I’m going to jump on a horse here and pretend I know something .
There are a lot of books out these days regarding how we need the Gospel. I’m not talking about books that were around when I was growing up – the ones that told Christians they need to be able to communicate the Gospel in order to win others to Christ. These books are claiming everyone needs the Gospel, including (and especially) Christians! Two books in particular, which I’ve read in the past year, stand out, “Give Them Grace,” by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and “Glorious Ruin,” by Tullian Tchividjian. But Michael Horton and a score of other big names have said the same thing. And it’s all been in the past couple of years that I’ve heard all this. Not saying it’s not been around long, because as long as there have been Christians, this message has to have followed (that Christians need the Gospel too).
Why is this call getting louder?
Well, for one thing, I’ve observed over nearly 30 years of awareness that churches tend to focus on their individual distinctives and orthodoxy more than anything else. Yes, I’m claiming that the Gospel has taken second seat to denominations and orthodoxy. People need to be right. All the time. This means that what makes a particular church or brand of church is going to tend to be the primary focus of that church. If it’s “winning souls,” liturgy, increasing membership, increasing Biblical savvy or ministering to the community that sets a church apart, then the Gospel will come after. Every time.
People need to stop being right and switch to what is right. I hope to write a review of Tchividjian’s book in the near future, but the synopsis could go like this: Any time we rationalize our condition in any way, without that rationale beginning and ending with the condition of man before and after Christ did what He did, is dead wrong.
Unless we think about this deliberately, carefully and coldly, throwing our need to be distinctive out the window and realize what the church is here for.
Qualification: I’m not saying the above list of priorities are not important. Nope, the Bible is pretty clear on these things – from membership to ministry, milk to meat, the Church is responsible for the upkeep of the sheep and the gathering of the lost. But the point is that, generally speaking, these things miss the main mark.
Let me put this a little differently.
If a given church can say it is:
not the famed pastor
not the old tradition
not the hip/old-fashioned/moving/reverent music
not the building
not the fantastic liturgy
not the generational family church
not the politically positioned
and instead say that the gospel is faithfully preached.
Then we might be in business.
The gospel is the center and the point. Nothing will change without it. Everything will change with it
You know how so many churches out there have their various seasons and themes? Things like 40 days of purpose, or the (shudder) sex series, or even (heretical statement warning) the historical church calendar?
Why not this one: Preach the gospel every Sunday AS THE MESSAGE for a year. Wrap the whole service around the Gospel. Gospel songs, Gospel readings, Law that points to the Gospel, followed by the Gospel. Drive home the Sinner-Saint thing until it hurts.
Take all the “distinctives” and orthodoxy-tuning and teach it in Sunday School. Take the distractions off the playing field and give the people what they need without the frills. Maybe it will “get boring” after the first few sermons, and harder to find a “fresh” presentation every week. but THINK of the impact after 52 Home Run sermons! Seriously, there is plenty of time and there are more than enough extra-curricular forums to go into the weeds. Go to the whitehorseinn.org or ligonier.org or any number of other resources and see what’s out there. Turn post-service church into a university for goodness sake. It’s all good and certainly equips the saints for whatever ministry they can possibly fit into. But make the cross the centerpiece.
Instead of a hackneyed altar call that barely fits with the barely scriptural sermon, preach the Gospel straight-no-chaser. Instead of trying to score a tidy tie-in to Communion, or manufacture a convenient segue into the Sacraments (depending on your distinctives), incorporate the sacraments as a natural component of the sermon because the Supper is the Gospel. Sending Christians home without the solid teaching that is a reminder (read: declaration) of who they are and what they need is just as bad as sending the lost away with nothing but a lackluster lecture on what they have to do or be or (sorry, technical speakers) what God Hath Said.
This lack of the Gospel may well be a contributing factor to why it is so hard to bring the supper to a more frequent observance than quarterly or once-a-month (I’ve heard some churches only go for once a year). And this may be why the church wonders why new converts are so scarce. No Gospel in service, why have the supper? No Gospel in service, why have non-Christians?
Books and papers are regularly released concerning the death of the church, how she is in transition to another form; that nobody even goes or cares anymore. Maybe that’s because this denominational/distinctives/orthodoxy driven system has reached its zenith and there’s nothing to keep it in the sky anymore. I hear story after story about folks being bored or tired with the church they’re at or disconnected from the people or mission of the church. Is this because the relevancy that is inherent in the Gospel just isn’t there anymore?
This might sound like a variant on the seeker-sensitive brand of churches. I wonder if they actually had half a clue in their heyday just a few years ago. Not that we need to give the people what they think they want, rather give them what they need!
Give me what I need!