The Fragrance of Life and Death

By Steven Martins / December 11, 2015

Topic Culture

Scripture 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

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It has always been the mission of the church to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, commissioned by Christ to minister the gospel to all nations through various means (Matt. 28:18-20). For the past five years, the City of Toronto has been home to the annual Christian music festival Voices of the Nations, an event which promotes intercultural Christian unity through Christian music. It’s been held at Mel Lastman and Yonge-Dundas Squares, the busiest open-air hotspots in Toronto, the latter being the Canadian version of New York’s Times Square.[1] These same locations have featured the Sikh event Turban Up, the Festival of India, which included an interactive mantra concert, and regularly host a variety of religious events.

But as of October 2015, something happened that questioned the future of the Voices of the Nations festival. The management of Yonge-Dundas Square had denied the organizers a permit based on the grounds that they were proselytizing, despite no sermons ever featuring in their programming. According to the management team, “if you’re ‘praising Jesus’ or ‘praise the Lord,’ and ‘there’s no God like Jehova,’ that type of thing. That’s proselytizing.”[2] The response from the public community drew a petition signed by 40,000 concerned constituents, and as it was handed over to the mayor’s office, it was accompanied with a legal warning by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.[3] Having spoken with Peter Ruparelia, the organizer of the event, his resolve has been to fight this all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

One is left to ask why a Christian music festival is being denied a permit, while other religious events are permitted to operate on municipal property. Would similar bans be levied against organizations associated with Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other religion? There is obviously a reason why the Christian faith in particular has come under fire in an increasingly humanistic culture, and that reason concerns the implications of the biblical gospel. Sinful man is offended by the gospel message, for it confronts sinners with the reality of their human condition – a condition which places them under the righteous judgment of the sovereign King Jesus. In rebellion against God, humanistic man arrogates this position to himself, as the product of a long line of evolutionary events. As his own god, man is free to act as he pleases, and so becomes, unto himself, the sole judge of virtue and morality. It is no surprise that a Christian music event should draw the ire of those with such a worldview. Songs of praise to the one holy, eternal, triune God are conversely protest songs against false, usurping god-concepts; they are fight songs against a rival morality, and they are songs of victory that celebrate the freedom Christ has won for us and His triumph over His enemies.

The apostle Paul wrote of an implicit judgment on all men manifest in the gospel to the church in Corinth, a notorious cultural centre known throughout the Roman Empire for sexual immorality and sensuality:[4]

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor. 2:14-16, ESV).

Christians carry the “fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere.” As such His truth and reign over all things cannot legitimately be relegated by the state into a secluded space of ‘personal’ worship. We bear witness to Christ through public evangelism, a verbal proclamation of His life, death, and resurrection, the call to repentance and the invitation to the kingdom of God made available through Christ’s work. We also bear witness to Christ through evangelization, the manifestation of the gospel in education, health care, acts of mercy, and any number of daily activities. In other words, to bear witness to Christ is to do the work of culture-building, paying tribute in each area to the Lordship of Christ. As a church we are His apostoloi, God’s “sent ones,” enacting our apostolic calling as we spread the aroma of the gospel in our homes, schools, work, and the public square.

It is this beautiful fragrance that Paul refers to as the “aroma of Christ to God,” by which God’s people are redeemed and renewed by grace, bearing the image of His Son. This same “aroma” is made evident to those around us, for to those being redeemed it is the breath of God from paradise, giving life and health, while to the rebel it is the savour of judgment and death. The gospel is seen as an offense to such people, an unwelcome reminder of the Day of Judgment.

The current state of society should not discourage us, however, for as Paul wrote, “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” In the Roman Empire, a triumph was “a ritual procession that was the highest honour bestowed upon a victorious general.”[5] The victory procession that Paul refers to is in reference first to the vanquishing of sin and death, but what he also alludes to is the victory of the gospel in a pagan world. It may be tempting to think that Jesus Christ is on the losing side of history, given the unfolding of recent events of terror, as well as religious persecution throughout the world, but we are reminded by the Psalmist:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling (Ps. 46:1-3, ESV).

The recent denial of a city permit for the Christian music festival clearly and concretely demonstrates the hostility of fallen man towards the gospel of Christ. In our culture of “tolerance,” all views are to be tolerated except the biblical Christian worldview, making ubiquitous the intolerance of their ‘tolerance.’ But in the grand scheme of history, such opposition is only a bump in the road, a logical response from an anti-Christian society. Paul assures us that Christ is “always lead[ing] us in triumphal procession,” and thus there is hope, for in God’s perfect timing, it will be His perfect gospel that triumphs; Christ will be exalted among the nations, Christ will be exalted in the earth (Ps. 46:10). Let us therefore not shy away from proclaiming the faith in the public square, whether that be through music, literature, speech or any cultural endeavor, but rather be encouraged, knowing that we are not alone but accompanied by the power of God, and with the assurance of His victory in all things.

 

[1] Barry W. Bussey, “Sorry, No Christian Music in Public,” National Post, accessed November 17, 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barry-w-bussey-sorry-no-christian-music-in-public.

[2] Lianne Laurence, “Christian Group Banned for Singing about Jesus Delivers 40, 000+ Petition to Toronto Mayor: Vows to Keep Fighting,” Life Site News, last modified November 16, 2015, accessed November 17, 2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/banned-christian-group-delivers-lifesites-30000-petition-to-city-of-toronto.

[3] Ibid.

[4] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, second edition. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 420.

[5] “Triumph | Ancient Roman Honour,” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accessed November 17, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/topic/triumph-ancient-Roman-honour.