Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gospel Communion

I read this article (here), and it really prompted me to think and briefly write about this notion of gospel-communion. It discusses the works for "communion" between the Anglican Church in England and Roman Catholic Church. While the issues that seem to promote the greatest division are things like homosexuality and the ordination of women, they seem quite readily to affirm, "Our enthusiasm for dialogue means that we must be honest in addressing issues on which we disagree. This is possible when we hold to the Gospel." Oh really? The same one? The one taught in Scripture? Hmmm...

What is gospel-communion? When can we say that we share in the same gospel, and when can we say that we don't? How far can the gospel be stretched? How broad is it? Is it like peanut butter that can be spread thinly and all over? Specifically, are we in gospel-communion if we believe that we are saved, in the end, by Jesus? How about if we believe that we are saved by grace? Some would believe so. However, it is striking how clrea the apostle Paul makes it in his epistle to the Galatians: if your hope is set upon anything other than or in addition to the finished work of Jesus Christ, you nullify the grace of God and make Him useless to you.

You can try to qualify til the cows come home about how this sacrament is in line with salvation by grace, or how Christ's death merits the grace we need to cooperate with in order to be saved... you can slice it and dice it, but the more you try to qualify it and heap all kinds of silly language on top of it, the more you obscure and suppress the simple idea of Paul. If your hope is on Jesus plus anything, then you are outside of the gospel.

This is where the rubber hits the road. This truly is the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls. Paul's gospel was justification (as he defined it -the non-imputation of sins and standing of full judicial favor before God) by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If our hope rests upon Christ's merits shared with anything else, we are outside of the gospel because our hope isn't found anywhere else. The minute we mingle Christ's merits with anything else, we treat them as null and insufficient. We show that we do not truly understand that we can't lift a finger to get right with God. We show that we do not believe that we need a Savior who saves alone. We nullify the grace of God. I don't care what church you belong to - Roman Catholic, "Protestant", evangelical, Anglican...whatever. If your gospel goes beyond this or has all of these layers of fancy qualifications to try to make it fit or resemble this, then you are missing it.
As the great hymn goes:

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' name

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand"

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15-16)

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:21-24)

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:2-4)

Hope in anything in addition to Christ crucified = hopelessness