I blogged earlier this week on the loss of gospel proclamation in the local church. I suggested the need to recover this practice. I assumed a broader Scriptural understanding of “gospel,” one that encompasses but is not equal to the “soterian” gospel (Scot McKnight’s words) of the evangelicalism that proclaims (only) “we are forgiven for our sins in Jesus Christ.” I assumed proclaiming gospel is so much more than communicating “the four spiritual laws.”
Why is this so important? Am I reasserting that preeminence of verbal proclamation as in the evangelism of my youth growing up in evangelical church?
Yes and no. I am reasserting the importance of words but in a different way. The evangelism of my youth used verbal words to communicate information. We were to present the gospel in a Romans Road format or something similar. If this presentation took place “to” someone outside the church, it often turned into an apologetic exercise. It was NOT born out of everyday relationships. And this presentation often sought to secure a result, usually the respondent praying the sinner’s prayer. Enough has been written on the way this plays off a Christendom world that no longer exists. It was often coercive (which works against the Holy Spirit). It was often pre-packaged. It was often unrelational. All of which, I suggest, disqualifies it as the gospel.
I am suggesting three things about proclamation that make it an incredibly miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.
1.) It is always contextual, pronounced over (notice I did not say “to”) a situation or a person’s life out of one’s relationships. Here, out of no pre-conceived agenda, in the midst of hurting, pain, confusion, loss of hope, the Holy Spirit prompts us, “gives us the words to say.” John 16:13. In this way it is always the work of the Holy Spirit. It is miraculous.
2.) It is always a reality-creating event. In the words of Paul Ricoeur, the reality is unfolded in front of the text (the words spoken). I do not mean that somehow there is no ontological reality behind the truth of the words. Rather I am saying that the hearer, upon hearing, can see a reality, he or she could not see or know before. The words “I declare” or “I proclaim” or some version thereof, suggest that in the midst of the confusion, despair or illusion, the truth that “Jesus is Lord” and what this means, pierces through the air and makes way for us all to see something that could not be known before. It is something akin to Jesus saying “today these words are fulfilled in their hearing” in Luke 4 after the end of his proclamation there. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is miraculous.
3.) It is always an opening by which God changes the world. The proclamation, when received, makes way for people (Christians and non-Christians) to enter the Kingdom. The proclamation opens reality for someone to see differently and then “enter in” to that reality by faith into the world as it is under Jesus as Lord. It is earth shaking. And so when the disciples go into the villages, sit, eat, live (in context of every-day life) and then proclaim “The Kingdom is breaking in,” Jesus says “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” Luke 10:16. The effects are huge. For those who reject (who have truly understood), the effects are Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like (this is always God’s judgment not ours). And yet for those who receive the very forces of evil are destroyed (Luke 10:17). the Kingdom of God breaks in. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is miraculous.
Having said all of this, proclaiming gospel is a humble exercise. It is always done by a Christian as a bearer of good news. It is always practiced in humility. If we ever seek to take control of this wondrous practice, put the power of the gospel in Christ into our own control, then all power and authority of the King is lost. We must always be present in context as “lambs” (Luke 10:3), vulnerable, gentle, hospitable, humble. These are the people God shall use to bring transformation to the world.
This is a practice we Christians are as much in need of as non-Christians. Yet too often, I contend, we have turned the sermon into info-tainment. We have lost the surper-natural character of the reality-creating event of the proclamation on Sunday. (A lot of this comes from people who are so used to being entertained and/or put into the consumer position that they cannot even enter into worship during the time of the sermon). In my next post, I want to talk about how we can learn this practice of the gospel preaching/proclamation in the gathering on Sunday.
I contend that we need this simple humble practice in our day to day lives as Christians living in the neighborhoods. But we have lost it? Somehow we lost its practice among us? We don’t know how to proclaim like this in humility? What say you? Does the way I talk about “proclamation” scare you? (Preaching should scare us eh?). Are you worried about authoritarianism – this is why it must be done in humility and submission to the King (the first signs of ego disqualify the preacher IMO). I suggest such proclamation is just as essential to the calling out of injustices in the world as it is to lifting individuals out of hopelessness. I suggest such proclamation is key to discipleship in the church as well as evangelism/the breaking of social injustice outside it. You?