The future of humanity and her relationship with God and His Church does not rely on scientific discovery or the hope to spread wealth. Our future relies on something that is very ancient becoming something very magnificent within a given amount of time from God. I am of course speaking of the Gospel itself! But I am not speaking of the Gospel as many in our culture today have understood it.
To embrace the Gospel wholeheartedly one must embrace it as it is presented throughout all time and space! To some, the Gospel is a mere doctrine that is to be preached, but a more comprehensive and orthodox definition of the Gospel involves much more than the message itself.
The Gospel is more than just a phonetic message; the Gospel is an actual movement of people under the guidance and power of Christ. It involves a system of doctrine, indeed, but this doctrine is incomplete without the thrust of the Church. When we become “born again” (John 3:3), we are born into the Church and her kingdom. Our new birth is not a birth into a mere personal relationship as many say, but we are birthed into a relationship with Christ through the covenant community, into the church, into a community of new life and peace with the saints. The Gospel is not just a message to be repeated over and over, it is a Covenant to live and thrive under. The Gospel is in and of itself, living!
With this understanding that the Gospel is about becoming part of a community of believers and a spiritual kingdom, we can now move back to the fact mentioned above that the Gospel must be embraced as it is presented through all time and space; it is both ancient and future!
Christ said in Matthew 16 that nothing, not even hell, would prevail against the Church. The New Covenant Church began with Christ’s crucifixion and continued throughout the centuries. It did not apostate after the first few centuries like the cults teach. The Church both thrived and starved throughout the ages, but it never died! Where we need to be careful is how we embrace this reality of God working throughout all the ages as well as the entire world. We need to be inclusive to this reality so as not to exclude the great parts of the Gospel that continued to thrive after Christ’s resurrection. After all, the New Covenant did not stop there or even at the death of the Apostles!
So how do we embrace the entirety of the Church throughout all the ages? Well, for starters, we do not camp out at one particular era and call it the golden age! The Church began to gain momentum during the time of Acts and from there entered the ancient era (100-600), then, slowly into the medieval era (1054-1700) and from there the modern and post-modern era. We simply cannot take any one of these eras and leave out the rest. This is how denominationalism (and “non” denominationalism) is keeping the Church fractured.
In order to fulfill the command of Christ to become a united people (John 17:11, 20-23) we must begin to look beyond the 19th and 20th centuries and become inclusive to the other 95% of the Gospel’s history. This is not easy, especially when many Christian writers have made the history of the Church out to be some sort of embarrassment. These writers remind me of the cults, throwing out the riches of the symbolic and the miraculous and embracing only what seems to them as rational.
To embrace the ancient aspect of the Gospel is to embrace the symbolic nature of what the Church has offered us. This involves the Word of God manifesting in a way that many modern Christians are unfamiliar with.
The Word of God (Christ’s eternal manifestation) is not, as you know, limited to the English language, in fact, it extends much further than any vocabulary; so much so that it actually begins to manifest in a stationary vocabulary, one that is actually existential and organic!
Language, as you know, relies strictly on networks of small symbols that create patterns of thought within our minds. Now think back to the ancient times of the early church and how they used paintings on the walls of the catacombs. Or, better yet, think of how Christ used symbolic patterns of thought when He initiated the Lord’s Supper. Think of how Christ told all the stories He did and how He prompted St. John to use the symbolic imagery in the book of Revelation.
God uses more than phonetic symbols (words) to reveal His plan! And if this be the case, then what other types of symbols does He use? Well, besides the many in Revelation we see that the 10th verse of the 13th Chapter of Hebrews states that we have an “altar.” Ancient documents show us that the early church did indeed use an altar and the verse in Hebrews shows that this is of Apostolic origin.
Like the candles and the crucifix, the altar has a symbolic thrust. On the altar, the salvific reality of Christ’s sacrifice continues through time and space, intersecting with our worship of Him. As the minister preaches the crucifixion of Christ, so the altar preaches the crucifixion of Christ. And as you know, when God’s Word is transmitted, grace, in its supernatural form, takes precedence. The symbolic nature of God’s Word is not just intellectual content. The symbolic nature of God’s Word is much more. His Word only begins as intellectual content. It then becomes psychological - as it enters the mind - and later, supernatural - as it takes residence in the soul/psyche.
But everything on earth works this way, right? Everything has a psychological and supernatural effect on us, yes indeed, but nothing other than what you see within the context of the Church began with the revelation of Jesus Christ to His people on earth. Nothing else has historical succession to the awesome moments of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Nothing else! And nothing else can give the power that these divine avenues give.
The Gospel lives into the future by living out the ancient, by growing this ancient faith into the reality of our day. This does not mean that we must all wear robes and ride on horseback or camel. This also does not mean that we work so hard on preserving the ancient that we forget about actually embracing the reality of the culture. The Gospel is both ancient and future. The Ancient is to work itself into the future until the return of Christ. The Bible bears witness to this fact. Christ was manifested to us and He is coming back to make all things new and everything in-between is the manifestation of His Gospel: a divine covenant transforming an entire world!
Mike Speng is pastor of Trinity Church in Mesa