I think one of the most discouraging things for the average Christian to face is trying to figure out which theological system is right or which theologian is right. We are often bewildered as to how such great scholars can come up with so many different interpretations.
This at times can be almost paralyzing as we watch these titans of the faith do battle over the meaning of words and doctrines while the rest of us stand on the sidelines waiting for the dust to settle, which it never does. Then we observe people who have little or no theological training who love the Lord supremely, obey Him consistently, draw deeply from His word, sacrifice joyfully, witness boldly, pray fervently and worship passionately. How can this be? I recently returned from a trip to the Amazon where I had the great privilege to meet with a tribe that had just been reached with the gospel. There we were, standing in the midst of the great Brazilian jungle witnessing what I like to call THE ORGANIC GOSPEL, with no doctrinal preservatives added.
These people had known the Lord for just four months. They had no bibles, no theological system they were following, no knowledge of doctrine, yet seemed to have a great grasp of the basic fundamentals of the Christian life. I was a bit skeptical until I heard some of their testimonies. This was a very small tribe, but their hope in the Lord dwarfed what I see in our western culture. One woman stepped forward and said she used to be angry and hard to get along with but now that she has been forgiven of her sins by Jesus, her anger no longer has a grip on her. Another stepped up and said, “I used to curse my children but now I bless them.” While yet another said she knew in her heart that something was not right when she heard that Jesus had come to set her free from her sin. She is now at peace, even though life is very hard.
So here are five things I learned from this tribe that I never knew about the gospel.
- The simple gospel taught them how to pray. Since God is a personal God then praying to Him seems only normal now that they are believers. They prayed for us before we left. It was beautiful and full of hope.
- The simple gospel taught them how to walk by faith. They were trusting God for their daily provisions, and if you could see the conditions these people live in, you would understand how faith was essential to their daily walk.
- The simple gospel taught them how to worship. They asked if we would teach them some songs so they could praise God in greater ways. We sang together under the shade of heavy vines draped over the limbs of giant trees drawing up water from a nearby swamp.
- The simple gospel taught them how to witness. They had a desire to reach other tribes with this message.
- The simple gospel taught them to seek forgiveness from one another. This was the clincher for me. One woman said, “Since Jesus forgave us we have decided as a tribe that if we ever offend one another in word or deed, we will go to that person and ask forgiveness.” I taught on this for years. Most of us in the west tell those we have offended, “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize,” but few will look the offended party in the eye and say, “Will you forgive me for what I have done?” That is what these people practice.
Some of you might be saying to yourself, “I have always known that the gospel alone could do this.” Let me challenge you on that thought. Why is it that the western church has to have endless books on how to worship, how to witness, how to pray, how to walk by faith, or how to forgive? Why do we have countless seminars on these subjects? But let’s ask an even harder question. Are we living these out with all of our theological knowledge? Perhaps this is getting a little uncomfortable. As I looked at these people I couldn’t help but think, “This is not a tribe, but a church – and a pretty mature one at that.” Do you know of a church in the U.S. that practices these disciplines? These people had no pastor, no creeds, no statement of faith, no theological system, no eschatological date for our Lord’s return, no worship center, and no prayer room. All they had was the ORGANIC GOSPEL.
Now before you write me off as one of those pastors that says, “Let’s get rid of doctrine and just love Jesus,” hear me out. I love good doctrine and have taught it for many years. After all, I pastor a Bible church. The purpose of good doctrine is to protect the gospel from cults, new age philosophies, and health & wealth theology (which, in fact, is no theology). Doctrine is highlighted when the gospel is attacked. Great theologians rise up as they should. Creeds and confessions are written. Books on systematic theology spring up. All this can be good, but it can also bury the ORGANIC GOSPEL. When theology is worshiped in place of the One it directs us to, then we are in serious trouble. The résumé of a person is not the person. It simply describes the person, albeit in a very limited way. No matter how much doctrine we compile, God will never be adequately explained by any group of people or any system of theology. So let’s remove our pride and learn from the tribe.
You can watch or listen to Pastor Mike’s account of this trip to the Amazon here.