Two years ago on Christmas eve, Martin and Maria (not their real names), along with their two young children, came to our worship gathering. For this family, from a “least-reached nation” in the East, it was the first time they had ever stepped foot into a gathering of Christians. Martin and Maria thought they were merely accepting an invitation to show interest in their friends, but what happened that night would change their lives forever.
The order of service wasn’t fancy—there was singing, reading God’s Word, and a sermon. During the presentation of the gospel, both Martin and Maria felt, in their own words, “a sensation they’d never felt before.” In the days that followed, they couldn’t get Jesus out of their minds. They began to study the Bible with someone from our church. Through study of God’s Word it became obvious to them that Jesus is who He says He is. Both Martin and Maria repented of their sin and confessed that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior.
The gospel changes lives. Though there are certainly cultural differences between the West and the East, we must resist the temptation to change the gospel. If we do, and people respond, then we have won people not just to a “variation” of the gospel, but to a false gospel, which is no gospel at all. Only the gospel of God concerning His Son is the good news. We want people to hear God’s truth and not a deceitful version of the message. The truth is that our sin against a holy God deserves death and God’s righteous judgment. It is only through faith in Christ’s sacrifice for sinners that we will be saved.
We share the same gospel in the East as in the West because Romans 1:16 tells us that it is God’s power for salvation. Milton Vincent’s little book Gospel Primer says:
It’s interesting that the Bible only attributes the phrase “power of God” in reference to the Gospel. Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the Gospel. Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work.
There is no better message that we can share. and so there is no need to change it, distort it, rewrite it, add to it, or subtract from it. If you adjust the gospel, you destroy it. Gospel revision always equals gospel reversal. In a culture that is different from ours and even in dangerous contexts, why would we ever want to risk our lives to proclaim news that has no power unto salvation?
We are not the authors of the gospel, but ambassadors. As an ambassador, we don’t have the authority to change the message, regardless of whether we minister in Montana, Mozambique, or Malaysia. We are called to herald God’s message to the world.
Long ago, before there was television and the Internet, when a military had a big victory the king would send a herald into the town centers of the villages, and they would declare the good news and then run into the next town square proclaiming the victory. The herald had no ability to make the news but only to share what the king had declared. That’s what we are called to do: to take the same gospel as it is and proclaim the good news about what our king Jesus has already done.
When we work in areas different from the one from which we came, we might be tempted to hold back parts of the gospel that seem difficult for people to believe. Perhaps we may leave out things like man’s sin, God’s wrath, and eternal damnation for sinners in order to make the gospel “kinder.” We might also be tempted to make the gospel more prosperous in the here-and-now by promising earthly riches that Jesus doesn’t promise. This is prevalent in my part of the world, as this false gospel often elicits a greater response from the masses. Or as is also common, we might change the gospel in the name of contextualization, thinking that a people group could never understand the gospel as it is. And while there is merit to considering various entry points to the gospel with certain cultures (for example, guilt-, shame-, and fear-based cultures), we dare not change the one gospel that leads to salvation. There is one message of good news and any other message is wholly un-Christian.
I’m thankful for the people who are committed to the gospel here in my part of the world. I’m thankful for those who are committed to sharing the same gospel that is revealed in God’s Word. We pray for more of our lost brothers and sisters like Martin and Maria who are currently walking in darkness to come and see a great light (Isa. 9:2). Praise God that there are many who are, even now, hearing the gospel preached, are being confronted with their sinfulness before a holy God, are seeing that Christ is their only hope, and are turning to Him for salvation. May the Holy Spirit rush through this land like a mighty wind.