This past week, I returned home from doing a week of ministry on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. I know what you’re thinking – ministry in the Bahamas? Well, someone had to take the way of the cross and go do ministry there. Some of the people I worked with called the week a boondoggle.
Let’s just say it was one of the best five-day stretches of my life … especially because my wife Kim was also needed for ministry there, along with our good friends Aaron and Megan Keyes. It was the kind of ministry trip I hope I get to do many more times in the future.
We had lots of incredible experiences on the island. We went not just snorkeling but scuba diving on some amazing reefs. We saw sharks. We ate some unbelievable seafood and met some amazing people.
But one experience has been lingering in my mind ever since I left. It was an experience that wasn’t on the itinerary—one that just kind of happened and has since lodged its way deep into my subconscious. It happened as we were sitting in a sports bar (of sorts) just down the road from where we were staying. Television sets mounted on different sections of the wall periodically showed these things I barely remember the name of in our DVR/On Demand day and age—things called commercials.
The interesting thing about these particular commercials was that many of them were commercials for things that people on the island could not experience on the island. One commercial that specifically stands out was for steak and lobster at Ruby Tuesday. Now, ignore the fact that I’ve actually been to Ruby Tuesday and know the difference between that commercial and real life. Forget the fact that lobster on the island is actually better and fresher than at Ruby Tuesday.
Ruby Tuesday steak and lobster tail, via yelp.com
Just think about it for a second … Here was a commercial for something that people on the island had no way to experience because Abaco Island doesn’t have a Ruby Tuesday. For people who live on Abaco Island, the only hope of actually tasting what was advertised so succulently on television was to fly off to some faraway place where Ruby Tuesday actually does exist. For now, all they could do is imagine what life in the commercial might actually be like. But they couldn’t actually taste it.
If you think about it long enough, you might realize that this is exactly what we have done when we speak and preach and live out a Kingdom-less gospel. Without the Kingdom, the gospel becomes a reality trapped in an alternate existence. It is incapable of having any real ramification in the present because it will only become available when we “fly away” to this alternate existence we call heaven. For now, though, it is more like a set of ideas to agree on and maybe wonder about.
No one really tastes it.
The problem with this kind of gospel idea is that it lies in flat contradiction to the good news Jesus spoke about. For Jesus, the good news was not trapped in some alternate reality; instead, the good news was that this alternate reality is making its way into present reality.
In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus inaugurated his ministry with these words: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” He then spent the rest of his life being a conduit for the Kingdom of God breaking into the present. Ultimately He gave His very life for this reality to become the reality both here on earth and in heaven … or to use His words “as it is in heaven.”
The world, then, is an open opportunity for heaven to invade earth at any moment, in any situation, and in any way. This is the big problem with being a cessationist, or one that believes some gifts or operations of the Spirit have ceased. A cessationist view attempts to limit what parts of eternity might break into our reality. But the cessationist ends up with a “tasteless gospel.” Under this paradigm, the gospel becomes at best a commercial that advertises a reality that in the end Christians can only sell plane tickets to and promise people will experience later.
This is why I believe a cessationist view of the gospel is so dangerous to discipleship. It is dangerous because when you can’t experience something, you can’t grow in it. (Instead, you hope to escape to it.) No wonder our churches are filled with people who see no need to become disciples. They would rather be converts who live their lives now how they want. Why wouldn’t they, if heaven is a place that one day they may fly off to but not something they can begin to taste now?
This is one of the big reasons why I’m not a cessationist and don’t want to be one. Now I wonder what you think about all this. Leave a comment below and we’ll continue the conversation.