Friday, December 3, 2010

A Holy Gospel

No sooner had I finished last week’s blog that I thought of another line to my eclectic credo. Here it is:
I believe in an open Gospel
I believe in a total Gospel
I believe in a holy Gospel

“Holy” is one of those words that you think you know, but when you sit down to write a definition of it, you suddenly realize you don’t. This is the point at which most people will run to their dictionaries. As I am concerned with a Holy Christian Gospel, I’m going to run to my Bible, in particular God’s command to his people to…
Be holy, because I am holy
This phrase occurs several times in the Bible. In Leviticus 11:44, it’s in the context of a command about what animals the Israelites may or may not eat, followed by a repetition in Leviticus 11:45, which puts it in the context of Israel’s redemptive history and provides the rationale to the command. In Leviticus 19:2 it’s a prologue to a variation on the Ten Commandments (see also Exodus 20:1-17). The New Testament sums it up in 1 Peter 1:15-16
...But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Peter, I believe, has the verses from Leviticus clearly in view, and he’s looking at them in the context of the history of redemption. The story line goes like this;

• Israel (which is representative of humanity in general) is captive in a foreign land (Egypt) that treats it very, very badly.

• Israel wants to escape, but can’t, so it appeals to God to save it

• God intervenes decisively and miraculously rescues them

• God brings his redeemed people into his land (kingdom) and sets out the ground-rules for their relationship with him so that they can continue to live there

• One of these ground-rules is that for them to be his people, he should be their God (Exodus 6:7, etc), and he doesn’t want them chasing after other Gods or saviours. He sums this up by commanding them to “be holy”

Peter draws these threads together by preaching to the New Testament Church
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
(1 Peter 2:9).

Being “holy” means being “God’s special possession”. A “holy” person belongs exclusively to God, having been redeemed by him and living a life that’s compatible with the laws of the New Kingdom.

The reason scriptures give for the command is interesting; we are to be “holy” because God is “holy”. If I can say so without being irreverent, just as we (the church) are God’s exclusive possession, so he has committed himself to us in an exclusive relationship – he has made himself our “special” possession.

The metaphor that should spring to mind here is of the marriage relationship between husband and wife, where both parties commit to a total, exclusive, intimate and enduring relationship. It’s an appropriate metaphor because it is used a number of times throughout scripture, including the story of the unfaithful wife (and faithful husband) in the opening chapters of Hosea (Hosea 1-3). See also the imagery of the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelations (Rev 21:2, 22:17 etc).

These metaphors describe the nature of the relationship between God and his people, but the impulse behind it is intriguing. The scriptures say it’s because God is holy. In other words, it is his nature to commit to his people in a total, exclusive, intimate and enduring relationship. God wants to be with us, which profoundly challenges our tendency to try to live independently from him.

Incidentally, the church has traditionally contended for the elevation of marriage between a man and a woman, though the campaign for same-sex marriage is currently challenging its stance. One of the reasons is that the church has held up marriage as a picture of God’s relationship with his church, I remember the phrase from the Anglican Marriage service which spoke of the marriage being like “…the mystical union between Christ and his church”. Defending marriage isn’t just about regulating people’s relationships or sexuality, it’s about holding up what it means to live out God’s holiness. To put it theologically, marriage is an incarnation of the word of God because it “lives out” his “holy” nature in the “real” world.

“Holy” is a God-thing. It’s got God involved in a special, intimate and enduring way. I believe in a “Holy” Gospel because it takes us to God; God is it’s ultimate destination.

There are other “gospels”. The “gospel” of Judaism takes us to the law and the extended Jewish family. The “gospel” of Islam takes us to its law and its prophet, and so does the “gospel” of Mormonism, which also takes us to the Mormon family. The “gospel” of Gnosticism takes us within ourselves. The social “gospel” takes us to secular legislation. The “gospel” of Wicca takes us to the “natural” world. The “gospel” of post-modernism takes us to the shopping mall.

My point is, God can be found in all these “gospels”, though some obscure him more than others, and many aspects of them are positively misleading. However, they are not “holy” gospels if they stop short of God. If their ultimate destination is the book, or the prophet, or the community, or the knowledge, or the legislation, or the product, then they are not “holy” gospels because they do not bring us to the One in whom all these things exist and have their being (see Colossians 1:16 and Colossians 1:23). This is what the Christian Gospel does, and that is why I believe it.

The flip-side is that a “holy” Gospel brings God into all these things. Last week I blogged about a “total” Gospel and what I hoped to convey was that the Christian Gospel touches all aspects of life. As Peter puts it, “be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15). One cannot believe the Christian Gospel and not involve God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in every aspect of one’s life.

No comments:

Post a Comment