What is the gospel? What is the core message of Christianity? What is the message we wish to tell the world because it is true truth, relevant and urgent truth, much much more than an ancient truth we are anxious not to lose memory of?
The church, over which some of us labour, and for which many of us in the Western world are anxious, is many things to many people: an institution, a social club, a spiritual balm, a place offering ritual for life changing events, a voice speaking into society especially on behalf of the voiceless. But it is nothing without the gospel, without that core message which draws people together to deepen their understanding of that message and to celebrate that message in worship of God who has communicated it.
Some think the message is now different to what it once was (e.g. Spong, a post or two below), others think the message is the same but the words used to communicate it need to be attuned to the language of today, and all face the challenge of finding just what words communicate the message and what words do not.
Good Friday and Easter Day, the season of cross and resurrection is a good time to check in about the gospel, to retune ourselves to our core message. Why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus rise again? The gospel is the answer to those questions.
Jesus died because sickness in the heart of humanity (i.e. sin) could not be healed by humanity finding the power to heal within ourselves. Only God could heal us, and the healing required God to take upon himself our sickness, absorb its full effects, and render its power to destroy us null and void.
Jesus rose again both to demonstrate God's victory over our sickness and to reveal the future of healed humanity - a new future untroubled by sickness.
As long as sickness at the heart of humanity continues, our core message needs no change, other than to the words we use so the message may not be lost in translation.
But some anxiety about the church remains: when the church itself is sick (e.g. when people are abused by its leaders, or disunity testifies more to our unhealed sickness than to the healing power of God), then the smartest communication of the gospel is damaged, even destroyed for those too battered to believe that the resurrection is relevant to their lives.
Good Friday and Easter Day challenge the church about the ordering of our ministry and mission. Are we ordered so the gospel is simply proclaimed and celebrated? Are we ordered so that the gospel is accessible? Are we geared for humble service in the world rather than for power over the world?