•••by Russell Young
We often hear about the elephant in the room, meaning the issue that everyone knows about and which no one wants to address. The elephant in the church is the issue of the gospel. I have not yet met a pastor who can articulate the gospel message. Its presentation is often piecemeal and its understanding gained as in trying to untangle a knotted ball of string. One knot can be pulled and removed but the full gospel is often left a mystery…confused and entangled. John Saxe presented the confusion in his poem/fable, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” I will not record it here because it is too long but it can be found on the internet.
The poem relates how some blind men (theologians and church leaders) approach theological issues. None have a full understanding. Like the blind men one approaches the tail and describes the elephant as being like a rope. Another touches an ear and declares the elephant to be like a fan, while another touches the knee and declares it to be like a tree, etc. The author relates that although the blind men might be partly right, they are all in the wrong. Perhaps they should have done more touching in order to gain greater truth.
Pastor often admonishes congregants to reach out to their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours in order to share the gospel or to be Christ to them. Sharing can be difficult and ineffective when gospel truths are not accurately known, when the gospel has not been made clear to those asked to share. Experience shows that few people, even those who have attended church for years, can put the gospel into words. Very recently a gentleman who had been attending an evangelical church for some time declared that ALL would be saved; eternal salvation wasn’t an issue to him.
Understanding and presentation of the doctrine of eternal salvation seems to lack critical consideration. Teaching is often not clear and considered. Knowledge of the gospel as an entity seems to be somethings is best avoided. Sometimes a “string” in the knotted ball of gospel truths may be pulled at a certain time and in a certain area and people are left to gain what they might from that tugging while on another occasion the string might be picked at in another spot. The ball never gets untangled. Frequently, praise songs have become the methodology of presentation and many of those contain inaccuracies. Too often knowledge of the gospel has been left to such instances and devices and its truths are never really formed. Surely, in the twenty-first century the church can do better at conveying these essential truths
Concerning the mandate of church leadership Paul wrote, “It was he [the Lord] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [See Hebrews 5:13-6:3], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV) The nature of the gospel needs to be boldly approached and critically considered if the body is to act as the voice of God in a wicked world. It’s understanding can’t be left to chance. According to Paul prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors have been gifted for that purpose.
In his letter to Timothy Paul prophesied, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, etc.-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2Timothy 3:1-5, NIV) That is, not only will those ‘outside’ the church have become disgraceful in their attitudes and practices, but even those who “have a form of godliness,” those ‘inside,’ will have missed the mark and an understanding of the truths of the gospel.
The Lord also prophesied to the degradation of true spiritual worship and its relationship to the destruction of the world. “The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” Isaiah 24:5-6, NLT) God’s instructions, laws, and everlasting covenant remain important to Him and their place in the gospel and in the New Covenant must be made clear.
Confusion has reigned from the beginning of the church on this issue. Christ taught that “everyone is forcing his way into it [the kingdom of God. (Luke 16:16, NIV)” and then referred to the need of satisfying the Law. The gospel must be presented sufficiently clear so that no one can attempt to force his way into the kingdom.
The church CANNOT DO church (be used of God to build His kingdom) unless they ARE the church. Believers must be equipped with the truth of the gospel so that they can live it and share it, and to do that with conviction.