Trouble in Amish Country
Ephraim is a young father who, along with his friend Jess has been excommunicated from his Amish community. Three hundred years ago a small band of believers from Europe settled in Pennsylvania in an effort to establish a pure Christian community. But while the motive was good, since the method was bad, it was bound to fail; and so it did.
Over time a thousand man-made rules entered the community and eventually defined the community. The German Bible they brought with them, which was 'the only true Bible' became unintelligible to the vast bulk of the community. Eventually the Gospel was smothered by tiny little rules such as no phones in homes, men must wear trouser suspenders in a certain way, no cars, certain clothes for church, ad infinitum.
Lessons from Amish Country
The blunt fact of the matter is that any true Christian community can drift over time from the Gospel in exactly the same way. Often for good reason, layers of tradition creep in and soon the Gospel is lost from sight. The tragedy is this: if you add to the Gospel in the end you subtract from it. That is the message of Galatians and the lesson from the Amish community.
Here are five all too common Gospel+ issues around today.....
Gospel Plus #1: Gospel plus KJV
Some true Christian communities have made translation the real test of Gospel faithfulness. Normally it's the KJV which is held up as the only translation. Proper, true Christians are those who not only believe the Gospel but also read the KJV. The antidote to this plus is to read the original preface of the KJV translators, where they explain the limitations and fallibility of their translation.
Gospel Plus #2: Gospel plus temperament
This is altogether more subtle. It works generally like this: Unless a church worships in a certain sombre mood - which altogether excludes any kind of humour, their worship is not true worship. This is dressed up in religious language such as reverence and respect, but at root can be traced back to the natural temperaments of the leader(s). We may sometimes lack due reverence to God, but those who think reverence = sad and stony faces must remember that we no longer worship around a fearsome mountain burning with fire (Hebrews 12).We have come, instead to "thousands of angels in joyful assembly."
Gospel Plus #3: Gospel plus Creation Science
Some Christians and churches establish a certain interpretation of Genesis as a touch-stone of Gospel fidelity. Unless you believe the world is 10,000 years old, you are not a proper Christian, for example. This binds the conscience of believers and excludes many true Gospel preachers - not least of which would be men like Tim Keller of Redeemer, NY. All believers hold to the first article of faith, "I believe in God the Father, Creator of the heavens and the earth." And many of us are totally and radically against the poor theory of evolution. But there are aspects of the doctrine of creation which must be left to a Christian's conscience, not brought into the inner circle of Gospel truth.
Gospel Plus #4: Gospel plus Tradition
This takes place when Christians believe that some church tradition is so important, that you can't be a proper Christian if you don't hold to it. This may be a mode of worship, form of church government or some other tradition. Tradition is good, necessary and inevitable. (Church tradition is merely the way things are done; even people who change things all the time have tradition: "We don't have a tradition" is a tradition!). But when it is elevated to the status of the unchangeable and a test of orthodoxy, we are in danger of losing the Gospel.
Gospel Plus #5: Gospel plus middle class traditions
No, seriously. Many Western churches are made up of middle class Christians who unwittingly add the ways of their class to the Gospel. Middle class people think and plan a long way ahead, for example. It is too easy for this characteristic to be expected of all believers and to think of those who don't plan ahead as second class believers. Middle class people prize order and formality and easily look down on folk who's homes and lives are not so orderly. But where is advanced planning and a tidy home Gospel issues? No wonder men like William Booth had to start churches for ordinary folk who were rejected by many in the churches.
All these five and more can threaten the Gospel by subtly over time obscuring it.
Ephraim realised that in the end many of his fellow Amish were trusting in their traditions rather than Jesus. As he began to read the Bible for himself, he saw that his community was ordered by a bunch of man-made rules rather than the Bible. Returning to the Gospel brought him and his family great joy and freedom.