But Wait… there’s more

(If you visited earlier you might have seen a bunch of misplaced text.  I think it is fixed now and I apologize for any confusion.  Someday I will learn how to move a picture without messing up the text.)

Every infomercial you have ever seen has certainly contained some variation of the “but wait there is more…” line meant to entice you to purchase the product or service that is for sale.  It has become a bit of a joke with people, but the advertisers still employ the method because it works.  Fortunately my Television gets zero, count them, zero channels so it has been a long time since I have sat up late watching infomercials, but let’s be honest there is something entertaining about them.  For whatever reason, they are enjoyable to watch even if you have no intention of ever purchasing the product.  Strangely enough the typical worship service runs a lot like an infomercial, you have all the pieces in place.  You have the testimonials of people for whom the product ‘Jesus’ worked.   You have the excited audience who oohs and ahs at the latest demonstration of what the wonderful product can do.  Usually you have some degree of audience participation, but rarely do they use the product and the ones who do come up to use it are always preselected for the occasion.  Think about the infomercial and compare it to what is typical in evangelical services and you are bound to see the unfortunate similarities.

The purpose of this post is to deal with the whole notion of “but wait there’s more…” as it occurs in Christianity.  In infomercial advertising what I hear when that line is brought out is this: “we know that the product itself is not quite good enough to sway you to purchase it, so we are going to give you these extras which certainly make the purchase worthwhile.”  In other words, they know what they are offering is not good enough, so they add something else to it.

This past weekend I preached at the Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission and had the great opportunity to interact with the men and women down there, as well as some of the volunteers.  One of the great things about interacting with the volunteers in a mission setting is that you know the people are for real.  At the very least they are for real enough to give their time and money to meet people’s needs and to give them the Gospel message. However, because they are ‘for real’ does not imply that they have placed the Gospel in its proper place.  I engaged in a conversation with one volunteer during the meal and we were talking about the glories of the Gospel, the finished work of Christ on our behalf, unmerited favor that we have received, and the free offer of grace to all who would call upon His Name.  We began to talk about methodology in preaching, and as we talked I continued to express that it is all about the supremacy of Christ, and what He has done for us.  We went on and on about what Christ has accomplished for us, and if it were possible I’d still be there right now talking about it.  Then out of nowhere my conversation partner turned from the Gospel and began with the ‘but wait there’s more…’ routine.  It was as though we had come to a point in his mind where we were both agreeable on the Gospel and it was time to move into extras.  He asked me “Don’t you ever go beyond the Gospel message?”  Admittedly I glazed over a bit, I am not sure where he wanted to go in this conversation, it could have been to works of service, spiritual gifts, or any other number of topics, but it was clear that he was ready to get ‘beyond’ the gospel.

His mentality, and it is a mentality shared by many, is that the Gospel is the foundation which must be laid, and everything else must be built off of it.  The notion is that if we can get the Gospel established we can then offer the “but wait there’s more…”  My contention is that there is nothing more to offer.  Yes there is Christian action, service to the poor, ethics, morality and so on, but those things all serve the Gospel, not the other way around.  The Gospel is not only the premise it is also the conclusion.  I told him that regardless of the scripture that is placed before us, the goal is to proclaim the Gospel from that scripture.  If we are dealing with a passage from the Law, or a passage about spiritual gifts, or any other topic, we proclaim what that text proclaims, allow it to convict and encourage, and ultimately proclaim how that text fits into the overall Gospel narrative.  Yes we teach on morality, ethics, spiritual gifts, etc… but those are preached in their relation to the Gospel, they are mere sub points that serve the overarching message of redemption.  My conversation partner, though he did not realize it, had a view in which the Gospel was the sub point that served the overarching point which was a changed life.  His main point was a changed life, and the Gospel was the means of enacting that change.  My point was that the Gospel was not only the means, but also the end.

It is very difficult to articulate this well.  People are very excited about proclaiming “life change” and as you hear their proclamation you are left with the idea that the primary message of Christianity is a life changed by God.  I contend that the primary message of Christianity is not your changed life, but about God incarnate, living, dying, and raising for you.  This is not mere semantics, it affects everything.  It affects what we elevate to place of prominence in our worship service, how we counsel people, what we preach, how we do evangelism… everything.  The whole ‘life change’ message is really nothing more than offering a “but wait there’s more…” to the Gospel message, but in a sense it is even worse.  In the infomercial the goal is still to sell the original product, but what we have done is to attempt to sell add on deal as though it was the main purpose of the infomercial in the first place.
If you teach, or lead in any fashion, ask yourself after you step down from you place of teaching; “Was my main point the Gospel, or was it just a sub point serving some other message I had to give?”  If it was a sub point, what you have taught falls short of Christianity.