‘This is our life’ by Lesslie Newbigin
I recently took the funeral of a retired minister in one of my congregations, and his daughter passed on to me a selection of his books. One was a thin paperback book entitled ‘This is our life’ by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin. As many URC folks will know, Newbigin was a bishop in the Church of South India who – in ‘retirement’ – became a URC Minister and Moderator of Assembly on his return to Britain. This little book, available online here, is Newbigin’s address to the 1978 URC General Assembly.
What struck me about this little book is how desperately the URC still needs to hear Newbigin’s 1978 address. Newbigin preached on Romans 1:16:
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”
I don’t want to give a lengthy ‘review’ because I want to encourage you to read it and pray through it for yourself. I will just draw your attention to three of Newbigin’s points though:
First, having stated his passage, Newbigin begins “At the opening of our Assembly I want to direct your minds to the Gospel…” If only this happened at every Assembly. If only this happened in every sermon preached in every congregation in every place around the world. If only we were so focussed on the whole point of faith, on the whole reason we exist as a church, if only we listened and humbled ourselves before the good news of God revealed in His word to us. If only!
Secondly, Newbigin reminds us of the meaninglessness of listening to the world’s judgement of the Church. It doesn’t matter whether the world thinks we should be doing this, that or the other. What matters is what God says.
Thirdly, the Gospel is NOT ‘Loving God and loving your neighbour’. This is not the Gospel, this is the Law. The Gospel liberates, the Law enslaves. Most people know we ought to love God and almost everyone knows we ought to love others others. This is not what the Church is called to preach to the world. There is nothing distinctive about such a message. “We exist, the Church exists, because there is a Gospel, good news which cannot be discovered but only told…”
May the URC of 2012 and 2013 and beyond hear again this prophetic message.