The evangelist Mark begins his recounting of Jesus' ministry with these words: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). Gospel in English derives from godspel, meaning "good news." Similarly, in the Greek in which Mark wrote, evangelion means "good tidings."
The apostle Paul opens his epistle to the Galatian Christians with stern criticism: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7). Written in the early AD 50s, this book describes a situation occurring in the church not even twenty years after Christ's death! In less than two decades, Jesus' message had been perverted to something that, to Paul, no longer announced "good tidings."
The specifics of this Galatian perversion are not important in this context, but the principle that we can derive from it is: Any alteration, any shift of focus, from Jesus' original announcement changes the message from one of good to bad news. A change in the gospel changes its goal, which means believers will arrive some place other than the Kingdom of God! How vital it is that we follow the true gospel of God!
The church of God has the same source of Christ's gospel as the rest of the "Christian" world, the Holy Bible. Why, then, is the gospel we preach so different from the Protestant and Catholic gospels? There could be many answers to this question, but every one boils down to one point, mentioned by Jesus in Mark 1:15: We "believe in the gospel" He preached. We believe time is short. We believe that Christ will establish the Kingdom of God soon. We believe that we should repent and do so as a way of life. We believe Christ's message by living it in faith.
Depending on our understanding and viewpoint, it is likely that no one person or group will pass or fail all of these questions. "For we all stumble in many things" (James 3:2). However, if we are to judge righteously in the matter of whom we choose to fellowship with, we ourselves need to have a thorough grasp of the true gospel. We will walk down that path in the next issue.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh