While I was in the Christian Reformed Church, I recall hearing a son of that Church (now somewhat famous, living in the South and attending a large Baptist Church) say “I never heard the gospel until ….” I can’t recall how he finished that sentence, but I think it was something about a Baptist Church.
Although I was not a native son of the Christian Reformed Church, I took some umbrage at his remark. I knew something of the history of the local congregation. Never in its history had its pulpit been deprived of the gospel as mutually understood by it and its critical son.
So what this intelligent man was really saying was that the Gospel he was hearing every Sunday never penetrated until – until what? Someone must have put it differently. Knowing something of both Baptists and the Christian Reformed Church, I dare say that “differently” was a simplified Gospel (maybe 1-Point Calvinism instead of all 5: “Once saved, always saved” as a twice-removed cousin of “perseverance of the saints”) pitched with high emotion — and insistence that everything else was just a distraction.
A decade or so later, I was at a pro-life dinner fundraiser, sitting with a couple my age or a bit younger who attended the same Church as my father, then recently deceased. The wife was incredulous that I had become Orthodox. “My grandmother was Greek Orthodox, and she never heard the gospel until …” some Protestant preaching caught her fancy. That really gave me a rise in my gorge. What she had just said was utterly absurd. She couldn’t not hear the Gospel if she was in Church.
The Orthodox Divine Liturgy is what it is. It’s not a guideline. The priest can’t read and preach week after week on the same pet passages. In every Liturgy, there will be so many Old Testament allusions you can’t track them all. There will be proclaimed aloud an espistle reading and a gospel reading. The Priest (or a Deacon) will preach a homily on either the epistle or the Gospel appointed for that day.
There are some careerist priests and lazy homilists, and there are some Orthodox Churches that go through the liturgical motions before getting down to the real if unstated mission of the parish: to serve as an ethnic club. But even there, the liturgical motions themselves bear the gospel.
I began this blog sometime in the fairly remote past. It was brought back to mind by J. Budziszewski‘s analysis of what “I never heard the Gospel” might mean, which re-appeared on Facebook over the weekend.
* * * * *
“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)