Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ,according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)
If we are to follow the logic of Paul's prayer we see:A. Paul prays to God who is the One who is able to strengthen the church
B. God strengthens the church through the gospel & preaching of Jesus Christ
C. This gospel is the revelation of the mystery of all that God was doing in times past
C. This message has been disclosed through the Scriptures to all nations
B. This is the command of God to bring about faith
A. God gets all the glory forever
The A statements represent Paul's recognition that God is the One who is at work in the life of the church and therefore is worthy of all the glory. The B statements show by what means God strengthens the church, namely His command to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (see great commission). Finally the C statements show what the significance of this gospel message is, namely it is the fullest revelation of God and is proclaimed through the Scriptures (prophetic writings). Basically what we see in Paul's prayer is a vision of what God's desire for His church is and the means by which He commands us to achieve that vision. In short God desires that the church is strengthened AND the nations are brought to faith through the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the gospel.
Unfortunately, I think we can sometimes be guilty of attempting to drive church reform by some means other than the gospel. Legalism, traditionalism, reductionism, professionalism, pragmatism and other philosophies all have the potential to derail God's gospel work amongst His people. While there are other beautiful and essential ministries that should be on the radar of every church like unity, purity & justice; time and time again the Scriptures point to the gospel being the power of God for the sanctification of the church (Rom 1:16-17; 1Cor 1:18-31; 2Tim 4:1-5; 1Pet 1:22-25). Therefore I think we need to start thinking about purity, unity and justice being the overflow of gospel reformation rather than the means to reformation itself. So if we want a strong church then I think it is wise if we pray like Paul. That God would be the One strengthening the church and that we would be prepared for Him to strengthen the church through the means that He says He will, namely through the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the gospel!
- Instead of legalism (enforcing legalistic purity), we proclaim the message by which God is bringing about the obedience of faith all over the world.
- Instead of traditionalism (doing things because that is the way we have always done them), we let the gospel impact each generation and be open to the creative contribution they will make to mission.
- Instead of seeking unity by reductionism (removing doctrine to satisfy the lowest common denominator), we preach the gospel and bring unity through a common Lord, Spirit, faith & baptism.
- Instead of professionalism (restructuring our churches to match the models we see in the business world), we conform our structures to elevate and promote gospel proclamation.
- Instead of pragmatism (embracing the programs, models and strategies that have worked in other contexts), we need to embrace the gospel as the formative message of the church because that is where God says He will work.
In other words what I think I am saying is: The gospel needs to master you and your church! We need to worship God with, through and because of the gospel. We need to preach the gospel to reach the lost. We need to teach the gospel at depth to grow believers. We need to sacrificially and passionately serve the hurting and marginalised in our communities so the gospel will get a foothold in their lives. And of first importance we need to put our ministers in places where they will be convicted and challenged by the gospel through the Scriptures so they can reproduce this conviction in the life of the congregations they serve! It is one thing to talk about what you are doing with the gospel... it is another thing to talk about what God is doing in you through the gospel.
By way of analogy, just about every funeral home that advertises on TV or radio says they are "caring & compassionate", it is almost the gold standard of funeral advertising. But simply because a funeral home puts the words "caring & compassionate" in their slogan or business statement doesn't make them actually "caring & compassionate". A funeral home is caring & compassionate when they put genuine care into practice and people are actually touched by their sacrificial and selfless service in a time of need. In the same way you don't become "gospel-centred" by putting the words in the your mission statement, you become truly gospel-centred when you put the gospel at the centre of everything you do! When you let the gospel loose in your church and trust that God will use it to convict, challenge, encourage and transform you and your people.