I work as a consultant in the field of Information Security and one of the terms that I’ve used countless times and been familiar with for several years now is “message integrity”. I borrowed this definition from PC Magazine’s website as a starting point for this discussion
The validity of a transmitted message. It deals with methods that ensure that the contents of a message have not been tampered with and altered. The most common approach is to use a one-way hash function that combines all the bytes in the message with a secret key and produces a message digest that is impossible to reverse. Integrity checking is one component of an information security program. See one-way hash function, security protocol, Parkerian Hexad and data integrity.
Defined in this manner, this is obviously a technical term. But if you dispense with the Parkerian Hexad, secret key, and one-way hash terminology and just think about it in terms of the couple sentences, you get at the truth of message integrity: “The validity of a transmitted message. It deals with methods that ensure that the contents of a message have not been tampered with and altered.”
As I was walking back across the parking lot the other day from our local coffee shop, this term popped into my head and took on a new light. I’ve understood this term and its implications in an information security framework for nearly ten years, but I’d never thought about it with regards to the gospel. But as I recently contemplated this term and what it means, it struck me that as Christians, this fundamental concept applies as much to the gospel as it does to network security.
Message integrity. The validity of the transmitted message.
Ensuring that the message received is authentic, and that when passed along the next communications path, nothing is altered or changed. This was the first priority of the saints of the early church. Paul himself wrote to the Galatians on the subject of message integrity:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:6-12 ESV)
Again, in his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5 ESV)
Message integrity. “It deals with methods that ensure that the contents of a message have not been tampered with and altered.”
As faithful followers of Christ–representatives in this culture of the one true way, is there any room for compromise? In a time when so many “teachers” talk about presenting the gospel in a way that is culturally relevant, is compromising the message to repackage into something more acceptable really necessary, or is it ultimately antithetical to the Great Commission? Is it promoting God’s revealed truth in the scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ, or does it compromise the integrity of the message being delivered and robbing it of its transforming power? I fear that all these promoters of a more “culturally relevant Christianity” are opening the door to apostasy within the church and to delusion among the unsaved. And I agree with John MacArthur as he stated in The Gospel According to Jesus that there are many deluded people out there who call themselves Christians and think that they are saved, but who still walk under the yoke of sin and disobedience–who know the name but not the *person* of Jesus Christ.
Message integrity. If it’s important to secure communications on a network, and something that you rely on when you update your bank account on-line or order more stuff off of eBay, I dare say it is all the more important when you study and share the gospel. May we all strive for it.
Peace and Blessings.