Friday, 20 May 2011

The Twofold Impact of The Gospel

Telemachus was a man of peace who enjoyed the quiet life away from hustle and bustle of cities. He enjoyed walking through forests and soaking in the serenity that complemented his life as a prayerful monk. He wanted nothing more in life than to be alone with God in prayer. But all that changed when God spoke to him and told him to go to Rome. "Rome?" Telemachus protested to the Lord. Out of love for his Lord, he set from his country setting of solitude to where all roads led. Upon arrival in the city that wasn't built in a day, he saw the crowds thronging into the Colosseum. He went with the throng and quickly became disturbed by what he saw taking place. He left his seat for the arena where the gladiators were inflicting their barbarism upon each other. Telemachus took advantage of the amphitheatre's acoustics and cried out, "In the name of Christ stop this madness!" 
Telemachus's voice carried all around the stadium. Hush fell over the stunned crowd. Then someone in the crowd yelled out to one of the gladiators, "Run him through!" A gladiator then thrust his bloody sword into the man of God who took his dying breathe to repeat his plea- "In the name of Christ, stop this madness!" A deeper hush fell over the crowd as the dying monk slumped to the dirt. As his lifeless body lay there, the gladiators ceased their fighting and walked from the arena. Then in utter shameful quiet each one of the thousands in the crowd filed out. News of what happened reached Emperor Honorius. He was so moved by the courage of Telemachus that three days later he outlawed the gladiatorial games from the Empire (404AD).

What do Telemachus, William Wilberforce, William Booth, and Martin Luther-King, have in common? They each had a deep commitment to the Gospel as the only means to salvation. But they each recognised that what a culture accepted as right or wrong had a direct bearing on the likelihood of that culture to either accept or reject that Gospel. They had not been duped into believing that no-one needed individual salvation, as some were teaching, and rejected this idea of Universalism (the idea that all people are actually saved with individually responding to the Gospel). They knew that Acts 11:14 plainly stated that acceptance of the Gospel was only means to salvation.
And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter;
he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'
Acts 11:13-14
None of these great men thought that social change was the same as accepting the Gospel. Neither did they think that Christian influence in the realms of society was the chief end of the Gospel. They were fully persuaded that the preaching of the Gospel was the means to salvation and that Christ alone was the means ofsalvation. William Wilberforce was a poltician who was frequently challenged about this but each time he responded by telling his challenger that the Gospel was both the means to salvation transforming an individual but it was also the means by which good manners were promoted for a society at large. That is, for the Christian, Christ's command to turn the other cheek governs how we respond to people who aggrevate us because it is written on their hearts. 
But Christ's command to turn the other cheek also serves to govern the response of those who are not born-again and helps a society to be more civil. This is what Wilberforce calledthe promotion of good manners. A society that is aware of what good manners are, is more likely to be aware that we all people are fallen sinners in need of a Saviour. As Wilberforce worked toward the reformation of manners in England, thousands upon thousands of people came to faith in Christ. 
Similarly, William Booth was preaching the Gospel across London but saw that many of the people he was ministering to were without food, clothing, and shelter. The result was that the Salvation Army was birthed and the long-standing Christian tradition of caring practically for those preached to was rekindled. "Christianity with its sleeves rolled up" was how people began to describe Booth's ministry. Martin Luther-King was a Baptist preacher who had committed his life to spreading the Gospel. But he saw two Americas: White America and Black America. He saw White America treating Black America poorly - "Madness" said Telemachus, "Bad manners" said Wilberforce, "Uncaring" agreed Booth.
¶ I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.First John 5:13
Imagine what society today would look like without the Gospel's influence. Time prevents me from discussing the similar work of my other hero, William Carey. His missionary work in India was dramatically and eternally affected by his realisation that the Gospel must shape both the individual and the society at large. He set about to outlaw an ancient Indian cultural practice of "Sati" (where a widow is burned alive on her late husband's funeral pyre). Amidst the attacks of cultural interference and trying to legislate the conversion of Hindus, Carey prevailed. He also set about to educate the lower castes. The legacy of Carey's work today is that around 300million people can trace their spiritual heritage to Carey's missionary work! 
A Gospel that says every man for himself is an imposter to the Gospel of Christ! The Gospel is immediately relevant for both the individual and society. For the individual it is the only means to salvation. For society it is the means to the reformation of manners and the goal of civility (treating each other kindly). 
Thus, when the forces of darkness attack the two-fold impact of the Gospel (both upon the individual for their eternal salvation, and a society for the reformation and preservation of manners) we should not be silent or inactive! Unless individuals hear and receive the Gospel they can not enter eternal life! Let us not entertain the utter foolishness of trendy, psuedo-spiritual, Pelagian, decaffe-soy-milk-latte-sipping, hoodwinkers who would tell us there is no hell, no eternal peril, no final judgment, no problem - and still dare to call themselves "Christian". The Gospel is under attack from within by these wolves. But similarly, let us not become anaesthetised to society's behaviour when they tell us to keep our 'religion' to ourselves! AS IF OUR FAITH IN CHRIST WAS EVER A PRIVATE MATTER!!!!! Faith in Christ is most certainly an individual matter - but it is most certainly not a private matter! 
We preach the Gospel because it is only means to salvation. Don't read that statement too quickly or pass over it as if it were just a collection of words. We preach the Gospel because it is only means to salvation! We preach the Gospel to our society because it is the only means to achieve good manners and civility. And it is the Gospel's unique ability to reform manners that best prepares the way for an individual to accept the Gospel and thus find salvation for their soul.
This is why I would like you to join with me in writing to our Federal Tasmanian Parliamentarians and let them know that The Marriage Act should not be amended in a way that redefines marriage to allow two people of the same gender to wed. The most loving thing a Christian can do for someone who has same-sex attraction is not to affirm their desires (in Romans 1, the Apostle Paul has something to say about Christians being equally guilty of sexual sin if they do not challenge sexual sin) but to lovingly challenge them with the truth of God's Word which calls them to surrender their every desire to the Lordship Christ who gives the hope of salvation. I think Telemachus would agree, and Wilberforce would join with Booth and Luther-King in saying, "Amen!"
Father, we pray for our friends, family and neighbours who do not yet know Christ. May they both hear and receive the Gospel. Open their hearts and prpare their minds to accept the truth. Remove the veil of blindness from their spiritual eyes. Give us a deeper compassion for the lost. Fill our hearts with love for those for whom Christ died. Cause us to pray as we should. Cause us to live lives that reflect our utter devotion to You. When we fall, pick us up. When we stray, bring us back. Fill our hearts, minds and souls with Your Word, the Truth, so that we can speak to our society and lovingly challenge the Devil's lies. Lift us out of our world through the inspiration of Your Word so that we can be of real use within our world. In Jesus Name', Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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