A half-full (half-empty?) term

I recently rejected as a possibility for our family a church called Bethesda Worship Center.  This church meets in a nicely renovated, older school building, and the inside is very inviting.  My college band may end up rehearsing there during a construction project, and the staff members I’ve met have been very nice, but I doubt we’ll end up visiting the church itself.

I was even drawn somewhat by the church’s name.  The meaning of “Bethesda” implies healing, recalling the pools of Bethesda (a/k/a Bethzatha) of John 5.  Although “Worship Center” is a bit one-sided for a church name, the lead pastor’s message does indicate that they also laugh and cry, so it sounded relatively balanced.

Anyway, everything was leaning toward a visit by our family . . . until one little two-word expression showed up:

full gospel


Now, if you’re anything like I was for the first portion of my adult life, you’re mostly oblivious to certain descriptive labels such as “reformed” or “full gospel.”  Even the implications of traditional mainline denominations’ names can be elusive or devoid of meaning that anyone really considers.

But “full gospel” means something.  Something misleading.  And it’s a shame to waste a decent term.  Consider this short list of misuses:

  • The common use of “reverend” has robbed it of its truer meaning.
  • The use of “reformed” implies that the group has done all it needs to do by way of restoring and reforming.
  • The use of “Church of Christ” may suggest that it is the only group that could be possessed by Christ.¹
  • And “full gospel” is clearly a misnomer.

Now, to the point . . .

“Full gospel,” in religious parlance, implies belief in, and practice of, supernatural “spiritual gifts” such as miracles and speaking in “tongues” (another misnomer, but we’ll leave that one alone).

The real, complete, full gospel (the ευαγγἐλιον [euangelion]) is the good message about the saving work of Jesus in His dying, His being entombed, and His rising.  That  is the full gospel.  Even if you accept the veracity of modern, “pentecostal” miracles (such as the supernatural speaking of unlearned languages and immediate, otherwise unexplainable healings), you have to admit that those are outgrowths of, or confirmations of, the gospel, and not the gospel itself.

I wonder, Bethesda . . . if I believe in the full gospel described in the scriptures but am by no means persuaded of the current existence of types of miracles you suppose do happen, could we coexist pretty well on Sundays, or not?


¹ A particular CofC (which we will also not  visit) advertises itself in a free, local paper as “Thee Church of Christ.”  (That “Thee” was not a typo.)  They are going for two things here:  1) association with the thees and thous of King-James language, and 2) presenting themselves emphatically as thē only true one.  Good grief.  That was a bad idea in the 50s, and it’s even worse now.  It’s embarrassing to anyone with Christian perspective, but God can have mercy on the isolate folks in that group, too.

One thought on “A half-full (half-empty?) term

  1. Randall Smith 11/15/2014 / 8:51 am

    Randall Smith (via Facebook): I have actually, for the longest time, wondered what “full gospel” meant (as if a Church can take only parts of the gospel and exclude all others, then call themselves Christian… wouldn’t most churches that you would like to visit fall into the broad category of “full gospel”?). Thanks for clearing that distinction up, and as always, I enjoy your thought-provoking posts.

    Brian Casey (also on FB): Randall, you are a treasure in my mind, really. It’s been such a difficult week for my pathetic little head that reading this from you does more to encourage me than you might have imagined. Yes, I think we would visit, or at least be in “fellowship with” (oh, no, another misnomer! fellowship is such a weakly used term!) all churches that seem aware of, and submissive to, the broad, completely full gospel.


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