Christians, Christmas, and the Missing Gospel

It would seem pretty obvious that when a major Christian calendar event comes around, then Christian leaders of all people should be quite happy to use that occasion to forthrightly proclaim the Christian message. But sadly great opportunities to share the gospel often go missing, and are wasted when believers for one reason or another fail to stand up for their own faith.

Another Christmas has come and gone, and so too an excellent opportunity to tell people what the Christmas message is all about. It is of course about the birth of Jesus. But why was Jesus born? Why did Jesus come? Get the answers to those right and you have the Christian gospel. Fail to properly answer those questions and you fail to communicate the gospel.

Jesus himself of course was perfectly clear as to why he came to planet earth. He left absolutely no one guessing as to his mission. He stated clearly the reason for the incarnation. Let me offer just a few of the things he and his disciples said about his coming:

John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
John 18:37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’.
1 Tim. 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 John 3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

That is why Jesus came and that is why we celebrate Christmas. But you wouldn’t know this if you read many of the commentaries on the meaning of Christmas by our religious leaders. Indeed, for some years now I have been tracking what they have said each Christmas in Australia’s most read newspaper, the Herald Sun.

Each year some leaders are asked to give their spin on Christmas, and each year they largely disappoint in terms of clearly articulating the gospel message. Thus for a number of years now I have been writing articles about their messages, and each year it is pretty much the same deal.

Indeed, I could simply recycle one of my older columns from a previous Christmas, and most people would not even know I was using an older piece. That is because year after year these leaders seem to think that trying to be “relevant” or trendy or cool is better than actually stating what the real gospel message is all about.

This year again in the December 24 Herald Sun, we had a Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church leader give their commentaries. And again, the gospel basically went missing. All gave Jesus a brief mention, but none of them spoke of why unto us a saviour was born. None mentioned sin, our estrangement from God, and our desperate need for a saviour. The cross and resurrection were not mentioned at all.

Instead, it was often just more sentimental humanist mush. The Catholic spoke of love, peace and tolerance – something any New Ager or even atheist could speak about. It was your standard fare, Christmas pep talk, almost stripped of any theological content, and filled with feel-good generalisations.

The Anglican too gave us a very generic spiel about love and giving. At least he did mention that Jesus was the Messiah – without however explaining what that term means to his largely secular audience. And of course he also gave the now mandatory pitch about asylum seekers, as if they somehow encapsulate and exemplify the Christian gospel.

But not to be outdone of course was the Uniting Church leader. As always, her message was the most completely PC of the three. Indeed, it was almost entirely about the issue of asylum seekers. It would have made for a perfect political speech by a Labor or Greens MP. But it was a completely dreadful rendering of the true meaning of the Christmas message.

Equally sad was a larger piece by another Christian leader given on the page before. Here several folks offered opinion pieces on the general theme of Christmas. This leader had a great opportunity to redress the shortcomings of the other leaders on the following page, and give a clear Christian message. Yet he failed absolutely to do so.

Indeed, incredibly, Jesus Christ was never mentioned even once! Instead, this head of a charity group simply took pot-shots at the government over their refugee policy. That was the extent of his take on Christianity and Christmas: a completely PC trendy message devoted to politics. Wow.

It seems rather mind-boggling that the Christian head of a Christian charity organisation cannot bring himself to say even one word about Jesus Christ on this hugely important day of the Christian calendar. It beggars belief really. Political point-scoring seems to be more important than telling a lost and needy world about the saviour Jesus Christ.

But I of course do not mean to pick on just this one group here. Many other groups of course which had great intentions as aid or charity groups have moved away from their origins. But other commentators have also noted how various charities have shifted over the years. One English writer has just penned a piece about how so many charity groups today are getting deeply involved in politics and political lobbying, often moving away from their original aims.

As a byline in the English Telegraph newspaper says, “Charities used to channel our money to a specific ‘good’ cause. But now too many have morphed into pressure groups, writes Cristina Odone.” This is how she begins her article:

“Christmas is for giving. But to whom, and for what? I wonder if the animal lovers whose legacies sustain the RSPCA would have left their money to that charity if they had known it would be spent on a £300,000-plus court case against the Heythrop hunt? Similarly, the Amnesty International supporters, for whom the name is synonymous with campaigning to free political prisoners – do they know that their money is funding abortion-rights campaigns?

“I put money in the collecting tin now only for charities that fulfil their core mission: writers in places like Iran imprisoned because of their ‘subversive’ work (PEN) or beleaguered Christians (Aid to the Church in Need). Charities used to channel our money to a specific ‘good’ cause.

“But now too many have morphed into pressure groups that pick and choose campaigns that may be only vaguely related to their original mission. They shed the tiresome tasks of looking after the needy – whether disabled, poor, ill or abandoned. Instead, they campaign against the ‘system’, meaning, usually, they want more government spending on their cause. The only constant is that they still use our money to do so.

“I may or may not support pro-choice legislation in Ireland, or protests against ‘cuts’ in government spending. But that is political campaigning, not the charity’s business. I detect a sleight of hand: the nabobs of the charity industry raise money for good works, but spend it on the enjoyable business of lobbying.”

Christians of all people should be quite discerning as to who they are giving their hard-earned money to. As I wrote in a previous article, many of these aid groups for example will use part of your money to promote abortion around the globe. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/16/do-you-know-where-your-money-is-going/

And as one follow-up to that story, I recall one Christian actually telling me that he and his wife “prayed about it” and felt that they still had the full green light to give to one such group, even though it was clearly involved in some pro-death activities.

My reply to him with more evidence was met with complete silence on his part. I felt like telling him: “OK, so let me get this straight. You prayed about whether you should keep giving money to this group, even though part of it will be used for killing babies? And what exactly did God tell you in response to your prayers? Did he say, ‘Yes my son, that is just peachy. Feel free to use the money I have blessed you with to finance the death of the children I have created. No probs’?”

But with our own Christian leaders sending out confusing if not opaque messages, even at Christmas time, as to what the gospel is really all about, then no wonder so many in the pews are absolutely clueless, and can actually say with a straight face that God told them to keep subsidising baby killing.

Our leaders have an awful lot to answer for here. As do many folks in our churches.

www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/take-a-stand-for-the-kind-of-country-we-want-to-live-in/story-e6frfhqf-1226542653739
www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/9764201/Charities-must-stick-to-good-causes-and-not-play-at-politics.html

[1497 words]

16 Replies to “Christians, Christmas, and the Missing Gospel”

  1. I remember watching the Christmas messages the first Christmas after I was saved – and I was shocked as I realised that no-one.. not even one .. non-believer would get a single pointer, hope or reason to believe from what was said. Soon afterwards we faced the death of a young relative. Again, I hoped for some word from the minister conducting his service that might offer hope that yes, there was a loving God, and a reason to believe, but again I felt the slap in the face of emptiness. Over the years, I’ve become almost numb to it and your column today remind me of the stark disbelief I felt. On the other hand, the old Christmas hymns made me cry with delight as I understood their words for the first time!
    Maureen Tully

  2. For a comparison it would have been nice to have a link to your previous post about last years Christmas and the messages given out. More than likely the messages will progressively get worse.
    Ian Nairn

  3. Our local daily in NW Tassie seems to have fared better than the Herald-Sun for Gospel truth in the annual messages on Christmas from religious leaders: The Lutheran man even quoted John 3:16, which was very refreshing to note!
    John Wigg

  4. Bill, that reminds me that a few months ago, a charity worker who bailed me up in Chapel Street persuaded me to sign up as an Oxfam donor. After reading your article and discovering that Oxfam is involved in reproductive health, I had to cancel my donations. I didn’t want that on my conscience.

    As for the wishy washy Christmas messages in the Herald Sun, I also wonder if this is what the editors asked them for, and if they were advised not to write anything explicitly biblical. If this is the case then it’s a real pity. Christmas and Easter are two times of the year where the average person out there with no interest in Christianity may be more receptive to being reached with the gospel, but in these articles the opportunity wasn’t taken.

    Ross McPhee

  5. Thanks Ross

    I really would doubt that the HS editors told them to ease up on the biblical message. And if they did, then these leaders should simply have replied, “OK, no dice then. This is Christmas and as a Christian leader I must give the biblical meaning here, otherwise I am wasting my time. Go find someone else.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Hi Bill, do you have a link to the Cristina Odone article?
    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  7. Thanks Bill.
    The reasons above spell out exactly why my family chose to not go to any church this Christmas.
    We can no longer stand fellowshipping with a room mostly full of lukewarm, PC, unconcerned, unChristlike, so called ‘Christians’….who actually are only concerned with making people feel comfortable and being liked rather than preaching the truth and setting people free from sin by proclaiming the gospel.

    God Bless your ministry Bill – you are one of the few Christians who do actually preach the gospel unashamedly and give the world what it is literally dying for – truth.

    Regards,
    Annette Williams

  8. Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney did a bit better, Bill: http://greystanes.net/pdf/Christmas_Message_2012.pdf
    Generally, though, the public teaching of the heads of mainstream churches in our capital cities is woeful. I know the TV and Press are only looking for a soundbite or headline, but that makes it all the more imperative to focus on the heart of the Gospel at Christmas: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
    Pr Mark Henderson

  9. Even Peter Jensen in his Christmas message can’t resist the pressure to defer to political correctness. In a short 200 word message he still manages to fit something in about apologising and reconciling with Australia’s “indigenous First People.”

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  10. I agree, I wish these leaders would tell us more about the coming of the Messiah as a light to the world and God’s purpose for mankind which speaks of life after death, as opposed to the atheist conviction that there is no after-life. The embarrassment people have with talk about God is contageous and we need more people, like yourself, who can communicate to people who naturally shrink away from faith and belief matters. As I see it, the need is there – we hear how people are “looking for something” – but the obstacle is conveying the good news that Christ brought us.
    Rachel Smith

  11. Hi Bill,
    great article! Just regarding giving, I have just about stopped giving to all secular charities, not because they are not good and worthy of support. But as Australians are known to be one of the most generous people (if not the most generous) in the world, I leave it up to all those who would never give to a Christian ministry/charity to support the secular charities. I actually focus on helping our brothers and sisters who are being hounded and hunted throughout much of the world. Even then, one needs to exercise careful discernment so that we know God is getting the ‘biggest bang for his buck’ to the best of our understanding. I don’t believe that I can just give to a charity (even Christian) and say “it’s up to them to do the right thing with the money.” No it’s up to me to be the best discerning steward I can be, knowing that one Day, I WILL give account on that Day of Evaluation of the believer (not in order to be saved but to receive the reckoning of my eternal reward.)

    Shalom to all your readership. Much grace to you all in serving and working with the Master, as we move into the new year.
    Peter Magee

  12. The Queen always brings Christ into her Christmas message, but the news broadcasts are always careful to censor it. Can’t have that!

    Nina Blondel

  13. Yes, Bill, one can only hope that the leaders concerned get the message for 2013. I’ve read Archbishop Jensen’s Christmas message and believe that he has expressed the Gospel. Reconciliation between man and God and thus between man and his neighbour is now possible with the coming of Christ.
    The challenge when communicating with a secular audience is not only to clearly express the Gospel but to show how it relates to us today. Otherwise modern man thinks it’s all in a bygone era.
    Graham Lawn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: