The churches in the more prosperous northern hemisphere, in particular, need to return to the gospel of Christ. That gospel is not just about individual salvation, but a life transformation that results in compassion, service and a striving for justice.
This was the message that Richard Stearns, President of World Vision United States, brought in what I thought was one of the defining events of the Cape Town 2010 Lausanne Congress on 24 October. He argues that there is ‘a hole’ in our Gospel.
The video is only 15 minutes long but worth every second. Share it with your friends, show it in your house groups and churches and help spread this message right from the heart of God.
You can watch the whole address on line but I have excerpted some of the highlights below to whet your appetite.
For a much fuller treatment of the underlying issues you can read Richard’s new book (2010 Christian book of the year!), ‘The Hole in our Gospel’.
The full title says it all, ‘The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World’.
Wealth, Poverty and Power - The Hole in our Gospel (transcript)
‘When Jesus read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth he proclaimed the stunning truth that he was the Messiah and that he had come to preach the good news to the poor, the good news that man could be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of his Son. But Jesus did not stop there at proclamation. He also spoke of restoring sight for the blind, freeing the captives and oppressed, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. It was a reference to the year of Jubilee instituted by God to promote economic justice and to prevent economic exploitation and disparity.
Jesus described a big Gospel, a Gospel that began with proclamation and evangelism, yes, but also embraced compassion toward our fellow man and biblical justice – proclamation, compassion and justice – you see these three defined the good news of Jesus Gospel. These three were the coming signs of Jesus coming on earth. These three were the revolutionary truths that would change the world as we know it and help us claim it for Christ.
The whole Gospel makes demands upon the rich and the poor that go beyond belief. This whole Gospel means a total surrender to God’s kingdom, not just believing the right things but doing the right things as well.
We are called to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien and the stranger. We’re called to lift up justice and fight economic disparity; to speak up for the voiceless and to hold our governments accountable; to challenge racism and bigotry; to be generous with our money and to live lives of integrity before a watching world.
The most powerful evangelism of all involves not just speaking the good news but being the good news. Not just preaching the Gospel but demonstrating the Gospel because love for our neighbours that is only spoken is not love at all. You see love must be demonstrated.
This radical gospel of love, word and deed was intended by Jesus to launch a social and spiritual revolution on earth, one that had the power to change the world. And we were to be on the front lines of that revolution, we the church. That was the plan. Jesus called that the coming of the Kingdom of God and it was meant to be good news for the entire world.
But sadly the church over the centuries has often failed to be that good news…
What about our generosity? In the wealthiest of all nations in Christian history we give just 2.5% of our incomes to God’s work, 75% less than the biblical tithe. And 98% of what we give is spent in the United States – 98% for us and 2% for the rest of the world.
“I was hungry while you had all you needed. I was thirsty but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes but you needed more clothes. I was sick but you pointed out the behaviours that led to my sickness. I was in prison and you said I was getting what I deserved.”
This is the version of Matthew 25 that many Americans and even churches have embraced.
I believe that the American church stands at a crossroads. The world we live in under siege. Three billion are desperately poor, one billion hungry, millions are trafficked in human slavery. Ten million children die needlessly every year. Wars and conflicts are wreaking havoc. Pandemic diseases are spreading and ethnic conflict is flaming. Terrorism is growing. Most of our brothers and sisters in the developing world live in grinding poverty. And in the midst of this stands the church in America with resources, knowledge and tools unequalled in the history of our faith.
I believe we stand on the brink of a defining moment and have a choice to make.
When historians look back in 100 years what will they write about this nation of 340,000 churches? What will they say of the churches response to the great challenges of our time; AIDS, poverty, hunger, terrorism and war?
Will they say that these authentic Christians rose up courageously and responded to the tide of human suffering to comfort the afflicted and douse the flames of hatred? Will they speak of an unprecedented outpouring of generosity to meet the needs of the world’s poor? Will they speak of the moral leadership and compelling vision of our leaders? Will they write that this, the beginning of the 21st century, was the churches’ finest hour?
Or will they look back and see a church too comfortable and insulated from the pain of the rest of the world, empty of compassion and devoid of deeds? Will they write about a people who stood by and watched while a hundred million died of AIDS, and 50 million children were orphaned, of Christians who lived in luxury and self indulgence while millions died from a lack food and water?
Will school children write and discuss about a church who had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build hospitals, schools and clinics? In short will we be remembered as the church that had 'a hole in its Gospel'?
I want you to imagine just for a moment what would happen if we in the Christian community really stepped up to God’s call to take the good news to the ends of the earth. What if our wealthy churches turned their faces outward away from their big sanctuaries, PowerPoint screens and praise music and turned their faces toward the pain and brokenness in our world? What if we brought the whole tithe into the storehouse and embraced the whole Gospel?
Sometimes I dream and I ask "What if?" What if we actually took this Gospel seriously? Could we, might we, actually be able to change the world? As I close let me read you an imaginary press release from the United Nations dated 2025…’
(for the rest of this address watch the full fifteen minutes of Richard Stearns Cape Town 2010 address ‘Wealth, Poverty and Power - The Hole in our Gospel’ )