The Universality of the Gospel
One of the important aspects of the gospel which we all take for granted is the fact that the gospel is for all men, regardless of their nationality, economic condition or sex. Yet, Christians did not always understand that the gospel was given to all men without respect to their nationality. The early Christians thought that Christianity was a part of Judaism and that the only way that one could become a Christian was to accept Judaism in being circumcised.
The implications of the Great Commission should have been sufficient to demonstrate that the gospel was for all men. Jesus had said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:18). In Mark's account, He is recorded to have said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (16:15). Nevertheless, the apostles were Jews; they looked at the Great Commission through Jewish colored glasses. Consequently, they understood that the gospel was to be taken to the Jews of all the world but had no understanding that the gospel was for all men until the miracles associated with the conversion of Cornelius showed them otherwise. At that point, Peter was able to say, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34, 35).
Though Peter and the six Jewish brethren who traveled with him were convinced that Gentiles could obey the gospel, not all Christians felt the same way. Indeed, trouble occurred in Antioch when certain Jewish brethren tried to compel the Gentiles converted in that city to be circumcised in order to be saved. The apostles convened in Jerusalem under the direction of the Holy Spirit. At that meeting, an official decision was made that Gentiles did not have to obey the Mosaical law of circumcision in order to be saved. God revealed that the gospel was to be taken to all men under the same conditions.
This decision which was made through revelation from God broke the umbilical cord of Christianity from Judaism. Prior to that, many tended to look upon Christianity as another sect of Judaism. After that, Christianity went into all of the world upon its own terms. Salvation was offered to Jew and Gentile upon the same terms-acceptance of Jesus Christ. Today, we accept the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is intended for all men of all times. It is universal in its scope.
Limiting the Gospel
Despite the fact that a hard battle has already been fought to show that the gospel is for all men, some have not yet accepted the universality of the gospel. The Calvinists, for example, want to limit the benefits of Christ's shed blood to the "elect". According to Calvinism, God has predestined who will be saved and who will be lost; the former are known as the "elect" and the latter as the "reprobate." The atonement of Jesus Christ was limited in scope to only those who are a part of the "elect." Read the wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or decreased.
Anyone can clearly see that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be of no benefit to those who are a part of the reprobate. Consequently, Calvinists limit the gospel to the elect.
The Bible does not teach that the gospel has been limited to a certain group selected by God arbitrarily. Rather, the Scriptures record that Jesus' atoning death was for all men. That God did not predestine anyone to Hell is evident from the fact that "God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:6). He does not wish that anyone should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), much less predestine that they perish! Furthermore, the gospel which God revealed brings salvation to "all men" (Tit. 2:14). It does not bring salvation to a limited group of people predestined for salvation by God; it brings salvation to all men on the basis that "the one who wishes" may "take of the water of life without cost" (Rev. 22:17). Those who are saved are saved, not because God predestined that they would be saved, but because they decided to take of the water of life. The blood of Jesus was shed for the sins of the whole world (1 .Jn. 2:2) and is available to those who wish to avail themselves of the benefits of his blood.
Sometimes we act as if the gospel was intended for a limited group of people without spelling it out so clearly as the Calvinists have done. I remember, during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, hearing a faithful Christian in the congregation where I attended make the comment that when the black man came into our building that he would be going out of it. No doubt, attitudes such as this portray our inability to transcend our culture. That we have had such inability to overcome our culture is probably more than a little manifest in the small number of Black Christians in America in comparison to the number of Whites. Have we really accepted the fact that the gospel is for all races when we have done so little to evangelize the black?
To further show that our attitudes portray partiality, consider what disposition we have when a movie star is converted versus our attitude toward the conversion of the man on the street. We have a tendency to elevate the professional ball player, actor, senator, governor, Ph.D., etc. who might be a Christian far above that of the average man. Have we forgotten what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:26-31? His message was that the gospel was more highly receptive among the common men. He said,
For consider your call, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.
John's disciples were told that the poor have the gospel preached to them as one of the signs that Jesus was, indeed, the Christ (Mt. 11:5). Yet, we forget this and tend to rejoice more in the conversion of the rich, mighty, noble,.etc. If and when we begin to cater to the rich and mighty, we will be headed down a road that will ultimately destroy us. The lesson of James 2 regarding respect of persons is just as applicable in this Twentieth Century as it was in the First.
We must recognize that the gospel is aimed at the common man. Consequently, we need to aim our sermons and evangelistic efforts in that direction. Let us plan our new building locations with this in mind. Instead of looking for a location which is necessarily in the upper middle class section of town, let us look for locations which might be more conducive to reaching the common man. Let us be careful not to cater to the rich and mighty; rather, let us show our greatest respect to the man who has matured in faith before God.
Truth Magazine XXII: 11, pp. 179-180