Monday, 23 October 2017

Something About the Epistles

The Epistles, along with the Apostles' sermons recorded in Acts, are the plainest source of the Gospel.

But something to remember about the Epistles is that they were letters. Often written on the run, so to speak. They weren't all textbooks, or systematic theologies. They weren't all even a comprehensive presentation of the Gospel, because they were written to churches which had already received the Gospel.

It's like, if you are an estimator or project manager for a construction project, and you send a fellow staff-person some emails about the job. Your emails wouldn't tell the builder everything about the job!

Similarly, the Epistles were letters dealing with some business the writers wanted to deal with - relative to the larger task of the Gospel which had in fact already begun among the readers and was ongoing and which didn't need the letter in order to start and therefore the letters didn't all need to be a comprehensive presentation of the Gospel.

So, in the ministry of the Church today we need to be about the Gospel the way the Apostles were and the way the early churches were - it probably wouldn't be adequate if our ministries consisted only in preaching the matters which some of the Epistles dealt with. Otherwise that would be like a builder dealing only with the matters in your emails instead of dealing with the main set of architectural plans in his possession. Your emails were only to help him implement the drawings. They're not the drawings.

Dare I say, even the Epistle to the Romans wasn't intended to say everything that could be said when the Gospel is first preached to a group of people.

Nowadays a lot of pastoral sermons are topical. And that's kind of like what some of the Epistles were. Topical. But like some of the Epistles, a lot of our sermons today seldom touch on some points required in a fully-fledged presentation of the Gospel.

Even evangelists, and teachers, and prophets. A lot of the preaching is topical. So a congregation can sit through quite a few services without hearing some of the important components of the Gospel. Not that we should stay drinking milk instead of moving on to solid meat.

But somewhere along the line, we need to make sure we're still preaching the Gospel, or enhancing the Gospel. The Gospel which the Apostles preached - not just matters like what their letters dealt with all of the time. Especially when we've always got new people coming to church. The matters some of the letters dealt with were only relevant with regard to the ongoing work of the Gospel. Like polish on a steel machine. The polish only has meaning with regard to the functioning machine. It's not an end in itself.

So, as important as topical preaching is, what was the Apostles' overall Gospel? What sorts of things did the Apostles preach when they first arrived in a city? To derive that, we need to look not only at the Epistles but also at their sermons in Acts, look at the way they applied the history taught in the Gospels, look at the way they applied the predictions in the Old Testament. What was their message? What was their work? The different Epistles only do all that to varying degree. So we need to look at it all. The Epistles and sermons in Acts can be taken more directly than other parts of the Bible, but still look at all the New Testament. Then do what they did. Preach what they preached. And may the advice in their letters help you to carry out that Gospel-work and message better.

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