07 August 2006

A Gospel Issue

OK, while I've been packing, my mind has wandered in unusual directions.

Despite my participation in Christian discussion groups on the internet for the last six years, it is only upon entering the world of conversational blogdom in the last few months that I've heard the phrase "It's a Gospel issue" used frequently.

Now I had previously understood this to mean that "This doctrine is so important, that if you step outside of the orthodox understanding, you have stepped into heretical territory."

Now I'm told that "a gospel issue" isn't actually about being heretical, but it's about an idea that is so "dangerous" that it compromises the spreading of the Gospel. Fair enough, I can live with that definition if I've misunderstood. But my first question is how do other people define "gospel issue"?

Secondly - and more importantly to me - if "a gospel issue" is about compromising the spreading of the Gospel, how do we determine what is a "gospel issue" and what isn't? It seems to me that we can make almost anything "a gospel issue" if we use the slippery-slope argument. But then that makes every little jot and tittle of someone's doctrine a "gospel issue".

What do you mean by this term and what are your standards for determining what is and what is not "a gospel issue"?

2 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I've not heard the term before and share your reservations with it. Yet, it's possible that this is a contemporary phrase for what used to be called "status confessionis," a matter by which the faith stood or fell--and which usually called forth a new confession. It's dangerous, because it usually means lines drawn and sides taken.

But some such concept seems inherent in Jesus' own, "I came not to bring peace but a sword" claim, setting daughter against mother-in-law, son against father, etc. In the Nazi era, Germany's Confessing Church claimed that the Nazi idea (so loved by the Deutsch Christen or "German Christian Movement") that Blood and Soil and Volk could rival Jesus Christ as sources of revelation for the church's identity. The Barman Declaration had to draw the lines: If you were with the Nazis, you placed yourself outside the Church.

In South Africa, during the Apartheid era, the same judgment came to be given. Racism is sin and the theological justification of racism is a heresy that threatens the gospel and the church as universal new people of God. To defend apartheid was to place oneself outside the church--and so, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) followed the World Council of Churches in suspending the membership of 2 Dutch Reformed denominations in South Africa.

The same judgment was made twice in the North Atlantic world in the late 20th C. about nuclear weapons.

I suggest that it is long past time that we recognize what the church since Constantine has forgotten: That violence and its justification is such an issue. Jesus still asks, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to harm? To save life or to kill?" Beyond Christianity, it seems to me that every major world religion is today confronted with that same issue--but I don't presume to tell Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. how to answer (although I know which side of their internal arguments I'm cheering for).
But for Christians, I claim the answer is clear: The new People of God worship one who died rather than kill and God raised him up, vindicating his Suffering Servant lifestyle as normative. We follow the Lamb who was slaughtered. We may be called upon to suffer violence, we are definitely called upon to be in solidarity with those who do suffer violence, but we are never to be those who INFLICT violence.

Are their other "gospel issues?" I don't know. Let's get this one solved and we'll talk about others.
My 2 pence. :-)

PamBG said...

But for Christians, I claim the answer is clear: The new People of God worship one who died rather than kill and God raised him up, vindicating his Suffering Servant lifestyle as normative. We follow the Lamb who was slaughtered. We may be called upon to suffer violence, we are definitely called upon to be in solidarity with those who do suffer violence, but we are never to be those who INFLICT violence.

Amen! I'm in total agreement. In fact, I don't see how we can say that Jesus' death and resurrection are central to affecting salvation and then say that there is such a thing as "just violence".