Early on in Baptist history, we chose to turn away from heavily creedal formulations and mechanical church practices.  We wanted to make sure that every individual had a personal, individual commitment of trust in the person of the crucified and risen Jesus.

That does not mean, however, that you cannot learn the Gospel.  Sometimes I think we act as if the Gospel comes like an infection, or a sudden jolt.  We think of it as almost a kind of emotional experience.

Now, religious experience is important.  I use the word “religious” in a positive sense, and I believe that emotional and devotional experiences are valuable.  As a university president, I may strike you as a bit of a stuffed shirt, but I have had quite a few powerful religious experiences myself. Emotion and experience are important to me, and they ought to be important to you.

Learning the Gospel

Having said that, I want to emphasize to you that the apostle Paul referred to the Gospel as something that can be learned:

Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf. (Colossians 1:7)

If the Gospel is something learned, it is also something that can be taught. If it is something that can be taught, it can be something that is learned over time.

Passing on our Christian heritage

We often think of the word “tradition” only in negative terms because Jesus spoke negatively of the traditions of the Pharisees.  But did you know that Paul described the Gospel as a tradition?  It is something that we receive. It is something that we hand on.

We have had a great deal of evangelistic success, for example, through Sunday schools in Baptist life.  People can come to a warm, caring environment where the Bible is taught, where there are friends, and where there is prayer and sharing.  When we participate in such gatherings, we’re following the model Paul set for Timothy:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

We tend to think that we can only be saved through a single evangelistic encounter, but there’s more to it than that. You can learn the Gospel.  It is something that can be taught.  It is a message; it is not a shock or an experience of emotional catharsis.

The Gospel, no matter how you present it, is the message of the crucified and risen Jesus. Faith in the person of the crucified and risen Jesus brings peace with God.

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The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Robert Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on March 4, 1990.

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