Laying a Solid Foundation: First Things First – The Gospel

September 7, 2009

Yesterday morning I preached my first official sermon at my new church, Tunkhannock Baptist Church. We began what would become a six month series focusing on “Laying a Solid Foundation.” This first message focused on the bedrock of that foundation, the Gospel.

First Things First: The Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Introduction

My sister and brother-in-law are in the process of building a house. Well, that’s only partly true. They bought an old cottage on the lake for a sweet deal. The problem was, it was in horrific shape. So, they set about remodeling it and adding onto the existing structure. Little did they know that in the end they would rebuild practically the whole structure, but that is not the point. The cottage, like so many of it’s time, did not have a concrete foundation. It sat simply on pillars and concrete pads. That was sufficient for a small cottage, but for a large home they wanted, they would have to put in a foundation. They had someone come and lift the house up and put it on beams while they had a poured concrete foundation put in. What would have happened if they had built the house before they put in the foundation? The house would have toppled over or collapsed as the original foundation could not have supported the weight.

We here at Tunkhannock Baptist Church are in a similar situation. When a new pastor comes on board with a church there can be a lot of very normal issues that come up. The new pastor won’t do all the same things the old pastor did. They won’t preach the same, talk the same, act the same. This should not matter all the time but sometimes it does. Sometime, we as pastors walk into a new ministry and just begin full force without taking time to understand and evaluate the life of the church. There can be a failure to lay a solid foundation for the ministry. This is what we do not want to do here. So, for the first six months of my time here with you we want to focus on the foundation of the faith and the ministry. And the first thing to focus on when we are talking about foundations is the Gospel.

The primary foundational focus of Paul’s ministry was always the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 reminds us of Paul’s primary message to the churches in which he served. If this was the primary message of Paul, the Gospel, or the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, then it too should be the primary focus of our message here at Tunkhannock Baptist Church. So, as we look at “Laying a Solid Foundation” here in our new partnership as pastor and church, we need to look at the very foundation of the foundation. First things first. We need to talk about the Gospel.

There is not one clearer portion of Scripture on the Gospel than 1 Corinthians 15:1–11. In this passage Paul reminds us the content of the message that he presented to the church at Corinth, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection. Without the death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, Christianity is a lie. The foundation of our faith is this Gospel truth: The verifiable death and resurrection of Christ in the Gospel is the foundation of our faith, and the power of God unto salvation.

Context

Paul has just concluded an extended section regarding divisions over corporate worship in chapters 12–14 in response to questions that we’re asked of him in a letter from the Corinthian church. Now, in 15:1–11, Paul is actually responding to an issue in the church that does not arise until v. 12, namely, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12). The issue was there were those in the church that denied a bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul’s answer is that, of course there is because Christ was raised therefore we have hope in our own resurrection. If Christ had not been raised then there was no point to Paul’s preaching or to Christianity at all. Without the resurrection, the foundation of the gospel, there is no hope and therefore Christianity is a lie. Paul then in 15:1–11 explains how indeed the foundation of the Gospel, the death and the resurrection of Christ, is indeed true, verifiable, and is powerful to save!

1. The Gospel is the Foundation and Maintainer of Faith (vv. 1–2)

The first two verses of chapter 15 serve as an introduction to Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of Christ.

Paul needed to remind the Corinthian believers of what he had originally preached to them. The main thrust of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the Gospel. The Gospel, or “good news” is simply the message of the death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ which provides atonement (the payment for sin), forgiveness, and promise of eternal life. Paul made it the main point of his mission as apostle to the Gentiles to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. This is the good news of Christianity.

Paul is curious how the Corinthian believers could believe that there was no bodily resurrection. The very foundational cornerstone message that they had heard and believed upon was the message of the Gospel that Paul had preached; namely that Jesus Christ had truly been raised from the dead in bodily form. This is what he had preached to them, and on no other basis was salvation possible. He calls them brothers, acknowledging they are saved individuals, but even saved individuals can be swayed by untruth. In the early church, Jews and Christians believed in the resurrection of the body, whereas the popular Greek perspective was that there was no bodily resurrection since matter was evil. The Corinthian believers were being affected by the teachings of the world. The same kind of teachings we are facing today. That the deeds done in the flesh are not important as we will transcend to a higher place at death and shed this body of flesh. Instead, the Bible teaches us that our bodies are good and made in the image of God and will be resurrected and redeemed. But, the Corinthians had forgotten what Paul had first preached to them. The thing in which they stood, and by which they were being saved was the message of the Gospel. It was on the basis of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection that they had faith.

He challenges the Corinthian believers to hold fast to this truth. Holding fast to the truth of Christ and His death and resurrection would prove that they truly were children of God. As they say in Britain, “the proof is in the pudding.” What is there in reality reveals the truth. If the Corinthians deny this core foundational truth of the resurrection of the dead, then they will prove that they never had true faith to begin with. They will have “believed in vain” as Paul has said. The proof, is in the pudding. One commentator writes,

The resurrection is the keystone that integrates the incarnation and Christ’s atoning death. If it is removed, the whole gospel will collapse. If there is no resurrection of the dead, humans remain under the tyranny of sin and death, and their bouts of doubt and despair are fully justified” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, p. 683).

The Gospel is the foundation and maintainer of our faith. This message is of untold importance. Christ’s death and resurrection, as Charles Wesley reminds us, is our power and the proof of our own resurrection. “Soar we now where Christ has led. Following our exalted Head. Made like Him, like Him we rise. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies” (Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”)

2. The Gospel is the Death and Resurrection of Christ (vv. 3–4)

Paul goes on to talk directly about the reality and the proof of the Gospel. The Gospel was of prime importance. It was the message of Paul’s preaching and the message upon which the Corinthians first believed. But, if they doubted the resurrection of the body, then there must not have been a resurrection of Christ’s body, and therefore there is no foundation of our faith and Christianity is a lie. Paul therefore ably explains what the Gospel is.

This message of Paul was delivered as of “first importance.” This is the very foundational core of the Christian faith. Without the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no Christian faith. Because this is such an important part of the faith, it has often been denied and disparaged throughout Church history. Many even so-called “liberal theologians” think the resurrection was myth and not that important to the true point of Christianity. But Paul says this is of first importance. This is what we believe in order to be saved. We mentioned before here that the Gospel is that 1) God is the sovereign creator and righteous judge, 2) man who was created in the image of God rebelled and therefore is destined for hell, 3) that in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, we have hope for salvation through His death and resurrection, and 4) that all men must respond by turning from their sins and embracing Christ Jesus as Lord. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no hope for salvation. There is no freedom from the guilt and penalty of sin. Only through Christ is salvation possible. That is why this is of first importance. Paul received the content of the Gospel message and proclaimed it wherever he went.

He explains that this message of the Gospel, was that Christ died for our sins. Christ died to redeem men from their sins. Christ died to purchase men and women for God. Christ died to provide an intimate relationship between Father and children that had been marred by sin and the curse. And not only do you have to take Paul’s word for it. He tells us that his death is in accordance with the Scriptures. The Old Testament was full of prophecies of the death of the Messiah. One need only to study the “Suffering Servant” passages in Isaiah 53:3–12 to know this. The Scriptures announced that the Messiah would come and suffer and die.

But, that was not the end of the story. Christ would beat death and would be resurrected. He would be buried, and raised on the third day. This was also proclaimed in the Scriptures. Not only in the passage from Isaiah 53 but also from Hosea 6:2 and from Jonah 1:17 Both the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ were predicted in the Scriptures. This was not something outside of God’s plan. God had planned from the beginning of time to send His Son to die for men and to beat death through the resurrection so men could have hope in their salvation and in their own resurrection.

Now Paul knows that the society that he lives in would deny the bodily resurrection. Miracles just don’t happen. They defy the laws of physics don’t they? How can something that is dead come back to life? Even in our modern medical sciences can we only “revive” someone after a brief amount of time otherwise there would be neurological damage. But, what about after 3 days? How could someone come back to life after three days? Paul’s day was no different than ours. We are natural cynics and need proof of things. We cannot take things on faith. Even today the core problem people have with Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, Paul does what makes the most sense, he offers proof; evidence of the resurrection of Christ!

3. The Gospel is a Verifiable Reality (vv. 5–10)

To prove to a culture that is naturally cynical of anything supernatural, Paul proves that Christ rose from the dead through eye-witness testimony.

i. The Resurrection was Verified by Eyewitnesses (vv. 5–7)

First, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that Jesus appeared to Peter, the chief of the apostles, after he rose from the dead. This is revealed to us in Luke 24:12. Peter and John were the first two men who followed Jesus to make it to the empty tomb. But it was not just a few people who saw the resurrected Christ. Jesus then appeared to the twelve. The apostles, including Matthias, Judas’ replacement, saw the resurrected Christ. We are told this in Acts 1:21–23.

But anyone could see through this. Of course the close associates of Jesus would lie that they had seen Him after his burial. You cannot trust those people as eye-witnesses. So Paul gives more proof. Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles, he appeared to 500 brothers at one time! And to add insult to injury, he tells the Corinthian believers that many of these believers are still alive! So, Paul says, “Don’t believe me? Ask them yourselves!” It’s hard to argue with 500 eye-witnesses!

Not only did He appear to His close associates and His followers, He appeared to his brother James, who was a leader in the Jerusalem church. We know Jesus’ family did not always believe in Jesus as the Messiah. They thought He was crazy at times! But His own family had seen Him now. And they believed! He appeared to all of the apostles which is larger than the “twelve” at this point and would include James and Paul himself. Christ appeared to hundreds of people after He had been buried. If this was not proof enough, the one who had first communicated the Gospel to the people at Corinth had also seen the resurrected Christ.

ii. The Resurrection was Verified by Paul (vv. 8–10)

Christ appeared to the “last” of the apostles, Paul Himself. Paul considered Himself unusual, and the least of all the apostles because He had not been with Christ before He died, nor did he see him in the same way the others did after the resurrection. He saw Him in the vision on the road to Damascus. This was Paul’s huge conversion experience where he turned from persecutor of the church to great apostle of the church and missionary to the Gentiles.

If they would not believe the testimony of Peter, the other apostles, and the early followers of Christ, then surely they would believe the eye-witness testimony of Paul himself? He was the first one to bring the Gospel to the people. They believed the message of Christ and Him crucified. Now, they had to believe that Paul had not lied but told the truth about the resurrection of Christ. And he could tell the truth about this because Christ Himself had appeared to Him after the resurrection and commissioned Paul as an apostle.

Through the grace of God, Paul says, he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. His grace was not in vain to Him because Paul had believed on Christ and in His death and resurrection and he was holding fast to this truth. Therefore, he had not believed in vain. On the contrary, his belief in Christ did not make him passive. No, Paul was zealous for Christ and for His church. It prompted hard work on Paul’s behalf. He had zealously persecuted the church and now through the grace of God had trusted in Christ’s death as payment for his sins, and in His resurrection as the hope of his salvation. Therefore Paul worked hard for Christ. And the Corinthians are the fruit of Paul’s hard work. Although Paul quickly acknowledges it is all of the grace of God and not a result of his hard work.

The resurrection of Christ, that bizarre reality to both ancient Gentiles and modern man truly did happen. It was prophesized in the Old Testament and it was verified by those in the early church. Eye-witness testimony of over 500 people does not lie. Truly, Christ was raised from the dead on the third day and now reigns at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ, the God-man, paid the penalty for our sins and rose from the dead as the hope of our eternal salvation. There is no sweeter message than this in all creation. This is the message of the Gospel. This is the good news. This is the foundation of our faith. This is what makes us Christians. This is what saturates all we do as Christians and all we do as a church. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

4.  The Gospel is What Makes Men Believe (v. 11)

Paul says to us, the ultimate testimony of the truth of the resurrection, is that it is the foundation of any and every preacher of the Gospel. Whether it is the preaching of Paul, or the preaching of the apostles or others, they preached Christ crucified and resurrected. And on the basis of this message the Corinthians believed and were saved. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational truth on which we must believe to be saved. John MacArthur writes,

Without exception, the preaching and teaching in the early church centered on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Wherever Christ was preached and by whomever He was preached, His resurrection was the pivotal message that was proclaimed (MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 406).

The Gospel message, the message of Christ’s death and resurrection is what has the power to save. All of our methods, our programs, our procedures… none of these things can ever bring men and women to salvation. The thing that brings people to salvation is the simple message of Christ. The simple message that Jesus Christ, the God-man, came to earth for the purpose of redeeming men for God. He came and died to be our atonement. He stood in our place and died on our behalf. On that basis we were saved. We were justified by God; declared righteous. And on the basis of Christ’s resurrection we can defeat death and sin. We have hope that our salvation is secure for all eternity. We have the promise of eternal life in Christ. This is the message of salvation. This is the power of God. Salvation is in a man; Christ Jesus our Lord.

Conclusion

As a church we must place first things first. And as we look at setting a firm foundation for Tunkhannock Baptist Church, we must look at the first thing. The core foundational truth of Biblical Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel. The good news of Christianity is that God loved His creation so much He purposed to send His only Son to become man. And as infinite and finite joined together, there was hope for mankind. The God-man would do what no other man could do. He could die for the sins of a people who could not pay for their own sins. In His death he atoned for those sins. He provided forgiveness of sins. And by defeating death and being raised again on the third day He provided hope for eternal life for all of His children. This is the grand message of Christianity. This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. Hope for salvation through faith in the God-man. There is nothing I can do to redeem myself. It takes an outside force. It takes God’s making me alive again through the new birth, through belief in Jesus Christ.

Everything Paul said and did was Gospel saturated. He preached the Gospel at every opportunity; at every turn. The very message upon which the Corinthians believed was this Gospel message that Paul had preached. It was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that flowed from Paul’s lips. This too should be our focus.

Any church that departs from making Christ preeminent in their midst has fallen away from their first love in the words of Revelation 2:4. Everything we are, everything we do in the life of the church is all about Christ. Most of our churches today make everything about us. Most of our songs are about us and what we are doing for Christ. Much is made of us while little is made of Christ. When was the last time we sat down and said, “…we do this at our church because we love Christ?” When was the last time we evaluated what we did as a church for the purpose of making much of Christ and the Gospel? When we talk about the Great Commission do we do evangelism and discipleship for Christ? Do we make much of Christ in our teaching? Do we make much of Christ in our communication of the Gospel to people? Too often churches talk more about how “God can fix your marriage” or how “God has a wonderful plan for your life” instead of talking about Christ and how Christ is the only hope for salvation. How often do we talk about Christ as the only truth, the only way, the only life? How often do we talk about Christ as the foundation of our faith? How often do we talk about Christ in general? Does the Gospel drip from your lips as it does from the apostle Paul?

As we come together as church and pastor we need to set the agenda. We need to plot a course. And what we need to do is go about making sure our foundation is secure before we can build upon it. If we go about building on top of a shaky foundation, the whole structure will collapse. For the first six months of our ministry together, we are going to be like a home inspector. We are going to check out the structure of this church we call Tunkhannock Baptist Church and make sure before we build any more, that the foundation is secure. The foundation of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ and the work of Him on the cross and His resurrection. Is that the main thrust of everything we do here? Over the next few months we are going to look at other foundational truths like who is God, who is man, what is sin, what is salvation, what is a church, and so on. Let’s be prepared to study the Scriptures together so we can come together and check out our church to make sure we are standing on a firm foundation. The bedrock of that foundation is the Gospel.

Are you here this morning without standing on the firm foundation of Christ Jesus? Are you trying it “your way” when it comes to salvation? Are you seeking to be “good enough” to get in? The reality is, you all have sinned. And one sin separates us for eternity from an infinite and loving God. Our penalty for sinning against an infinite God is eternity in hell. Nothing you can do can save you from that destiny. You have no hope. The scales of your life will always tip toward death and damnation rather than life. Your only hope is faith in Jesus Christ.

If you are trusting in anything but Jesus Christ for salvation, admit to God that you are a sinner and deserving of death. Admit you cannot save your self. Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ truly is both fully God and fully man and that through his death and resurrection you can have hope for eternal life. Your sins can be forgiven and you can be empowered to pursue a godly life of following Christ. Believe upon Christ and you will be saved. Please, if you are trusting in anything but Christ, come and talk to me and I will seek to show you from the Scriptures how you can have eternal life.

Believers, we are a body of Christ united together through His death and resurrection. Let us in our ministry together make much of Him and little of ourselves. Let us lay a solid foundation together in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Advertisements

Calvin on the Gospel

July 27, 2009

Without the gospel

everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel

we are not Christians;

without the gospel

all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made

children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom

the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was

sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;

he was

made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;

he died for our life; so that by him

fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,

mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are

comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534).

HT – Justin Taylor (Justin did this layout of the text)


The Point of the Gospel

April 26, 2009

My new favourite preacher, Matt Chandler, of The Village Church, presents powerfully the point of the Gospel (HT: Timmy Brister).


How to Reach both the Lost and the Found on Sunday’s

February 27, 2009

In my previous post, “Is Too Much Bible Teaching the Problem or the Solution?” I wrote about the failure of many churches when it comes to systematic instruction in the Word of God and theology. My reader who writes under the name “beatthedrum” commented on perhaps the need for two different services on Sunday’s. One would specifically designed to reach the Lost the other to disciple the found. Now, what I am about to tell you is not earth shattering nor profound and is completely unoriginal. In fact, it is not even my idea. But a former fellow seminary student of mine has in his church developed what I think is the best setup to address this kind of need.

Ken Brown is Pastor of Community Baptist Church has developed what I think is an ideal solution to the problem of teaching the gospel to the lost and discipling the found. Now, Ken’s church was originally a church plant that he started so this is easier to do from the get-go than trying to do it in an existing congregation but here we go…

What is the normal time that unbelievers think “church” happens? Usually anywhere between 10:30 AM to 11:15 AM on Sunday morning depending on the specific time when churches operate. This will be the time they usually come to a church because this is when they believe they are supposed to come. The problem is, the morning worship service, in my opinoin, is not designed for unbelievers but for the believers. It is a time for the body of Christ to gather together to worship and study and grow together around the Word. Now, obviously unbelievers can learn the truth and repent in those services but these services are ultimately not designed for them. And most attempts at making them more “seeker friendly” fail from the beginning since they are changing a service for the saved to one for the unsaved and thus alienating both groups generally!

So, Ken did something different. He designed his Sunday mornings with the morning worship service happening before the normal time. His morning service happens at 9:30 AM when most churches are having their Sunday School time. Then, during the “normal” morning worship time, Ken has what he calls “DiscoveringGod.”

This is the main service designed specifically to reach out and speak to unbelievers without treating them as if they are not intelligent enough for a regular worship service. Instead, the church assumes that the regular worship service is really not designed for them. So, let’s create something new and different to reach the unsaved. I will post directly from Communit Baptist’s website to describe the nature of their “DiscoveringGod” service.”

At 11:00, we gather for Discovering God. In this hour, Ken Brown teaches us what the Bible says about God and how we can have a relationship with Him. Although designed for those who want to be introduced to God, all who desire to know more about establishing and nurturing a relationship with their Creator will benefit from this class. Pastor Ken teaches the truths of Christianity in everyday language and his messages are designed to address the needs of real people living in a real world. The sessions take place in a relaxed atmosphere (come as you are!) that allows for questions and, don’t worry, you won’t be asked to give money!

So here is how Ken reaches the lost in his congregation. He decided that there needed to be a specific time in the life of his congregation where the unique issues and needs of the lost would be addressed. This would be a time where the gospel would be taught and would be applied to the every day issues of life and would be used by God to show the lostness of people left to themselves and force them to reach out and embrace Christ as Lord and Saviour. Of course, ultimately, it is God who saves the lost but He has ordained us to be the means to accomplishing that end. Here is a helpful and effective means to accomplishing that end by having two unique services on Sunday’s. One that specifically addresses the saved, and one that specifically addresses the lost.

This may not work in every church nor should it be tried in every church. But this is one example amongst many of how to address both the saved and unsaved in the life of the preaching/teaching ministry of the church.


Book Notice – Get Outta My Face!

January 22, 2009

Shepherd Press has just released its newest volume, Get Outta My Face! How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel by Rick Horne. It looks to be a fantastic resource for parents and youth workers.

You can get it from Westminster Books until January 24 for only $4.88! Pick up your copy and other copies for the youth workers and parents of teens you know here from the Westminster Books website.


The Problem of Unions: My Reflections

November 20, 2008

Bob Dylan, that great American musician, in 1983 prophesied of the issues facing 2008. In his single, “Union Sundown,” the inimitable poet-musician wrote, “Well, it’s sundown on the union and what’s made in the USA. Sure was a good idea ‘til greed got in the way.” How very true this statement is. It was originally made during the recessionary times of the early 1980s when the automotive industry was struggling against increased foreign competition and failing to respond to the fuel crisis only a few years before. Now, in 2008, with the global market concerns, the automotive industry has fallen on difficult times in North America. The issues have not changed since the 1980s. The North American giants, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are facing growing interest in foreign manufacturers and a failure to respond. While Toyota and Honda and others are answering the fuel prices of today with high-economy models, the North American manufacturers are still investing in large engine models. They cannot seem to understand what the market is looking for. It is no wonder they are continually losing market share. The reality is, the “Big Three” Detroit automakers have announced that without some kind of economic bailout, there is the real threat of bankruptcy.

While the United Auto Workers (UAW) and its Canadian counterpart the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) have often found themselves with a great influence in the world around them, they, and the manufacturers they work with, are finding they have little support in the community at large. Micheline Maynard recently wrote in an article titled “Clout Has Plunged for Automakers and Union, Too” for the New York Times (November 17, 2008) that “In arguing for a bailout, Detroit’s automakers have found themselves without much help.” Public opinion in general has turned against the Detroit automakers. The clout they once felt they had in Washington and Ottawa has dried up as people everywhere are asking how dumping billions into these manufacturers, with little foresight into actually building cars the population wants to buy, will actually help this economy. The manufacturers and the unions that represent the workers are no longer the giants they once were.

How did this happen? While most are asking this question with regard to the automaker few are asking it with regards to the unions. The important question needs to be, “what happened to the unions?” Dylan helps us with the answer: greed. The automotive unions have set themselves up far beyond their original goals and mission. They have moved into the realm of all-powerful organization that has, for some, become a substitute for the church.

The unions were formed out of a difficult time and were completely necessary. During the late 1930s and 40s conditions were poor for the manufacturing working class. People were tired of working the long hours in poor conditions for little pay. First, General Motors formed a contract with the UAW in 1937, then Chrysler a year later. Hold out, Ford Motor Company, did not form a contract with the UAW until 1941 after a number of years of intimidation, espionage, and even violence on the part of Henry Bennett and the “Ford Service Department” whose sole task set out by founder Henry Ford was to prevent organization. During this time, the union was designed to represent the workers to the company and bargain for better working conditions and pay and benefits that matched the work they were doing. These were noble goals. Those of us today who make what we make in many different industries owe that to the automotive unions which forced companies to actually treat their employees like people and pay them what they were owed. But what happened?

The unions grew too big for their britches. They became a “social club” and were a haven for employees. The problem was, they did not just stop there, instead they even grew beyond the social club concept and moved into the area of a church. More people began to attend union meetings and union get-togethers on Sunday’s then going to church. The union began to take the place of the church in many areas

My father worked for 30 years for Ford Motor Company in Windsor, Ontario. The union over the years helped to keep my father employed, paid, and with good benefits. One of those benefits was that I was able to work for Ford as well during my seminary years as a TPT (Temporary Part-Time). I would work Friday’s and Monday’s at Windsor Engine Plant in Windsor, Ontario where we built the truck engines for the F-Series trucks. It was a great job. It was the best paying part-time job I had. It allowed me to support myself all through my seminary years. But, over my 4 years of working for Ford I noticed some very dangerous things about the union.

I would recall when I was hired, we were strongly encouraged to have funds removed from our cheques to give to a large charitable organization. The union prided itself on giving to this group in large amounts each year. Since this organization supported things I could not in good conscience support as a Christian, I told them I was not going to give them funds. The looks and the queries made me think I was somehow guilty of failing my fellow man for not giving to this organization. It was “expected” to do so as a member of the union.

When election time came around the unions basically told employees who to vote for. These recommendations would usually be very leftward leaning on the political spectrum. As I felt I could not support these politicians because their parties supported issues that I could not support as a Christian I would tell people I would not be voting the way the union wanted me to vote. I was basically accused of not supporting the union; that my vote to a different party meant I was against jobs. The rhetoric of the union had so ingrained the minds of the employees they could not see the lack of logic. I often said to them, “Who pays your salary, the company or the union?” They would reply that it was the company that paid them. So I asked, “Would you rather support a party that supported the company or the union?” People could not grasp the concept of this or anything that did not mesh with what the union was arguing.

The union became the church for these people. It provided them a place to fellowship. It told them what to believe, how to behave, and what was important in life. The reason the unions are failing is because they have attempted to take the place of what the church is. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the primary vehicle for which God is accomplishing His will in this age. It is the place where God has called us to be a part of and to which we give our lives. Nothing takes precedence or place over the local church in our lives. We were saved to do good works (Eph 2:10) in the life of the body of Christ (Eph 4:16). Nothing should take our allegiance away from the church. The scary part of all of this is, too many believers bought the lies that the unions offered and gave more allegiance to the union than they did the church.

Why are the unions failing around us? Why can they not keep plants open? Why can they not keep people in their jobs? It is simply because at some stage they decided they were more than just a union. They were much more. The problem is, there is nothing “more” than the church in this age. They tried to usurp the role that the church should have in the lives of people. It was an ineffectual substitute. And when the unions attempted to go into areas that were not part of their original mission, they forgot about their mission of workers rights and job security. Until the unions get back into their place and out of the place of the church, they will never be effectual in the world around us.

Dylan’s words hit to the heart of the matter today. “Well, the job that you used to have they gave it to somebody down in El Salvador. The unions are big business, friend and they’re goin’ out like a dinosaur.” The unions will never be effectual again until they find their place as organizations that work to secure worker rights and job security. Not be a big business, or a big church.


The Gospel and Culture Project

November 19, 2008

 A fantastic new resource for those of you who are interested in the culture around you and how Christianity can transform that culture is the new Gospel and Culture Project. With recent articles on the Twilight books, the presidential elction, Rwanda, and other areas, you will find a wealth of well-written material here that speaks to the culture around us with a distinctly Christian voice. Here is more information about this ministry from their website:

Who we are

The Gospel & Culture Project (GCP) equips Christians to understand and apply the Gospel as truth capable of transforming human culture. We accomplish this through a group of interwoven initiatives:

Gospelandculture.org is an online community where specialists in specific areas of cultural interpretation and theological application dialogue with fellow believers about contemporary questions. The site also communicates about the ongoing work of the GCP and promotes its initiatives and events.

Forays are monthly gatherings held in the University City area of Philadelphia that explore aspects of contemporary life through the lens of the Christian faith.

Word Meets World will be a weekend, in-church seminar in which GCP staff equip people in churches to apply the Gospel to their daily lives and to important issues they face.

The School for Cultural Engagement will be a graduate school geared toward equipping lay people and those who are in, or plan to enter, professional ministry, to hone and develop their faith as a tool for responding to contemporary life. Students will receive a thorough grounding in theology and biblical studies, however, courses will be taught with an eye toward creating leaders who can enable others to thoughtfully apply their faith to the world around them.

The Gospel & Culture Center will house our offices, classrooms, a gallery space and media production space.

Origins

Dr. William Edgar, apologetics professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, developed the idea for the project more than a decade ago. In the intervening period, he pulled together a group of volunteers, then eventually a six-member board in 2007. During this period, the GCP offered a number of conferences and other types of gatherings focused on the application of the Christian faith to aspects of contemporary culture ranging from media, justice and politics to aesthetics and globalization.

The GCP was incorporated in 2007 as an independent nonprofit 501(c)3. In 2008, the GCP hired its first employee, Dr. Chris Simmons, as Executive Director. The GCP currently operates gospelandculture.org and Foray, and looks forward to launching World Meets World, The School for Cultural Engagement and The Gospel & Culture Center, as resources become available.

Distinctives

The GCP has two primary distinctives: 1) its theological rooting and 2) its core belief that the church’s calling includes fulfilling Scripture’s command to glorify God in this world by influencing it to more truly reflect his character.

These two distinctives go hand in hand. The GCP’s approach, known as cultural-redemptive theology, interprets the Bible as presenting an unfolding historical process that culminates in the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

This theology argues that all things cohere in Christ, who is the Lord of life and therefore of culture. History, as God ordains it, is moving toward a new creation — a new heaven and earth. At the center of this process is God redeeming us so that we might know and enjoy him and his world in this life and the next. A prime aspect of this knowing involves his speaking to us through his word. God guides us in how we may work in a world that is fallen, yet one in which he is at work. As a result, to understand culture in a cultural-redemptive framework is to understand that God can and will work with us and through us so that this world might more truly reflect his character.

As a result, we believe that the church can and must fulfill its calling to interact dynamically and thoughtfully with the key questions and issues our world faces.