Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Open Gospel

In March of 2000 I endeavoured to produce a pithy statement that summarised my view of the kernel of Christianity. Rather than annunciate an exclusive and purist formula defining some Christian sub-grouping I was anxious to forge an inclusive statement giving account of the hostile demeanor often adopted by Christains sub-cultures toward one another. I came up with the following statement. It is a bit formal and legal sounding, perhaps because I wanted to make it as bullet proof as possible.


The "Open Gospel" is a term I use to indicate that the common, defining, distinctive, and primary phenomenon of Christianity is not its patchwork of sometimes mutually hostile church subcultures but the underlying Gospel message, a message which, unbounded by cultural barriers, diffuses laissez-faire style through populations spawning a variety of church communities. These communities, which may or may not be independent of one another, display varying degrees of development, spiritual health and quality of culture. The net result is that no one group or subculture (Thank God) can claim to have privileged access to the Gospel message, or to have sole agency in its propagation, or to be the only group expressing the spiritual life and gifting that it gives. Inevitably, some Christian communities will vociferously claim that they are either the best and most faithful representatives of the Gospel, or perhaps its only representatives. Self praise is, of course, no recommendation and anyway such claims are little more than bluster because they are impossible to enforce: It is now five hundred years since the Roman Catholic church started to lose the power to enforce its claim to being the sole distributor and representative of the Gospel. But even at the height of Roman Catholic political power it would seem almost impossible to attain complete control of a message that can pass quietly from mind to mind. Thus, it is exceedingly difficult to enforce monopoly claims upon the Gospel, even under conditions favouring such claims. Clearly the Good News is out, and groups who maintain they have exclusive rights to it can simply be ignored by other groups who have taken it to heart and made it their own, in all its fullness. Some Christian sub communities will undoubtedly retain their mutual prejudices toward one another and express a partiality as to who can or cannot claim to possess the fullness of Gospel truth, anointing and gifting. But The Word is like a seed borne on the Wind of the Spirit; who can control either? What God gives no man can take away. (I John 2: 20 & 27)

The idea of the Open Gospel is, for me at least, a source of great consolation as it helps reduce the significance of the contentions surrounding parochial religious elaborations of particular cultural realisations of Christianity. Those elaborations are sometimes beautiful and fascinating, sometimes helpful, sometimes essential, sometimes relevant, sometimes indifferent, sometimes quaint, sometimes outdated, sometimes comical, sometimes bizarre, sometimes tasteless, sometimes tacky, and, unfortunately, sometimes malign. Whether we are talking of the decorative trappings of ritual and vestment, or obsessions with mystical gnosis, or strict adherence to fancied biblical ordinances, or interpretations which use the Bible to contrive rigid blueprints for arranging life and church, we have here behavioural forms which, whilst they may not be absolutely wrong, are often championed by those who protect them with a jealous religious zeal. Thus, Christians who live beyond the religious subcultures defined by these behavioural forms may find themselves being bullied by sectarian Christian zealots who will accuse them of being disobedient to the Divine order. These zealous Christians may even regard the testimonies of other Christians as void or at best substandard. But a high view of the Open Gospel allows one to rise above Christian infighting and to be less phased by Christian cultural forms whose sectarianism stands in ironic contrast to the message that has spawned them, a message which passes from ear to ear jumping the boundaries separating communities. The Open Gospel is a majestic vision of the essence of Christianity, a vision which not only sees the Gospel as being, at the very least, the world's best bet for a revelation of the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but also an allusion to timeless and lofty principles from which the vagaries of Christian ethos and culture do not detract.
c. T. V. Reeves March 2000

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