Over the past decade a floodwater of cultural change in our country has occurred, leaving a massive impact on the church in America. 20 years ago, there was a push to address the issue of mercy ministry and evangelism in our churches. Much of this was, no doubt, a helpful corrective to a perceived deficiency in local churches. Today, the loudest voices speak incessantly about issues related to social justice, intersectionality and human flourishing. Time will most certainly tell whether this was a needed corrective or a toxic corrosive for the church. Movements and organizations spring up almost as fast as they whither. The leaders of many social and para-ecclesial syndicates wish to influence in the church in such a way that the church will embrace the obligations they press on her.
When I sit back and read the deluge of thoughts and opinions online about what the church ought to be doing, I sense a noticeable lack of focus on the Gospel. In the many twitter rants that recur on a daily basis, there is a discernible deficiency with regard to Scripture and the Gospel. Any intellectually honest assessment of the content of so much that is bandied about on the internet must necessarily lead to the conclusion that people are bored with the Gospel. Either they don’t believe that it is “the power of God unto salvation for those who believe,” or they have convinced themselves that the Gospel is simply one among many messages that ought to take front seat in the message and ministry of the church. In either case, the only conclusion we can draw from the fact that the preaching of the Gospel is no longer the center of gravity in the message and ministry of many churches in our day is that people are bored with the Gospel. They don’t believe it works. They are not astonished by the glory, majesty, unspeakable greatness of the message of Christ crucified and risen.
When we turn to the Scriptures, we get everything necessary for life and godliness. We hear God’s voice in Scripture. “The Holy Spirit says,” “The Spirit said through…,” and “As the Spirit says,” are some of the most commonly used introductions to Old Testament citations in the New Testament. The whole of the Bible is the whole of God’s word. It is God speaking by the Holy Spirit to the church. The church is perfected by the washing of the water of the word and the proclamation of the whole counsel of God given by those men God has called and equipped to faithfully preach and teach the Gospel. Christ is the only head of the church; and, as such, is the sole authority for how the church is to function in the world.
Jesus is also the great High Priest of His church and the perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the souls of His people. The central message of Scripture is the message of the Gospel–the good news of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of His people. Surely, the message of the cross impacts more than simply the forgiveness of the sins of an individual; but, it is not less than that. In fact, whenever the Gospel in preached by the Apostles, that is the central message of the cross. Does the Kingdom of God include the Christian’s work in the world, in his or her neighborhoods and in schools? Of course. In the broader sense in which the Scripture speaks of the Kingdom of God. However, in the narrow sense, it is the local church in her worship and witness to which Scripture speaks when it refers to the Kingdom of God. It is the rule of the crucified and risen Christ in the hearts of His people that is a manifestation of the Kingdom. How does this Kingdom come to bear in the church and in the world? Through the proclamation of Jesus as the only Savior of sinners.
The message of the Gospel ought to permeate our worship services, witness and deeds of love and mercy. In the means of grace (i.e. the Word of God, the sacraments and prayer) the Gospel is front and center. The Apostle Paul declared, in no uncertain terms, that he “determined not to know anything among the people of God other than Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The Apostle gave the Spirit-revealed center of the church’s message when he said, “Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” When certain individuals were preaching Christ in Philippi with the hope that they would provoke and add to Paul’s affliction (since the Apostle happened to be in prison for the Gospel at the time and was not able to preach to the people in the church), he responded in the following way: “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). When he wanted to encourage the spiritual growth of the members in the church in Colosse, Paul explained, “This you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-6). When he wanted to encourage the godly leadership of husbands and the godly submission of wives in Christian marriage, he wrote,
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:22-32).
When he addressed problems in the church over issues related to Christian liberty and love, the Apostle reminded of the stronger brethren of the Gospel approach with which they ought to approach the weaker brethren. “If,” he wrote, “your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). When he confronted the church in Corinth over their failure to exercise church discipline when an unrepentant member of the church was wreaking havoc on the fellowship, he appealed to the Gospel as the grounds of church discipline. He wrote, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
We could go page by page through the New Testament and show that there is one message that permeates the life of the church. It is this message that brings spiritually dead sinners to spiritual life. It is this message that builds up the saints so that they are not moved away from the hope of the Gospel. It is this message that impacts our marriages, families, friendships and fellowship. It is this message that preserves and protects the church from error. It is the only message that God has given the church to inform and animate it’s ministry and mission. It is the message that will ultimately bring us safe to glory. How could we ever bore of hearing the glorious good news of what God has done for sinners through Jesus Christ! May our God restore in us the joy of our salvation so that we will rejoice in, proclaim, abide in and be impacted by the Gospel of the grace of God in Christ.