salvation - what does it mean?
“Have you been saved?” Those were the first words used to greet a member of my former church when he went to visit a Presbyterian church closer to his home. He drove quite a distance to get to our church and when a new congregation planted itself closer to his home, he decided to try it out. As he walked through the front doors of the new church, the first person to meet him asked if he had been saved. The question so unnerved my friend that he had no idea what to say…so he mumbled something excused himself and headed for the sanctuary. The next week when he was back with us, he wanted to know how he should have answered. Though we might not have encountered quite the same situation, chances are many of us might have wondered as well how to answer the question…so we will take a look at what this being saved thing is all about.
In its most basic sense, the word “saved” implies that one is saved from something and to something. One is saved from an onrushing train (your car moves off of the tracks) to safety (to the roadway clear of the train). Within Judaism and Christianity there are several traditional ways in which this “saved from” and “saved to” language has been used.
Within Judaism saved has most often referred to being physically saved from illness or death. In early Judaism (before the exile to Babylon) there was no sense of eternal life and so to be saved was a very real saving of one’s life here and now. As a belief in eternal life began to take hold, being saved meant being saved from an eternity in the shadowy netherworld of Sheol (the place of the dead) to a resurrected life back on earth following God’s redemption of the righteous (those who obeyed the Law of Moses).
Within Christianity the earliest way in which this language was used was that people are saved from sin into new life. The understanding here is that sin leads us away from the life-giving ways of God and into the death dealing ways of “the world.” By following Jesus (usually expressed in terms of believing in Jesus) our path is altered and we leave behind the ways of death, which harm us and others, and we enter a new path which leads to a way of life which positively impacts the world on God’s behalf. The end result, very much like with Judaism, was that the saved were resurrected into God’s renewed world.
The most frequent use of “saved” in the American religious tradition was and is that people are saved from hell and to heaven. This is the theme of every evangelical crusade that has set up a tent or filled an auditorium. The underlying belief is that if someone makes a profession of faith in Jesus, one is saved from eternal punishment in hell and into eternal bliss in heaven. Chances are this is what the person meant when he asked my friend if he was saved. My favorite example of this view of salvation comes from the Crystal Cathedral which once had a TV promotion where a person could call in, tell the operator that they had professed faith in Jesus and the caller would be sent a ticket to heaven.
A summary of the biblical sense of salvation then is that humanity, including the Jews as God’s chosen children, had abandoned God’s plan for the world (to love God and neighbor) and had chosen instead a destructive self-centered manner of life. Somehow this self-destructive path needed to be altered so that as humanity awaited the coming Kingdom of God, they would more and more demonstrate God’s love to the world. This is why Jesus, as would any good Jew, spent so much time talking about life here on earth, rather than about heaven. Salvation for Jesus was connected with how one lived one’s life in the present moment, not as a way to earn salvation, but as a way of demonstrating that one was in fact being saved (changed more and more into a God-centered individual). At the same time salvation did contain an after-death component which impacted how one might spend eternity. Next week we will spend some time with this eternal component.
salvation - its place in scripture
Salvation is one of the center pieces of the scriptures. In both the Old and New Testaments the language of salvation is an integral portion of the narrative story as well as the theology of the letters of the Apostles. Needless to say then we ought to examine what we believe the final outcome of this salvation process to be.
As has been noted, the most frequent use of “saved” in the American religious tradition was and is that people are saved from hell and to heaven. With that in mind let’s begin with a short tour of hell. Hell was a concept that developed over a long period of time. The Old Testament begins with no sense of after-life at all. Dead was dead and thus salvation always had to do with saving one’s life in the here and now. Slowly as a belief in life-after death began to take hold of Jewish thought, Sheol began to be the place of the dead. Depending on which source you read, Sheol was either the place for all of the dead (good and evil alike) or merely the final home of those who were evil. At this point punishment was not part of the plan. The final vision of hell as we know it took shape in and around the time of Christ. We can see this view in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the beggar (Luke 16:19-31) in which the rich man is suffering in hell and thirsting for water because he failed to help others as the Torah demanded. Thus the Bible has no consistent view of hell.
We now turn to heaven. Once again we need to realize that the scriptures do not offer us a consistent view of heaven, just as they do not offer us one of hell. In the Old Testament “the heavens” are the home of God, the angels and God’s heavenly court. There is no sense that human beings ever end up there. There are a couple of exceptions (Enoch and Elijah) but other than these two holy men all people die and are buried with their ancestors. Under the influence of Persian thought as gained during the exilic period (588 BCE - 538BCE), Judaism developed new concepts of heaven and hell.
Heaven became a place in which the souls of the righteous dead temporarily resided until the resurrection of the dead at the great judgment of God. Though this view was not shared by all of Judaism (the Sadducees did not believe in an after-life) it was popular during the time of Jesus. The Book of Revelation offers us a glimpse of this belief in that those who died in Christ are seen as living in heaven, in the very presence of God (6:9-11). Again though, the Bible has no consistent view of heaven.
What we do have in the New Testament however is a clear view that our final destination is not hell or heaven, but here; the earth. The Book of Revelation, along with other parts of scripture, tells us that God’s plan is to redeem not only our souls, but our bodies. In other words, in the end all persons are resurrected (given new physical bodies) in order to stand before God and be judged according to what they have done (Rev. 20:12). Human beings are resurrected with bodies which do not die and are guided internally by God’s spirit (I Cor. 15:35-44). In these new bodies people live on a renewed earth which is intimately linked with new heaven (Rev. 21:1-4). And what about hell? The Book of Revelation (20:14-15) makes clear that in the end even hell is destroyed by being thrown into the “Lake of Fire.” The only persons who end up in the Lake of Fire are those whose names are not “written in the Lamb’s book of life” and those who reject God’s new heaven and earth (More about that next week).
Salvation then becomes not about leaving earth and being beamed up to heaven, but about being resurrected and renewed at the end of this age, in order to live with God into the new age of God’s Kingdom. Salvation is about physical life, death and new eternal physical life. The bottom line for God is that life is good and thus God wants to restore every human being to the fullness of life for which God originally intended them. Heaven is the interim location of our post death existence as we await the resurrection of our bodies and the new life which that resurrection brings.
salvation - is it be law or grace?
One of the central questions with which both Judaism and Christianity have wrestled with is how does one obtain salvation? There are two spectra along which answers fall: Law/works vs. grace/faith; and election/being chosen vs. choosing/free will. We will look at the first spectrum today.
We begin with Law/works. Within the Old Testament there is the sense that salvation is offered only when the people do what God wants them to do. The idea is that the covenant is an if-then proposition. If you will do what I tell you to do, God says, then I will be your God and you will be my people. Though God never abandons the people of Israel as a whole, there are many individuals within the community who are lost along the way. Two examples are those post-Exodus people who died in the wilderness because they refused to enter the Promised Land and those who were killed in the Babylonian conquest because they refused to listen to the prophets. This view reaches its fullest expression in the time of Christ as the Pharisees argued that the coming Kingdom of God was reserved for the righteous; meaning those who perfectly kept the Law(s) of Moses.
While the Apostle Paul seems to reject works as a means to salvation, he hedges his bets a bit in his letter to the Galatians (5:21b) when, after offering a list of sins, he writes, “I warn you as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” These words suggest that while we may not have to perform certain works in order to be saved, there are some actions that might prevent us from receiving that same salvation. James and Revelations are two biblical books which focus on the connection between works and salvation. In James (2:14ff) we read “What does it profit, my brothers and sisters, if a person says they have faith but have not works? Faith cannot save him. So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead.” At the end of the book of Revelation (20:12) it is stated that “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books; by what they had done.” Thus salvation appears to be tied to works.
We now examine grace/faith. While most of us might not associate the Old Testament with grace, there are numerous examples of grace at work. God does not kill Adam and Eve for violating the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead God saves them by making them clothing so that they would not be naked. When Cain slays Able, God does not kill Cain in return, instead placing a mark upon Cain in order to save him. When King David violates at least half of the commandments during his affair with Bathsheba, God does not kill him but instead forgives him. Each of these instances offers us a glimpse of God offering salvation based on grace rather than works.
In the New Testament we witness Jesus offering salvation through grace to sinners and tax-collectors, to the woman caught in adultery and to Peter after Peter had denied Jesus three times following Jesus’ arrest. The Apostle Paul builds his theology around grace rather than works. In his letter to the church in Ephesus (2:8) Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” This thought is made even clearer in his letter to the Galatians (3:10,13), “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” In other words no one can keep the law perfectly so no one can be saved by the Law/works. Thus the only basis for salvation is grace of God received through faith.
This coming week we will look at the other spectrum; that of election/being chosen vs. choosing/free will.
salvation - is it by choice or election?
In this article we will look at the second spectrum of salvation, the election/chosen vs. choice/free will.
We will begin with election/chosen. Within the Biblical story there is always a sense of God choosing people; choosing people for God’s purposes as well as choosing people for salvation. We see this in the stories of individuals; Abram (chosen to be blessed and to bless the world); David (chosen not only to be king for a day, but as the father of an eternal lineage of kings); and the prophets (chosen to bring God’s word to the people). None of these people applied for their jobs, God called and chose them. We see this being chosen in terms of the whole people of Israel as well. Through the covenant with Abram, God made it clear that the Israelites were a people chosen/elected for a task (to bless the world). Since God’s covenant was irrevocable Israel knew that God would always save her. Thus within Judaism there was a strong sense that their salvation was based on having been chosen by God.
This same theme echoes throughout Paul’s New Testament Letters as regards Christians. The greatest example of this sense of salvation through being chosen comes to us in Romans 8:28-30. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” What Paul appears to be telling his readers is that salvation is a gift from God that comes to those whom God has chosen/elected. Salvation is therefore all about being chosen.
We turn now to choice/free will. Within the Biblical context there are numerous stories about people making their own choices (free will) as regards their relationship with God. The Adam and Eve story (Genesis 3) allows us to view the first two humans making a conscious decision to disobey God. “…Eve took some of the fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband and he ate.” Their decision forced them from the safe confines of the garden and the eternal life it offered, to a life to drudgery and death. A positive example of choosing occurs at the end of the book of Joshua. Joshua is the account of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites once they emerge from the wilderness. The quote I am offering comes from the last chapter of the book (24:15). The speaker is Joshua, the dying leader of the Israelites. Now that the land has been conquered, the people of Israel have to decide if they will be obedient to God. “If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The impression we are given is that the people are free to choose salvation by choosing God, or to choose death by following other gods.
In the New Testament we see choices being made by numerous individuals. Judas chooses to betray Jesus). We see Peter choosing to deny Jesus. We see Pharisees choosing not to believe in Jesus. We see Nicodemus, Zacchaeus and the disciples choose to follow Jesus. Even Paul in the book of Romans (1:21) write as if people chose not to believe in God. “…for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking.” The Book of James (1:13-15) goes so far as to say that we tempt ourselves (thus intentionally choosing death over salvation). “Let no one say when they are tempted, “I am tempted by God.”…but each person is lured and enticed by his own desire…which brings forth death.” Again it appears that we can choose salvation or death.
salvation - the great debates
Across the centuries there have been two great debates about the issue of how one gains or loses salvation. The first occurred in the early 400s (CE). The debate was between Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and Pelagius, a British Monk who lived and wrote from Rome. Augustine was among the early proponents of Original Sin. First mentions by Irenaeus (2nd century) Original Sin was the idea that in Adam’s fall sin arrived in the world and was passed down from generation to generation. This passing on of Original Sin was often seen as the result of sexual relations which Augustine declared to be sinful in and of themselves. The outcome of sin then was that “the will” in every human being (meaning the ability to choose the Godly thing) was corrupted (sinful) and thus humans were bound for damnation. The only way that human beings could be saved was by God freely choosing to make the liberating work of Christ on the cross real in their lives (called imputation of righteousness). Thus Augustine argues that salvation is the result of our being chosen or elected by God for salvation.
Pelagius on the other hand argued that Original Sin did not exist and that human beings were free to choose between sin/death and obedience/salvation. In so doing Pelagius was following in the footsteps of many of the early church Fathers. Early theologians such as Justin Martyr (100-165 CE), Irenaeus (2nd century), Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and Tertullian (160-225 CE) all were very clear that human beings had the ability to make free choices. Their argument was that if human beings did not have free choice then they could not be held responsible for their actions, and thus there would be no condemnation for sin.
The sin of Adam was not passed down but was merely a bad example. They also argued that if Original Sin was real then infants who died before they could be baptized (baptism was seen as cleansing from original sin) could not be saved, which was the view of Augustine and his followers. Thus salvation for Pelagius is a free choice which every human being can make.
The second great debate about these issues took place during the Reformation around the turn of the 17th century. On the one hand there were Calvinists who believed that all human beings are sinful and that only by being chosen for salvation through the unmerited favor of God could someone enter the Kingdom. One way in which they described their view was T.U.L.I.P. This referred to Total depravity (humans cannot save themselves); Unconditional Election (God freely chooses us); Limited atonement (Jesus work on the cross only applies to those chosen by God); Irresistible grace (if God wants someone saved God will save them); and Perseverance of the saints (once God has ahold of you God will never let you go). Thus salvation was based on election and grace, not free choice and works.
On the opposite side of the fence were those who followed Jacobus Arminius. Arminius and his followers argued that election by God was based not on God’s choice but on the free choice of every human being; Christ’s work on the cross was only applied to those who asked for it through faith; that grace is resistible; and that people can wander away from God and be lost. Thus salvation was based on a free choice and could be lost if someone chose not to believe or to be obedient to God.
In today’s world Presbyterian and Reformed congregations favor the Augustine/Calvinist view while Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalist and some Unitarian/Universalists favor the Pelagiun/Arminian view. Next week we will look at a modern Reformed (Presbyterian) take on salvation.
salvation - the reformed perspective
In this article we will examine how Reformed churches (including Presbyterians) deal with the concept of salvation.
First, Reformed theology always begins with the problem that human beings are self-centered. The cry of our hearts is the cry of a two year old, “mine!” We are at the center of our universes and therefore we are unable to fully love God and neighbor (which is the purpose for which we were created by God). This is the condition from which we need to be saved.
Second, Reformed theology argues that we do not have the freedom to reorient our hearts and minds as we like. While Calvin and others argued that this lack of freedom was based on Original Sin, I want to cast this as the outcome of self-centeredness. In other words why would I want to trade serving only myself for serving and sacrificing for others? If our hearts are turned in upon themselves what could possibly convince us to change? This belief reminds us that we cannot save ourselves.
Third, Reformed theology believes that God reorients our hearts. God accomplishes this reorientation by applying the work of Christ on the cross to our lives. The writer of Hebrews states that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice in order that our consciences might be purified “from dead works that we might serve the Lord.” (Hebrews 9:14) This belief affirms that God in Christ is at work saving us.
Fourth, this reorienting work is a free gift of God that is sometimes referred to as Prevenient Grace; meaning God’s grace is reorienting our hearts long before we are aware of it. Scripture makes it clear that none of us can be good enough to earn this reorienting work. Every time we baptize a child we are reaffirming this Prevenient Grace by declaring that God is already at work in the lives of our children. This assertion assures us that God’s gift of salvation comes to us as a free gift.
Fifth, this reorienting work of God allows us to begin choosing to profess faith in Christ and to love God and neighbor in ways that were not before possible. The Apostle Paul mentions this in Romans 6:18 when he reminds his readers that they have been “set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness (meaning the ability to choose to do the Christ-like thing).” We become capable of making choices which enhance rather than diminish life. Even though we are not capable of always doing the right thing (Paul writes about this in Romans 7:13-20) we are capable of living ever more loving and faithful lives. Salvation then is something we experience here and now which calls us to live more and more Christ-like lives.
Sixth, as we go through life with our reoriented hearts we can do so knowing that God will never forsake us, even when we fall short of the goal of fully loving God and neighbor. In Romans chapter 8, we read, “If God is for us, who can be against us…for I am sure that nothing else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” This is the great affirmation that it is God’s power, and God’s power alone, which assures us that the salvation into which we are living now will become the salvation that carries us into eternity.
Our Reformed tradition affirms, as I believe does scripture, that it is always God who is seeking and saving. Nowhere in the Biblical story are there people who just up and choose to believe in God, or who find salvation without God initiating the relationship. God loves us. God calls us. God woos us. God saves us. In the end this affirmation is for our comfort and hope.
salvation - can we reject salvation?
A central question before us is can human beings ultimately reject the work of God in their lives and thus reject the salvation which God offers?
The answer to this question is going to center on our understanding of the balance between human freedom and divine power. As we have discussed over the past few weeks there has been an ongoing debate (for almost the last 2,000 years) between those who claim that humans have absolute freedom and those who claim that God holds all power. If we believe that humans have absolute freedom then humans can either accept or reject God. If we believe that God has all power then persons can only do what God moves them to do. Our tradition has believed far more in the power of God than in human freedom. The high water mark of this view occurred in 1618-1619 at the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands. The Synod affirmed the belief that God’s grace was irresistible. In other words, if God wanted someone to be saved, then God would save them. The individual had no choice in the matter. It was all the work of God.
Over the last hundred years many in the Reformed (Presbyterian) tradition have offered alternatives to Dort by arguing that God and humanity are connected by an I-Thou relationship and not a maker-object relationship. The concept of I-Thou was given shape, interestingly enough, by a Jewish philosopher/theologian and not by a Christian theologian. Martin Buber published his Ich and Du (I and Thou) in 1923.
The premise of the book was that we experience God not as an object but as a relational other. Thus, God experiences us in the same way. This relational understanding of our interaction with God meant that we were not objects that could or would be manipulated by God. Emil Brunner in his Dogmatics (published 1946-1960) was one of the Christian theologians who explored this idea.
Brunner wrote, “God wills a creature which is not…a mere object of His will…He desires from us an active and spontaneous response…He who creates through the Word, who as Spirit creates in freedom, wills to have a 'reflex' which is … a free spiritual act, a correspondence to His speaking. Only thus can His love really impart itself as love. For love can only impart itself where it is received in love. Hence the heart of the creaturely existence of man is freedom, selfhood, to be an ‘I’, a person. Only an ‘I’ can answer a 'Thou', only a Self which is self-determining can freely answer God. An automaton does not respond; "[i]
Brunner is reinforcing the idea that while God changes our hearts (making it possible for us to love God and neighbor) and influences us through love, God will never force our hearts to believe or to follow. What God is looking for is a response to God’s infinite love and self-giving in Jesus Christ. God desires a true relationship in which each party is free to love and respond. This being the case then it would appear possible for someone to reject the work of God in their lives. Someone could harden their heart and be so stubborn that they would rather choose a way of death rather than life; of aloneness rather than relationship.
My personal question however, is why would someone want to? When approached by infinite love and forgiveness why would anyone ultimately reject the relationship? My hope is that on this week following Christmas we will each reflect on the amazing love of God that God became one of us in order that we might find salvation; that God sent God’s only son into the world to give his life for us that we might find life now and forever.
[i] Brunner, Emil. The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, Dogmatics, Vol. II. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952. (p.55-56)
salvation who will be saved?
The penultimate question that generations of people have asked, and with which we will deal in this article is, who does or does not get saved?
We will begin with a historic laundry list from a variety of Christian traditions as to who gets saved. The list includes those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior; those who take the sacraments from a particular tradition; those who do good works; those who profess faith in Jesus and then regularly confess their sins; those who are baptized by immersion; those who are baptized by immersion in the right church; those who serve the poor; those who hold to appropriate doctrine; those who belong to the right church; those who are chosen by God; and finally everyone.
There is also a laundry list of those who will not get saved. This list includes non-Christians; people who commit particular sins (usually sexual in nature…though this can include murder); Roman Catholics; Protestants; Mormons; those not baptized by immersion; those who have not had a “personal” experience of Jesus; the wealthy; the poor; people of color; those who have not had the second baptism of the Holy Spirit; and those who do not belong to the right church or denomination.
While these two lists are cursory and not nuanced they remind us that scripture never refers to one, and only one, way in which people are saved since most of the ways on the lists have at least a minimal connection to at least one scripture verse. What these lists also show us however is the often exclusivist attitude toward salvation which declares that salvation is only intended for a small group rather than for a large group of people with the small group being composed of people “we” like.
There are several problems with both of these lists. First they attempt to boil down a relationship (God in relationship with humanity) to a simplistic formula (Jesus + something = salvation) or (Jesus – something = damnation). This does a great injustice to the scriptures which refuse to place salvation in a neatly wrapped package. Second they restrict the freedom of God to save whomever God desires to save. This issue is of particular concern to those of us in the Reformed (Presbyterian) tradition because we believe that God can and will do what God desires, regardless of our actions. Third Jesus and Paul are both very clear that as human beings we cannot know who will be saved. In fact we are warned not to even attempt such a judgment. Finally these lists fail to take into account the images of heaven and the Kingdom of God as being expansive in nature. In the Book of Revelation those who are saved are so great in number that they cannot be counted. Those condemned, on the other hand, can fit into a very small lake.
As we draw to a close in our discussion about salvation I want to offer three scriptures. First Paul reminds us that God desires that all persons be saved. “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:3-4) Second, John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Finally Peter writes, “By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (I Peter 1:3-4)
So who will be saved? In the end only God knows. The bottom line though is that we know and are known by a loving and faithful God; a loving God who is at work in our lives and in the world reshaping hearts and minds and a God who is faithful to God’s promises that we will never be lost or abandoned. This is cause for great confidence and joy.
sharing the good news of god's love
Evangelism is a practice with which most of us as Presbyterians are not overly comfortable. In my former congregation we even jokingly referred to it as the “E” word because so few people wanted to talk about it. My impression is that evangelism is not kindly thought of because of the images it evokes. The images can run the gamut from street corner preachers, to strangers who ask if we have been saved, to revivals where guys in white suits make the threat of hell so real that you can feel your clothes being singed. These images make us nervous for a number of reasons: we don’t like people invading our personal space; we have a more expansive view of God’s love and grace; or perhaps we are actually Presbyterians who believe that salvation is the work of God and cannot be accomplished by manipulating the hearts and minds of others. For these and perhaps many other reasons, we as modern Presbyterians tend to shy away from the whole idea of evangelism.
The problem with this view of evangelism is that Jesus said the following, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) In other words Jesus asked his followers to go and tell the world about his life, death and resurrection; to make people part of the community through baptism; and to teach them about following his commandments, which can be summed up as love God and love neighbor. The early church was more than willing to do this because it understood that in Jesus the very Kingdom of God had come into the world and that God wanted everyone to be a part of it. This was good news. This is the Good News. This was the message that Peter, Paul and early Jesus followers proclaimed to the world; Jesus died, rose again and in him there is life and life abundant in the in-breaking Kingdom of God.
Within the New Testament the Book of Acts is the story of this Good News telling within the Roman Empire. Though we read mainly about Paul’s missionary journeys, there are numerous others who traveled with him (Timothy, Luke, Barnabas among them) in order to invite people into the Kingdom. In Paul’s letters we are made aware of churches that were founded by unknown Jesus’ followers who had heard the Good News and shared it with others. As I pointed out in some previous articles this Good News was good news because the Kingdom of God was a wonderful alternative to the Kingdom of Rome. In the Kingdom of God there was equity and equality; compassion and care; and love and hope. Women and slaves were particularly attracted to the church because the church made it clear that they were as loved by God as was any other person. This is why today in places like India the church is growing the fastest among the lowest castes that have been oppressed for thousands of years. The good news for them is that they are valued in the eyes of God in Christ.
So how do we share the Good News? For some people the answer is to tell family and friends about what Christ has done in their lives. Good News telling is a one-on-one event. For most of us that have not received the spiritual gift of one on one Good news telling (and the Apostle Paul makes it clear that Good News telling is a gift that not everyone has) the easiest way is to invite people to visit Everybody’s Church. For if they choose to come, they will hear the Good News read and proclaimed, and they will see the Good News being lived out through mission, inclusion and community. The church family becomes the incubator in which the Good News comes alive as people experience Christ through the love and compassion of the community. The bottom line then? There is no need for white suits, threats or revivals. All that is required is for us to invite others to experience the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, which we have already come to know.