Announcing the Gospel Together


It has been a few years since I was last a student at Cal. Nevertheless, in keeping with the goals of this journal’s founding, articulated at the outset by Cliff Mak – namely, for Christians in this university community to talk to one another – I trust that my lips may rightly be opened.

Daniel Yoo has argued in last term’s issue that ‘the most loving act a Christian can do is to convince his non-Christian friend of his need for Christ’. All true: the loving thing for the Church to do in Berkeley is to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the living God, has joined humanity to his divinity, has died to take away the sin of the world, has been raised to vindicate (with himself) all those who will believe in him, and has moreover ascended into heaven, to the right hand of God the Father, to exercise his authority in heaven and on earth. But now, reflecting on these mighty works of God, which must be told, let us also remember the other truths of the gospel: I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, &c. These truths, too, must shape our evangelistic efforts: no congregation or fellowship, as numerous as Gracepoint or as few as Covenant Reformed Christian Fellowship, is free to regard itself as self-contained in this work.

Though it is through this journal that I urge it, what I am urging is a deeper unity beyond this journal, that this journal may continue, through the conversation held in its pages, to serve public purposes outside of its own existence. As we consider how to engage in the loving act of evangelism, we must also consider how to do this work in relation to the rest of the Church.

Not everyone, of course, is at home in mass evangelistic crusades, nor need we be uniform in our ways of proclaiming that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. For the good Lord has made us different from one another, each member contributing in his own way to the work of the Christ, which is the work of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, it is not in method only, but also in purpose, that we differ: I follow Paul, saith one, and I follow Apollos, saith another.

For if we truly regarded our work as common and not private, would we still be doing it without respect to, or even knowledge of, what other congregations of the Body were doing? To be sure, each proclaims the word of God as part of his own piety; but neither is the word of God the property of one sect. It is fit that the people of God should meet severally, for we must live at humanly intelligible scales; but we are one in the work of the King who calls all to account, and it is unfit that, outwardly at least, the work of one congregation has nothing to do with that of another congregation, nor the work of one fellowship with that of another.

To the pagan observer, it must appear that our God has many kingdoms, not one, if we even have the same God. For the Roman Catholics are of one kingdom, and the Orthodox Presbyterians of another, and the independent churches of yet several more. I am not complaining that there is more than one churchly jurisdiction, but I do think – though we are justified by faith – that our works speak to our imperfect obedience, and to the need to resolve upon a godlier life for the Church. For if our lack of visible unity be due rather to our vices than to anything else, I have no good objections to refute. And the peace of the Church does not consist merely in living and letting live, nor is one congregation, or even one denomination, a sufficient church; a student group is even less representative. Each of these, by itself, would be a poor substitute for the true Church, and it is on the slenderest of evidence that we presume to mistake a part for the whole. The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

I can appreciate, of course, that some aspects of visible unity cannot now be had. That a Christian of the Roman obedience would articulate the gospel differently from a Protestant is no news to me. The difference is great enough that in evangelism I could not be of one mind with a Roman Catholic; indeed, it is my duty to acknowledge soberly what a great and – as terms now stand – irreconcilable gulf lies between the reformed and the unreformed churches. Nevertheless, contrary to the opinions of some Christians, the catholic gospel lives even in the obscurity of the Roman church. Even Charles Spurgeon, that great Baptist preacher, affirmed as much:

In Brussels, I heard a good sermon in a Romish church. The place was crowded with people, many of them standing, though they might have had a seat for a halfpenny or a farthing; and I stood, too; and the good priest – for I believe he is a good man, – preached the Lord Jesus with all his might. He spoke of the love of Christ, so that I, a very poor hand at the French language, could fully understand him, and my heart kept beating within me as he told of the beauties of Christ, and the preciousness of His blood, and of His power to save the chief of sinners. He did not say ‘justification by faith’, but he did say ‘efficacy of the blood’, which comes to very much the same thing. He did not tell us we were saved by grace, and not by our works; but he did say that all the works of men were less than nothing when brought into competition with the blood of Christ, and that the blood of Jesus alone could save.

And where the Holy Ghost dwells still in men’s hearts, turning sinners to true repentance, there ought we not to despise what the Lord has done. Where orthodoxy yet lives, though obscured by inconsistent teaching, our duty is to thank the Lord. Where the truth is told clearly, even by the ordinarily most confused Christian, it cannot be nothing to us. What God has given, we must not refuse. I may still hesitate to explain salvation together with a Jesuit; but if there be good progress in my evangelistic efforts, I will not hesitate to tell him, nor do I expect he will hesitate to tell me if God blesses his work. It may be – nay, must be – that I need him, and he needs me.

For many congregations, indeed, the labourers are few. It is only sense that, in the work of evangelism, the efforts of different congregations be combined. The difficulties of putting together the labours of congregations ordinarily separate are unequal to the unity of these congregations in the word of God, and to the obedience that this word requires. Perhaps a part of one congregation intends to hold weekly dinners at which to show hospitality to pagans and then study the Gospels, and for lack of labourers their plans come to nothing.[1] Shall they be excused from the work of evangelism, and shall their gifts be wasted because they can call upon no help but that of their own congregation? When their help is in the Name of the Lord, the help he sends may come through other faithful Christians who are part of another congregation but live conveniently nearby. As it would be a shame for evangelism to be frustrated by the want of unity, it would be an honour for brethren to dwell together in unity, and it would be the glory of God that through this unity he added to the church daily such as should be saved.

So I call upon Berkeley’s Christian congregations and fellowships to try to imagine together, concretely, what they can enable one another to do. The Scriptures bid us comfort and support one another, and the Lord’s Prayer has been given for us to say together as we desire the kingdom. To what lengths shall we not go to pursue the end of unity? To what trouble shall we not go to help each other speak God’s word to the nations? Arise, let us go hence.

[1] It is encouraging to see that Christians from different congregations are working together in the ministries of NAOS House of Prayer (which, if it focused on catholic and not sectarian teachings, could be a Little Gidding for today) and Laundry Love; but I hope also to hear of clergymen meeting regularly to discuss challenges facing all the churches in Berkeley, whether doctrinal or practical, and coordinating the work of their congregations.

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