Since this column is entitled Pastor’s Corner, sometimes my readers are surprised that I veer into other arenas. According to one friend, I veer too far and he reads my column because he never knows what to expect. My reader’s comments remind me of a comment of one of my students who upon reading Walter Rauschenbusch celebrated the finding of the social gospel. He came to my class saying, “Walter is my man!” To which I replied, “I hope that Jesus is your man!”
In the conversation that followed, I convinced my student that indeed Jesus preached an all encompassing gospel. Jesus was not only concerned with the salvation of our souls; he was concerned with our whole being. The God who told us that the soul is of utmost importance also told us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The one who invited people to hear the Good News also enjoyed being with his friends who prepared some good food.
As a matter of fact, one can argue that the teachings of Jesus Christ challenged all the systems of his days. He challenged the political system by inviting the young ruler to leave everything and follow him. He challenged the economic system of the temple because great profits were earned by selling sacrificial animals. He challenged the religious system of His day by showing the hypocrisies of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but also by telling the poor they also needed to repent. He challenged the rules of Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas.
Throughout history, I find that the preaching of the gospel challenges everything about us. Chrysostom challenged the imperial palace of Constantinople about their opulent living. They sent him into exile, but the population rebelled and he was called back. John Calvin preached against the injustice of Geneva’s town council and they asked for his resignation that day. He was not invited back for four years. Catherine and William Booth saw that the British Industrial Revolution made some people rich, but made thousands poor. They rallied for the poor and were called socialists by many people in England before socialism was in vogue. Walter Rauschenbusch came to the great city of New York at the end of the 19th century and what he found was so corrupt that he dubbed it Hell’s Kitchen. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in New York as a distinguished professor, but felt called by God to return to Germany and oppose Hitler. For this opposition, Hitler sent him to jail and he was killed days before the Allies freed Berlin. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the gospel in a country where we decreased the value of human beings by fifths and in places where white men would serve as church deacons in the morning and KKK members in the evening.
The gospel is more than future salvation of the soul. The prophet Micah wrote that God has shown us what to do – love justice, practice mercy, and walk humbly with our God. The Baptists say that the act of baptism is an outside manifestation of the inward work of the Holy Spirit. The saved soul is not only concerned about the afterlife; it is also concerned with exhibiting the principles of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Sometimes people hear the gospel and think it is political, sometimes they hear the gospel and think it is social justice, and sometimes they hear the gospel and it is mercy for everyone who needs it. In all of these facets, we pray that people will see the arrival of the Kingdom of God as we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”