Friday, July 27, 2012

Truly Gospel-Centred????

Paul's benediction at the end of Romans might seem on the surface to be a typical doxology/benediction where people just try to cram a heap of classic Christianese clich├ęs into as short a space as possible.  However, I think if we look deeper we will see something that is formative for the church:
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.
Lots of people talk about "gospel centred ministry" these days but my fear is that many people identify with the idea not because they have been gripped by the gospel themselves but because they have perceived that it is a trendy, attractive idea; because it is the buzzword at the moment! As long as we are still bound to pragmatism our gospel-centredness will only be a product of our desire to be trendy rather than a product of the church and its leaders being informed, convicted, challenged and transformed by the gospel.

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.


2 comments:

  1. I'm sure you would consider what I do as 'reductionism' - removing doctrine to suit the lowest common denominator - but how can one have a gospel-centred reform when you take writings that aren't gospel?

    The Gospel is defined (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel) as an account of the life of Jesus. Paul's writings are not gospel. They are an account of the life of Paul. Reading through this blog, I find that the majority of the quotes are from Paul's writings.

    Now, I understand that you believe Paul's writings to be divine, but they are not Gospel. It is obvious that your point of view is to have a Pauline-centred church, because there are many points where Paul contradicts the teachings of the Gospel. Which is fine, but calling it Gospel-centred - or even the blog itself Gospel at depth - is misleading.

    Matthew 12:33-37 says it best:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    A tree is certainly known by its fruit, and the fruit of Pauline scripture has been bigotry, war, and death in the name of Christ. The fruit of the Gospel is Love and rebirth in Christ.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting Lee :)

      Yes I cited mainly Pauline references but they are examples of when Paul (& Peter) used the word "gospel" to describe the message that is the power by which the church is sanctified. I hope that I can help you to see below that what Paul and Peter meant by "gospel" was the same as the gospel of Jesus.

      1. The word "gospel" can be defined as you have said, "an account of the life of Jesus" but this is not an exhaustive definition. All words have a semantic range that covers the breadth of possible meanings. Even Wiki acknowledges other meanings of "gospel"! We know that Jesus Himself preached the "gospel" and surely this doesn't mean He preached an account of His own life? Jesus preached a message, best summarised as "repent for the kingdom of God is near" and it is this message fulfilled perfectly by His life, death and resurrection that constitutes the gospel as it came to be known in the early church.
      2. Jesus borrowed the term "gospel" (good news) from the culture of the day. The "gospel" was first used to mean the message a victorious king would send to the town/region he had defeated. It was news of their defeat and his victory, now this doesn't really seem very good until you realise that the message of victory contained terms of peace. The king would offer terms of peace to the people of the town if they pledged allegiance to him etc... So when Jesus came preaching "the gospel" it was news of God's imminent victory and the terms of peace He was offering humanity. These terms of peace were brought about through the death & resurrection of Jesus the first gospel preacher!
      3. Paul clearly outlines that his gospel is intrinsically connected to the life, death & resurrection of Jesus. Even in the Rom 16 passage I cited above he equates his gospel with the "preaching of Jesus Christ." But most specifically 1 Cor 15:1-4 explains the gospel he taught was the life, sacrificial death for sin, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The rest of Paul's teaching could be described as fleshing out the implications of this gospel for the church. Paul's theological teaching mainly centres on the understanding that Jesus offered God's terms of peace through His propitiatory death and this was vindicated through His resurrection. He also explained the concept of how we can receive the terms of peace, namely justification by faith. Perhaps we can say that Jesus preached the gospel and fulfilled it through His death & resurrection, but Paul helped the church understand how Jesus' death & resurrection were the gospel. All I mean by "church reform from the gospel" is taking the message of Jesus' life, death & resurrection and using that as the starting point for church reform. And I believe that God uses Paul, John, Peter, James, etc... to help the church understand the implications of this gospel!
      4. By all means judge Paul by his fruit, but make sure it is HIS fruit and NOT the fruitcakes that twist his teachings to suit their own agenda. People have done this with Jesus as well (eg Aryan Jesus of Nazi Germany) and we wouldn't judge Jesus by people who twisted his teachings to this end would we? I personally think if you read Paul in context and without the baggage of the fruitcakes who have abused his teachings (I know you have been burnt by some of these before) you will find that Paul agrees with Jesus far more than you give him credit for.

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