Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Not Being Ashamed of The Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” wrote St. Paul to the Church at Rome (1:16).    I notice, however, that some translations avoid the word “ashamed.”   “I have complete confidence in the gospel,” says one; “I am proud of the gospel,” says another.   But St. Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed,” and if anyone considers this a shocking statement, I suggest a look at these words in the 21st century context.

There are Christians who, when drawn into a discussion concerning current issues of our society and the world, are reluctant to say openly they address these issues out of the context of their faith.   That’s being ashamed of the gospel!

There are clergy who will often avoid raising hard questions of faith and witness with the churches they serve because they are more concerned with making everyone feel good about themselves and avoiding controversy.  That’s being ashamed of the gospel!

There are laypersons who are embarrassed to speak about their faith in their business or social life, and even some who refuse to share their faith in the midst of their community of faith.  That’s being ashamed of the gospel!

There are those Christians who often succumb to the idea that the secular powers that appear to control our world are so powerful that the faith we profess seems impotent to change the course of history or do little more that provide small comfort for a few.   That’s being ashamed of the gospel!

St. Paul was acutely aware that he was writing these words at a time in history when the Church was confronted with the Roman Empire whose energy was unmitigated by any trace of respect for the God revealed in the scriptures. There were also prestigious philosophical schools, which ridiculed the stories of a crucified and risen Savior, and a flood of popular superstitions and mystery cults, and with all that, he still found the courage to write, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

When we consider the issues that confront the Church today, there is a critical need for us to stand with the courage of St. Paul and confess that we are not ashamed of what we believe.  Among the good things that the Church accomplishes in congregation and society, there is, all too often, a lack of assurance, of authority, and of confession of faith that contributes to the continuing decline of membership, witness and mission.  Despite all that the church tries to do to enhance its image and the understanding of its faith, what is critically needed is the simple courage to confess that we are not ashamed of the truth and potential of the gospel – and to act upon it accordingly – for our reliance is, ultimately, not on ourselves and our personal talents, but solely upon Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel.

In the same verse quoted above St. Paul gives us the definition of this gospel.  “…It is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith.”  “Saving power” means “salvation,” a word that has fallen into disuse in our time.  We see what saving power is when we see the mission and ministry of Christ, and his passion on the cross.   He has no secular power, for he was the Son of God who exercised the salvation of God.  It is that power of God’s love of which Christ is the supreme source, and wherever he is proclaimed and worshiped in spirit and in truth, wherever he is served in humble and faithful discipleship, this saving power is a reality, and life is changed – individual lives, the life of our congregations, the society and the world in which we live.

And to whom is this power given?  To the institutions of the Church?  To those who are willing to work for it?  St. Paul wrote, “…it is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith!”   This saving power is known by those who believe and confess this faith, who commit their very lives to God with the trust of a child, and the real message is that “here is revealed God’s way of righting wrong, a way that starts from faith and ends in faith.”  No wonder St. Paul was not ashamed, and was willing to be ridiculed, persecuted and finally executed for such a gospel.

The question that we have to answer as we consider the future of the church is simply, are we willing to risk our comforts, our gifts, our reputations, our resources, and even our lives for this same gospel?  Can we confess that, without shame, we live out our baptism with courage, assurance, and joy in the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Richard Hammond Price, OCC   ©August 2011  

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