve [are] with him"(Luke 8:1)

I'm using the Youngs' Literal, because for some reason other translations use "gospel" sometimes, and "good news" at other times. The Young's Literal only uses "good news". I don't know why translators thought it necessary to make the good news into the "gospel", but I can't help thinking it must have been because they needed to distinguish between the two so their doctrines would make sense.

How did we get to a place where correct doctrine was the difference between being saved or being damned? I think this verse sheds some light on that:

"but even if we or a messenger out of heaven may proclaim good news to you different from what we did proclaim to you -- anathema let him be!" (Gal. 1:8)

When I saw this, I thought I would have to retract my statement that Paul never mentions hell, (from my "Here Comes the Hammer" post) because I thought that "anathema" meant a sentence of eternal hell. But, according to dictionary.com it doesn't. It's definitely not a good thing; a curse of sorts, but "eternal" does not need to be applied, nor anything to do with the afterlife for that matter. Paul is pissed, no doubt, because somebody is messing with his teachings. If Paul is this upset, it must be they are messing with Jesus divinity--maybe denying the trinity?

"When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong. He used to eat with Gentile followers of the Lord, until James sent some Jewish followers. Peter was afraid of the Jews and soon stopped eating with Gentiles...but when I saw that they were not really obeying the truth that is in the good news, I corrected Peter in front of everyone and said:
Peter, you are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile. So how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Gal.2:11-14)

Paul is upset because certain Jews want to keep everybody under the Jewish law. So, Paul is wanting to give anathema to people who exclude people because of rules. I want people to reconsider the importance of the "homosexuality is a sin" rule, because it excludes people...do you think Paul would be upset? Do you think he would be telling me that "I don't take the Bible seriously enough"? Do you think he would understand my anger over it? I also want people to believe that God can save everyone--that physical death is not a hindrance to the power of God. Do you think Paul would be warning people that I'm preaching a message other than his, when he said himself that all would be made alive in Christ? Here is an excerpt from Thomas Talbott's essay called "St. Paul's Universalism" which I think sheds light on what the good news really is.

"Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” This is typically Pauline. In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul again writes: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32); and in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, he writes: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”(15:22). In each of these texts, we encounter a contrast between two universal statements, and in each case the first “all” seems to determine the scope of the second. Accordingly, when Paul asserts in Romans 5:18 that Christ’s one “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all,” he evidently has in mind every descendant of Adam who stands under the judgment of condemnation; when he insists in Romans 11:32 that God is merciful to all, he has in mind every human being whom God has “shut up” to, or has “imprisoned” in, disobedience; and finally, when he asserts in I Corinthians 15:22 that “all will be made alive in Christ,” he has in mind everyone who has died in Adam. The grammatical evidence here seems utterly decisive; you can reject it only if you are prepared to reject what is right there before your eyes. And though there seems to be no shortage of those who are prepared to do just that, the arguments one actually encounters have every appearance, it seems to me, of a grasping at straws.

I know that when most Christians read "one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life", they hear "Jesus death makes it possible for God to forgive us so we can go to heaven". But it doesn't say that. Here is one possible definition for justification:  "the act of vindicating or defending against criticism"

Humans criticise, we condemn, we want people punished for their sins...forever. If people hurt us, they need to pay for it! But it seems that Paul is saying there are two stages of being human. The first stage leads to death, the second to life. We can't help the first stage--it leads to the second stage. (sort of like the stages of a butterfly; why condemn a caterpillar, when that is how it's created in order to turn into a butterfly) Dare I say Paul is saying this was the plan of God from the beginning, when he clearly says it was God who " has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." (Romans 11:32) So maybe, Jesus' righteousness is vindicating that being human is a beautiful thing; or at least it will be when we are finished.