Sermon for Sunday May 29th, 2016, the First Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: 1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10
Text: Galatians 1:11-12
Theme: The unchangeable Apostolic Gospel
The theme of my sermon today is the unchangeable Apostolic Gospel. The Nicene Creed describes the Church in this way, “one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Much has been made of the doctrine of apostolic succession, the doctrine that today’s bishops were consecrated by valid successors (over the centuries) of those who were consecrated bishops by the Apostles. But the Church’s apostolic character not only derives from the Apostles whom the Lord Jesus Christ sent out to found and establish the Church in all the world, but also from the fact that the Gospel was first of all entrusted to these Apostles and to the churches that they planted.
ST. PAUL’S WARNING TO THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS
Twice St. Paul pronounces a curse on anyone one (angel or human) preaches another gospel to the Galatians that differs from the one they received from him. Now some today would claim that St. Paul was narrow-minded! Why was he so insistent that the Gospel message he had preached to the Galatians was correct and unchangeable? The reasons are given in the last three verses of our Epistle Lesson today: he is trying to please not men, but God; the Gospel which he preached was not invented by people, but he received it by the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the Gospel message was divinely revealed to the Apostles and entrusted to them, with instructions that it was not to be changed in any way.
A similar warning is issued by the Lord Jesus Christ through St. John in the final chapter of the Book of Revelation, where it is written that anyone who adds to the words of the prophecy of this Book, God will add to him the plagues written in it, and from everyone who takes away from the words of the prophecy of this Book, God will remove his part from the book of life, and from the holy city, and from the things written in this Book (Revelation 22:18-19).
St. Paul’s warning to the Galatians came because he had heard some of them were embracing a different so-called gospel, which told them that salvation came by keeping the Jewish Law. These were known as the Judaizers, who wanted all Christians to keep the whole Jewish Law. At the time that St. Paul wrote this Epistle, it was about A.D. 49 or 50, the Church did not yet have New Testament Scriptures, for St. Paul had not written most of his Epistles, and the Gospel accounts were probably not yet written down. The Gospel that St. Paul and the other twelve Apostles were preaching was the original and divinely revealed Gospel that was later in the same century committed to writing. The authority of the Apostles was received directly from the Lord Jesus Christ, and all of them, except St. Paul, had walked with Christ in his earthly life, listening to his preaching and teaching. They were eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, and even St. Paul saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). The recorded accounts we have of the Gospel, including St. Paul’s teaching and preaching in his Epistles, have Apostolic authority, and may not be changed by later generations of the Church, since then the Church would be altering what was entrusted as a sacred deposit (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:2) given for the eternal salvation of all who come to believe.
THE UNCHANGEABLE APOSTOLIC GOSPEL
What does this mean for the Church today? It means we cannot alter the truths of the Gospel as we have received it in the New Testament. Some thinkers insist we must pay attention to lost gospels, like the Gospel of St. Thomas, or other pseudepigraphical works not in our New Testament. These works do not teach salvation by grace and faith alone, but salvation by knowledge, or by works. By repentance, that is, turning away from all sin, and by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a person is saved, according to the New Testament. That salvation needs to be expressed in a life of good works pleasing to God, but these works cannot save us from sin and hell.
Each of us needs to renew his grasp of the essentials of Christian faith, as preached and taught in the New Testament, as also expounded and taught in the Catechism of the Anglican Church in North America. To each one of us who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, the unchangeable Apostolic Gospel has been entrusted.
By “unchangeable,” I do not mean to exclude a view of Christ that does not change the essential facts of his passion, death, and resurrection, but does interpret it through the eyes of a different culture, as in this example:
As a capstone to his lifelong interest in the central texts of the Christian faith, Jaroslav Pelikan edited (with Valerie Hotchkiss) Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. Among the several hundred creeds he includes is the masai Creed from Nigeria, which declares that after Jesus had been “tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died, he lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended unto the skies. He is the Lord.” The essential truth of the Gospel, that the body of Jesus did not suffer corruption remains intact here, even if viewed through the eyes of the Masai.
What are we going to do with this sacred trust of the Gospel? We must know and live out this Gospel message so well that we can share it concisely with anyone, when the need arises. What we must be sure of, is that we haven’t derived an alien and changed view of the Gospel from sources outside the Bible, leading us to communicate a message that cannot save anyone! Instead, we must be able to share the Gospel as the Church has received it, so that people can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness and eternal life in Him.