The Whole Gospel please... everything
Traveling and teaching is nearly always a joy for me, primarily because of the incredible privilege I have of meeting Christians from other parts of the world and hearing their story. In the fall, I met two young women from far eastern Russia, living just miles from the Chinese border. They'd traveled two week by train and bus in order to be in southern Germany to study the Bible. Moldova, Romania, and other parts far and wide expose me to the larger body of Christ, and it's through these travels that I learn first hand just how flexible the wine skins of the gospel are.
I didn't expect my trip to Boston this past weekend to hold such international encounters, but I spent lunch on Saturday with an absolutely delightful couple from Rwanda. Both of them have seen immense suffering. Both of them have known want and deprivation. Both of them glowed (it's the only word I can use to describe it) with joy and overflowing love for Christ.
After asking them to explain the Rwanda situation to me, I sat and listened for nearly an hour as they spoke of the occupation of Rwanda by Belgium, and how this contributed to the Tutsi, Hutu tribal conflict, inflaming it so that when the occupation ended, the people turned on each other. There are many more details, but a good article that grants an accurate overview can be found here.
The reason this story shakes me to the core is because Rwanda had, until the genocide, been held up as a successful missions endeavor. Considered one of the most Christianized countries in Africa, this article offers both statistics and an assessment of how, in such a Christianized country, this tragedy could have happened: 800,000 killed (that's pretty much all of Seattle) in about 100 days. After listening to my new Rwandan friends, my heart was heavy, and I came away with my own assessment, which has application for this time and place in history:
1. We must preach the whole gospel. It is never enough to reconcile people to Jesus Christ. If that sounds like heresy, it shows how far we've veered from the heart of the gospel. The good news of Christ is His invitation to be reconciled with God, yes; but it includes, just as necessarily, the glad news that Jesus is reconciling people with one another. This is why Jesus talks about the two great commandments: love God, love your neighbor, and then tells us a story to explain that our neighbor might just be someone radically different than us (African American, Hispanic, Muslim, Gay, homeless, uneducated...). This is why Paul goes to great lengths to explain that the dividing wall, present in the temple of the Old Covenant has been broken down, shattered, annihilated. We MUST.... MUST... MUST learn how to love one another. This, Jesus says, is the proving ground of our faith.
I left this lunch intent on never shrinking back from declaring the social dimension of the gospel out of fear that I might be labeled; post-modern/ emergent/ liberal -- I don't care about labels. I do care that Jesus be made visible, and that His people work actively to love and reconcile relationships. Dear God, would you help us not only declare reconciliation, but to live it.
2. The good news must be imparted to each generation. Easily and quickly, the good news that is life in Christ can become nothing more than an empty set of activities - go to church, listen to some talking - sing a bit - go home. When this happens, everything can look placid on the surface, as it did in Rwanda as, Sunday after Sunday the roads would be lined with people dressed up and walking to church together. In only a few short weeks, those same people would be killing each other, and when some would run into church buildings for refuge, they'd find none, and lose their lives.
This is why I get so insenced when American churches argue about forms of worship: what kind of music should we sing? should the pastor wear a tie? should we sit in a circle and should the pews and chairs point forward? Of course, we need to make these kinds of decisions and they should be thoughtful and principle based, but please: don't confuse finding the right form with imparting the reality of Christ. You can be pierced, tatooed, relevant, experiential, funny, gather a crowd, have killer music, and still miss the point entirely. Most significant is the question of whether we're intent on embodying the reign of Christ by serving one another in love and living out the hard work of displaying God's relational reconciling power! This we MUST... MUST... MUST make a priority.
The story in Rwanda isn't over. Though there have been good steps of reconciliation and forgiveness taken, some fear that as refugees return, the killing will begin again. Let's not even get started with a discussion about the role of the US and UN in this, though if you're interested, here's a place to go.
But more significant, I wanted to share with you that, even as Paul wrote of Israel's failures in I Cor. 10, "these things were written as an example..." I pray that we'll learn because we're dangerously naive if we believe that our material well being can somehow by a pass that exempts us from both the hard work, and the joy and glory of moving towards reconciliation with all people.
Cheers... I welcome your thoughts.