The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Gospel Tradition

On this, the Lord’s Day, Christians are meeting together, as we do every week, to remember the death of our Lord and to celebrate His glorious resurrection. The Christian message, that the Savior Whom God had given His fallen world, had atoned for our sins in His death by crucifixion, and then was raised by God from the dead on the third day, was called the “euangellion”. In English this word is translated by “Gospel” or “good news”.

The choice of this term as the title of the Christian message invokes the language of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7)

The Gospel is indeed “good news” to repentant sinners in any day and age for it announces that God has provided salvation for sinners, mercy and forgiveness of sins, free and without cost, to all who will put their faith in the Savior Who is at the heart of the message. Since we, in the words of St. Paul, “have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and every day are in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins, the Gospel remains “good news” for us. As Arabella Katherine Hankey put it:

I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest

The Gospel is also a tradition. Some well-meaning Christians may cringe to hear that, misapplying Jesus’ warnings to the Pharisees about the misuse of tradition, but the Scripture itself declares it.

St. Paul, in the 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Church in Corinth, declares unto the Corinthians “the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

He writes:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Cor, 15:3-8)

In this passage St. Paul declares the Gospel he has been preaching – Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection, both attested to by Scripture, and by visible evidence, His burial for His death, and a multitude of witnesses for His resurrection.

Note however his introductory words “For I delivered unto you, first of all that which I also received”. This is the essence of a tradition. A tradition is something which we have because we have received it from others, and which we pass on to others. The English word tradition is derived from the Latin word trado, tradere, which means to surrender something unto others, to bequeath something, to hand something down to posterity. Tradition comes from the fourth principal part of this word – traditum, the stem on which the perfect, passive participle is built – thus: that which has been handed over, that which has been surrendered.

In St. Paul’s day, the Gospel he was preaching was being passed on to others by people who were contemporaneous with the events of the Gospel. Today, two millennia later, the Gospel comes to us, with its message of hope, salvation, and forgiveness of sins, through generations of faithful believers, who have passed on to us, that which they first received from Christ’s Apostles.

Most traditions are particular, which is to say that they belong to a particular society in which a particular people pass them down to their descendants. The Gospel is particular in the sense that those who hear and believe the Gospel message become a particular spiritual community, God’s Church, His ekklesia or “called out assembly”, and that spiritual community passes the Gospel tradition down through the ages. The Gospel is also a universal tradition. It is universal in the sense that it speaks to everybody, it calls everybody to believe, and comes with the commandment of the Lord that it be preached to everybody.

St. Paul said that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). This literally describes the order in which the Gospel was preached. The Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem to their own people and then took it to the Greek speaking people throughout the Roman Empire. St. Paul in particular went throughout Asia Minor preaching the Gospel to the Greeks.

It is also, however, first century shorthand for saying “everybody in the world” and St. Paul clearly meant it in both senses. Nobody is to be excluded from the grace and mercy of God, from the forgiveness of sins and salvation that the Gospel of Christ brings to the sinners of the world, except that they exclude themselves by rejecting the Gospel.

To those reading these words, may you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive therein the forgiveness of your sins and everlasting life.

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