Bishop Mark Hanson: Our Gospel Must Be Jesus

_ Competing messages blur freedom found in Christ _

The vitality of our life as the ELCA is inseparable from the clarity of what we proclaim. In my final report to the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in July, I asked the question I have asked throughout the ELCA over the last nine years, "What gospel are we proclaiming?" 

The question of what gospel or message of good news we are proclaiming is important for all of us because there are competing gospels in American public life. Some attractively offer the hope of material prosperity to those living in poverty. Other gospels say the way to salvation depends on the purity of our personal morality, the generosity of our charity, the courage of our public witness, the sincerity of our pious devotion, or the dogmatic precision of our doctrinal formulations.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" (Romans 1:16).

Not a partisan ideology about correct attitudes, behaviors or ideas, the gospel of Jesus Christ is God's own power to save. It is the saving message of God's good work in Jesus Christ-the forgiveness by which God overcomes all human divisions and brings in the new creation in Christ. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

Did you hear that? Do you believe it?

The new creation in Christ is not an endorsement of the partisan religious ideologies by which we seek to judge and control others. Nor is it just a patching up of old differences and covering over old divisions, where the systems of power and privilege and the dynamics of domination and alienation remain intact. The new creation does not leave us trapped in a house of death.

The new creation is the promise of a completely new thing in Jesus Christ. It is the full dignity of our baptismal life in Christ. We are a liberated resurrection community, sent to bear witness in word and deed to the new creation in Christ.

The transformative power of this proclamation was expressed by the apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:19-20).

The good news we proclaim and believe is that Jesus would rather die than be in the sin-accounting business. The promise in this transformative and liberating gospel echoes throughout the more than 10,000 congregations and other places of proclamation and service of the ELCA.

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). That is the message of good news we proclaim to those living enslaved by systems of domination and exploitation. It is a transformative promise announced to those whose dignity has been stripped away and to those who live immobilized by fear and guilt.

When we proclaim this gospel with clarity, courage and conviction, the Spirit will be at work, bringing us to faith, freeing us and calling us so mission will flow from it into the various contexts of our lives and throughout the world. 

In Christ you are bound to be free-free from the powers of sin, death and the devil. The new creation you are in Christ leads to a life of faith in which reconciliation is the work, the vocation, God's mission in which we are engaged.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ ..." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

[Used with permission. Originally published in the October 2010 issue of The Lutheran magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.]