The Church (II): Exploring the Gospel
Part of my aim in defining the Church is to define the Gospel, arguably the central tenant of the Christian religion, and from a suggestion in a comment by Ryan B. I will express more of what I believe the Gospel is.
I believe that the best way to learn the Gospel is to explore the Scripture and how the Church has understood the Gospel. I believe that there is a common thread/trajectory running through the Scripture (and I believe this trajectory is also present in what Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha). Therefore, as a precursor to the Gospel, the proclamation of God’s decisive action through Jesus Christ, I believe one must examine the main theological thrust of the Scripture from the first book to the last.
In the first three chapters of Genesis we learn that:
God is preexistent in relation to the universe. God by his own good initiative created the universe (time and space). God created Earth and all of its inhabitants and they were all good. God created humanity and gave humans something unique among all created things: the Image of God. God gave humans a charge, which the humans disobeyed (the Fall). As a result of this disobedience mankind (and the cosmos) is in an unnatural, fallen state (original sin).
This is where the Abrahamic Covenant comes into play, arguably the primary way in which God wants to work to fix the brokenness caused by the Fall, the beginning of the Gospel.
God did not abandon humanity; by his own good will and grace God chose the descendants of Abraham, the Children of Israel, to be a vessel for his glory and blessing to the world. Throughout the Old Testament God continually worked through the oftentimes-disobedient Children of Israel, and this culminated in the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Christian religion, the climax of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus is the Son of God, incarnate through the conception by the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is essential to the Christian religion. In basic terms, the doctrine of the Trinity asserts that the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are eternally existent as one God (in essence) in three persons. Jesus is both fully man and fully God in the divine mystery of the Hypostatic Union. Jesus lived his life demonstrating the presence of the promised kingdom of God. Jesus lived his life fulfilling what mankind and Israel had failed at. Jesus—though he was tempted in all things—lived a sinless life. Jesus was tried, crucified, died, and was buried. Three days later Jesus was resurrected in glory (in a body) as a “first fruit” of the eventual resurrection of the Church. Jesus ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit was thus given to demonstrate the power of God and the presence of his kingdom through the Church. In this, God has extended the invitation to all of the earth (using the language of the Abrahamic Covenant) to participate in his active kingdom, resulting in inevitable action from the Church.
In my estimate, the work of God in history is currently at a plateau. The resolution to the climax of the Son of God’s presence on earth has yet to happen. But this plateau is an exciting time, when God is actively pressing his kingdom forth through his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time Jesus Christ will return to earth, and in doing so he will resurrect the Church, recreate the heavens and the earth, and fully judge all that is in rebellion against him.
I believe that these are generally the primary tenants of the Gospel, things that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox can agree on. Looking back on my words above they resemble a bloated Apostles’ Creed, and I suppose that is where a lot of my Ecumenical tendencies find their roots (though I am more partial to the Nicene Creed). I believe that the authority to determine what is the “orthodox Gospel” is found within the Scriptures as well as in Church history, for the Holy Spirit has been and remains active in both elements.